Tiger Woods walks down a fairway during a practice round for the AT&T… (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images )
Reporting from Pebble Beach -- Some things are familiar. The waves crashing against the rocks, sending ocean spray into the air. The sun putting finishing touches of color on the greens. And, for at least this one day, the wind deciding to be silent before it turns mischievous once play starts.
But as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am begins Thursday, there are some recent changes: a smaller field (156 pros), a new course (second year) and, most important, an old friend who has returned.
Tiger Woods, who has achieved some of his finest moments as a golfer at the cluster of courses along 17-Mile Drive, is playing this tournament for the first time in 10 years.
Woods had a practice round at the latest member of the three-course rotation — the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula. The last time Woods played this tournament, in 2002, Poppy Hills was the third course, along with Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill.
The conditions were so gorgeous that even glum Spencer Levin finally found a smile.
Levin, of Sacramento, coughed up a final-round, six-shot lead last week in Phoenix as Kyle Stanley, who had himself blown a big lead the week before, won the tournament. Stanley is taking this week off, but Levin was practicing at Pebble on Wednesday and said he arrived here heartbroken. "I was bummed out Sunday night, pretty bummed out Monday. But I'm here and then I was like 'Man, I get to play Pebble Beach today.' So that's pretty cool. It's not like you're going home and playing the muni in your backyard. Wow, I'm at Pebble."
So that little hiccup at Phoenix last week?
"What?" Levin said. "I don't think I remember that."
But whether Levin can redeem himself or new Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III will be evaluating talent or Phil Mickelson is still searching for an elevated game, the overriding presence is Woods.
The 36-year-old is making his 2012 PGA Tour debut this week. He opened his season two weeks ago with a third-place finish in Abu Dhabi. He will be playing with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo as his amateur partner, and it is expected there will be plenty of places in other galleries to watch golf.
"Think anyone will know I'm here?" Love said, only a little facetiously.
Also less recognized than amateur Romo is defending champion D.A. Points. It is a place Points is familiar with. For it wasn't his victory last year that was so heartwarming, it was that he partnered with comedian and actor Bill Murray — Mr. Caddyshack — and was able to persevere through Murray's antics.