It’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am week! This event has very much become the Marmite of Golf over the past few years, with many growing tired of the celebrity side of the event, while others still live for seeing Bill Murray hack around the three courses. Whatever your feelings on the event, there is still a significant event going on throughout the week, one which throws out a varying degree of winners.
Over the past five years alone, we have seen two major champions in the shape of Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth win this event, but in the same span, Ted Potter Jr has brilliantly denied Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Chez Reavie to win the 2018 renewal and Vaughn Taylor also got the better of Mickelson, a now five-time winner of this event, in 2016. Brandt Snedeker was the other winner in that same timeline and he was winning this event for the second time. Snedeker has won 10 times across the European and PGA Tour’s, including the FedEx Cup, so he is another golfer of the highest class. What we can see from the last five renewals is whilst this event tends to favour the best golfers in the field, the event can throw up a surprise or two, so don’t rule out longshots.
Pebble Beach Golf Links – 6,816 Yards, Par 72, 2019 Tour Difficulty 12/49
Monterey Peninsula Country Club – 6,958 Yards, Par 71, 2019 Tour Difficulty 22/49
Spyglass Hill Golf Club – 6,960 Yards, Par 72, 2019 Tour Difficulty 20/49
Pebble Beach is the host course and one that is played twice by the players this week, as every player finishes there in the final round. Spyglass Hill is generally the toughest of the three layouts, but if the weather strikes, Pebble can pose a significant threat to the field.
Despite its difficulty in bad weather, there are seven (!!) Par 4’s under 400 yards on Pebble Beach Golf Links, presenting a lot of opportunities to score, and the other two courses are there to be scored on, particularly in calm conditions.
Event trends and what it will it take to win this event?
The great equalizer at this event can certainly be the weather. If you get calm conditions at the generous Monterey Peninsula you can go plenty low there, but get Pebble in windy, wet conditions and anything around par is solid. At the end of the week, you will need to have played the host course well, as you play there twice so your efforts on that course will be significant.
Unsurprisingly those who has played well here, have also excelled in the Open Championship. Due to the location and nature of the tests, it makes perfect sense that form at the two translate. Multiple Open Championship winners have won here, including the most successful players at this event, Mickelson and Mark O’Meara. Other players in recent history to have won both events include Spieth and Tiger Woods, whilst Snedeker, Dustin Johnson, Vijay Singh and Davis Love III (2-time winner here) all have top-3 finishes at the Open alongside their wins here.
Clearly then, links experience and form are desirable at this event, but for those that perhaps don’t have experience in that major, you will need to look at a players’ course form in the past as well. I’d be wary of backing a debutant in this event, given Brett Ogle (1993) remains the only debutant to win here and is also just one of the three international players to win this event. The last 13 winners here have all been American, with Vijay Singh the last to buck the trend and this is quite clearly a homer’s event. Paul Casey (2019), Jason Day (2018) and Charlie Wi (2012) have all finished runner-up here, so I wouldn’t completely rule out an overseas winner but history suggests they need a previous look at the course. Casey and Day had both had top-8 finishes here before finishing 2nd, and both have bucket loads of experience and form on links, including the Open. Wi had also finished T14 before his 2nd here and also played plenty of links courses during his time in Europe.
In terms of statistics, what you do off the tee here is largely irrelevant as it was last week, so again how you approach the greens and also play the Par 4’s will be key.
11 of the last 13 winners here have ranked inside the top-10 for Greens in Regulation and all but one of the winners since the turn of the century have ranked inside the top-7 for Par 4 performance – Dustin Johnson the exception in 2009. It is also worth noting that the 2009 renewal was reduced to 54 holes due to weather, so he may well have improved on that should he have played another 18 holes. Of the last five winners, one (Snedeker 2015) led the field in Par 4’s and the other four ranked 2nd.
Players that are excelling on Par 4’s between 350-400 yards are also worth a look, as six of the Par 4’s on the host course fall within this number on the scorecard.
Brandt Snedeker 22/1 (PaddyPower 8 places 1/5 odds) 1.5pts e/w:
Long-term readers may well know I have a tendency to bet Snedeker with regularity, but he rarely lets us down, particularly in this spot.
There is a bit of juice left in his price due to a rare missed cut in Phoenix last week, but he has had a weekend to put things right as he looks for a third win in this event alone.
