June 10, 2019 / 11:04 AM / a month ago

Pebble Beach always delivers gripping U.S. Open drama

(Reuters) - So beloved is Pebble Beach in the golf world that those not familiar with the sport’s history might assume it has been a traditional U.S. Open venue since Bobby Jones was in his heyday during the early part of last century.

FILE PHOTO - Ernie Els of South Africa and Ryo Ishikawa of Japan play the seventh hole during the third round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship in Pebble Beach, California June 19, 2010. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Pebble was opened in 1919 but its place on the Open rotation is fairly recent, with the course first hosting the championship in 1972, when two things — Jack Nicklaus and the views of the adjacent Pacific Ocean — made it an immediate hit.

The victory by the man who was to become the most prolific major winner ever gave the course instant credibility, demonstrating that it was not a venue to produce fluke winners.

Subsequent champions at Pebble Beach have only cemented the course’s status as the most iconic U.S. Open course.

This week’s championship will be the sixth time Pebble Beach has hosted a U.S. Open. It also was the site of the 1977 PGA Championship won by Lanny Wadkins.

Below is a brief synopsis of how previous Opens unfolded:

NICKLAUS SEALS VICTORY WITH ONE-IRON THAT HITS PIN

1972 - Pebble could hardly have produced a better leaderboard hosting its first Open, with Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer all in the mix in the final round.

Nicklaus started one stroke ahead of Lee Trevino, 12 months removed from a playoff at the 1971 Open, which Trevino won.

Wearing his famous yellow cardigan, Nicklaus sealed his victory with a tap-in birdie at the par-three 17th, where his one-iron struck the pin on the first bounce and settled six inches away.

He won by three strokes from Australian Bruce Crampton for the third of his four U.S. Open victories. Palmer finished third.

WATSON CHIP-IN CONDEMNS NICKLAUS TO SECOND

1982 - The 17th hole on Sunday again provided the most pivotal moment of a championship featuring another magnificent leaderboard.

Tom Watson arrived at the hole tied with Nicklaus, who had already finished, but Watson’s tee shot bounded over the green into rough some 15 feet from the pin.

Facing a downhill chip, there seemed little chance Watson could stop his ball from rolling well beyond the hole — unless he hit the pin.

Watson’s caddie Bruce Edwards offered some encouragement to his boss to chip it close.

“I’m going to sink it,” Watson replied.

He did, with his ball clattering against the pin and dropping in. A birdie at the last was good for a two-shot win over Nicklaus, Watson’s first and only U.S. Open victory.

KITE SHEDS TITLE OF BEST PLAYER WITHOUT MAJOR WIN

1992 - For three days the event was played in relatively benign conditions and with low scores common.

But Sunday was sunny with low humidity and a stiff breeze, and the greens quickly became baked-out and for some almost unplayable with 20 players shooting in the 80s.

Tom Kite, saddled at the time with the dubious honor of being the best player not to have won a major, however was not fazed by the conditions and beat Jeff Sluman by two shots.

“You talk to the players, and almost to a man they consider it one of the most difficult days they ever played golf, especially for those of us who went off late,” Kite told Golf.com 20 years later.

WOODS PRODUCES GREATEST PERFORMANCE OF CAREER

2000 - Tiger Woods was in the midst of his best single season in a career littered with great ones and arrived in the best form of his life.

He played almost otherworldly golf for four rounds, increasing his lead each day, even with the luxury of a triple-bogey during the third round.

Woods eventually won by a record 15 strokes over Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

“I could have played out of my mind and still lost by six or seven,” Els remarked afterwards.

MCDOWELL WINS DURING GOLDEN ERA FOR IRISH GOLF

2010 - Graeme McDowell proved the bridge between Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy in a golden era for Irish golf, reveling on a course that while not a true links still has some of those characteristics when it plays firm and fast in summer.

Then little-known Dustin Johnson was the 54-hole leader, but he collapsed early and opened the door for McDowell to step through and edge France’s Gregory Havret by one stroke.

Els was third, followed by Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Greg Stutchbury

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