There is something a little bit jarring about the PGA Tour’s annual visit to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. On the one hand there are the three spectacular host courses high on the Californian cliff tops. On the other hand there are the celebrities.
Whilst it is true that the American galleries lap them up, those of us watching this side of the Atlantic are rather more immune to the high jinks and often completely clueless as to their identities. It’s a contrivance we’d happily do without, but it’s not our gig, it’s theirs so tough luck on us.
This year we can distract ourselves with thoughts of high summer, when the U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach.
Will this week’s action provide valuable pointers? Back in 2010, when this situation last occurred, Dustin Johnson swept to victory in February and looked set to do so again in June, only to blow a three-shot 54-hole lead, whilst Alex Cejka completed a top ten finish in both. It might pay to take notes.
The field is split between Pebble Beach, Monterey Peninsula and Spyglass Hill over the first three rounds before everyone who makes the cut plays Pebble Beach in round four.
2 days away! 🌳⛳️🌤 pic.twitter.com/872dn5zDuL— ATTPebbleBeachProAm (@attproam) February 3, 2019
Pebble is the standout, but they are all undulating, beautiful, prey to gusting wind and have poa annua grass on the greens. The latter is a factor: some golfers can putt on it, others get driven to distraction.
This is an event whose list of winners veers between specialists and rank outsiders. In the last 20 years Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker are all multiple winners and yet in the last three years alone Vaughn Taylor and Ted Potters Jr have emerged from left of leftfield.
Johnson is the favourite this week and there is, of course, plenty of good reason: he’s not only a two-time winner but two-time runner-up; he also won last week, but what effect will the journey from Saudi Arabia have on him?
A trio of seaside courses, often played in cold and wet conditions, one of the tracks regularly hosts a major championship, and half the field is made up of famous folk or wealthy businessmen. Ring any bells, Tommy Fleetwood?
The Englishman is yet to play in this event but when he’s taken on Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and The Old Course at St Andrews in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship the results have been consistently superb: eight starts, four top five finishes, twice a runner-up, only once outside the top 25.
Just last week Rickie Fowler showed us that fresh memories of failure are not an enduring obstacle to success. Missing out at a tournament 12 months before or the week before is quite often a lesson learned (and fresh too) rather than permanent scar tissue.
Grace will have left last week’s WM Phoenix Open frustrated by a late slip when tied for the lead, but he will also tee it up with the bit between his teeth.
He’s won a Pro-Am (the Dunhill Links), he’s won at a blustery PGA Tour venue (the Heritage at Harbour Town) and he made a decent tournament debut 12 months ago (T20th). He’s 40/1 (six places) with 888Sport.
Sometimes it pays to have faith in a player’s fondness for his surroundings and that’s often been the case with Jimmy Walker on the Californian coast.
He has four top tens in 12 starts at Torrey Pines and five in 11 at Pebble Beach, the latter including victory in this tournament’s 2014 renewal. He also has a win at CordeValle and has twice been fourth at Riviera.
But it’s his record in this week’s event that really appeals, not least the fact that the five top tens have all come in his last eight starts and in 2016 he finished just one shot outside the top ten.
If he had shown any sort of form the 2016 PGA Championship winner would clearly be a much lower price, but the notion that he’s bang out of form might be wide of the mark.
He’s not especially consistent, but he is throwing in some low rounds: 66 to end the CIMB Classic, 65 to close the CJ Cup, a third round 66 last week at TPC Scottsdale.
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