PEBBLE BEACH is one of those places every golfer should get to at least once. Just because. Other than Augusta National, most people have seen Pebble more than any course.

Because, like Augusta, there's a tournament there every year. And, like Augusta, it's rather photo-friendly.

At Pebble, the meeting of land and water is simply one of a kind. Not all the holes are set along Carmel Bay, but the ones that are make this what it is. I was lucky enough to play there on the day after the 1992 Open. Yes, it was hard, even from the member tees. Yes, it was memorable, even with my 12-handicap.

Won't bore you with every detail. But the stretch from No. 6 - the uphill par-5 - through 10 is mind-blowing. I parred the little 7th, from just over the green with a chip (the one thing I can usually pull off reasonably well) to gimme range.

Jack Nicklaus has called No. 8 the best par-4 in the galaxy. He might be right. Yet until you're standing there about 180 yards from the target with nothing but fish between you and the green, you really can't get it. And that's after you've hit a blind tee shot over a ridge toward a cloud. I made a double bogey, after leaving my approach what I thought was safely left. Turned out to be nearly impossible.

The next two holes run along the beach. On No. 9, I had to play my third shot from down in the sand. Long walk. Maybe I shouldn't have put it there. Yes, people are walking by you. Fore. But I had one of my proudest moments on 10, when I had to play my third shot from the adjacent 11th tee. Don't ask. With the group ahead of us, which included some familiar faces, watching as they waited, I somehow feathered a wedge over a bunker to 5 feet. Even jarred the putt. Priceless.

From there it's a bit fuzzy until 17, where I laced a 1-iron (don't ask) into the back bunker. You can easily make 10 from there. And sand is hardly my specialty. Instead, I got out and in to save a 3. Maybe it wasn't Tom Watson-esque, but it got me fairly pumped. And it was almost as impressive as Joe Juliano of our sister paper then lipping what had to be at least a 100-foot birdie try.

On 18, the goal was basically to keep it dry. Which I did. Too bad I three-putted from the front fringe.

But my favorite Pebble postcard had nothing to do with me attempting to break the course record. It's a two-for, from 2000.

I was there, along with several thousand others, for the early-morning Wednesday tribute to defending champ Payne Stewart, who had died in a plane crash 8 months earlier. I don't usually do 5 a.m. wake-up calls, but there was no way I was missing that. It's something that will stay with me always.

And that afternoon, I was in the stands at the 18th green with two friends, sharing a drink and the views of the sun starting to settle down over the Pacific. At one point we kind of nudged each other, toasted our good fortune and wondered aloud what the the rest of the world was up to.

Sometimes, the perks ain't too shabby.

Handicapping 101

Or, trying to size up some of the usual suspects . . .

* Phil Mickelson (3-1): He has won here a couple of times in February. And he's nearly won a handful of Opens.

* Tiger Woods (5-1): Not quite in 2000 form right now. But if he plays half as well as he did that year, it might be enough.

* Lee Westwood (8-1): Let's see, he almost won the last three majors. Not to mention the 2008 Open. That's either a good thing, or Colin Montgomerie-itis.

* Ernie Els (10-1): He is leading the PGA Tour money list.

* Jim Furyk (12-1): Did win his first tourney in a while. And the 2003 champ almost won in 2006 and '07.

* Steve Stricker (15-1): Is ranked fourth in world.

* Padraig Harrington (18-1): Not in 2008 form. No European has won this thing in 4 decades.

* Jeff Ogilvy (20-1): Never quite know what to make of 2006 champ these days.

* Rory McIlroy (22-1): Could just be best of the young guns.

* Dustin Johnson (25-1): Won at Pebble last 2 years in early February. Duly noted, but this is June.

* Tim Clark (28-1): Having fine season, played well here 4 months ago, has finally won on American soil.

* Ian Poulter (30-1): Is ranked sixth in world.

* Zach Johnson (33-1): Former Masters champ just won in Texas.

* Jeff Overton (35-1): Been playing really well of late.

* Lucas Glover (40-1): Only Curtis Strange has repeated since Ben Hogan did so some 50 years ago.

* Five more (plus one) to ponder: Matt Kuchar, Ryo Ishikawa, Luke Donald, David Duval, Robert Allenby and Tom Watson.

The Dreaded Pick: Phil Mickelson is the obvious choice, but that would be way too easy even though I think he's going to play well. I've got Geoff Ogilvy in a pool, so that probably means he'll miss the cut. But hey, I had Mickelson and Westwood at the Masters, and that worked out OK for a change. So, for no good reason whatsoever, I'm going with Jim Furyk. Just as illogical, put Ernie Els in those exactas. For my longer shot, I'll take a stab at Tim Clark. Or is that Jeff Overton? And could you tell the difference? Again, don't ask. To all you dads out there, have a big Sunday watching prime-time golf. We'll pick things up next month from St. Andrews, where maybe Tiger will once more be our favorite.

Did you know?

Last year was the first time the U.S. Open finished in regulation on a Monday since 1983 at Oakmont, when thunderstorms on Sunday afternoon forced play into an extra day. Last June at Bethpage, no round ended on the day it was scheduled to after rain interrupted things early on Thursday.

* This will be the fifth time that Pebble Beach has hosted two events in the same year. Only three other courses have done that once. In 1948, Riviera hosted the Los Angeles Open and U.S. Open. In 1989, Harbour Town Golf Links (Hilton Head, S.C.) hosted the Heritage Classic and the Tour Championship. And 2 years ago, Torrey Pines (suburban San Diego) hosted the Buick Invitational and U.S. Open. In 1972, 1992 and 2000, Pebble hosted what is now the AT&T National Pro-Am (formerly Bing Crosby National Professional-Amateur) and U.S. Open. In 1977, it hosted a Crosby and PGA Championship.

* Ricky Barnes, who led after the second and third rounds last June before tying for second, was trying to become the 12th U.S. Amateur champion to also win an Open. He would have joined (in order) Francis Ouimet, Jerome Travers, Charles Evans Jr., Bobby Jones, Johnny Goodman, Lawson Little, Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Jack Nicklaus, Jerry Pate and Tiger Woods.

* In the third round of the 2000 Open, Tiger Woods shot a 71 (to increase his lead from six to 10) despite taking a triple-bogey seven on No. 3 after hitting a drive right into serious rough. But he could have made a 21 on that hole and still won by a stroke. Think about that. Tiger, by the way, hasn't played at Pebble since the 2002 AT&T, when he finished 12th (he'd also won it in 2000). Phil Mickelson, the record five-time Open runner-up, won the AT&T in 1998, 2005 and '07. He tied for 16th at the 2000 Open.

* In the first round that year, John Daly closed with a 14 for an 83 and then withdrew. He pushed his tee shot out of bounds to the right, then pulled two more drives into the water left. His ninth shot also found the wet stuff. He later played a shot lefthanded, after taking a drop against a sea wall.

* Tom Watson, who got in via USGA exemption after nearly winning his sixth British Open last July at the age of 59, is the only bloke in the field who has played in all five Opens at Pebble.