A Pebble Beach party

Baltimore Sun

Sergio Garcia is playing Pebble Beach this week for the first time since 2001. Luke Donald hadn't hit the Monterey Peninsula course since missing the cut in 2007. And Adam Scott needed directions for his first-ever visit.

The reason they all flocked to the AT&T; Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was not to try out their "A" material for celebs Bill Murray, Ray Romano or George Lopez.

They came for a preview of the U.S. Open. Pebble has hosted both events in the same year four times, with Jack Nicklaus (1972) and Tiger Woods (2000) knocking down golf's 7-10 split.

Since Woods' historic and absurd 15-shot triumph in the 2000 Open, the course has been stretched from 6,846 yards to 7,040. Under the direction of Arnold Palmer, officials rebuilt four greens, 16 bunkers and 11 tees - and removed or added trees to six holes for the sake of strategic value.

The usual chilly weather and soggy conditions will make the course play long. And the USGA will make it play tough - four months before the U.S. Open begins.

Fairways have been narrowed from an average of 40 yards to 27 to pre-prepare, if you will, for the national championship.

Stock report: The golf community is split on whether to believe the TMZ.com report that Woods will end his leave of absence at the Tavistock Cup, an invitation-only exhibition March 22-23 that, conveniently enough, will take place at his home course outside Orlando, Fla.

The two-day event pits Isleworth Country Club members against a 10-man team from crosstown Lake Nona. Woods has played in the last five Tavistocks, teaming with buddies such as Mark O'Meara and John Cook against Lake Nona chaps including Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.

If Woods wants to play high-caliber, low-pressure golf in a vacuum (albeit a televised one, thanks to the Golf Channel), he couldn't pick a better spot.

Admission is by invitation only and generally limited to members and corporate guests. Although the PGA Tour sanctions the event, Tavistock officials control credentials and media access.

Tournament director Andy Odenbach has not responded to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

A victory, curse: By winning the Northern Trust Open and rising to No. 2 in the world rankings, Steve Stricker has become the Best Player Never to Win a Major.

- Teddy Greenstein

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