Jack Nicklaus. Tom Watson. Tiger Woods. Their names immediately flicker all-time highlights at Pebble Beach in the minds of golf fans.
Pebble Beach is the U.S. Open’s grandest venue, and the setting for some of the game’s most iconic shots. Our national championship will return for a sixth time to these hallowed grounds in just a few short weeks. As we anticipate what 2019 will deliver, we look back on the five greatest shots ever hit at a Pebble Beach U.S. Open:
It was 2010 — Tiger’s long-anticipated return to Pebble Beach, the site of his U.S. Open demolition in 2000. But Woods was also less than a year removed from a career-shaking scandal that chased him into hiding. No one knew what form to expect from Woods.
But this shot — stymied behind a Cypress, 273 yards out — showed us all that the old Tiger was still in there. A wild slice over the ocean, threading a 10-yard wide throat of fairway, to set up his fifth birdie on the back nine and vault him into red figures through three rounds, was the vintage Tiger everyone had waited a decade to see again.
Tiger had delivered one of the most dominant performances in sports history a decade earlier at Pebble Beach. But it’s worth noting that this shot — even though Woods would ultimately finish three shots behind winner Graeme McDowell — was the one college players competing at the 2018 U.S. Amateur went out of their way to recreate during their practice rounds.
You talk to the players, and almost to a man they consider it one of the most difficult days they ever played golf.
With 40 mph winds harassing the leaders on the course, Jack Nicklaus congratulated Scotsman Colin Montgomerie on his U.S. Open victory. Surely no one would be able to survive these conditions and finish better than even par, which is what Montgomerie had just posted. The petite seventh hole was Exhibit A. Only one professional golfer in the final 15 groups was about to hit the green on the 106-yard hole.
But with Montgomerie watching from the television booth, after Kite had just missed the green with a 6-iron, the Texan sank a wind-bent pitch at No. 7 for birdie. And Montgomerie’s head-holding reaction said it all. There were still many more dangerous holes remaining, but that shot symbolized the improbably great play Kite mustered up to win his first Major title.
“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 later reflected.
This shot on No. 6 isn’t really replicable anymore – the fairway now pours over the cliff, and the tree staring at Woods was lost to Mother Nature – but even if you could theoretically hit this shot, you definitely couldn’t. Woods smashed a 7-iron from 205 yards out of 4-inch rough, up and over that tree, up and over the mountainous second fairway, and it somehow found the green.
NBC announcer Roger Maltbie proclaimed in head-shaking awe, “It’s just not a fair fight!”
If any one shot magnified the difference between Woods and the mere mortals he was competing against in 2000, this strike in the second round was it.
I don't think I could ever do it again.
How do you choose between two of the most famous shots in U.S. Open history? They both happened here at No. 17, and they both involve Nicklaus.
At the first U.S. Open that Pebble Beach hosted in 1972, Nicklaus iced the championship by striking the flagstick with a wind-shaped 1-iron for a tap-in birdie.
“The shot I performed, I don’t think I could ever do again,” Nicklaus said.
I could have stood there with 100 balls and pitched them all at the hole from where he was and not gotten any of them in.
So how did we choose? Well, if we were to factor in pressure, Nicklaus did have a three-shot lead at the time.
When Tom Watson faced a delicate chip shot on No. 17 during the final round of the 1982 U.S. Open, he was tied for the lead with Nicklaus. A likely bogey would have dropped him one back.
But a confidence washed over Watson, who told his caddie that he would sink the slippery shot. And Watson somehow did.
“I could have stood there with 100 balls and pitched them all at the hole from where he was and not gotten any of them in,” said Watson’s playing partner Bill Rogers.
Added Nicklaus: “Make that 1,000.”