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Hideki Matsuyama showed plenty of courage on Sunday to deliver a well-deserved win and a 25/1 result for us at TPC Scottsdale - I know plenty of you were on board. Going toe-to-toe with Rickie Fowler in front of thousands of fans, the majority of whom were behind Fowler of course, showed true character as did making birdie at the 17th and 18th to force the play-off against the World Number 4. Whatever plans Rickie and his caddy Joe Skovron hatched at Rickie's nemesis hole the 17th failed both times, giving Hideki his 2nd PGA Tour title after his win at The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in 2014. Looking at the bigger picture, Fowler continues to look a real contender at Augusta where his additional driving distance will come in particularly handy and he's been backed in to a best price 20/1 at the time of writing.
Over on the European Tour Paul Williams previews the Tshwane Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Before we move onto Pebble Beach, for the 4th successive year we're running our popular Majors Competition in association with bet365 with an increased £250 free bet prize fund up for grabs. The competition is in the form of a one-and-done, so all you need to do is give us a single player for each of the 4 Majors to enter - full details are here.
From the craziness of TPC Scottsdale and a golf record 616,000 spectators across the tournament week, we move to California again for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Our last visit to the Pacific coast was memorable for the El Nino 40-50 mph wind gusts and torrential rains where Brandt Snedeker played the round of his life to capture the Farmers Insurance Open title although we should see far more pleasant conditions this week.
Course Guide: The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is a full-field event played over 3 different courses to allow such a large field including amateur partners. The iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links is the host course and all competitors play the course once before the 54 hole cut is made. At this point, the best 25 Pro-Am teams play Sunday, with the Top 60 professionals also playing the final round. Spyglass Hill Golf Club and the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club host the other 2 rounds of play. All courses are sub-7,000 yards in length, with the Shore Course playing as a rather unique Par 71 with three par 5s on the inward half, making for a lopsided 34-37 course split. The courses are undoubtedly tricky with Spyglass invariably playing the hardest of the three, but in effect they only play as tough as the weather conditions with in-form players always able to shoot low scores on the poa annua greens.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California: Designer: Neville and Grant 1919 with Connor and Nicklaus re-design 1991/98; Course Type: Coastal, Classical; Par: 72; Length: 6,816 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 0; Fairways: Perennial Rye; Rough: Perennial Rye 2"; Greens: 3,500 sq.ft average Poa Annua; Tournament Stimp: 10.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 71.86 (-0.14), Difficulty Rank 24 of 49 courses. 2013: 71.41 (-0.59), Difficulty Rank 29 of 43 courses. 2014: 73.39 (+1.39), Rank 7 of 48 courses. 2015: 70.24 (-1.76), Rank 45 of 52 courses.
Spyglass Hill GC: Designer: Trent Jones Senior, 1966; Par: 72; Length: 6,953 yards; Greens: 5,000 sq.ft average Poa Annua; Tournament Stimp: 10ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 72.58 (+0.58), Difficulty Rank 18 of 49 courses. 2013: 72.64 (+0.64), Difficulty Rank 11 of 43 courses. 2014: 72.76 (+0.76), Rank 11 of 48 courses. 2015: 71.20 (-0.80), Rank 32 of 52 courses.
Monterey Peninsula CC - Shore Course. Designer: Baldock and Neville, 1959, with Strantz re-design 2003; Par: 71 (2014); Length: 6,867 yards (extended 2014; Greens: 7,000 sq. ft average Poa Annua grass; Stimpmeter: 11.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.88 (-0.12), Difficulty Rank 23 of 49 courses. 2013: 70.24 (+0.24), Difficulty Rank 21 of 43 courses. 2014: 71.25 (+0.25), Rank 22 of 48 courses. 2015: 68.94 (-2.06), Rank 50 of 52 courses.
Pebble Beach Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for host course Pebble Beach and how they compare to recent courses that we have seen on the west coast swing:
Course Overview: There's an undoubted link between Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines South Course. Yes, Pebble may be over 800 yards shorter than Torrey, but the courses share coastal locations and poa annua seeded greens. Green complexes also vary in size with the 5,800 sq.ft. average greens at Torrey a fortnight ago replaced by postage stamp sized 3,500 sq.ft. average sized greens at Pebble which are the smallest on Tour. Fact is though it's probably both Pebble Beach and the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula that will be the key to success this week. With 7,000 sq.ft. average sized Poa Annua greens and the unusual par 71 format of 5 par 3's and 4 par 5's, Monterey can yield low scores. With some breeze to challenge a quality field across the weekend I can see a score of -18 or thereabouts being required for victory.
With wide fairways, where even the most wayward of drivers can hit over 1 in 2, host course Pebble Beach is a second-shot classical golf course. The track is fairly unremarkable statistically unless the elements really close in. That's unlikely this year, so instead we should see plenty of par breakers - but only for those who are comfortable on the poa annua greens. Even last year where Brandt Snedeker posted -22/266 to win, the green complexes were some of the hardest to putt on from within 6 feet on the Tour. Miss the green and scrambling from distance becomes a real problem, as does making par from Pebble's notorious bunkers (15th most difficult on Tour for Sand Saves last season).
