Minnesota Golf Association

2 Eagles Propel Berger to Victory at Pebble Beach; Tree Costs Hoge a Top-10

February 15, 2021

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- There are two trees in play on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links, but if you gave a couple of chain saws to two players with Minnesota connections, Tom Hoge and Troy Merritt, both of those trees woud probably be gone. 

On Sunday, Hoge was was in a six-way tie for seventh place, at 13 under par, in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (minus the Ams this year) going into the 18th hole. It's a 526-yard, par-5, reachable in two. So it was a chance for Hoge -- who is from Fargo but won the Minnesota State Amateur twice (2009, '10) -- to make a birdie and move up into a tie for fifth -- or a tie for third if he could make an eagle. Instead, he made a bogey 6 and dropped back into sole possession of 12th place. 

The problem was his tee shot. He didn't hit it all that badly, but one of the two trees on 18 is in the fairway, a Cypress on the right side, roughly 265 yards from the tee. Hoge's ball went into the tree -- and never came out. Jordan Spieth was playing with Hoge, and Spieth's caddy, Michael Greller, made a noble effort to find the ball, climbing about 20 feet up into the tree, but to no avail. After three minutes, the ball was deemed to be lost, meaning a penalty of stroke and distance. Hoge had to hit the tee shot over again.

He hit a nearly identical shot. This time the ball avoided the tree, and Hoge went on to make a 4, plus the two-stroke penalty. So it went down as a 6, giving him a final-round 71 and a 72-hole total of 276 (minus 12), which earned him $181,350.

Without the penalty, it would have been a birdie, and the former TCU star -- he tie for third with Rickie Fowler in the 2009 NCAA, three strokes behind the winner, Matt Hill of North Carolina State -- would have finished at 274, tied for fifth with Paul Casey and Nate Lashley at 274. That would have been worth nearly $300,000. (Lashley had his own late-round disaster. He four-putted the green a the par-4 16th for a 7.)

As it was, Hoge moved up from the No. 66 spot in the 2020-21 PGA Tour money list to No. 52, with $816,305. Had he made a 4 and ended up in that fifth-place tie, he would have moved up another nine spots to No. 43, and would now have '20-21 earnings of a little more than $930,000. (In six plus seasons on the PGA Tour, Hoge has made $6,230,353, which ranks 291st on the career earnings list, eight places ahead of Hale Irwin's $5,966,031 and 17 spots ahead of Jack Nicklaus' $5,734,031.) 

This was not the first time a tree on No. 18 at Pebble Beach cost a PGA Tour player with Minnesota ties a lot of money. In 2018, Troy Merritt, a former golf and basketball star from Spring Lake Park, was in position for a top-5 finiish in the AT&T Pro-Am. But he blocked a wedge into the other tree on the hole, short and right of the green. They never found that ball, either. Merritt went on to three-putt the green for a triple-bogey 8, which cost him roughly $200,000.

Merritt was in the tournament again this year. He shot 68 on Sunday -- with a birdie at the 18th, tied for 16th place at 279 and made $118,950. He moved up from No. 148 on the money list to No. 123 with $281,465. 

The winner of the AT&T was Daniel Berger, who had two markedly different experiences with the 18th hole at Pebble Beach over the weekend. On Saturday, he hit his first drive out of bounds to the right and wound up with a 7. But on Sunday he hit the fairway with his first tee shot  -- which ended up 10 yards to the right of the Hoge Tree -- and then, from 250 yards, hit "the best 3-wood of my life" to 31 feet from the cup. Needing only to two-putt to win, he made the first putt for an eagle. That lifted him out of a tie with Maverick McNealy and gave him a two-shot victory. Berger's valedictory 65 was the best score of the day, and he finished at 270.

That eagle, by the way, was his second of the round, and fourth of the tournament. Early in Sunday's round, he had eagled the 516-yard, par-5 second hole. He birdied the par-4 third (398 yards) and the par-5 sixth (519 yards), then bogeyed the daunting, par-4 eighth (421 yards) on the way to front-side 33. He birdied the 356-yard, par-4 10th, and also birdied the longest of the par-5's, the 580-yard 14th. For the day, he was 6 under on the par-5's.   

Berger collected a check for $1,404,000, which elevated him 50 places on the money list, to No. 12, with $2,058,755. McNealy closed with a 66 and made $850,200 for his runner-up finish. Patrick Cantlay, who couldn't make a putt but shot 68 anyway, and Spieth tied for third at 273. This was the second top-5 finish in a row for the resurgent Spieth, who tied for fourth last week in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He, like Cantlay, couldn't buy a putt for the first 16 holes, but he  birdied the par-3 17th with an 18-footer and made a 5-footer for a birdie at the 18th, which gave him a 70.

This was Berger's fourth PGA Tour victory, and his second since the tour returned from its Covid 19 break last year. Wrist injuries had sent him into a two-year slump after he won the FedEx St, Jude in 2016 and '17. But he was back in form last summer, as he demonstrated by winning the Charles Schwab Challenge in a playoff against Collin Morikawa in June. With that victory, he should have gotten into the Masters in November, but he didn't -- because the 2020 Masters field was set in early April of 2020. Berger will definitely be in this year's Masters. He was No. 13 in the Official World Golf Rankings at the end of last year, and his triumph at the AT&T moved him back up to No. 13 this week. 

A two-time All-American at Florida State who turned pro after his sophomore year, Berger has an unusual looking swing, with the club noticeably laid off at the top. That probably doesn't surprise anyone who saw his father, Jay Berger, play tennis on the ATP Tour in the 1980s and '90s. Idiosyncratic athletic motions seem to run in the family. Jay had what was described as a back-scratch service motion, starting the swing with the racket behind his neck, not down below his waist. There was no backswing at all. It looked weird, but it was his way of dealing with chest and shoulder injuries, and it worked pretty well. He won three singles titles, made the quarterfinals of both the French Open and U.S. Open in 1989 and had a career-high ranking of No. 7 in the world in April of 1990.    


AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

At Pebble Beach Golf Links, par 72, 6,958 yards

& Spyglass Hill Golf Course, par 72, 6,858 yards

Pebble Beach, Calif. 

Final results

1. Daniel Berger           $1,404,000     67-66-72-65--270

2. Maverick McNealy      $850,200     68-69-69-66--272

T3. Patrick Cantlay         $460,200     62-73-70-68--273

T3. Jordan Spieth          $460,200      65-67-71-70--273

T5. Nate Lashley           $301,275      65-72-68-69--274

T5. Paul Casey             $301,275       68-67-71-68--274

12. Tom Hoge              $181,350       67-70-68-71--276


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