As dominatingperformances go, Arron Oberholser's five-stroke win at the AT&T PebbleBeach National Pro-Am was every bit as impressive as J.B. Holmes's seven-shotdismemberment of the TPC of Scottsdale during the FBR Open the week before. Itwas only their styles of play that were polar opposites. ¬∂ Holmes, the23-year-old prototype of the baby boomers who have become the talk of the Tour,was overpowering, hammering 350-yard drives while turning a rock-hard desertcourse into the TPC of Pitch 'n' Putt. Oberholser, a 31-year-old who grew up inNorthern California and played at nearby San Jose State, went old school on thedamp, spongy Monterey Peninsula, relying on local knowledge, strategicshotmaking, a deft short game and a hot putter to, like Holmes, win for thefirst time. To cap off his week, Oberholser and partner Mike McCallister wonthe Pro-Am portion of the tournament (Backspin, page G19). That a player likeOberholser would break through at Pebble was hardly a surprise, as winnersthere are typically shotmakers (Ben Hogan, Johnny Miller, Byron Nelson, PayneStewart and Tom Watson, to name a few) and brainy strategists (Hale Irwin, JackNicklaus, Mark O'Meara and Tiger Woods, among others).
Conditions playedright into Oberholser's hand on Friday, when he was making his way aroundSpyglass Hill, which with Poppy Hills and Pebble Beach is one of the threecourses used in the tournament. The temperature appeared to be headed toward abalmy 80° under bright, sunny skies but suddenly nosedived to around 50° in theafternoon when a layer of fog rolled in off the Pacific, turning the tournamentinto The Big Chill. "I went from my summer yardages to my winter yardagesin one hole," Oberholser said. "I got done with the 5th hole, walked tothe 6th, and suddenly there's no sunshine. It changed dramatically, but I'mused to that around here. When I woke up in the morning, I looked out thewindow and said, 'The fog will be here today at some point.' I knew it wascoming."
On the par-4,431-yard 9th hole, where he had busted a 310-yard drive two days earlier in apractice round, Oberholser nailed a tee shot that didn't reach the 250-yardmarker, then played a four-iron to the green. "It's unbelievable," hesaid, "but anybody who lives in this area knows that when nature's airconditioner turns on, this is the home of the 150-yard seven-iron, and you haveto nut it. It's second nature for me."
Spyglass Hill andPoppy Hills feel like second homes to Oberholser, who played them frequentlyduring his high school and college years. "I've been in every spot you canpossibly be in," he says, "so I have zero fear."
He didn't have manyanxious moments in the final round. Tied with Mike Weir after 54 holes,Oberholser had a five-stroke lead by the time they reached the 4th tee. He hadbirdied the 2nd and 3rd holes. Meanwhile, Weir had doubled the par-5 2nd afterhis fairway wood shot hooked out-of-bounds, then bogeyed the 3rd hole when hisshort-iron approach flew long. It was Oberholser's parade after that.
This looks like abreakthrough moment for a player once known as a hothead. "There's nothingwrong with my game; it's upstairs where I have been lacking," saysOberholser, who claims to have found peace and maturity in the last year. In2004 he shared the 54-hole lead at Pebble Beach with Vijay Singh, but whenSingh opened the final round with three straight birdies, Oberholser melteddown, shooting 76 to slip to a tie for fourth. Oberholser held up better at theWachovia Championship, where he lost a playoff to nice-guy Joey Sindelar butadvanced his growing-up process by apologizing for his poor behavior whileplaying with Sindelar two weeks earlier in Houston. In November, Oberholserpicked up a $1 million check for winning the Shinhan Korea Championship.
Oberholser has asound game, one well-suited to tough setups like U.S. Opens. Oh, did we mentionthat he tied for ninth in his first Open appearance last summer? Oberholserlooks ready to jump to the top level. That's handy because this win bumps himinto the top 50 (No. 41) in the World Ranking. If he stays there, that willensure his first trip to the Masters, and he has clinched a spot in next week'sAccenture Match Play Championship. Oops, that could be a small problem.Oberholser, a bachelor, bought a house--his first--in Scottsdale and issupposed to move in next week. "Oh, man," he said on Sunday evening,"my mom has a lot of work ahead of her."
So does her son,and his best work, without a doubt, is yet to come.
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