PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The one time Rory McIlroy could have been slightly annoyed was the very reason the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was so enjoyable.
McIlroy was just starting to take his driver back on the par-5 seventh at Spyglass Hill when he saw the shadow of his father move. With so much sunshine Thursday across the Monterey Peninsula, that was inevitable.
"So I backed off it. I said, ‘Fine, stand still.’ Blocked it way right and hit my second in the water," McIlroy said. "Hard to say anything. Chipped in for birdie, so I was like, ‘You’re forgiven."’
There wasn’t much not to like on a day like this, especially for Kevin Streelman and Beau Hossler.
Streelman doesn’t even play the most golf on his pro-am team — his partner is Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a golf fanatic and regular at Whisper Rock — but he managed to put together another strong round at Spyglass and keep bogeys off his card for a 7-under 65.
He shared the lead to par with Hossler, who added another strong memory from northern California. Hossler, who challenged for the lead as a 17-year-old on the weekend of the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, was bogey-free at Pebble Beach.
Hossler birdied the 16th and 17th and had a chance to take the lead on the par-5 18th until enough wind came up to make it a challenge. He sent his tee shot to the right, his second into a fairway bunker, didn’t quite reach the green and had to make an 8-foot putt to save par.
"Just a lot going on there, so I was glad to get out of there with a 5," Hossler said.
Aaron Wise also had a 65. He was on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula, which plays to a par 71. Also at 6 under were Matt Kuchar and Julian Suri, who were at Spyglass. Suri grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and has moved up to No. 66 in the world based on his play on the European Tour. Pebble Beach is his third straight sponsor’s exemption on the PGA Tour.
McIlroy, meanwhile, used that unlikely birdie on No. 7 to begin his move that eventually reached 4 under until a scrappy finish for a 68, leaving him three shots behind in his debut in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
"A couple of messy holes coming in," he said. "Made a good bogey on 16. Made a great par on 17. It was nice to finish with a birdie at the last. So all in all pretty pleased."
Scoring conditions were so good — everything was good about this day — that 97 out of the 156 players broke par.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth was not among them. He missed a birdie chance from 3 feet on the par-5 13th hole, which was annoying because he didn’t have many looks like that. Spieth made one birdie, one bogey and 16 pars. He was at 72 and, after grabbing lunch, was headed out to the practice green for some work.
It might have been more irritating on any other day but this one — not with the scenery, the ambiance at Spyglass and the social nature of this pro-am. Country singer Jake Owen kept it light, stopping on his way to the 16th tee to sing a song when someone handed him a guitar.
Dustin Johnson, a two-time Pebble winner and the No. 1 player in the world, had very little stress after he got up-and-down from the collar of the green at the par-3 fifth hole for bogey at Spyglass. He played with hockey great Wayne Gretzky, who had two birdies.
Johnson was at 67 and looked as though he might just be getting started. If that’s the case, he might have a problem. The top 25 pro-am teams advance to Sunday. One problem. Gretzky had to be in Edmonton on Sunday as the 1984-85 Oilers are celebrated as a fan vote of the greatest NHL team in the last century. The fact that tickets to the gala are going for $99 suggests the Great One probably needs to be there.
"He’s going to play as long as he can," Johnson said.
Patrick Cantlay had the best start of anyone at Monterey Peninsula — birdie on the par-5 10th, an ace with an 8-iron at the 11th, birdie on the par-5 12th. He cooled only slightly, but still managed a 66 and was in the group at 5 under that included Paul Casey, who was at Pebble.
The rounds didn’t last too much over five hours, which for a day debunked a couple of lazy myths — that rounds last six hours and the weather is miserable.
Among those at 5 under was Keith Mitchell, a PGA Tour rookie who had never been to the Monterey Peninsula he came up last week to play with retired race car driver Danny Sullivan. His partner at the AT&T is Larry the Cable Guy. Mitchell is still relatively new to the tour, so this was certainly the first time he played with someone wearing a camouflage shirt with the sleeves cut out.
"It was awesome," Mitchell said. "I love the laughs. It helps you relax and takes off some of the pressure you put on yourself. They stayed out of the way and made the crowd laugh, and that’s not easy to do."