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Inside the ropes

Editor's note: Sports Editor Tim Trower is following Ashland native Jason Allred at this week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. ' It was not an unusual scene. Four guys on a tee box, a minimal wager is suggested and accepted, and after each player hits one shot, there's another confab in the fairway. The wager is explained again and the trash talking and mind games commence.

The first player misses his approach shot left, and his caddie is told, Nice job, the insinuation being his club selection sabotaged the effort.

I'll do my best for you lads, came the caddie's reply, feigning cahoots.

And so it went.

Except for the caddie, this might sound like your typical weekend round at the local course.

Actually, these were some of the PGA Tour's popular figures playing a practice round Wednesday at esteemed Pebble Beach prior to the start of today's AT&T National Pro-AM. They teed off in ideal conditions at 8 in the morning and proceeded to familiarize themselves with the course, all the while threatening to alienate one another.

The game of gentlemen does have another side.

Jason Allred, the rookie from Ashland, was paired with Tim Petrovic, who at 38 is no youngster out here. He turned pro in 1988 but didn't join the tour until 2002. Hence, his grouping with Allred in this young-versus-old competition.

Lee Janzen and Rocco Mediate were the competition, and they took the tee with nearly four decades of experience and 13 PGA victories between them, including two majors, Janzen's U.S. Open titles in 1993 and '98.

It was Janzen who held court in the first fairway, setting the bet in this Hammer game at &

36;10 per hole per man. Either side could hammer the other at any time, doubling the bet. A team refusing to accept the hammer lost the hole at the original amount.

After Janzen clarified, Allred mockingly objected, trying to talk the bet down to &

36;5.

Hey, he said, I'm just a rookie out here.

He couldn't sway them.

It would have been even harder on the next tee box, after the first hole was halved.

None of the three had played with Allred before, so when he unleashed his drive on the 502-yard par-5 hole, it did not go unnoticed.

How about that speed! said Mediate, speaking of Allred's swing and to no one in particular.

These young kids, responded Janzen.

No speed for me, said Petrovic. It's too early. I don't want any parts flying off.

Allred's blast wound up in a fairway bunker to the right. Under a lip, he safely extricated himself and made par.

Mediate had noted on the tee box that a bunker had been added to the left side of the hole. When Janzen got to the end of the fairway, where a gully cut across before the green, he found the fairway had been cut 12 yards shorter than last year, leaving less lay-up room.

It wasn't long before the day's recurring themes would surface. One already had: Allred's powerful swing ' he was clearly the longest hitter.

In contrast to that, another theme was Allred's veritable invisibility. This showed itself on the next hole, where his 2 Rescue Wood off the tee drew raves from his group. But after making a sand-save par, he breezed off the green and through the players' roped-off walkway.

A fan who seemed knowledgeable about the game and the tournament admitted he didn't recognize Allred's name.

Janzen and Mediate didn't pass by without interruption.

A woman had her husband take her photo with Mediate.

Take two, said Mediate. I only charge 45 cents.

Behind him, Janzen was signing a hat for one fan, a shirt for another.

Later in the round, as this scene would play out over and over again, Dick Christy, Allred's caddie, had to comment.

A fan, program in hand and eager for a signature, asked Christy who the young player in the red shirt was.

Christy said the name, and the fan literally beat feet for the next group.

It's amazing, said Christy. They can build you up and tear you down, just like that. Jason better enjoy his anonymity now because it's not going to last very long.

On the next hole, the fourth, Janzen told of playing with Phil Mickelson there a couple years prior when Lefty had what he called his dream hole. He was in trouble from the start on the short par 4, leaving himself with a right-handed second shot, which found a back bunker. The precarious lie forced him to face away from the green and hit the ball backward over his head onto the green. That amazing shot was followed by a 50-foot putt he lipped out, said Janzen, leaving him to make bogey.

Everyone else in the group birdied, said Janzen, but no one was happier than Mickelson with his 5.

On par-3 fifth, Allred felt confident after a fine tee shot. He hammered the bet, meaning if he made his birdie, his opponents would pay double.

Bring it on, kid, said Mediate.

Allred left the putt one turn short. He and Janzen left the green talking strategy and pin placements ' as they did after most holes. Familiar with pin placements, the players hit putts to those areas even though there was no hole cut on this day.

