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Pebble Beach Pro-Am Recap: Tiger Territory?

Len Hochberg

Len Hochberg

Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years, covering the Washington Capitals. He co-authored a book on the history of hockey.

As the old axiom goes, one is an accident, two is a trend and three is a problem. With Jimmy Walker winning for the third time already this young PGA Tour season, do his fellow pros have a real problem on their hands? Because this has gone way past a trend.

A glimmer of hope for everyone else is that Walker closed anything but like a champion in winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Sunday, coughing up all but one stroke of an overnight six-shot advantage and needing to make a five-footer for par on the 72nd hole to avoid a playoff. On the other hand, that's what champions do: They make knee-knocking five-footers to win tournaments.

After going 187 tournaments without a victory, Walker has won three of his first eight in 2013-14 - the season-opening Frys, the year-opening Sony and now the Clambake. Only three other golfers in the last 20 years had won so much so early: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval.

Walker even had a five-stroke edge at the turn on Sunday, but an inward 39 left him with a 74, one clear of hard-charging two-time Pebble champion Dustin Johnson, who shot 66. Unheralded Jim Renner tied Johnson for second.

So what to make of Walker, who is slated to tee it up this week at Riviera with a career-best world ranking of 24 before facing another elite field in the Match Play Championship the following week? He's had fast starts the past three seasons - three top-10s in his first five events in 2011, three in his first six in 2012 and three in his first eight last year - before cooling off and even fading away.

Of course, those top-10s of past years have turned into top-1s now. But will he still drop off, or has this stretch showed he can carry it at least through an entire season? That's the question all Walker owners need to ponder. If it's the latter, that's Tiger territory, so the obvious answer would be that this cannot and will not continue. The fields only get tougher from here, with the WGCs, majors, the Players Championship and other marquee events about to begin with regularity. Trade high on Walker? There's a strong argument that would be the proper play. Perhaps stronger than hanging on to him and hoping for a Tiger-esque season for the ages.

MONDAY BACKSWING

Kevin Na

After missing much of the 2013 with a back injury, Na has come on strong and seems poised for a successful season. His T4 finish at Pebble was his third top-10 already, though it was his T19 last week in Phoenix that allowed him to fulfill the terms of his major medical extension. Obviously healthy and now with his card, Na sits 20th in the FedEx Cup standings.

Hunter Mahan

Despite getting a late start to the season, with only three events to date, Mahan has jumped right in. His solo sixth at Pebble comes a week after a T4 in Phoenix. Inside of five feet, he's made a Tour-best 126-of-126 putts. Come April, Mahan's name will again be prominent in the conversation about golfers who could win their first major.

Pat Perez

With a T7 at Pebble, Perez continues on an amazing hot streak, the best stretch of golf in his career. He has four top-10s in his past five events, and each has come without a super low score, meaning he's been playing steady for all four rounds. That's not like the old, hot-and-cold Pat Perez.

Chesson Hadley

Hadley was considered to be one of the brighter options coming from of the Web.com Tour to the PGA Tour, but five consecutive missed cuts following a T5 at the Shriners last October quickly altered that thinking. But a steady 71-70-70-71 left him tied for 10th at Pebble. Before the tournament, he tweeted: "New attitude coming out on the golf course today. I have been arrogant and lost that sense of thankfulness just to be out here ..." After Sunday's round, he tweeted: "... Amazing what a little attitude check will do." So, who knows? But Hadley is worth keeping an eye on, beginning this week at Riviera.

Patrick Reed

Even though his win three weeks ago at the Humana was Reed's signature moment of the young season, his two follow-up events have to be quite encouraging for his fantasy owners. With a T13 at Pebble and a T19 in Phoenix, Reed continues to show a steady stream of strong finishes, especially hard to accomplish for a young player after a big win.

Jim Furyk

In his first outing of the season, Furyk faded on the weekend to fall from contention. His 70-70-73-74 left him tied for 35th. Pebble has never been a high point for Furyk, who hasn't had a top-10 there since 2007.

David Duval

Gaining entry on a sponsor's exemption, Duval made the most of it - which for him, these days, means a made cut. His T35 at Pebble was his best outing in four events so far this season. Still, this is likely an aberration for the long-ago No. 1, and he'll have to show a lot more before becoming a lineup consideration.

Bo Van Pelt

After a disastrous 2013, Van Pelt has done nothing to show he's turned it around. At Pebble, he endured his third missed cut in six events so far, and he sits 113th in the FedEx Cup standings. Those who thought last year was a blip now must be thinking twice about Van Pelt.

Spencer Levin

Levin has been busy as he plays on a major medical extension. He missed a cut for only the second time in nine 2013-14 starts at Pebble. While he's been playing the weekend a lot, he hasn't had a top-10, as he inches along trying to retain his card. Levin still has 20 tournaments remaining to earn $354,423 or 156.5 FedEx Cup points to meet the terms of his extension. Even at his current pace, it seems to be a reachable threshold.

Brandt Snedeker

The defending Pebble champion missed the cut, and for another week failed to show that he's completely healthy after injuring his knee in a Segway accident in China late last year. Snedeker will not play Riviera this week, so perhaps a week off will help to get his knee in better shape for the Match Play Championship the week after.