Bill Murray leads laughs at AT&T Celebrity Challenge at Pebble Beach


PEBBLE BEACH — Kenny G, the wild-haired saxophonist, was lining up over a tough putt Wednesday when a voice erupted from behind him like a volcano.

“Hey, what does the ‘G’ stand for?!” the voice bellowed.

It was Bill Murray.

Of course it was Bill Murray.

The clown prince of Pebble Beach is the sworn enemy of serenity, and any time the action here at the $100,000 3M Celebrity Challenge bordered on the austere, Murray reached into his golf bag of tricks.

After a nice shot, he might fling the club over his shoulder like a batter after a walk-off home run. On a practice swing, he tapped an unsuspecting Monterey County Sheriff’s deputy on the backside. He rarely left Andy Garcia alone, sometimes yelling, “Buena suerte!” before a big shot.

“Nobody really understands golf as theater better than Murray, not since Bob Hope,” marveled Huey Lewis, the singer, who also played in the challenge. “He’s just a treasure.”

Playing in Murray’s comic orbit took some getting used to for the uninitiated. Kelly Rohrbach, the actress and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, spent her youth playing more serious tournaments. She played golf on scholarship at Georgetown and brought her formidable skills here as the first woman to play in this event.

But she missed a 15-footer at No. 18 that would have won $40,000 for charity. It didn’t help that Murray kept exhorting the crowd, even during her back swing.

“Just a taaaaad more informal than Georgetown,” Rohrbach, 27, said with a laugh as she came off the green.

Not long after Rohrbach’s miss, actor Kunal Nayyar, best known as Raj from “The Big Bang Theory” actually did make the winning putt. He knocked home a tap-in for the biggest payday of the tournament.

He sank the putt from a distance of 2 feet. Or, as Nayyar recalled it, from an enormous chasm of terrifying depth.

“I can stand up in front of many people and act. But making a putt like that is just nerve-racking,” Nayyar said coming off the green and clutching the trophy tight.

“I said, ‘Just do anything you can to not miss this putt.’ I was so scared.”

Larry the Cable Guy said he used to get the jitters, too. “At these things I get nervous and get choke-y,” he explained.

That’s part of the reason he arrived early. As fate would have it, Larry the Cable Guy walked into The Lodge just a few seconds in front of Larry the Giants Guy (as in Larry Baer, the team’s chief executive officer).

The comedian got up early so he could be one of the celebrities to sneak in extra time on the practice green during the morning drizzle.

And so it was on hole No. 3, when facing a 40-foot putt with an uphill lie, that Larry the Cable Guy he got ‘er done with a smooth left-handed stroke. The shot earned the biggest cheer of the day.

How does he possibly find time to practice shots like that?

“I’m a comedian,” he shrugged. “I got all day.”

The five-hole tournament was played over the so-called “Whiskey Run,” consisting of Holes 1, 2, 3, 17 and 18. According to legend, these are the holes that Bing Crosby and his buddies used to play if they were drinking whiskey at Club 19. If they had the urge for more golf, but not the energy for nine holes, they would zoom out for this five-hole circuit and go back to drinking more whiskey.

There was no whiskey to be seen Wednesday, but as Murray made his way to Hole No. 3, a woman in the gallery stopped him to say: “I had a Bloody Mary for you.”

He sized her up.

“You look like you’ve had two or three,” Murray responded. And then he kept walking.

Murray and his playing partner, the comedian and musician, Gary Mule Deer, were one of the few teams not to win a hole Wednesday. After a few rugged strokes early in the tournament, Murray acknowledged: “This is what separates the men from the caddies.”

It didn’t get much better. On No. 18, Murray hooked his tee shot into the Pacific. He immediately teed up another ball, then turned toward the crowd to offer an explanation.

“This is in case that first one doesn’t pop out of the ocean,” he said.

Larry the Cable Guy also hooked one into the water at No. 18. He swung so hard that he lost track of his shot and had to ask the crowd, “Where’d it go?” (Rohrbach, who is starring in a “Baywatch” movie to be released this summer, proved to be an unwilling lifeguard for shots hit perilously into to the surf.)

But Murray still wound up a winner. The celebrities playing for Team Murray — Nayyar, Rohrbach, Josh Duhamel, Andy Garcia, Murray and Mule Deer — totaled $60,000 in prize money for charity and won three holes.

That gave them the edge over Team Eastwood — Lewis, Larry the Cable Guy, Toby Keith, Kenny G, Clay Walker and Alfonso Ribeiro. That team totaled $40,000 for charity and won two holes.

“I’ve done this a few times now, so it’s not as nerve-racking as it once was,” Lewis said. “But it’s still a little nerve-wracking.

“And, frankly, that’s part of the fun.”

(For the record, the G stands for Gorelick.)

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