The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is one of the more unique events on the PGA Tour each season, as the world’s best pros have to navigate not only three separate courses on the west coast’s Monterey Peninsula but also have to share the limelight with a bevy of sports stars and celebrities with dubious golfing credentials.
The result is often a number of plus six-hour rounds as the hackers make their most of their moment on the big stage so patience and good humour is a much-needed trait.
Jordan Spieth returns to defend a title he cruised to last year, though the two above him in the world – Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm – will be keen to have their say as will Rory McIlroy who tees it up here for the first time in this tournament.
The format of the event sees players teeing it up at three different tracks over the first three days before the top 60 and ties return to Pebble Beach to fight for the title on Sunday. The Pro-Am element takes somewhat of a backseat on the Sunday as just the low 25 amateurs tee it up, so the pace of play improves as the pros face fewer distractions.
If you’re not someone who’d enjoy watching the likes of Kenny G or Bill Murray hit a duck hook into a crowd full of fans, it might be best to wait til Sunday to tune in.
Of the courses used in the rotation, 2010 US Open host Pebble Beach is the undoubted star – a 6816 yard, ‘linksy’ par 72 that is as picturesque as any track in world golf. Built alongside the Pacific Ocean, players will need to contend with plenty of wind, tight fairways and small Poa Annua greens that tend to scuff up pretty quickly with the amateurs doing their fair share of the damage.
However, given the Pro-Am format, the pin positions are often gettable and tend to lead to plenty of birdie looks for those who have their long game working.
Spyglass Hill GC is the second most prominent course in the rotation and actually plays most difficult relative to par year on year. Another sub 7000-yard par 72, Spyglass is largely played in the Del Monte forest so players are given a small respite from the wind but are instead subjected to a number of tricky bunkers, elevation changes, and challenging greens, again seeded with Poa Annua. Players getting round Spyglass Hill in an under par score will be gaining on the field so a solid round here is a must.
Monterey Penisula GC rounds out the rotation and is very much the target golf course of the three, as it gives up the most birdies and has the most receptive greens of the three. The sole par 71 on the rotation, players will need to take advantage of the facile layout which allowed Sung Kang to shot 60 here on the Thursday in 2016. Those looking for a first-round leader bet should be focussing on this course and crossing their fingers that their selection holes enough putts on the Poa Annua greens.
Given the three golf course format, I don’t put too much stock in statistical trends here and instead prefer to focus on current form, course form, and historical Poa Annua performance.
I also tend to favour players who are slightly more experienced as they tend to be more forgiving and understanding of the Pro-Am format. It’s even more of a mental test than normal this week and watching an amateur four-putt four times a round can take its toll on the less experienced members of the tour.
So what of our contenders? Defending champ Jordan Spieth arrives off the back of a rare missed cut, unable buy a putt at the Phoenix Open, and seems to be generally lacking a bit of sharpness with the flagstick, having lost strokes to the field putting in each of his last four starts. However, despite a decent enough record at TPC Scottsdale, Spieth has never really passed the eye-test there and certainly seems better suited to this particular test. Throughout his career, he’s rebounded from poor performances quickly but the 13.0 feels about right.
Dustin Johnson heads the betting at 7.5 and has plenty in his favour with 2 wins and six further top 8 finishes here in 11 starts. He was also the 54 hole leader at the US Open held here before fading in contention, though he wasn’t at world number 1 level and was contending in a major for the first time so that can be forgiven.
He leads the tour in strokes gained on Poa Annua greens and plays with his father-in-law, ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, as his pro-am partner whose laid-back demeanor you’d imagine he’d be comfortable with anyone.
Coming off a 1-9 formline to start the year it’s impossible to rule him out and the only question is whether you want to take your chances at the price. He’s Definitely one to keep an eye on in play if he gets scheduled to play Monterey Peninsula in round 3 and his price has drifted.
Next up is my favourite Spaniard Jon Rahm. For a long time, it was looking like my pre-Phoenix Open assertion that the 23-year-old seemed a bit tired was misplaced but he faltered again on Sunday when well in contention and under up finishing a non-threatening 11th. Given that display, it’s somewhat of a surprise to see him tee it up for a fourth straight week and I think he’s a relatively easy leave. He did finish 5th here last season but he does look a few points too short to me.
The top five in the betting is rounded out by Jason Day, fresh off a victory at Torrey Pines, and Rory McIlroy, arriving from consecutive podium finishes on the European Tour’s desert swing. Both have their claims given their recent form but I think the prices seem about right for both and I’ll be leaving them alone. There have been no winners playing this event on debut since 1993 so McIlroy would have to buck that trend get back into the winner’s circle this week. I’d rather take a watching brief.
With those front five dutched at near enough 2.2, the market isn’t giving too many others much of a chance but I want to be contrary and look further down the field for a spot of value.
Last week I said that I felt Phil Mickelson might be inspired by his old sparring partner Tiger Woods returning to the Tour and, for a while, on Sunday it seemed he might just secure the win, as he rose to second place on the leaderboard down the stretch before eventually settling for a tie for 5th after a double bogey at the 72nd.
This week is very much a home game for Lefty, with the courses a stone’s throw from his residence, and his record here through the years is outstanding with 4 wins and numerous other top 5s.
He’s undoubtedly a Poa Annua expert and has seen positive strokes gained-putting figures in 10 of his last 11 rounds.
The amiable veteran has the perfect personality for a Pro-Am and would be a popular champion with fans and punters alike should he get over the line. There is definitely some value in the quotes around 35.0.
Another player that fits into the amiable veteran category is Brandt Snedeker. The 37-year-old from Tennessee sat out much of last year after suffering from a rib injury and it’s easy to forget that before that point he was a staple of the world’s top 20. The eight-time Tour winner is a former two time Pebble Beach pro-am champ (with a further 4th place last season) and has openly said he relishes the pro-am element, enjoying the week playing alongside an old college friend as his partner.
His record on Poa Annua greens is outstanding with five of his victories coming on these green types and he flashed some form last week with his first top 25 finish since returning from injury. At 45.0 he feels like a must bet in a tournament he loves.
My final selection is not a veteran but is beginning to forge a successful career after a stuttering start – Chesson Hadley. The 30-year-old was the 2014 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year after a successful debut season featuring a winner at the Puerto Rico Open but he soon found himself back on the second-tier Web.com Tour after a couple of fallow years.
To his credit, he bounced back with his solitary season back in the lesser leagues culminating in his coronation as Web.com Tour Player of the Year, and he’s followed that form through into this season, racking up four top-five finishes in his eight events to date.
One of those results came last week at the Phoenix Open and that tie for 5th sets him up beautifully for a return to Pebble Beach where he’s previously recorded two top 10s in three starts. He’s a Poa Annua specialist, doubling his expected strokes gained-putting output when putting on the surface and at 65.0, he rates definite value despite the stellar field.
- Phil Mickelson, 1.5 points @ 35.0 (lay 4 points @ 5.0)
- Brandt Snedeker, 1 point @ 45.0 (lay 4 points @ 7.0)
- Chesson Hadley, 1 point @ 65.0 (lay 5 points @ 8.0)