PEBBLE BEACH — Beyer High graduate Matt Bettencourt already is smiling before his first shot today at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Bettencourt scored by being paired with popular actor-comedian-TV-gameshow-host John O'Hurley, who will tee off from Spyglass Hill's 10th tee at 9:17 a.m. Getting a top-tier celebrity is a nice assignment for a second-year PGA Tour pro ranked 107th on the money list.
Then again, these two — the affable Bettencourt and the personality-rich O'Hurley — should hit it off. They sneaked in a practice round together Wednesday morning at Pebble Beach, the famed headquarters for the $6.2 million tournament.
"With Matt and John, I think they may have met along the way somewhere," tournament director Steve Worthy said. "It's not a scientific process. Some pros are a better fit with some celebrities and some are not, and we also have to follow a PGA Tour rating system to pair the two pros in the group. We try to come up with something that makes sense. It's kind of a feel thing."
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Bettencourt, a non-factor in his first AT&T last year, has made two of four cuts thus far in 2010. His closing 67 at Riviera last week, good for a tie for 47th at the Northern Trust Open, signaled a potential return to form for the 34-year-old who goes back to Pebble in June for the United States Open.
Another man already familiar with Pebble Beach is Mitch Lowe, Del Rio Country Club's director of instruction, who will take part in his fourth AT&T. His third Northern California PGA points title, his bounty from another year-long run in regional club-pro events, allows him to again rub elbows with the world's best.
Lowe believes his tough learning experience at the PGA Championship last summer at Hazeltine (Minn.) will serve him well. Regardless of what he shoots, he's getting married Sunday night at The Inn At Spanish Bay. In effect, he's already won.
One thing we know — Pebble, Spyglass and the Shore course at Monterey Peninsula CC have been rendered pillow-soft by recent storms. Tour officials have decided that players will navigate all three courses with ball-in-hand for all three days.
"I think we have to. It's way too muddy," said Lowe, who arrived here late last week. "It's hard to know what the scores will be. For me, it's the same story. Just hit the fairways and greens and make the putts. The game feels good. Now it's up to me to trust it."
Lowe, who's never qualified for the AT&T's final round, will begin at the Shore's 10th tee at 9:28 a.m. with 14-handicapper Anthony DiMaggio, the president of Star Fisheries and a resident of Rancho Palos Verdes.
The Shore replaces Poppy Hills, the Northern California Golf Association flagship layout that never quite gained favor with the pros.
The early reviews are favorable. The late Michael Strantz, the iconoclastic architect who died of tongue cancer a year after he redesigned the Shore in 2004, created a masterpiece.
It measures only 6,900 yards, short for the Tour bombers, and the usually car-hood fast greens will be defanged by the wetness. Minus wind, the pros probably will score low. Gusty wind over that exposed landscape near 17-Mile Drive, however, will result in higher numbers.
Strantz color-sketched each hole and rerouted 14 of them. He devised holes that afford ocean views and quirky toughness that puts the course on the same level as Pebble and Spyglass. The 11th, a 181-yard, downhill par-3 with its tees cut into a rock hill, is considered a classic. It was the last hole Strantz designed.
"The Shore belongs in the top 10 in the world," gushed former PGA and two-time Players champion Steve Elkington at the 51st California Golf Writers and Broadcasters Banquet on Tuesday night.
"I think it's the best renovation I've ever seen anywhere," veteran pro Brad Faxon said. "I think he (Strantz) absolutely nailed it, a seaside course with everything you would want to have."
The field, reduced from 180 to 156 pros, is stronger due to Pebble Beach's hosting the Open. Players want an early look at the rebunkering and lengthening supervised two years ago by Arnold Palmer.
John Merrick, a Long Beach resident who married the former Jody Schmidt of Modesto (they own a home in Modesto), withdrew Monday due to a sore back. Merrick shot a 75 and tied for 54th Sunday at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, his fourth straight week on the Tour.
"My back is a little sore, and it's a long season," Merrick said during a telephone interview.
Merrick, who's made three of four cuts, will return next week at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.