Feb 7 (Reuters) - Having opted to play the PGA Tour full-time this year, Lee Westwood could hardly have picked a better location and pairing as the backdrop for his first start of the season at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Thursday.
Englishman Westwood, partnering his father John in the pro-am celebrity event, was all smiles after firing a four-under-par 68 in the opening round on the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links, one of three venues being used this week.
"You sort of tick off bucket list courses and Pebble Beach would definitely be one of them," Westwood junior, the world number eight, told reporters after mixing five birdies with a lone bogey in mainly sunny conditions.
"To actually play in a competition in the AT&T with your dad and tick that one off is something really special. It's just a magical place to play golf. I've always said it's my favourite place."
Asked by Golf Channel how much he had enjoyed playing with his father on one of golf's most fabled layouts, former world number one Westwood replied: "It's the biggest thrill.
"We didn't play Pebble (Beach) in the practice rounds because I have played it in so many U.S. Opens and things like that, so that was my Dad's first look at it.
"Nothing prepares you for playing holes like six, seven, eight, nine and 10, I don't think. The first time you play them, you can't stop looking around at the breathlessness of the surroundings."
Westwood's father John, a former mathematics teacher who introduced his son to the game shortly before he turned 13, has a specific goal in mind for this week.
"In the hospitality tents, there's an umbrella up on the top of the ceiling there: 'I made the cut at Pebble Beach.' And that's really what I'd like to do," the 16-handicapper said.
As a father-and-son combination, the Westwoods have previously triumphed in a pro-am competition but this week at Pebble Beach would certainly go one step further, according to Lee.
"We played in South Africa once before at the Dimension Data in 2000 and won, we won the team and I won the individual," Westwood junior grinned. "So I've been through that kind of emotion before.
"But to do it here at Pebble Beach would really be special. We enjoy playing together and this is going to be one of the great weeks of the year for me.
"There's a long way to go but I'm off to a nice start, a 68, and I don't think that does you any damage on any of these golf courses."
Westwood, who ended the opening round two strokes off the pace set by American Hunter Mahan and Briton Russell Knox, readily admits his successful career as a golf professional owes a great deal to his father.
"He's had a massive influence on me," said Lee, a winner of 22 European Tour titles. "He's the reason really I've got so good at the game. You know, he and my mum invested a lot time in me when I was growing up.
"He didn't play golf before we started together, so it was the first time we both set foot on the golf course. It all started from there. Six years later I was turning pro and playing on the European Tour." (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Ian Ransom)