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Short Work
February 20, 2006
Great around the greens, Arron Oberholser gets it done the old-fashioned way
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February 20, 2006

Short Work

Great around the greens, Arron Oberholser gets it done the old-fashioned way

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As dominating performances go, Arron Oberholser's five-stroke win at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was every bit as impressive as J.B. Holmes's seven-shot dismemberment of the TPC of Scottsdale during the FBR Open the week before. It was only their styles of play that were polar opposites. � Holmes, the 23-year-old prototype of the baby boomers who have become the talk of the Tour, was overpowering, hammering 350-yard drives while turning a rock-hard desert course into the TPC of Pitch 'n' Putt. Oberholser, a 31-year-old who grew up in Northern California and played at nearby San Jose State, went old school on the damp, spongy Monterey Peninsula, relying on local knowledge, strategic shotmaking, a deft short game and a hot putter to, like Holmes, win for the first time. To cap off his week, Oberholser and partner Mike McCallister won the Pro-Am portion of the tournament (Backspin, page G19). That a player like Oberholser would break through at Pebble was hardly a surprise, as winners there are typically shotmakers ( Ben Hogan, Johnny Miller, Byron Nelson, Payne Stewart and Tom Watson, to name a few) and brainy strategists ( Hale Irwin, Jack Nicklaus, Mark O'Meara and Tiger Woods, among others).

Conditions played right into Oberholser's hand on Friday, when he was making his way around Spyglass Hill, which with Poppy Hills and Pebble Beach is one of the three courses used in the tournament. The temperature appeared to be headed toward a balmy 80� under bright, sunny skies but suddenly nosedived to around 50� in the afternoon when a layer of fog rolled in off the Pacific, turning the tournament into The Big Chill. "I went from my summer yardages to my winter yardages in one hole," Oberholser said. "I got done with the 5th hole, walked to the 6th, and suddenly there's no sunshine. It changed dramatically, but I'm used to that around here. When I woke up in the morning, I looked out the window and said, 'The fog will be here today at some point.' I knew it was coming."

On the par-4, 431-yard 9th hole, where he had busted a 310-yard drive two days earlier in a practice round, Oberholser nailed a tee shot that didn't reach the 250-yard marker, then played a four-iron to the green. "It's unbelievable," he said, "but anybody who lives in this area knows that when nature's air conditioner turns on, this is the home of the 150-yard seven-iron, and you have to nut it. It's second nature for me."

Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills feel like second homes to Oberholser, who played them frequently during his high school and college years. "I've been in every spot you can possibly be in," he says, "so I have zero fear."

He didn't have many anxious moments in the final round. Tied with Mike Weir after 54 holes, Oberholser had a five-stroke lead by the time they reached the 4th tee. He had birdied the 2nd and 3rd holes. Meanwhile, Weir had doubled the par-5 2nd after his fairway wood shot hooked out-of-bounds, then bogeyed the 3rd hole when his short-iron approach flew long. It was Oberholser's parade after that.

This looks like a breakthrough moment for a player once known as a hothead. "There's nothing wrong with my game; it's upstairs where I have been lacking," says Oberholser, who claims to have found peace and maturity in the last year. In 2004 he shared the 54-hole lead at Pebble Beach with Vijay Singh, but when Singh opened the final round with three straight birdies, Oberholser melted down, shooting 76 to slip to a tie for fourth. Oberholser held up better at the Wachovia Championship, where he lost a playoff to nice-guy Joey Sindelar but advanced his growing-up process by apologizing for his poor behavior while playing with Sindelar two weeks earlier in Houston. In November, Oberholser picked up a $1 million check for winning the Shinhan Korea Championship.

Oberholser has a sound game, one well-suited to tough setups like U.S. Opens. Oh, did we mention that he tied for ninth in his first Open appearance last summer? Oberholser looks ready to jump to the top level. That's handy because this win bumps him into the top 50 (No. 41) in the World Ranking. If he stays there, that will ensure his first trip to the Masters, and he has clinched a spot in next week's Accenture Match Play Championship. Oops, that could be a small problem. Oberholser, a bachelor, bought a house--his first--in Scottsdale and is supposed to move in next week. "Oh, man," he said on Sunday evening, "my mom has a lot of work ahead of her."

So does her son, and his best work, without a doubt, is yet to come.