PEBBLE BEACH -- Bill Murray was breathing. Therefore, he was funny. This time it was on the sixth green at Spyglass Hill on Friday afternoon.
Murray, wearing a mini-umbrella contraption for a hat, stroked his splendid new Beefeater beard as he loudly complimented pro partner D.A. Points for having "beautiful hips."
Minutes later, Murray drained a 15-foot putt and celebrated it with a leg-shaking dance before theatrically puffing out his chest and turning up his shirt collar.
The laughing folks behind the ropes ate it all up, naturally. None seemed aware that barely 50 yards away, on the adjoining No. 1 fairway, the defending U.S. Open champion was ready to address a shot.
Which the defending U.S. Open champion said was cool with him.
"Hey, it's all fun," opined Webb Simpson, who won the event in June at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. "It's hard for me to miss this tournament. It's hard to beat this place. The first year I played here, my partner was Peyton Manning. And this year ... "
This year, Simpson's partner in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is actor Andy Garcia. He and Simpson were easily the day's most fashionable pairing. Simpson wore snappy plaid pants and a black Izod sweater over a white turtleneck. Garcia rocked some sharp black slacks and a black sweater with a beret.
"I think they might have coordinated," said Simpson's wife, Dowd, who was walking along with the group.
Too bad more people didn't notice it -- or notice Simpson's smooth swing. At the second tee when he teed off, the entire gallery consisted of four people, including Dowd.
No crime, that. It's the AT&T's tradition, going back to the Bing Crosby Clambake days, to have Pro-Am celebrities in the field. They bring fans to the golf course and build the sport's audience in ways that Phil Mickelson can't.
The trouble is, by following the likes of Murray and Garcia, many fans miss seeing some of the best stories and best golfers on the planet.
That would definitely be true with Simpson -- who, you might recall, wrote the most unexpected and warm saga of any major championship winner last year at the Olympic Club. His victory literally came out of the basement. Simpson was playing four groups ahead of the top contenders. He shot a 2-under-par 68, then repaired to the club's lower-level locker room for the next 45 minutes with Dowd to see if anyone could beat his score.
No one did. As Webb and Dowd Simpson calmed their nerves by watching home videos of their young son on their smartphones, such well-known names as Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell faltered out on the course. When the 26-year-old Simpson emerged from the basement to receive his trophy, some of the applauding people had not seen him hit a club all day.
"We love this part of the country," Dowd Simpson said. "There are just such good memories."
Locals may wonder how Simpson has done since then. The answer is, just fine. He won $3.4 million last year with seven top 10 finishes. And the last two days, he has been showcasing the same smooth championship swing alongside the ocean here. He's getting mixed results -- Simpson stands at even par, which puts him right on the cut line for Saturday -- but as always when you watch the pros, it's been a blast to watch him craft some great shots along the way.
Example: At the ninth hole Friday, Simpson carved a beauty of an iron shot from the right rough over the edge of the green to within eight feet from the pin -- and then missed the birdie putt. He had several other tap-in pars Friday, as well.
"I really read it well, but I burned a lot of edges today," said Simpson of the ninth-hole miss, using Generation Y golf lingo for "just rimming the cup."
So. Did the U.S. Open experience change Simpson's life much? From the lack of gallery attention, you wouldn't think so.
"Webb is the same person he was yesterday, will be today and will be tomorrow," Dowd said. "The thing that does change is the demands on his time, the amount of time he's had to say no to things."
"It's been all good," Webb said. "But you know, people make such a big deal of the Open and that's great -- but it's still a golf tournament."
Here's an anecdote that may be indicative: The last time Simpson played in the AT&T, in 2010, he was not so rich and famous. So he and his newlywed wife bunked out at a tiny Carmel beach cottage loaned them by whom Dowd called "some kind people."
Guess what? Upon returning this week to Pebble, although Webb has earned about $10 million since that first visit to Pebble three years ago, he and Dowd decided to stay in the very same cottage. All together now: Awwwwwww.
Simpson may or may not ascend the leader board Saturday, but there's been excellent stuff happening up there over the last two days, including the 66-68-134 of Brandt Snedeker, who's currently atop the FedEx Cup standings. The celebrity stylings of Murray and Garcia are what make the AT&T unique. You'd never want to lose them. But there's also no harm in enjoying how the pros perform their magic.
Simpson's favorite hole here, he said, is the par-three No. 7 at Pebble Beach, out there on the ledge by the ocean. He won't be wearing a funny hat, but you might want to watch when he gets there.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org.