12 February 2021: Patrick Cantlay looked just as good Thursday at Pebble Beach as the last round he played 18 days ago. Jordan Spieth looked as good as his last tournament, too. Akshay Bhatia joined a short list – one that includes Jack Nicklaus – with his performance Thursday at the AT&T Pebble Pro-Am.
Pebble Beach is known for its tiny greens but Bhatia hit all 18 of them in his first-round 64. He is the first player since 2008 to hit every green in a round at Pebble.
Coming off a 61 in the California desert followed by at two-week break, Cantlay opened with seven birdies in eight holes and closed with two straight birdies for a 10-under 62. That tied the course record at Pebble Beach last matched 24 years ago by David Duval, and it gave Cantlay a two-shot lead in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
“I feel like I’m in a groove right now,” Cantlay said.
Henrik Norlander and 19-year-old Akshay Bhatia were at 64. Bhatia hit all 18 of the small greens at Pebble Beach, the first player to do that at Pebble since Ryan Palmer in 2008.
Spieth moved another round closer to some kind of a groove. He tied for fourth last week in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, his best finish since May 2019 at the PGA Championship. Spieth holed out a wedge on the 10th hole for eagle and finished with three birdies over his last five holes for a 65.
It helped being at Pebble Beach, typically the easier course when the weather is dry and relatively calm. Only one of the leading 10 scores was at Spyglass Hill. That came from Will Gordon, who shot a 66. Spyglass played two shots harder.
“Today you needed to step on the gas pedal and take advantage,” Spieth said. And then he considered that his 65 was only good enough for a tie for fourth with Nate Lashley.
“I got bested by three today,” Spieth said. “I’m going to have to keep my foot on the gas.”
He is just the seventh player since 1983 (when the TOUR started keeping hole-by-hole statistics) to hit all 18 greens in a round at Pebble Beach, including both the AT&T and the four U.S. Opens held at Pebble Beach in that span.
A total of 10,303 PGA TOUR rounds have been played at Pebble Beach since 1983, meaning a player has hit all 18 greens just 0.07% of the time or once in every 1,472 rounds. Last season, Pebble Beach had the eighth-hardest greens to hit on TOUR (62.9%).
|PLAYERS WHO HIT ALL 18 GREENS AT PEBBLE|
|2006||2||Love III, Davis||T33|
Bhatia also gained more than three strokes on the greens, holing three putts from outside 15 feet. A recent switch from an arm-lock to a short putter paid off.
“It’s probably the first time I’ve ever putted this well,” he said.
The longest one he made was a 21-footer for birdie on his first hole of the day, the par-4 10th. He added birdies on 14 and 17 to make the turn in 3-under 33. Bhatia added birdies at Nos. 2 and 3 and 6-8.
His last birdie came after a 207-yard dart to 3 feet on the eighth hole, which requires an approach over the cliffs to a tiny green. It was the most difficult hole Thursday, playing to a 4.23 average and allowing just five birdies. It helped that Bhatia was more concerned with his snack than the daunting approach.
“I was peeling an orange and it was so bad that I was just thinking about the orange and my caddie goes, ‘OK, we got 207.’ I said, ‘OK, I got to (hit),’” Bhatia said. “Just kind of hit-and-see kind of thing. It was a great birdie to steal there.”
He had no bogeys Thursday.
Bhatia, 19, is making his fifth start of the season. He finished T9 at the Safeway Open, making him the youngest player to finish in the top-10 of a stroke-play event on TOUR since Justin Rose finished fourth at the 1998 Open Championship.
Bhatia also part of another interesting note this week. His presence in the field means that Phil Mickelson has played the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with players born in every decade from the 1920s to the 2000s.