Winners: 2015: Brandt Snedeker (-22); 2014: Jimmy Walker (-11); 2013: Brandt Snedeker (-19); 2012: Phil Mickelson (-17); 2011: D.A. Points (-15); 2010: Dustin Johnson (-16).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published AT&T Pebble Beach predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Brandt Snedeker (Predictor Number 1), Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Kevin Na and Phil Mickelson.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Sandersons Farms / WGC-HSBC and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Snedeker 25/1; 2014: Walker 28/1; 2013: Snedeker 14/1; 2012: Mickelson 25/1; 2011: Points 80/1; 2010: Johnson 22/1; Average: 32/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Pebble Beach, California is here. Uncharacteristically high levels of precipitation across December and January should see a softer course set-up than we have seen in recent renewals. Rough could be slightly higher, but the Pro-Am format dictates that the rough can't really be set up as high as it was at Torrey Pines a fortnight ago. A slightly softer course will aid scoring, but where 2015 saw the most placid conditions across the whole tournament, a north-westerly breeze will be a factor across the weekend.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this coastal test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how the courses and tournament format affects play:
Brandt Snedeker: "I love the greens here, I love the golf courses, the greens are poa annua, which I'm a big fan of. And I love the format. I have played the last four years with a good friend. To come out here and play these golf course, this year, you're not going to get a better conditioned golf course, perfect weather, everything has been ideal and there's not a better place to be in the country right now than right here and this tournament. So I have a lot of fun when I come out here and it's a fun feeling when you're playing good out on the West Coast."
Jordan Spieth: "I enjoy the pro‑am part of it. Even though it's a long round, we get good food, it's a nice change of pace, good food, you're kind of laughing down the fairways. It's like you're playing around on the weekend. Some guys don't like the pace of play or a lot of guys just don't like poa annua greens, guys that grew up on Bermuda grew up in the south or even guys that grew up in the northeast are used to primarily bent grass or Bermuda grass and they, three different golf courses all with poa annua that maybe they think putt a little different. It's just a tough adjustment when you get in Monday night or something to try and get to know the places that week really quickly. Whether it's that, whether it's the changing around a few golf courses or it's the slow rounds, not sure. I certainly really like this golf course and a lot of the legends of the game have liked these courses."
Jimmy Walker: "I don't mind the format. The format's great. I've enjoyed all my partners I've ever had here. I think everybody that's here is a good person. I've had some good players. We have done well in the past team‑wise, too. So, you know the rounds are going to be a little longer. But there's no better place to hang out if you to hang out on a golf course for five and a half, six hours ‑‑ if the weather's good it's really nice. If it's bad it's a little dicey, but I think it's a cool format. I enjoy playing golf with friends at home and I've made some pretty good friends out here doing the pro‑am stuff. You just got to get over the fact that it's going to take awhile. A lot of guys don't like it."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:
Naturally as a three course Pro-Am it's well worth looking at the course rotation to see if there is any draw bias. Since Monterey Peninsula was added to the tournament course rota for the 2013 renewal it has played as by far the easiest course - 4 par 5's on a par-71 format clearly helps. In calm conditions across both 2013 and 2015, Snedeker took advantage of Monterey in Round 1 to set-up his challenge. However with breezy conditions set for Saturday, both Pebble Beach and Spyglass become far more of a challenge - Walker avoided both of them when bad conditions hit on the Saturday back in 2014 - so there could be an advantage of playing Monterey in Round 3.
For the record, here's the breakdown of pure Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
The Pebble Beach Pro-Am is always a memorable tournament although the coverage can be extremely painful to watch. Recent winners include Tiger Woods, Davis Love III (x2), Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson (x3), Dustin Johnson (x2), Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker (x2), with Matt Gogel, Aaron Oberholser, Steve Lowery and D.A. Points thrown in for good measure. My take on the tournament is that a number of elite players always seem to contend - as you'd expect, in most cases quality vanquishes the lesser opposition, but in the case of Lowery and Points they held off Vijay Singh and Hunter Mahan respectively to capture the titles.
Looking at the incoming form for recent winners, Brandt Snedeker (25/1) 12 months ago was in need of a win as he had slipped outside of the OWGR Top 50 and immediate form of 10th at TPC Scottsdale and 19th at Torrey Pines was underpinned by strong ball-striking and bogey avoidance. Jimmy Walker (28/1) in 2014 had just won his 2nd Tour title at Waialae 2 appearances previously, and Snedeker (14/1) was in-cracking form when arriving at Pebble after finishing 3rd at Kapalua, 2nd at Torrey Pines (when defending his title) and 2nd the week before at TPC Scottsdale. Other form since 2010 as below:
Experience at Pebble Beach is another key factor. Dustin Johnson's win here in 2009 came on only his second appearance at the tournament, but his liking for the format was already plain to see as he'd finished 19th on debut the previous year. Johnson went on to defend his title in 2010 and since then players with 4, 16, 6, 6 and 7 previous appearances have triumphed. The specialist nature of golf here can be seen in the fact that every winner here since Aaron Oberholser (2006) had delivered a Top 21 finish at Pebble prior to their victory. The close association with Torrey Pines can't be overlooked either.
