Wi Still Leading, Woods and Mickelson Lurking at Pebble

Harry How / Getty Images

The Hollywood shenanigans will finally (and thankfully) take a backseat on Sunday, as the stage that has been set for the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am couldn’t have been scripted any better by any number of Tinseltown’s most heralded producers.

For starters, we’ve got two seasoned players occupying the first two spots on the leaderboard, who together have logged over 300 career starts on Tour without a single win, and both of them are over-40. Then we’ve got two players who will be playing in the group just ahead of them who have a combined 100 PGA Tour victories and 18 major championships, both of whom have often been considered arch rivals to one another…. one of those players has an outside shot of winning, the other has a definite chance given his history at Pebble. But there will be some pride at stake in this next-to-last pairing, no doubt about it. And last but certainly not least – we once again find ourselves following a familiar script of a player who’s never won before, but enjoys a reasonable lead heading into the final day.

So needless to say, after watching 3 hours of clanks and pull hooks on Saturday (you’d never have known that the pros actually played based on the TV coverage) we finally get what should be an entertaining show on Sunday.

Ben Margot / Associated Press

Charles in Charge?

Say what you want about Charlie Wi, but he’s played some steady golf over the past 3 days. A lot of players who go out on Thursday and fire a tidy little round of 61 generally fall hard and fast immediately thereafter, going MIA for the next 3 days. But Charlie hasn’t done that, quite the contrary… he’s actually kept it together with back-to-back 3-under 69′s the last two days. So how has he done this, you ask? Well, for starters he’s somehow managed to deal with the slow play that this Pro-Am format lends itself to. He’s also found a way to block out all of the distractions going on in the galleries and from his celebrity playing partners wanting everyone to have a good time. And he’s leading the tournament in fairways hit, inside the top-10 in Greens in Regulation, and inside the top-5 in putting. If you’re wanting to win your first career PGA Tour event – these stats matter.

But it goes beyond the numbers and the ability to ignore the distractions. Essentially it comes down to trusting the golf swing, and that’s what he’s been able to do for the first three days. Now…. what about the pressure associated with closing the deal? We saw Kyle Stanley struggle with it, then we saw Spencer Levin throw up all over himself the very next week. That pressure is there, it is very real. But Charlie Wi accepts it, or so he says. Here’s what he had to say about the matter after his round Saturday afternoon, responding to the question of whether or not having the lead going into the final round is a blessing or a curse. “I’ll let you know tomorrow. I haven’t really thought about that. But I enjoy being in the lead. It’s a lot more fun than trying to come back from behind. I know that tonight is going to be very exciting, and I’m sure I won’t sleep as well as if I’m in 50th place. But that’s what we play for and I’m really excited.” Rest assured (no pun intended) that he knows that Tiger is lurking and would love nothing more than to make him the next Spencer Levin. ”Well, as a PGA TOUR player, we definitely need Tiger out here. He drives the TOUR. I don’t know if you guys want to hear that, but you know, he is a very important part of the PGA TOUR and it’s very important for him to be competing and being near the lead all the time, because that drives viewers and that’s what helps us with our retirement fund, and (laughing), so I like to say Tiger. But I’ve known Tiger for a long time. Saw him last night. You know, we’re friendly. I really hope that (he) gets back to the form that he had in 2000.” Just not tomorrow, Charlie…. not if you want to win anyway.

Who the Hell is Ken Duke?

Eric Risberg / Associated Press

That question will be asked quite a bit tomorrow. The short story is that he’s your typical journeyman Touring Pro who’s bounced back and forth between the Nationwide and the PGA Tour throughout his career. He’s never won on the PGA Tour, but he did win the Nationwide’s Tour Championship last year, and that win gave him a new life this year with the big boys. He’s 43 years old, he’s from Hope, Arkansas, and he can get very streaky. Remember, he shot 28 on Pebble’s back nine on Thursday, the same back nine he’ll be playing tomorrow, so let’s not overlook the fact that despite his streaky play – he belongs out there. And by the way – he is only 3 shots back and in 2nd place… it’s not like he went to the resort and checked out after setting that back-nine scoring record at Pebble in the opening round. Oh yeah, he’s played three rounds of golf 1 stroke better than Tiger, for what it’s worth. Yeah, he belongs. And you know, regardless of what happens tomorrow – this guy sounds like he’s going to sleep well tomorrow night regardless. “It’s just an honor, with the start I got out on the first day, so just to be here and playing and competing at Pebble. First time I’ve ever been here that the weather has been good, so it’s always a great time. Just enjoying; I’ve worked hard to get back here and just enjoy it.” How cool would it be to see Ken Duke and Charlie Wi knotted up going into the final hole tomorrow, one of them on the verge of realizing a lifelong dream??? I’d take that finish, in a heartbeat. Something tells me that either of these guys would appreciate it a lot more than the next two guys below.

Just Like Old Times

Funny how things work out…. I mean, when you consider the odds of a Mickelson-Woods pairing happening on Thursday, let alone on Sunday, you do really have to wonder whether or not something magical might happen in the final round. Absolutely no disrespect to Charlie Wi or Ken Duke – either of these guys could go out and shoot 5-6 under on Sunday and really put a damper on a Tiger comeback story… but the two guys who have basically thrown the Tour on their backs and carried it for the past decade – this is why people tune in to watch. I don’t know exactly how many people will be in attendance tomorrow, but you can bet your coat, your hat, and your house cat that there will be throngs of people following this group tomorrow. And that might not be a bad thing for both Wi and Duke, because they will certainly not have to deal with the galleries like Tiger and Phil.

In an ideal world, Lefty and Tiger would be 10 years younger and playing the best golf of their careers, but it will be no less enjoyable for the fans. When these two guys tee it up, pride is always at stake. They’re not exactly BFF’s, but at the same time they have a lot of respect for each other, similar to the Palmer/Nicklaus era. And both of these guys know that they’ll have to go out and play great tomorrow, and that it’s not just about being the low player in the group, but winning the golf tournament. Tiger’s solid round of 5-under 67 on Saturday continues to add fuel to the fire that he’s starting to turn a corner in his game, but more importantly it’s his putting that seems to be playing the catalyst. He goes into Sunday only 4 shots back of Charlie Wi, and despite everything he’s been through the last two years – the goal hasn’t changed. After his round Saturday, Tiger talked about how his swing has progressed over the past several months and how his bad swings are suddenly not so bad. “I didn’t hit it as well as I did the last two days but made some more putts and really managed my game well today. I missed in all the right spots, and even though my game was slightly off today, it’s not as off as it used to be, which is very good.” He went on to add, “Well, it’s a different swing. But the scenario doesn’t change; the ultimate goal is to win a golf tournament. So the whole idea of making these swing changes was become more consistent and I’m starting to see that now. My start lines are much tighter now. I don’t hit the ball as far off line as I used to, and my ball doesn’t curve as much. So consequently my off-days are not as far off. On top of that, if you make a few putts like I did today, and get it rolling, and had a nice little stretch there where I probably could have birdied six holes in a row, so it was close.”

Tiger was in the final pairing two weeks ago in the final round of the HSBC in Abu Dhabi and couldn’t get anything going, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. His golf swing is certainly good in calm conditions, but if the wind kicks up Sunday afternoon at Pebble Beach – he’ll have to rely heavily on his putting to get the job done.

All of this said…. I would be utterly shocked if he doesn’t win this event. Charlie Wi will have a lot to do with that, but Tiger is in a great position to strike early and put the pressure on him. If the galleries are quiet, that will be music to Charlie’s ears.

For a full recap of Saturday’s action at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, click HERE.

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