At the sixth, Petrovic pointed to two large trees that used to block the green from the right side of the fairway. They are now over a cliff at the edge of the ocean, which is why he and Allred were able to shoot at the green.

The seventh is a par — measuring only 106 yards. When the wind kicks up, it seems further than Carmel.

Can you believe that (Jack) Nicklaus once hit a 2-iron here? said Christy. You could throw it to the green.

He shared another memory of Nicklaus from 1987. The reason the Golden Bear never lost many balls is that his fairways were lined by rows and rows of spectators.

He had the snakes, said Christy, but every time he hit it into the crowd, it came back out.

The eighth hole is a spectacular par 4 that requires an approach over a rocky cove. Petrovic told how a couple, believing they were driving down the fairway in fog and rain and with their umbrella in front of the cart, drove off the edge to their demise.

Janzen said Brad Faxon had a story about seeing a couple below. They thought they were hidden. Janzen said he thought they were nude, but Faxon would have to verify.

When it got back to golf, Allred hit his 5-iron 198 yards to the back right of the green and parred.

At the picturesque ninth along the ocean, Christy admitted it's hard to concentrate in this paradise.

Allred did just fine, however, chipping in from above the hole with a difficult stance on a downslope.

He's using new wedges for the first time that enhance spin on the ball, helping shots like this.

More importantly, he stuck it to his opponents.

Petrovic tried to goad the old guys into a hammer bet. Mediate just looked at Allred and scolded, I told you to stop smiling!

Off to the side, Allred said quietly, I have to pull some of those out every now and again. We're playing for more money than I have in my wallet.

At 10, Petrovic topped Janzen's birdie with one of his own.

At 11, fans yelled at others to not walk across the fairway while the players were trying to hit.

It's OK, said Mediate. It'll only sting for a second.

A spectator asked Mediate how the bet was going, knowing the oldies didn't accept the last hammer.

We're fine, he said. We sucked them into our web.

Actually the young guys were in control by a couple of holes.

At 11, Janzen and Allred were the two longest and in the middle of the fairway.

Christy leaned over and said, Let's see if he does the Hogan Walk-Through: No matter if it's your ball or not, you go to the furthest one.

He was disappointed when Janzen didn't go to the ball 25 yards in front.

On the next hole, the 202-yard par-3 12th, Allred apparently called his shot or used a club that none of the others were thinking about because Mediate could be heard to say, If you're that good, you're in the wrong group. None of us are that good.

Allred then hit it 15 feet past the cup, middle of the green. Petrovic called hammer on the spot, before any others had even teed off.

At the green, Allred lined up the putt and Mediate pleaded, Hey, kid, take it easy. That putter stings.

Allred rolled in the slight-right breaker.

We need to call him 'Buzzsaw' instead of 'Hammer,' said Janzen.

Apparently jacked up, Allred ripped his drive at 13 and elicited oohs from his group.

More fans started to follow the group, although, none sought Allred's autograph.

With 35 of them watching on the 14th tee, Janzen grunted as he belted a drive. He then headed to the porta-potty, missing Allred mimic him with a forceful grunt at impact that brought laughter from the gallery.

Allred got Janzen by 25 yards, perfectly placing his shot at the elbow of the par 5.

At 15, Mediate began stepping through his drives, a bit of swagger that was misplaced. His team was losing.

At the green, Allred's high-side putt wasn't turning into the hole very fast, which seemed to delight Janzen. Stay up! Stay up! he yelled, bringing mock astonishment from the veterans in his group who thought the rookie didn't deserve such treatment.

At 16, Allred belted a perfect 2 Rescue Wood and wound up with par.

At 17, Allred remembered a fine shot he hit in the 1999 U.S. Amateur, then followed with a nifty sand shot from the back bunker to save a par 3.

At 18, a grand finishing par 5 that wraps around with the Pacific Ocean on the left, Allred ' after having pictures taken by his father, Gene, on the tee box ' hit a long drive past two fairway trees that had been moved up from previous years. He pushed his 232-yard 2-iron just past a tree guarding the green, then chipped and two-putted for par.

He had some birdies, had some bogeys and clearly had a good time.

He also had a five-hole win and a fatter wallet, something golfers at all levels can appreciate.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail