Our golf scribe gives his verdict on this week's PGA Tour event, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-AM, which gets underway on Thursday.
Initially known as the Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur, AT&T took over sponsorship in 1985, 8 years after Crosby’s death. This will be the 76th staging of the event and there is a star-studded field lining up to take on these three courses. Four-time champion Phil Mickelson will be hoping to win his 5th title here following a painful near-miss last season. The tournament works like any traditional Pro-Am, with pros and amateurs rotating the three courses over the first three rounds, only for the top 60 players to duke it out in the final round at the iconic Pebble Beach course.
The Spyglass Hill course differs markedly from the other two courses, as it is predominantly a tree-lined course. It is generally considered the toughest one to play. However, players will be relieved if they are drawn to play Spyglass when the winds are up. Monterey is generally considered the easiest of the three courses, with by far the biggest greens of the three courses. Then you have Pebble Beach, one of America’s most emblematic courses. The stunning vistas of this links-style course offer plenty of opportunities for scoring, but just hope that the wind doesn’t pick up to wreak havoc this exposed piece of paradise.
The small courses, coupled with generous fairways, mean that driving accuracy and distance don’t really come into the equation this week. The average Driving Distance for winners over the past 10 years is 29th, while average driving accuracy in 45th. What matters is finding greens. The small, Poa Annua greens require precision from the fairways. Eight of the last ten winners have ranked inside the top 6 for GIR. 'Lefty' is going to have to play some excellent golf to hold off challenges from the likes of Spieth, Day and Johnson.
The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am | Thursday 9 February - Sunday 12 February | Spyglass Hill, Monterey Peninsula and Pebble Beach
2016: Vaughan Taylor (-17) |2015: Brandt Snedeker (-22) |2014: Jimmy Walker (-11) | 2013: Brandt Snedeker (-19) | 2012: Phil Mickelson (-17)
To Win Outright
Dustin Johnson 8/1 | Jordan Spieth 9/1 | Jason Day 11/1 | Justin Rose 12/1 | Brandt Snedeker 16/1
Jordan Spieth – To Win 9/1 & To Place 39/20
I’m going to start with one towards the upper end of the market, and I really think that Spieth is an iota away from claiming a big win. The amiable Texan was starting to look like the man to beat in Phoenix until an uncomfortably familiar collapse fell upon him. He still managed a top ten, coupled with that solo 3rd at the Sony. He has two top ten’s here in the last four years, yet only managed a 21st placed finish last year. To put that in perspective, however, the Texan was dealt a cruel blow last year. Tied for the lead at halfway, he had to play Pebble on Saturday when the wind decided to intervene. A 78 dented his chances on the exposed Pebble Beach Course, and I fully expect Spieth to be in contention this week.
J.B Holmes - To Win 33/1 & To Place 7/1
The naturally talented Kentuckian looks set to really fulfil his potential following a low-risk brain operation in 2011 put a hold on his ambitions for some time. He enjoys playing here, with 5 top 20’s as well as a tie for 2nd behind Dustin in 2010. At 33/1, I think that you could do infinitely worse than the Kentuckian - try Day at 11/1. The dual winner in Phoenix managed 25 birdies last week - in a tie for first - and if he can eradicate some of the errors he could be a force to be reckoned with this week.
J.J Spaun - To Win 66/1 & To Place 14/1
Vaughan Taylor’s surprise victory last season will hopefully mobilise those less fancied golfers who saw this as a perennial coronation of the golfing elite. J.J Spaun is playing excellent golf at present, with two straight top ten finishes exemplifying his recent maturation. He was one shot behind Jon Rahm at Torrey Pines going into the last, before a careless iron shot landed into the water, costing him the tile and about 550,000 dollars in the process. But he qualified for the Phoenix Open where he finished in a tie for 4th. With Tiger Woods as his nominal idol, Spaun is a man who seems to have the internal drive necessary to reach the very top.
The Man to Beat
Phil Mickelson - To Win 18/1 & To Place 39/10
The best links exponent in the field, if not the world, 'lefty' has played some really solid golf at this year thus far. The final nine in Phoenix was a bit regrettable - coming in at 4 over par - but Mickelson is a past master at understanding what is required around these courses. His deft touch in and around the greens will give him more opportunities than most to score on these minuscule greens, while his ability to manipulate his ball trajectory will allow him to navigate the course when they are at their most perilous. At 18/1, you always have to love a former four-time winner, especially when he has shown glimpses of his beast form recently.