McIlroy back at Pebble Beach for new-look AT&T Pro-Am

McIlroy back at Pebble Beach for new-look AT&T Pro-Am

PEBBLE BEACH — In the past, when the calendar turned to February you would figure Rory McIlroy must be in Dubai or Phoenix, China or Los Angeles. Where he wouldn’t likely be is visiting the Monterey Peninsula.

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Only once has McIlroy spent an early season week on the Central Coast launching powerful drives and showcasing his extraverted personality at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.But six years after his debut, the four-time major titlist and 17-year pro will return this week. The tournament, contested at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course this year, will discard its traditions for the new ways of the 95-year-old PGA Tour.

Ranked No. 2 in the world behind Scottie Scheffler, who will also be at Pebble this year, the 34-year-old McIlroy will be among the tournament’s strongest field since Bing Crosby started the event in 1937. The difference for McIlroy this season is his continuing loyalty to the PGA Tour and the lure of money.

Rory McIlroy tees off on the fourth hole at Spyglass Hill Golf Course during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald) 

The AT&T is among eight Signature Events this season. The designation means an 80-player field instead of 156. The traditional three-course rotation has been streamlined. The 54-hole cut has been dispatched as has the full celebrity field.

McIlroy embraces the new protocol. He discusses golf with wishful thinking. It’s a scenario in which the top two players, presumably including himself, would be tied while completing the final round together at Pebble Beach.

“I love it,” said McIlroy of the limited field events in a press briefing earlier this season. “I think it makes the TOUR more competitive. I’m all about rewarding good play. Imagine two best players walking down the 18th together on Sunday.”

McIlroy, who missed the cut at the AT&T in 2018, will participate as the game’s best global success story. He’s played in 238 career PGA Tour events and 242 tournaments on the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour). He has 24 PGA Tour titles, 17 on the DP World Tour and nine additional international titles. He won the Hero Dubai Desert Classic for the fourth time last week and finished second the previous week at the Dubai Invitational.

An 80-player amateur field will also compete at the AT&T but only Thursday and Friday. Pros will play three rounds at Pebble Beach Golf Links, including Sunday’s finale, and one round at Spyglass Hill Golf Course. The purse is $20 million, with a $3.6 million winner’s share.

Justin Rose, who will defend his 2023 AT&T title, earned $1.62 million of last year’s $9 million purse. Both amounts were previous records.

Tournament officials haven’t announced a final field, but 48 of the top 50 in the world golf rankings are entered.

The AT&T will also include golf’s latest phenomenon, Nick Dunlap. The reigning U.S. Amateur champion won The American Express last week. He became the tour’s first amateur winner since Phil Mickelson at the Tucson Open in 1991.

Four days later, Dunlap, 20, announced he’d accepted his PGA Tour membership. He will make his pro debut and compete in his fifth PGA Tour event at the AT&T.

The new AT&T is the PGA Tour’s response to the money-drenched LIV Golf. The Saudi-backed tour has lured away many PGA Tour players with guaranteed contracts. Its tournaments have only three rounds and also offer $20 million purses, with $4 million to the winner.

Phil Mickelson, a long-time AT&T gallery favorite, was among the first players to leave the PGA Tour for LIV Golf.  Like the others, Mickelson was banned from the PGA Tour and hasn’t played in the AT&T since 2021.

A record five-time AT&T winner, Mickelson’s popularity at the event was only surpassed by the galleries following actor/comedian Bill Murray. With Mickelson banned and Murray gone with the rest of the celebrities, McIlroy will likely assume an extended role.

Already a fan favorite, the Northern Ireland native will likely attract the largest collection of spectators. He’ll also do so as a de facto defender of the PGA Tour and its ongoing negotiations and its merger with LIV.

McIlroy resigned from the PGA Tour policy board in November. But since the several-year conflict between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf began, he has declared his disdain for the fledgling circuit and lashed out at players who jettisoned the PGA Tour for guaranteed money, three-round tournaments and short seasons.

McIlroy was particularly critical of young players opting for the LIV circuit for “taking the easy way out.”

But in recent weeks, McIlroy has amended his opinion. While still not viewing LIV Golf as a viable approach to pro golf’s future, he envisions a global tour.

In the meantime, McIlroy is enthusiastic about the tour adapting to a not-cut format in part of its schedule.

“It keeps the stars there for four days,” he said. “You ask Mastercard or whoever it is to pay 20 million dollars for a golf event, they want to see the stars at the weekend. They want a guarantee that the stars are there. So if that’s what needs to happen, then that’s what happens.”

Rory McIlroy tees off on the sixth hole at Spyglass Hill Golf Course during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald) 

“I think with all these designated events and this event schedule, at the end of the day we’re selling a product to people. The more clarity they have on that product and knowing what they’re buying is really important. It’s really important for the tour. I think this solves that.”

If you go

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

At Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course

Practice Wednesday at Pebble Beach Golf Links (open to public)
Tournament play Thursday through Sunday
TV: The GolfChannel and CBS
More information: