Magic of Pebble; U.S. Open: Mere mention of the course where the national championship is being held this week conjures up memories of irresistible beauty and unforgettable shots.

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. — PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - Magical is thy name.

It is one of those places where the mere mention conjures up images, where golfers make the pilgrimage, some even without their clubs, just to walk this hallowed ground.


It is one of those courses that is both beauty and beast, depending on the time of the year or the hour of the day, the circumstances of the tournament or the level of the player.

"I think everybody who thinks about Pebble Beach, the first thing they think about is not the golf course," Tom Watson said yesterday. "They think about the beauty of the place because that's what it represents."


The return of the U.S. Open this week for its centennial championship to the Pebble Beach Golf Links - Pebble, as most simply call it - will evoke memories from its first three trips here.

Of 1972, and the 1-iron Jack Nicklaus blistered on the par-3 17th hole, the tee shot hitting the flagstick and stopping a couple of inches away. The subsequent birdie helped Nicklaus to a 3-shot victory for the third of his four Open championships.

Of 1982, and caddie Bruce Edwards telling Watson, "Get it close," as Watson stepped over his chip from the tangled rough off the 17th green. "Get it close? Hell, I'm going to sink it," Watson recalled saying of the birdie that led to his two-shot win over Nicklaus.

Of 1992, and another just-get-it-close chip Tom Kite hit on the par-3 seventh hole. Playing in 50-mile-an-hour winds that whipped off Carmel Bay, it was a shot that nobody - Kite included - expected to go in. Kite's birdie gave him a two-shot lead and he eventually won by two for his first major championship.

But its history includes far more than just those three Opens.

It is the place where, earlier this year at Pebble Beach AT&T; National Pro-Am, Tiger Woods won his fifth straight PGA Tour event, coming from seven shots down with seven holes to play to beat a future trivia answer named Matt Gogel.

It is the place where, at last year's Pebble Beach AT&T;, Payne Stewart won to help launch a comeback that culminated with his dramatic Open win over Phil Mickelson on the 72nd hole at Pinehurst.

It is the place where an inveterate hacker named Bing Crosby came in 1937 with his friends from Hollywood for what became known as "The Crosby" or, more intimately, as "The Clambake." Another legend, Sam Snead, won the first two.


It will be the place where, come tomorrow, 156 players will be competing for a championship left vacant since Stewart's tragic death last October in a private plane accident.

It is, coincidentally, the place where Stewart defended his first Open title, won at Hazeltine outside Minneapolis in sudden death in 1991. This marks the first time since 1949 that an Open champion is unable to defend.

It is the place which Nicklaus first discovered when he won the 1961 U.S. Amateur here and, after one of his hundreds of trips back, declared, "If I had one course to play, it would be Pebble Beach."

Nicklaus is back again, at age 60, for the record 43rd and what might be the last Open of his legendary career.

"I love playing in the Open, playing under these conditions," Nicklaus said yesterday. "I would love to play again. I still think I can play as well. I'm hoping I can."

Watson is back again, at age 50, hoping to be competitive after his recent success on the Senior Tour.


"I've got a lot of great memories here," said Watson, who started playing here during his years at Stanford. "When you hit the sixth hole and on around - my dad termed the greatest three holes in golf - three par-4s at 8, 9, 10 - you've just been introduced to Pebble Beach."

Kite is back again, coming off his second win last week in his first season on the Senior Tour.

"Experience is going to play a large factor on this golf course," said Kite. "There's no question about that. It wouldn't surprise me to see Jack having a good tournament or Tom or Hale Irwin or myself having a good tournament. Win it? I don't know. It's a little different animal right now."

Perhaps it's an animal named Tiger. Woods came close to winning here three years ago when he hunted down Mark O'Meara with a 3-iron approach into the wind that helped him eagle the par-5 18th at the AT&T.; Then there was the comeback on the back nine earlier this year.

But Woods' affection for Pebble Beach goes back even further, to when he played here as a 13-year-old.

"The golf course has always had a special place in my heart," he said. "One for its pristine beauty and another for its mystique. Maybe because the tournament's held here, maybe a combination of the layout and the beauty, the finishes we've had over the years on this golf course."


Perhaps another memorable one this week as the U.S. Open plays its centennial championship at a magical place called Pebble.