PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Tom Hoge enjoys being at Pebble Beach even in a frigid wind and relentless rain. He loved it even more Thursday in brilliant sunshine, especially with nine birdies on his card.
Hoge began his day along the Pacific Ocean with a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 10 at Pebble Beach. He made the last of six straight birdies with a 40-foot putt on the daunting eighth hole. It added to a 9-under 63, by four shots his best score at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
“It's hard to be in a bad mood out here,” Hoge said. “I mean, Pebble Beach and perfect weather is about as good as it gets.”
He had a one-shot lead over Seamus Power of Ireland, whose round was equally stout. Power birdied his last four holes at Spyglass Hill, traditionally the toughest of the three courses in benign conditions. It was the only course that played over par Thursday.
Jonas Blixt had a 7-under 64 on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula. Patrick Cantlay, at No. 4 the highest-ranked player in the field, birdied his last three holes for a 65 on the Shore.
Hoge has played just over 200 times on the PGA Tour without winning, though he's getting closer. He finished runner-up by two shots in Palm Desert two weeks ago.
Whether he gets another shot, that's still a long way off, with two more courses to get through before Hoge gets back to Pebble Beach.
The coastline along the peninsula and the desert tucked amid the Santa Rosa Mountains are nothing alike, although Hoge managed to make one comparison. Scoring is on the low side.
Along with very little wind, the area has gone more than a month without rain and the courses are firm, without the greens being too fast because of amateurs in the field. To have green running firm and fast, they might never finish. And it takes long enough as it is.
“I was in the situation a couple weeks ago in Palm Springs — scores were a little bit better there — but you keep switching golf courses and you fee like you've got to keep making birdies the whole way because there's a lot of great players out here,” he said. “Conditions look pretty good for the weekend, so I know that I've got to keep moving forward.”
There was no need to check the forecast and hope for the best — and this tournament, that means getting Pebble Beach and Monterey Peninsula on the calmest day and Spyglass in the wind. But it's supposed to stay gorgeous all week.
Cantlay nearly had his round ruined around the turn when he squandered a good start with a pair of bogeys and began the back nine at the Shore by failing to birdie the par 5s. He made up for it with three straight birdies to finish his round, one of them on the 17th when his tee shot was about 6 feet from going into a small creek, and he hit a towering wedge over a pine to 12 feet for birdie.
Jordan Spieth, still trying to recover from an intestinal infection, had a 68 at Monterey Peninsula. He had hoped to be at full strength, but probably wasn't quite there. He headed for a bathroom after signing his card.
Otherwise, it was as perfect a day as the Pebble Beach Pro-Am can offer. About one-third of the field broke 70, and no one was terribly grumpy.
Power won an opposite-field event last year for his first PGA Tour victory. He tied for third in the Sony Open and now sits at No. 50 in the world, needing to hold that position for two months to earn an invitation to the Masters.
He played in an all-Irish pairing with John Murphy, who went to Louisville and made his PGA Tour debut, along with Irish amateurs Dermott Desmond and Gerry McManus. That added to a day that felt like more fun than work.
“I'm playing a shirt. Normally I have a sweater and other stuff on,” Power said. “So it was nice, wind was minimal. It was a perfect day for scoring.”
His best moment was scrambling for par at the par-3 fifth hole, the last that runs along the Pacific on Spyglass Hill. He went from a fairway bunker on the uphill sixth to 25 feet and made that, and then finished with three more birdies.
“It’s always funny with the three courses,” Power said. “It's great to have a good start but you’re on to a completely different challenge. Tomorrow I’m playing Pebble and it’s going to be a completely different course to today. So kind of makes it easier to reset, and hopefully we can kind of keep doing the same thing tomorrow.”