PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Any other time Jordan Spieth can see the golf ball sitting up on grass inside a red hazard line, it’s a simple choice: Hit the shot.
Saturday at Pebble Beach was different.
He could see the ball. He could also see a 60-foot drop off the cliff onto the ocean rocks below the edge of the eighth fairway.
His caddie tried to talk him out of it three times. Spieth decided to take 7-iron from 162 yards, a real cliff-hanger of a shot, and he lived to tell about it.
“If I felt like I was in real, true danger of losing my life, I would have pulled the ball back and dropped it,” Spieth said. “It wasn’t quite that severe. But it was enough to where I certainly couldn’t put a normal swing on it.”
He wound up with par, the signature shot Saturday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am that was more memorable than anything Bill Murray, Macklemore or any of the other celebrities did. And it ultimately put Spieth right in the mix for another title at Pebble Beach with a 9-under 63, his best score in the tournament and leaving him one shot behind a trio at the top.
On a day when Seamus Power went backward to allow Spieth and a half-dozen others back into the mix, Spieth’s best move was going backward to avoid falling over the cliff.
He normally would put his weight in the direction of the slope — bad idea in this case. So he kept the weight on his right leg, floated the 7-iron just long and left of the green and immediately backpedaled away from the edge.
“That was by far the most nerve-wracking shot I’ve ever hit in my life,” Spieth said to caddie Michael Greller after his shot went just left of the green.
For all the spectacular views when the sun is shining over the Monterey Peninsula, this one is more on the frightening side. Spieth said he was walking toward the ball and found himself inching forward while leaning back.
He has heard the tale of a golf cart that once plunged over the cliff years ago. Only after he pulled off the shot and was headed toward the green did he look back across the water to the cliff. That caused more anxiety than the actual shot.
Equally unnerving was seeing video from the blimp overhead, and then realizing his wife and parents were watching. His 3-month-old son made his tournament debut, though Spieth wasn’t sure if they were on the eighth hole.
“Not worth it, to be honest,” he said. “I guess … it was a weird situation. It was like, ‘Well, if I can hit it, then just hit it.’”
Typical of Spieth, he holed an 18-foot putt for par. So that helped him believe it was worth it.
Equally special, but not nearly as dramatic, was the rest of his round, his best by two shots on any course in the 10 years he has been playing the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
It’s hard to imagine anything topping that shot on Sunday. Even so, the final round was loaded with possibilities.
Beau Hossler had at Pebble Beach, narrowly missing a second eagle of the round on the 18th hole. He was the first to reach 15-under 200.
Andrew Putnam started on the back nine at Pebble Beach and ran off five straight birdies with hardly anyone watching, finishing with a par for a 68 at Pebble Beach to tie for the lead . Tom Hoge was at Spyglass Hill and shot a 68 to join them.
Patrick Cantlay, at No. 4 the highest-ranked player in the field, started and finished his round with a pair of birdies and didn’t do a lot in between. He had a 68 and was one shot behind, along with Spieth and Joel Dahmen (66 at Spyglass).
“I’m in great position and I love this golf course and everyone will be playing on the same golf course tomorrow so it should be fun,” Cantlay said.
A key figure in all this fun was Power, the 34-year-old Irishman, who set the 36-hole tournament record at 128 and looked as though he could do wrong.
He had a five-shot lead to par and a four-shot lead on strokes, but his round at par-71 Monterey Peninsula became a struggle off the tee and round the greens. Power had consecutive birdies to get back to 16 under — even for the day — until bogeys on two of his last three holes for a 74.
Even so, he was only two shots behind going into the final round.
Spieth went out in 31, highlighted by a 7-iron up the hill to 3 feet on the par-5 sixth for an eagle and his two 18-footers to close out the front nine, the par on No. 8 and a birdie on No. 9.
He finished with a tee shot on the par-3 17th that took a hard bounce off the springy green, grazed the flag and settled 8 feet away for a birdie. On the iconic par-5 closing hole, his second shot tumbled onto the green and ran near the hole until it stopped on the fringe, leaving 20 feet and two putts for a final birdie.
Jason Day, who tied for third third at Torrey Pines as the former No. 1 player in the world tries to regain his form, kept alive his hopes with a 70 at Spyglass. He was four shots behind.
Hossler and Hoge are the only players among the leading seven who have yet to win on the PGA Tour. Hoge had a chance two weeks ago in the California desert.
Hossler was bogey-free, a steady round with very little stress.
“Pebble can give and take so quickly, right? I was glad to be on the receiving end today,” he said. “I hit it well, played really conservatively, frankly, even though it might not look like it, and was fortunate to not have any misses really get me in significant trouble.”