AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Mull is a former caddie who spent several years walking alongside the world’s best players inside the ropes on the PGA Tour. Throughout the 2019-20 season, he will be filing a weekly fantasy golf picks piece — as well as a gambling picks piece — applying the expert knowledge he’s acquired over the years by following the players and courses on Tour so closely.
A black limousine crept down the crowded road beside the Tap Room at Pebble Beach on a gray Monday afternoon in the year 2000. The world’s best golfer had just performed another miracle, shooting 64 in the final round to erase a seven-shot deficit and win his sixth consecutive tournament. An hour or so before, I’d enjoyed a front row view of the shot that sunk the field for certain, an eagle 2 on the 15th.
I walked in front of the limo stuck in traffic on Cypress Drive, carrying the golf bag on my shoulder and heading toward The Lodge when I heard the rear passenger side window slide down and an unmistakeable voice called out.
“Who won?” he said.
“Tiger did it again,” I replied.
“He’s something else,” he said, and vanished behind the tinted glass.
It was just Clint Eastwood, seeking a leaderboard update before he climbed into the CBS tower behind the 18th green for the final minutes of the broadcast.
Picking tournament winners was easy in those days and the strange and surreal turns ordinary during this week each February on and around 17-Mile Drive.
Billionaires and stars from every avenue walk some of our nation’s most famous fairways, hoping to somehow make it to Sunday’s final round. Caddies and pros come home with new acquaintances and great stories. There’s much to love about the Monterey Peninsula when the sun is shining and that’s what awaits the field this week as it competes on three courses for a $7.8 million purse.
This is one of the more demanding weeks of the year for caddies and fantasy owners. With no storms in the forecast the wind shouldn’t reach ridiculous levels (7 to 17 mph with temperatures in the high 50s), giving the loopers a break, but fantasy owners better pay attention to the latest forecast each night before setting the roster.
All three courses are shorter than 7,000 yards. Monterey Peninsula Shore Course yields low scores when conditions are calm (Sung Kang shot 60 there and it played to a 68.95 average in 2015) but it also runs along the coast for long, breathtaking stretches. Spyglass Hill winds inland up-and-down hills through dense trees after the opening four holes. It’s routinely the most difficult of the three and plays to an average over its par of 72. The front nine at Pebble Beach is there for the taking on a benign day and low rounds aren’t uncommon when it’s calm, especially considering the fairways are wider, the rough shorter and greens softer than it was last June for the U.S. Open.
Wind dictates everything at Pebble. In 2015, with ideal weather like we could see this week, the scoring average was 70.241, making it one of the five easiest courses on Tour. Last year in wet, windy conditions it played two shots more difficult and was the 12th most difficult on Tour.
With the temperatures in the 50s and light winds, scoring should be good. Perhaps not record setting but pros better reach the upper teens below par to threaten the lead.
Golfer power rankings
25. Sung Kang – Tied for 16th at Torrey Pines two weeks ago. Shot a course-record 60 at the Monterey Peninsula Shore Course in this event in 2016, propelling him to one of two top-20 finishes in the last four years. Top 50 in hitting fairways and greens on Tour.
24. Brandon Wu – The former Stanford star had an incredible amateur season last year and held the Farmers Insurance Open lead briefly in the second round before fading to a T-55. Knows his way around Pebble Beach, tying for 35th in the U.S. Open last June.
23. Kevin Streelman – Duke alum should feel great Sunday morning after his Blue Devils defeat their hated rivals from Chapel Hill on the hardwood. He’s enjoyed the gorgeous stroll around Pebble Beach in recent years with four consecutive top 20s. Must sharpen iron game (146th GIR).
22. Jimmy Walker – Has five top 10s in 12 starts at Pebble Beach including a win in 2014. After a few years in the wilderness due to multiple health issues, Walker is on the comeback trail, 29th in SG: approach the green and has made three of four cuts in 2020.
21. Matt Kuchar – Fired four rounds in the red last week in Scottsdale and tied for 16th. Has played sparingly at Pebble through the years but tied for 22nd last year and his solid iron play (51st SG: approach the green) should serve him well at the host course.
20. Matthew Fitzpatrick – Has a rookie on the bag this week – Golf Digest staffer Daniel Rappaport – which should be interesting. Rapaport catches two breaks: the sunny forecast and having such a talented player for his looping debut. Fitzpatrick was runner-up at Abu Dhabi two weeks ago and missed the cut in Pebble last year.
19. Maverick McNealy – Another former Stanford standout, he tied for 15th in the Farmers Insurance Open two weeks ago to climb to 77th in the FedEx Cup standings. He’s made eight consecutive cuts and skipped last week. Stats aren’t flashy but 32nd in SG: putting is useful.
18. Aaron Wise – DNP the AT&T last year but tied for 15th in 2018. Just 23 years old, wasn’t long ago he was pegged as a future superstar, a claim he validated with victory in Dallas 21 months ago. Love this combo: 18th in greens in regulation, 34th in birdie average.
17. Russell Knox – tied for 15th on Tour in SG: approach the green, the solid Scot has rediscovered his game, posting top 25s in his last two starts. Also finished top 15 the last two years at Pebble Beach. Lack of distance off the tee isn’t a significant issue this week.
16. Cameron Champ – The game’s most effective driver (1st in strokes gained) has three top-25 finishes in as many starts in 2020 and should pad his 4.5 birdie per round average on the soft greens awaiting. Tied for 28th in Pebble Beach debut. He’ll improve upon that this week.
15. Patrick Rodgers – After battling through an injury plagued 2018-19, he’s looking sharp of late with seven subpar rounds the last two weeks, generating a T-9 and T-16. Went to college up the road in Palo Alto and tied for eighth here in 2018.
14. Scott Piercy – Showed affinity for the West Coast swing yet again with a T-6 last week at Waste Management and expect that upward trend to continue on the Monterey Peninsula where he’s finished in the top 20 the last two years.
13. Daniel Berger – Finished top 10 in lone appearance in 2015 and tied for ninth last week. Been a quiet two years, but he’s only 26, has earned $13 million in 134 Tour starts with two wins and five runner-ups. Has climbed to 63rd in FedEx Cup on strength of solid all-around play (46th SG: Total).
12. Viktor Hovland – Tied for 12th in U.S. Open at Pebble Beach last summer in his last tournament as an amateur and maybe those good vibrations will jumpstart 2019-20 season (124th FedEx Cup). Short game has been horrible (227th SG) but ball striking and putting have been strong (top 25 in both).
11. Adam Hadwin – Took two months off around the birth of first child, Maddox Amelia, and chipped away the cobwebs last week with a T-40 at the Waste Management. Made the cut in both AT&T starts with a T-18 last year. Pride of Moose Jaw is good at everything in golf and therefore always a wise selection.
10. Max Homa – Becoming comfortable on the PGA Tour is a critical step for a young pro and the 2019 Wells Fargo champion seems to be slipping into his happy place on and off the course. Comes in hot with back-to-back top 10s and the Californian played Pebble well last year, tying for 10th.
9. Phil Mickelson – Nobody ever knows what Phil might do next but we do know that he tied for third in Saudi Arabia last week, is the reigning AT&T champion and has made a career at Pebble Beach, earning a record $7.2 million and winning five titles.
8. Scott Stallings – Has made five consecutive cuts in 2019-20 and has performed exceptionally well at Pebble Beach last three years, finishing 14th, 7th and 3rd. Ranks 65th in greens in regulation and has the power to cobble together birdies on the par 5s.
7. Brandt Snedeker – Yet another Pebble Beach All-Star (two wins, three top 10s in 12 starts), he’s a riskier proposition because of four missed cuts in 12 starts and failing to make the weekend in Scottsdale. Still, his pop stroke suits poa annua and a hot start will likely produce a leaderboard appearance on Sunday.
6. Paul Casey – Abysmal pitching and putting (200s in SG both categories) has denied the 42-year-old Englishman better finishes recently. Yet he’s still ranked 20th in the world and has flourished on these shores of late, finishing 2nd and T-8 the last two years.
5. Jason Day – Four top 5s and a tie for 11th in the last five years at Pebble Beach and a T-16th at the Farmers Insurance Open two weeks ago gives hope he’s injury-free (finally) and on track to becoming a weekly factor on Tour once again. He’s 35th in SG: tee-to-green and 1st in SG: around the green.
4. Graeme McDowell – We love the late career resurgence from the affable Irishman. Won last week in Saudi Arabia despite not having his best week with the irons, which is unusual (ninth in SG: approach the green). Of course, claimed the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
3. Branden Grace – Plenty to like regarding the South African this week. Continued stellar form at the Waste Management with a T-9 and this rotation suits his eye with top-30 finishes the last two years. He’s 22nd in SG: approach the green and 20th in greens hit in 2019-20.
2. Patrick Cantlay – Hasn’t played in a month (4th in Sentry TOC) but game is so complete he rarely plays poorly thanks to rock solid ball striking (sixth in SG: approach the green). Also the Californian is experienced on the frustrating subtleties of poa annua greens.
1. Dustin Johnson – After an indifferent seven months for a player possessing immense talent, appears to be returning to form with a runner-up in Saudi Arabia last week. The modern king of Pebble Beach with two wins, eight top 10s and $4.5 million in earnings in 12 starts.