Here we are again, another event in California and another event which will see a three-course rotation with a Pro-Am element. It is of course time for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, one of the most talked about events of the season, besides the majors.
Often found tedious, due to the lengthy rounds, where the television coverage focuses an awful lot on hacking celebrities, the golfing world is split on whether this event is enjoyable or not.
What can be said with certainty is that this year, we have been treated to a stellar field, with five of World’s top-10 players in attendance. World No.1 and two-time Pebble Beach winner, Dustin Johnson is joined by; Jon Rahm who has Johnson’s #1 status in his sights, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.
Rahm and Spieth both played last week, with differing results. Spieth missed the cut by one shot, whilst Rahm managed to put himself in contention going into Sunday.
Rahm ultimately came up six strokes short, following a disappointing, one-over-par final round but will look to find himself in contention once again.
Both Rahm and Spieth have enjoyed this course, with Spieth playing it in each of the last five seasons and Rahm making his debut last year. In his five starts, Spieth has finished no worse than his 22nd place finish on debut and won here last year, to add to his two top-10’s prior. Rahm also showed a liking to the course rotation, finishing in a tie for 5th last season and will be hoping to eclipse that this week.
McIlroy will be making his first start Stateside, since finishing T58 at the BMW Championship mid-way through September last year but is coming into the event in fine fettle.
The Northern Irishman played his first event since October, at the Abu Dhabi Championship last month and blew the cobwebs off in strong fashion, finishing T3. Following a third-round 65, McIlroy went into the final-round trailing Ross Fisher and Thomas Pieters by just one stroke, but a final round 70 saw him stay in 3rd place, whilst Tommy Fleetwood flew through the field with a 65 in tough conditions.
McIlroy went close again a week later, finishing 2nd at the Dubai Desert Classic behind Haitong Li, who spoiled the party with an impressive final round. Losing out by a single stroke to Li would have been a tough pill for the former No.1 to swallow, but he will go again this week.
This will actually be McIlroy’s debut in this event, with the only experience here his missed cut at the U.S. Open in 2010. The U.S. Open was only played on Pebble Beach, so Rory has not played either of the other two courses in tournament conditions.
It is a big statement of intent from McIlroy to play in an event he never makes the trip for and will be expecting a big week, given his recent run.
Day is coming into the event, fresh off the back of his win at the Farmers Insurance Open, which was his second win there and 11th PGA Tour victory overall. The Australian has four top-6 finishes in this event, including on his debut in 2008. His 4th place finish in 2015 still remains his best effort here, but he will look to make it back-to-back wins, something he has done twice already in his career.
The Courses and what it will take to win
Pebble Beach Golf Links, 6,816 Yards, Par 72
Spyglass Hill CC, 6,953 Yards, Par 72
Monterey Peninsula CC, 6,958 Yards, Par 71
Monterey Peninsula is known for being the most generous of the three courses and that was highlighted by an exceptional round of 60, shot by Sung Kang in his 2nd round in 2016, which was a new course and event record over 18-holes.
The record at both Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill is 62, which have been shot multiple times at both courses. Generally speaking you want to take advantage of the scoring at Monterey, especially if in calm conditions.
Both Pebble Beach and Monterey are exposed to the elements, so if there are strong winds, both can become much trickier prospects. Spyglass Hill on the other hand is the only course of the three to be tree-lined and generally but still tends to play the hardest.
Hitting Greens in Regulation is huge here. Of the last ten winners, only D.A Points (17th) and Steven Lowery (28th) have ranked outside the top-6 for GIR the week they won.
Par 4 Scoring is just as essential this week and the last five winners have ranked inside the top-2 for Par 4 Scoring the week they won and only once in the last ten years has a winner ranked outside the top-7 on Par-4 Scoring and won here (D.Johnson ranked 24th in 2009).
The ability to putt well on Poa Annua is essential as all three courses feature Poa Annua greens and all the ability to cope in windy conditions, should the weather turn is also hugely advantageous.
