The amateurs have returned along with the three-course rotation. The weather forecast is gorgeous. Buckle up for 6-hour rounds on the Monterey Peninsula this week once again when the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am begins Thursday.
The field is light on star power (see Saudi Arabia) and recent history reveals a combination of strong favorites and forgotten long shots (Ted Potter Jr., anyone?) have lifted the trophy on Sunday afternoon.
Experience is a common thread. It’s a challenging format for a first-timer although this recent batch of Korn Ferry Tour graduates is wired to defy preconceptions or historical trends. They’re a talented bunch, aiming for victories, and equipped to steal a veteran’s spot in the top 125. It’s a finite group, after all.
Still, we leaned toward veterans this week. The rookies will have their time.
There are horses for any course but past history at Pebble Beach is more important than the usual week on Tour. Once a player figures the place out and feels comfortable on the Poa Annua greens, success seems to follow year-after-year.
Monterey Peninsula CC and Spyglass Hill fill out the rotation. The competitors play one round on each course before the low 60 and ties advance to the final round at Pebble Beach. The purse is $8.7 million with $1.5 going to the winner.
Each course measures less than 7,200 yards. The fairways are generous and the rough benign. The hole locations are accessible. Strong short iron and wedge play is important this week. Controlling spin and creating uphill putts is vital to success. Scrambling for pars is no fun at all around Pebble Beach and Spyglass in particular. Birdie putts outside 10 feet are holed slightly lower than the Tour average. The par 5s provide excellent scoring opportunities on each of the courses. The eagles can fly at Monterey Peninsula CC. On those long, tiring days a steady dose of fairways and greens, plodding along, adding the birdies when available is the best path to success.
It’s the third consecutive multiple-course tournament on the PGA Tour schedule and such events complicate the handicapping because strokes gained data is available only from the host course, Pebble Beach. The ever-changing weather conditions – wind, rain, fog, cold, – throw another variable into the mix. When the wind kicks up, insulated Spyglass is the place to be. On a calm day, the dialed in pro can torch Pebble or MPCC.
Fortunately, conditions are predicted to remain consistent through the week. Sunshine, low 60s and wind maybe reaching 10 mph. It will likely take at least 20 under to win if that’s the case and probably 12 or 13 to finish in the top 10.
I lived a lifetime on that Peninsula in six weeks. The courses tell you how to play them if you pay attention and practice patience. It’s the kingdom of golf as we know it, on this continent anyway.
As always, good luck.
- Luke Donald, Austin Eckroat, Peter Malnati, Doc Redman, Brian Stuard, Adam Svensson, Sahith Theegala, Nick Watney
Golfer power rankings
25. Matthew NeSmith – Like the way his game is trending and he loves Pebble Beach although the lack of high finishes in his career (three top 10s) is concerning. Still, feels like a safe bet to play four rounds at a place where he’s been in the top 20 the last two years.
24. Min Woo Lee – Ranked No. 51 in the world, he has four top 10s in his last six starts. Just 23 years old, the Australian clipped a solid field to win the Scottish Open last summer and has the game to flourish this week on the coast.
23. Lucas Glover – Last summer’s John Deere Classic champion ranks fourth in the field in SG: Approach on courses less than 7,200 yards over the last 36 rounds. He putts his best on poa annua and specifically at Pebble Beach. He gained 9.5 shots on approach in a T-5 at the Sony and finished 11th and seventh here in the last five years.
22. Christiaan Bezuidenhout – He’s missed one cut since the 2020 PGA Championship and gained strokes on approach each of the last three starts. Making his first start here but his solid skills through the bag should easily carry him to Sunday.
21. Scott Stallings – One of the aforementioned veterans who regularly cashes significant checks here, landing in the top 10 in 2018 and 2019. Finished T-6 in the fall not far away at the Fortinet Championship. Ranks 31st in the field from 100-125 yards and has flourished at MPCC (third in SG: Total).
20. Lanto Griffin – Continued his strong approach play last week at Torrey Pines in a tie for 30th. Finished top 10 in this tournament in 2020. Has played particularly well at Spyglass and is in the top 10 percent in this field from 125-150 yards.
19. Joseph Bramlett – Grew up nearby in Stanford and graduated from the university there. Made the cut in his last three AT&T starts with a T-18 as the best showing. Love that he made the weekend at Torrey despite a rare off week with the irons. We’ll overlook it and focus instead on his recent Tee-to-Green and Approach excellence (top 25 in both).
18. Russell Knox – Another ideal course fit. The native of Scotland always fares well when there is water nearby. The best in the field from 100-150 yards and finished T-7 on a similar test two weeks ago at Waialae. A trio of top 15s in his last four starts at Pebble Beach.
17. Troy Merritt – Has figured out how to maneuver around these courses, landing in the top 25 each of the last three years. Making only his second start of 2022 and his strong poa annua putting and ballstriking from 200 yards plus makes him a strong roster candidate.
16. Andrew Putnam – Another West Coast product, Putnam putts well everywhere but finds the cup most frequently on poa annua and when he finds a ballstriking groove, collects FedEx Cup points. Gained 4.9 shots Tee-to-Green at the American Express in a T-14.
15. Justin Rose – He was the World No. 1 at this time three years ago. Seems longer. Not ready to declare him all the way back after a T-6 at Torrey Pines, however, in this field another leaderboard appearance seems reasonable. Last week was his best iron play in more than two years. They don’t forget how to play, just lose their confidence.
14. Jason Day – Another former World No. 1, he was an auto pick even before last week’s T-3. Has finished 22nd or better in eight of the last nine years at Pebble Beach. Nobody has played Spyglass and MPCC better.
13. Mito Pereira – Probably too low here and certain to be another popular fantasy option. Hard not to be excited considering he gained 5.4 shots on approach in a T-25 at the Farmers and more importantly has bettered the field average on the greens in his last three starts. Don’t sleep on Mito while he’s affordable.
12. Kevin Streelman – Over the last 12 rounds has the best scoring average in the field at Pebble Beach and ranks second over the last 36 rounds in proximity from 100-125 yards. Those two go hand-in-hand, of course. Has five consecutive top 15s in this event with three top 10s.
11. Daniel Berger – I’m worried about his back. His trusted looper Josh Cassell had to retrieve the golf ball from the cup at times last week at Torrey Pines. Otherwise, he’d be in the top 3 because he’s the defending champion and his game is made for this type of test.
10. Matt Kuchar – Elite scrambler and poa annua putter has made five consecutive cuts, including a T-7 last time out in Hawaii. On a short list of places where he can contend. His analytics are solid but also playing a hunch here.
9. Kevin Kisner – Struggled with his ballstriking through most of 2021 but won the Wyndham last August of course and came out of the gate firing in Hawaii with a pair of top 10s, gaining more than two shots on approach in each. Not thought of as a poa annua specialist, though that stroke will work anywhere.
8. Tom Hoge – First Hideki and then Luke List, a person could reasonably assume it’s bad putter season on the PGA Tour. Has two top 5s in his last four starts and a good enough resume at Pebble Beach, finishing 12th last year. Leads the field from 100-125 yards.
7. Matt Jones – Shot a gazillion under on the weekend at the Sentry TOC and loves the feel of Pebble Beach, ranking top 25 in scoring in all three courses in the rotation. Also top 40 in proximity from 125-150 yards and putting on poa annua greens.
6. Cameron Tringale – At some point I’ll trust the models and realize he’s more than likely going to play well if he’s in the field. Tied for third last week – his third top 7 in the last five starts – and finished seventh here last year. Yet another Californian to crack the rankings.
5. Maverick McNealy – Could he be the highest owned non-Tour winner ever in fantasy formats this week? Perhaps. His price is high but he grew up on the Monterey Peninsula and has finished top 5 in this event each of the last two years. Ranks eighth in SG: Tee-to-Green and fifth in SG: Putting on poa annua.
4. Seamus Power – Got off to a horrible start in the final round of the AMEX, squandering a chance to win for the second time in six months. His skill set is a good match for all three courses, including fifth in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 36 rounds.
3. Will Zalatoris – Despite losing nearly three strokes on the greens at Torrey Pines and missing countless birdie putts inside 15 feet, still tied for the lowest score of the week. Pebble Beach should allow him to shake off the disappointment of the near miss on a course where a player’s ballstriking can carry him to victory.
2. Patrick Cantlay – Still think he’s going to win on the West Coast so it probably needs to happen here or at Riviera. There’s not much I can tell you that you don’t already know, picked up right where he left off after his FedEx Cup victory with top 10s in his first two starts this season. Picked him to win this tournament last year and he finished third. The year before he was 11th.
1. Jordan Spieth – Torrey Pines is not his friend. And frankly, since he was in contention for the Open last summer, his approach play has gone south. But there’s something about Pebble Beach that brings out the best in Spieth. He has three top 10s and a victory in the last five years and we’ve seen past champions rediscover their game here before. Sometimes, you have to take a chance.