The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, in name only, starts Thursday on the Monterey Peninsula.For the first time since the tournament began in the 1930s, there are no amateurs in the field. Instead, the 156 professionals will play one round each at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill before the low 65 and ties compete at Pebble on the weekend.
Larry the Cable Guy and Ray Romano aren’t the only ones absent in Carmel this week. The field is not as strong as it’s been in recent years. There’s no such thing as a weak field on the PGA Tour. So disregard those words if you come across them elsewhere this week. Some are stronger than others, of course. None are weak. But some of the usual contenders are resting.
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The weather is typical for the lovely stretch of coastline this time of year – mid-50s for highs, showers likely, wind in the 10-20 mph range. The Tour caddies prefer this format and won’t miss the six-hour rounds, however, the bags won’t be any lighter or the fairways any less squishier. Veterans pack ample rain gear and several pairs of shoes. They may leave some of both behind at week’s end.
The purse is hefty — $7.8 million and the courses are two of my favorites. Spyglass rarely gets its due. That’s the price of having neighbors like Pebble and Cypress Point. But it’s a beauty, starting out with a cool downhill dogleg par-5 and winding along the coast for a stretch before it climbs and weaves through the forest. There was a time, before tee shots traveled 300 yards in the air, when it was one of the Tour’s stiffest tests. Technology has softened the challenge.
Pebble is all about the weather and hoping you can avoid a 10th tee start. It’s rather easy early but the middle and end are some of golf’s most scenic and interesting holes. Precise iron shots are required to find the small contoured greens. Controlling spin on approach is vital. I’ve seen 8-iron shots rip back off a green and down the fairway. The sidehill putts break a lot and the seals make a charming racket coming home.
Some of the best weeks of my life unfolded on the Monterey Peninsula. A strong iron player who can handle a chilly wind will prevail this week and he’ll thank the man walking beside him for steering him away from the disasters that lurk on holes like 8 and 14.
It’s a good week to have a fireplace. As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
25. Harold Varner III – Gained 4.8 strokes on approach last week for his third top-15 of the season. Missed the cut in AT&T debut last year but he’s fifth in the field in SG: Approach and sixth in SG: Short Game over the last 24 rounds.
24. Brian Harman – Playing on the Monterey Peninsula for the first time since 2015. Has a T-20 to his credit here and had a rare off week with his irons last week in a T-36 in Scottsdale. In his last five tournaments, has gained strokes in every facet.
23. Joel Dahmen – He’s missed three consecutive cuts for the first time since early in 2019, but the stats are better than the results. A tie for 14th here last year could spark good memories and propel him back to the cash counter.
22. Jim Furyk – Surely inspired by the impressive play of fellow Champions Tour member Steve Stricker last week, Furyk can compete on a medium length course like Pebble Beach and one of the game’s ultimate grinders won’t mind difficult conditions.
21. Kyle Stanley – It’s a familiar tale for Stanley: The iron game is sizzling and the putter is freezing. But a man can fairway and green his way to a big check at Pebble Beach and Stanley hopes to make the most of his first AT&T since 2016.
20. Russell Knox – Recorded top 15s in the AT&T in 2018 and 2019 and has four top 25s in his last eight starts on the PGA Tour this season. He’s 18th in the field in ballstriking over the last 12 rounds.
19. Jason Day – I have a hunch that can’t be validated by his current form (consecutive missed cuts) but only by his track record at Pebble Beach, which is a dangerous strategy for picking a roster but can’t be overlooked in this case: T4-T11-T5-T2-T4-4 are his finishes at Pebble Beach since 2014.
18. Maverick McNealy – The native of Northern California and former Stanford star is seeking his fifth top-25 finish of the 2020-21 season. He’s second in the field in SG: Short Game and fourth in SG: Putting over the last 12 rounds on poa annua greens and finished fifth here last year.
17. Cameron Davis – Hasn’t putted particularly well on poa annua during his brief career, however his ballstriking numbers can’t be ignored. Gained 6.6 strokes on approach at the Farmers and 5.5 at the AMEX. The future is brilliant.
16. Jordan Spieth – I’m not sold on the return just yet. Then again, Sunday’s performance, on the heels of a hot round and under final round heat, may have been just what Spieth needed as he tries to regain lost form. Pebble Beach is a shotmaker’s course where track record matters. Spieth has four top 10s and a victory here since 2014.