Snedeker loves this challenge and links golf in general, as alongside his two victories and 4th place finish here, Snedeker also has T3, T11 and T22 finishes at the Open Championship. In 2012 Snedeker led the Open Championship by a single stroke from Aussie, Adam Scott after 36 holes, but weekend rounds of 73-74 saw him fall away and allowed the experienced Ernie Els to come through the pack and win.
Two wins here, alongside two victories at the Farmers, the most recent owed to an all-world Sunday performance in horrific conditions, highlight his suitability to this test. The cherry on top was his win at the RBC Heritage sandwiched between the lot in 2012.
Snedeker ranks T9 in Par 4 Scoring Average, T12 in SG: Putting and T15 in SG: Around-the-Green, proving what we already know – that a lot of his brilliance is built around an impeccable short game.
Last week was his first missed cut of the season, and the hope is that he shakes it off quick, but he’s otherwise been pretty solid all year, with a T3 finish at Torrey Pines two starts ago, a T12 at the Sony Open and T17 at the Safeway Open, all courses he’s performed well at in the past. Snedeker very rarely surprises and plays a certain amount of courses well throughout the season. This is not a slight however, he knows where he’s best suited to win and has built a very fine career taking advantage of those particular spots, with a third win here the perfect way to kick-start his 2020 campaign.
This is a good opportunity for Snedeker to win his third title here, as fellow course horses Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson fly home from Saudi as they both lost out to 2010 U.S. Open winner, Graeme McDowell last week. The 11-hour time zone change, and extended travel is a reason to fade these three players, despite their obvious credentials. Johnson came here after winning the same event last year and finished 45th despite coasting to an opening-round 66. It is fair to suggest the travel and jet lag may have caught up with him. Snedeker by contrast comes in fresh from a weekend off, travelling from Phoenix.
Alex Noren 45/1(Skybet 8 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Alex Noren is slowly getting back to something near his best and he will be keen to return to the 2016-2018 form that saw him touted as a major winner in waiting. The signs were there in 2015, when Noren finished 9-2 in the desert swing and then won his home event, the Nordea Masters, but it was 2016 where he really kicked on. Four wins that year, including at the Scottish Open proved what we all knew, there’s always been exceptional talent there.
He hasn’t been able to re-create that 2016 form, but a win each in 2017 and 2018 suggested the winning formula was still there. The early part of 2019 was a struggle but top-15 finishes at; the Open Championship, WGC St Jude, Dunhill Links, Bermuda Championship and the RSM Classic were all timely reminders that he excels in wind and links conditions, something he will face here.
I know I am going against the grain here picking Noren, as he is an international debutant but I can’t get away from this being the perfect test for him. We got a glimpse of what he could do at this level when he played an extended PGA Tour schedule in 2018, as he finished 2nd at Torrey Pines, losing in a playoff to Jason Day, before finishing T21 in Phoenix, T16 at the Genesis and 3rd at the Honda Classic. Both the Farmers and the Honda Classic test a players’ ability in the wind and both events had as strong if not stronger fields than this one.
It’s early days in the season, especially for Noren but he ranks highly in; Par 5 Scoring Average (3rd), Scoring Average (4th), SG: Tee-to-Green (9th), Par 4 Scoring Average (15th) and SG: Approach (18th). He also ranks 16th in SG: Total and 11th in Par 4 Efficiency 350-400 yards, which may be helpful during his two rounds at Pebble. This is all obviously based on just 16 rounds of golf, but that’s the same sample size of someone like Webb Simpson, who everyone is salivating over from a statistic point of view – not to discredit what he is doing at all.
With the above in mind, it is no wonder that Noren is 4/4 for cuts made on the PGA Tour this season, finishing no worse than T32 and posting three top-15 finishes in the process. With his best finish coming at the RSM Classic (T10) there is further reason for optimism. Noren is also well aware of what it takes to play in the Pro-Am format, having played in the Dunhill Links (best finish of 3rd) numerous times, as well as his T14 effort at the American Express last time out. The American Express event is also played over three courses, which suggest this format doesn’t bother him one jot.
It may well be too much to ask for him to win on debut here, given the lack of debutant and International winners in general, but I see no reason why he cannot continue his fine form and put himself in the mix once again on the PGA Tour.
