PEBBLE BEACH — Are we seeing a kinder, gentler USGA now that John Bodenhamer has taken over from Mike Davis in overseeing U.S. Open course setups? Well, the sea of red on the leader board through three rounds this week is as noticeable as the sea itself that surrounds Pebble Beach. And when have you heard tour pros speak so favorably about golf's governing body? Phil Mickelson was downright gushing after Saturday's third round—and he isn't even having a good week!
"I've got to give it to, hand it to the USGA for doing a great setup. It's the best I've ever seen. And it's identifying the best players. It's making the players the story," Mickelson said moments after making a triple bogey on No. 18. "I think the biggest thing was pin placements, instead of putting them right on the edges they were in good spots, rewarding great shots. I can't say enough great things about how this week has gone so far. And I'm appreciative to the effort they've put in and for the opportunity that I had this week."
But maybe Mickelson spoke too soon. After all, the USGA had one more opportunity to create a bit of carnage on the Monterey Peninsula with Sunday's pins. In the two previous Pebble Beach U.S. Opens, only one player—Tiger Woods in 2000's historic triumph—had finished the week under par. The USGA certainly would fight back at a tournament where two players are double digits under par through 54 holes, right?
In a word, no.
Check out this comparison of the final-round hole locations from February's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (won by Mickelson, by the way) to the pins players will face on Father's Day:
As you can see, there are plenty of similarities. But in a few of those cases—Nos. 2, 11, and 14, for example—Sunday's pins are slightly more accessible than they were a few months ago. In fact, you could argue that eight of the first nine holes (No. 7 as the lone exception and that's the shortest hole on the course anyway) have easier pins than the guys faced in February.
One thing to note, though, is that the greens this week are a lot firmer than they were in February, which limits some of the spots to place pins and keep the goodwill flowing from players. On Saturday, golfers really started to have to factor in bounces when hitting approach shots.
Still, with a little morning mist to keep the greens from getting too firm, a similar wind to the first three days, and a lack of pins being placed on the edges, golf fans should probably expect more of the same on Sunday. Of course, there still exists the ultimate defense of par: the final-round nerves that come with trying to win a major championship.