Course experience is another factor to strongly consider. Whilst Brandt Snedeker, D.A Points, Phil Mickelson and Steven Lowery didn’t, six of the last ten winners had a top-10 at this event before getting their wins here.
Mickelson has won this event four times, so I would say Points and Lowery were anomalies to the rule, and Snedeker had also finished 8th at the U.S. Open in 2010, so was finely equipped to play well at the main course.
Mickelson was also the only one of the last ten winners here to not have finished 21st or better here before their win, so that would be another benchmark finish to look for. All in all, I would be wary of debutants in this event.
Dustin Johnson (13/2)
Jon Rahm (11/1)
Jason Day (11/1)
Rory McIlroy (12/1)
Jordan Spieth (12/1)
With such a strong head of the market, there is value to be had elsewhere in the field, despite the obvious credentials of Johnson especially.
Brandt Snedeker 40/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Brandt Snedeker struggled and missed a lot of time in 2017 through injury, but after a couple of steady showings in recent weeks, including a T23 in Phoenix, I am confident Snedeker can put a big week together on a course he loves.
Since getting his first win here in 2013, Snedeker has finished MC-1-35-4 and he can extend that good run this week.
A player who excels in California (two wins both here and Torrey Pines), Snedeker will look to take advantage whilst the Tour is still here.
A fine putter, Snedeker is amongst the top-25 performers (24th) on Poa Annua surfaces since the 2013/14 season and that will serve him well this week.
There are of course concerns that Snedeker is not at full fitness but he played steadily for four rounds last week, and he can build further on that here.
At 40/1 Snedeker is overpriced to win, at a course he was won at twice in the last five years. If he is to work his way back into the top-50 before major season, he will want to take advantage of events he loves, such as this one.
Chris Kirk 100/1 (StanJames) 0.5pt e/w:
I backed Chris Kirk at the Sony Open last month, after his 4th place finish at the RSM Classic, and he fell just short finishing in a tie for 10th.
Kirk missed the cut at the CareerBuilder a week after that 10th place finish in Hawaii, but has showed good form again since.
A second-round 65wasn’t enough to get him through that week in California, but finishes of T35 and T11 on his last two starts show he is still in a good place with his golf game.
When finishing 11th in Phoenix, Kirk could only rank T44 in SG: Putting but did rank T11 in Greens in Regulation and 22nd in Par-4 Performance, and that’s a huge positive heading to this event.
Whilst Kirk isn’t the best putter on Poa Annua, and he generally doesn’t play particularly well here, he has had success at this event. In 2013 he finished 2nd behind Snedeker and will be hoping for a similar finish this week, given his strong play in SG: Approach (15th) so far this season.
A 39th place finish last season was Kirk’s next best effort, where two rounds of 73 held him back. Despite these two tough rounds, Kirk was only 3 shots shy of 14th place and I fully expect him to go better once again this week.
All the time Kirk is three-figures he is worth keeping an eye on in current form, and given his play here in 2013 I thought this could be another chance for him to finish inside the top-5.
Vaughn Taylor 150/1 (StanJames) 0.5pt e/w:
It isn’t just his win here two years ago that makes Vaughn Taylor an intriguing prospect but his play at this event as a whole, as well as his play so far this season.
In eight starts at this event, Taylor has a win, a 10th, a 14th and a 26th place finish, against just three missed cuts.
Not only has Taylor impressed in this event, he has also had several good finishes so far this season, with three top-11 finishes in his first eight starts, including last week in Phoenix.
Given his current form, his clear affinity with this event and his three-figure price, I thought Taylor was worth chancing here at an attractive 150/1. Whilst inconsistency has plagued Taylor’s career, he has a top-10 at Augusta to his name, and managed to make the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team, so there have been some highlights.
A good start to the season, and a return to the course that literally saved his career, there is a good chance we see a buoyant Vaughn Taylor this week, as he looks to build on his efforts in Phoenix last week.
Total Points Staked this week: 4
Profit/Loss for 2018: -19.4