Patrick Rodgers 100/1 (SkyBet 8 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Patrick Rodgers has been touted as a future winner on the PGA Tour for years, but is still yet to oblige, despite some close shaves. He has never gone closer than his play-off loss to Charles Howell III at the RSM Classic in 2018, which is another coastal track and that bodes well for his chances here.
Rodgers finished 8th here two years ago and with form figures of T16-T9 on his last two starts, he’ll fancy his chances of finishing in the places this week.
Educated in Stanford, California, Rodgers surely enjoys returning to his college state and he is more than comfortable on Poa Annua greens, his preferred surface, so he should be able to extend his current good play another week. He is already sitting 13th in SG:Putting on Tour, the highest of anyone who’s played 42+ rounds, so that coupled with the Poa surface should mean it’s go time if he can hit enough good approaches.
Rodgers ranked 6th in the field for GIR last week, a huge improvement from ranking 77/79 at the Farmers two weeks ago, and if he can produce a similar performance in that area this week, he can have a real go here. Rodgers also ranked 6th in Par 4 Performance in Phoenix, another positive for the test this week.
On the season Rodgers ranks 24th in Par 5 Scoring Average, which will be vital in going low, which this test demands. Other than that Rodgers actually looks a poor fit from a statistical standpoint, but his last two efforts suggests good things are coming.
With some of his best performances coming at the RSM (2nd, T10), Torrey Pines (T4, T9), the Mayakoba (T10) and here (T8), it is clear he has a preference for these sort of tests
At three figures, I think I is worth chancing the Stanford alum, based on his recent good form and previous top-10 in this event. He was only just out the places last week, and just a shot away at the American Express, so it’s fair to say he’s trending in the right direction. His current form is particularly encouraging this is the first time in over four years, he has put back-to-back top-20 finishes together.
Brian Gay 200/1 (Betfred 7 Placed 1/5 odds) 0.5pt e/w:
Quick disclaimer, there is some 250/1 about Gay available this week, but in an event that is notoriously known for ties at the top of the leaderboard, I felt it was valuable to take the extra place. Now onto the why..
Brian Gay is a four-time PGA Tour winner, and all of these victories have come at courses where the wind can blow or somewhere that correlates nicely to this event. His wins have come at; The Mayakoba, The Heritage, the St.Jude Classic and lastly the Humana Challenge (now the American Express).
Gay’s most recent victory came at the Humana in 2013, and as mentioned previously this is an event in the same style as this. A 54-hole cut, celebrities playing and a low-scoring affair – of which is played in California, as a result his win there seems significant to me.
“But Tom, all those wins came at least seven years ago” I hear you shout, and you’d have every right to, its an internal conversation I have had with myself all afternoon. The good news is, at 200/250 -1, we really don’t need him to necessarily win, even if I do think he’s still capable.
Gay has missed his last four cuts, another negative but before that he was actually playing very nicely on the season, and a move to a more suitable event should see a return to similar form. Gay posted a T23 finish at the Safeway, with a final-round 73 costing him a top-10, but he followed that up with a T7 finish at the Shriners. That week, he finished four shots adrift of play-off protagonists, Kevin Na and Patrick Cantlay, but he shot rounds of 64 and 65 that week and four-straight sub-70 scores. He went better again, albeit in a weaker field at the Bermuda Championship (T3), before finishing T14 at one of his favoured spots, the Mayakoba. A second-round 72 cost him another top-10 in Mexico but again he shots rounds of 65-66, showing he still has the ability to go low. That was the end of his positive run, but I think his recent course form gives hope this week.
In the last two renewals Gay has finished 7th and 8th respectively here, and I think that’s been largely overlooked due to his run of missed cuts lately. Gay was coming off the back of a 9th place finish in Phoenix when 8th here in 2018, but he wasn’t excelling last year even if he was making the weekends, so I instead think it would be smart to look at what he had done before the turn of the calendar year.
At 200/1 you’re getting a solid coastal track player, with four top-20’s in his last eight starts here, including his two best finishes over the past two renewals. He’s seemingly getting more and more comfortable with this event and at 49 years of age, he will keen to take advantage of what may be limited opportunities to get a fifth PGA Tour victory.
Total Points Staked this week: 8
Profit/Loss for 2020: -2
(Bubba Watson placed at 30/1 last week)