Bookmaker Offers. A number of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms again this week:
My selections are as follows:
I'm not usually one for backing defending champions, but with 2-time winner Brandt Snedeker playing such outstanding golf it's almost a no-brainer to get on board at 16/1. That price is undoubtedly boosted by the fact that both Spieth and Day are in the field and although both have obvious chances, I'm going to take both on for varying reasons. Spieth, for me, still needs to prove that he can putt on pure poa annua - something you would want to see in a 5/1 shot - especially as his Strokes Gained Putting numbers in 3 outings at Pebble Beach read -0.55, -1.72 and +0.31. We know that Jason Day is an excellent putter, but 2 outings in 2016 following on from a complete blackout over the autumn gives me the impression he needs another tournament to get up to speed. With another short-priced course specialist Dustin Johnson haemorrhaging bogeys and another in the form of Jimmy Walker not hitting enough greens in regulation, Brandt makes a lot of sense. More food for thought comes in the fact that the only time on the west coast when Brandt has attempted to defend a title when in fantastic form he finished 2nd to none other than Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines in 2013.
Form of 33(TPC Scottsdale)-1(Torrey Pines)-2(Waialae)-3(Kapalua)-1(Franklin Templeton Shootout) highlights just how well Snedeker has played since Butch Harmon made some swing tweaks last autumn. Yes you could argue that 33rd last week at Scottsdale highlights that Brandt has finally hit the buffers, but I'd counter by highlighting that the firmness of conditions in combination with the new Weiskopf set-up has made Phoenix even more of a pure power ball-striking test. That's not Snedeker's game, so on pure poa annua greens that he loves and at a course where he thrives, I think that Brandt will have one big performance left in him - after all another win this week will all but guarantee a Ryder Cup spot by mid-February. RESULT: T35
The other course specialist who really interests me at the top of the betting is Phil Mickelson. Available at 25/1 literally for minutes at both Skybet and Ladbrokes earlier this afternoon (Monday), it's clear that Lefty is going to be a popular man this week. Motivated right now as his swing re-engineering work with Andrew Gatson is clearly delivering results, Phil has both the game and the desire to challenge this week at his beloved Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament where he's been champion three times across 2005, 2007 and 2012. Throw in a couple of additional 3rd places (2001 & 2004), 4th at the 2010 US Open plus recent top 10 finishes in 2010 and 2011 and it's 100% crystal clear that Phil holds Pebble in the highest of regard along with Augusta.
So it's been interesting to note progress in 2016. 3rd at PGA West was highly encouraging on his 2016 debut and although he never challenged for the victory, the fact he only made 3 bogeys (tied best in the field) was seriously impressive. I almost expected the Missed Cut at Torrey Pines as it's a format he's fallen out of love with and it was interesting to see him struggle on a North Course where, amidst a cloud of Californian politics, he's recently missed out on a massive design contract. From there last week at TPC Scottsdale was a massive step forward on a course where he's struggled of late when it plays firm and fiery. 15th in Driving Accuracy, 7th in Greens in Regulation, 1st in Ball-Striking, tied 8th in Bogey Avoidance and 2nd in All-Round are numbers we have rarely seen in recent seasons. So that's the green light for me to back Mickelson at Pebble this week as this is an excellent opportunity for him to end his 30 month wait for a victory since The Open in 2013. RESULT: 2nd
With an average winners' price of 32/1 over the past 6 renewals, I'll go with 3 sharp darts this week and add J.B. Holmes as my final selection. Holmes has always loved to play on the west coast swing and 2 early career wins at TPC Scottsdale in 2006 and 2008 tie in nicely with the likes of Snedeker and Mickelson who have 5 Pebble Beach Pro-Am titles between them. Since then Holmes, who's often lamented as one-dimensional and dubious under pressure, has added high-grade titles at Quail Hollow (2014) and the GC of Houston (2015), where he beat Jordan Spieth in a play-off. A phenomenal 2nd behind Dustin Johnson at the WGC Cadillac Championship last term allied to a gutsy 4th at Conway Farms, which eventually got Holmes into the President's Cup team, highlights a player who's making real progress in establishing himself at the top table of world golf. I'm sure he also took stock from the 2 wins in partnership with Bubba Watson and his narrow defeat to Hideki Matsuyama in the singles as the United States won in South Korea.
So consecutive 6th places at Torrey Pines, where he showed guts to hang around in those horrible conditions and last week at TPC Scottsdale where he finished strongly, highlights a player who's both confident and in good form arriving at Pebble this week. Scrape the surface and Holmes' short game is razor-sharp right now and he also hit a decent number of greens in regulation last week in Phoenix. Another huge positive is the fact that he finished tied 5th and tied 2nd across both Torrey and Scottsdale for bogey avoidance. So when you're looking for players in decent nick who have a history of playing well at Torrey Pines (2nd 2015, 6th 2016), Riviera (6th 2009, 3rd 2010, 6th 2012) as well as here at the Pro-Am (2nd 2010, 13th 2011, 10th 2015), Holmes is just the ticket. RESULT: T11
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel