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Pebble Beach getting a pre-Open facelift
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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Just taking a scenic stroll around Pebble Beach makes it obvious the U.S. Open will be here this summer.

Not because of who's here, but what's not.

The rock is gone.

While not the most famous landmark in golf, the white, knee-high rock has been part of the eighth fairway at Pebble Beach for years. Because the tee shot is uphill to a blind fairway, it was positioned at the top of the hill to serve as a target.

But with the U.S. Open four months away, the target has changed.

"It's not really in a good line anymore," Adam Scott said Wednesday. He hasn't been to Pebble Beach since 1999 when he lost in the first round of the U.S. Amateur, and Scott noticed it was missing right away.

The fairway used to be plenty wide, stretching from inside the cart path on the left to the water hazard — also known as the Pacific Ocean — to the right. The USGA already is defining the fairway widths, so the rough now juts in some 25 yards from the left.

Tim Petrovic found that out the hard way. He hit what appeared to be a suitable drive on the eighth hole, only to climb the hill and see his ball in the rough.

"The fairway used to be all the way to that fence," he said, pointing to an enclosed concession area. "Yeah, this is different."

That's not the only change this week.                            

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am gets under way on Thursday with a different rotation of courses and some new faces.

Several players decided to sign up this year to get acquainted with a U.S. Open course, such as Scott, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who last played Pebble in 2001 with his sister as his amateur partner.

More significant is the change in course rotation.

Poppy Hills, which players not-so-affectionately referred to as "Sloppy Hills" because it drained so poorly, has been replaced by the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

One way to tell the difference between the Pebble regulars and those wanting a sneak preview of the U.S. Open is where they play practice rounds. The regulars can't wait to see the Shore.

"I'm not sure it's going to be a big difference in scoring," Davis Love III said. "But it will be a big difference in perception. This will be like a breath of fresh air."

The course was renovated by Mike Strantz, the last course he built before dying of tongue cancer. The heart of the course runs along the California shore, offering spectacular vistas, the look of links golf and sand-capped fairways that allow it to drain better than Pebble Beach or Spyglass Hill.

"I think it's the best renovation I've ever seen, anywhere," Brad Faxon said. "I think he absolutely nailed it — a seaside course with everything you would want to have. I think it rivals every bit Pebble Beach and Spyglass for quality."

It just won't host the U.S. Open this summer, which is why Pebble will get most of the attention.

Dustin Johnson is the defending champion, and this time he might get to play 54 holes. Johnson won last year when he took a four-shot lead into a final round that was never played because of heavy rains.

Rain arrived earlier in the week, leading to soft, spongy fairways at Pebble and Spyglass, and greens that are far more forgiving than they will be for the U.S. Open in June.

It might look like the same course, but it isn't.

So why bother?

Steve Marino decided to return for the first time in three years because of the U.S. Open, and he's sure glad he did. Marino received a phone call Tuesday night that his amateur partner would be one of his favorite athletes, New England Patriots quarter Tom Brady.

As for the golf course?

"It's just getting used to looking at it, seeing the lines and the shots," Marino said as he walked down the sixth fairway, where the rough has been extended closer to the right side toward the ocean.

Most of the changes for the U.S. Open — it hasn't been held at Pebble Beach since Tiger Woods won by 15 shots in 2000 — were already in place last year. A bunker complex has been added on the right side of the third fairway; championship tees were added to the ninth and 10th holes, making the hole some 50 yards longer.

Those tees were not used last year, and probably won't be at the National Pro-Am. It's the rough lines that are getting some attention. Tim Herron posed over what he thought was a perfect 5-wood on the opening hole, only to watch it land in the rough.

"Wow," Herron said. "That fairway used to be a lot wider a long time ago — like last year."

Maybe so, but the U.S. Open wasn't coming to town last year.

The field has been reduced to 156 players (down from 180) along with their amateur partners. Also in the field are Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington, most of whom have a history at Pebble Beach.

This summer will mark the sixth time Pebble Beach will host a PGA Tour event and a major championship in the same year. And when the U.S. Open is over, course officials likely will put the rock back in place on the eighth fairway.