15. Bo Hoag – Missed the cut in AT&T debut last year but is quietly having a solid season. Stats are strong across the board and has a pair of top 20s in his last three starts and landed in the top 40 in five of last six. Gained 3.3 strokes on approach last week but couldn’t decipher the grainy TPC Scottsdale greens.
14. Wyndham Clark – Tied for 18th here last year and has played the final round in both starts. Likes poa annua greens, doesn’t mind the wind and fares well when scoring is difficult. All three should apply this week. Enters off his best week with the irons (1.9 SG) in a steady season (7 of last 8 cuts made). EDITOR’S NOTE: Wyndham Clark withdrew from the tournament after this post was published.
13. Doug Ghim – Feels like the Texas Longhorn is inching closer to a breakout run. Just an errant drive or two has held him back in recent weeks yet he’s still posted top 25s in five of the last nine tournaments. Shot 1 under here each of the last two years and missed the cut but he’s a better player now.
12. Francesco Molinari – In some ways, Pebble Beach is a shorter version of Torrey Pines and the 2019 Open Champion solved that puzzle two weeks ago. With consecutive top 10s and three top 15s in his last four starts, fair to say he’s survived the slump.
11. Matt Jones – Some people just love Pebble Beach (what’s not to love other than an extra layer and a stray shower?) and Jones certainly qualifies with three top 15s and a T-23 since 2015. Game is in fine form having made eight consecutive cuts.
10. Matthew NeSmith – Played great on Thursday and Sunday last week to post a career-best seventh place at the WMO and his fourth top 20 of the ‘20-21 season. Enjoyed his initial look at Pebble Beach last year, finishing T-11. Gained more than four strokes on approach each of the last two weeks.
9. Peter Malnati – The pressure has faded for the happiest man on the PGA Tour. With outstanding play in the 2020-21 season, he’s emerged from the 126-150 category and clinched a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He just finished 10th at the Farmers, gaining 4.1 strokes on the poa annua greens and coupled with a T-15 here last year, should keep the roll going.
8. Max Homa – Tweeted that the putter didn’t cooperate last week in Scottsdale but he wasn’t alone. The greens are tricky there and certain players figure them out and fare well there from year-to-year. Homa, a Cal Berkely grad, can say the same about Pebble Beach, where he’s finished in the top 15 the last two years.
7. Henrik Norlander – Must keep riding the hot hand — he’s been an asset to the headquarters side action kitty in recent weeks, flourishing in certain head-to-head matchups. Finished T-25 here last year and is fourth in SG: Ballstriking in the field over his last 24 rounds.
6. Paul Casey – Over the last four weeks he’s played in California (T-8), Dubai (won), Saudi Arabia (T-12) and now he’s back in California. That’s an impressive schedule for anyone, much less a 43-year-old ranked No. 17 in the world who only has to play when he wants to. Expect he’ll continue the pace this week at a ballstriker’s palace like Pebble where he was runner-up two years ago.
5. Kevin Streelman – Like Steinbeck and Eastwood, Streelman feels at home on Carmel Bay with five consecutive top-20 finishes, capped by firing 15 under to finish runner-up last year. He’s 12th in the field in SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds as well so there’s likely another large check in his immediate future.
4. Will Zalatoris – Cracked the top 50 in the world last week and is probably bound to remain there for a long, long time. Ballstriker on par with Hovland and Morikawa and don’t look now but he’s gained an average of 0.4 strokes on the greens over his last five events. Poa annua has treated him best.
3. Sam Burns – Making his first AT&T start and wish his recent short game effort was better (124th in the field). Then again, he doesn’t get much practice. Over the last year from 175-200 yards out in the fairway, he’s hit the green in regulation 88 percent of the time (the Tour average is 67.5 percent). Over the last five tournaments he’s gained an average of 2.9 strokes on the field from that distance and 5.2 shots from 100-125 yards. .
2. Daniel Berger – Loved him last week in Scottsdale and he lost more than three strokes on approach in two rounds and missed the cut. Still, it will take more than one off week to change our feeling and what better place to rediscover the touch than Pebble Beach where he’s finished top 10 in both appearances..
1. Patrick Cantlay – Last time we saw Cantlay he was firing a final-round 61 at the PGA West Stadium Course and nearly chasing down Si Woo Kim for a playoff. Has two top-11 finishes in four starts at Pebble Beach and the California native is no stranger to the cool, damp air and poa annua greens.