sfgate.com photo: Phil Mickelson (left) and Nick Taylor (right) confer during the third tee of the final round at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am on Sunday
By Jeremy Harness
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Despite leading throughout, Nick Taylor had a few things working against him on Sunday.
A prevailing wind that particularly showed its teeth in the afternoon, not to mention a defending champion with virtually all of the crowd support and a history of catching guys from behind to win major titles.
Taylor endured the cold, hard Sunday afternoon winds and battled through a tough stretch on the back nine to pull away with a wire-to-wire victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the second win of his PGA Tour career and the first since his rookie year of 2014-15.
“It was an incredible week,” said Taylor, who became the first Canadian to win this event. “I felt like I read the greens so well this week. I don’t think it’s going to sink in for at least another few days. To win, at such an iconic place, is amazing.”
He and Phil Mickelson, who has won this event five times, including last year, went toe-to-toe for the first six holes and struggled through the first five holes of the back side as the increasing winds came into play. However, it was Taylor who persevered by making clutch birdies at the 15th and 17th holes to seal the win.
Mickelson began the day one stroke behind Taylor, but he soon tied things up at the par-5 second hole, when he hit a brilliant shot out of a greenside bunker and rolled in the ensuing two-footer for birdie.
That lead didn’t last long, however. Two holes later, Taylor made a 13-footer for birdie to re-claim the advantage.
He then got on a roll, making an 11-footer for birdie at the par-3 fifth, moments after Mickelson stuck his tee shot four feet from the hole, a putt that he would make. Mickelson kept the heat on Taylor at the par-5 sixth, making it to the green in two shots before two-putting for birdie.
Taylor, however, again one-upped Mickelson. He parked his second shot into a greenside bunker but then holed out for an eagle to increase his lead to two. He found the bunker again at the par-3 seventh, but the ensuing sand shot wasn’t nearly as good, leaving him with a 13-footer.
As he had done all week, Taylor was able to find the hole to save par and keep his lead intact.
Both guys had their issues at the par-4 eighth, as Taylor could not get up and down from the sand and wound up with a bogey. Meanwhile, Mickelson’s short game let him down at the par-4 eighth, as after going over the green with his approach, his chip shot rolled past the green before being able to chip it on.
He then missed the ensuing bogey putt and, therefore, surrendered another stroke to Taylor. He played the next four holes at one-over, and he just could not get back on track.
The wind really picked up in the afternoon as the last groups hit the back nine, and the gusts, which were measured at up to 34 mph, had a significant effect on the scores. Even Taylor, who had been unflappable through the first three rounds, started to leak oil. He played holes 11 through 14 at four-over – including a double at the 14th – to give a sputtering Mickelson a lifeline.
Mickelson, however, was not able to generate any momentum after a birdie at the 10th. He dropped shots at the 12th, 14th and 16th holes, and when Taylor chipped in for birdie at the 15th, the tournament essentially belonged to Taylor.
“It was extremely difficult because you have the wind that kept swirling in and then down, and you had the greens that were very firm,” Mickelson said. “It was a hard day, (but) Nick played better than I did.
“He holed a couple of great shots, and he just really played some great golf.”
Kevin Streelman, who won the Pro-Am portion of this event along with All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, also put himself in contention for the individual title, shooting a four-under round of 68 and finished in second place and leap-frogging Jason Day in the process.
Beginning the day in a tie for fourth, Streelman eagled the uphill par-5 sixth, and after dropping a shot at the eighth, he began his assault on the back nine. He was one of the few players unaffected by the heavy wind, recording four birdies against only one bogey on the final nine holes.
“We just ham-and-egged it perfectly, to be honest,” Streelman said of his partnership with Fitzgerald, who has spent his entire career with the Arizona Cardinals. “He made some nice birdies, a few pars. I kind of had to carry him at the end there, (but) he kind of had to pick up a few holes.
“I just love this guy. He’s a great man, and we had a lot of fun out there.”
Day, who began his final round three shots back and in third place, could not get fully on track on Sunday. He got off to a nice start, rolling in a birdie at the second hole, but he soon hit the skids, dropping a shot at the fourth as well as the fifth.
After a birdie at the sixth, he bogeyed the 11th and suffered a damaging double bogey at the par-3 12th. To sum up how his day was going, he threw his hands up in relief after a birdie at the par-5 14th. He birdied again at the 15th, but he stumbled again with back-to-back bogeys and he finished in fourth, eight shots behind, after a three-over round of 75.
“The way the greens were, it can make you look like a pretty big fool out there sometimes,” Day said. “I had four three-putts on the back side, so obviously, it was disappointing the way that I putted because I actually hit it pretty decent.
“Overall, I’m happy about the week, but also I wish I would have given it more of a chance.”