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A cracking win for Hideki Matsuyama in Scottsdale last week and despite making the cardinal sin of selecting Jordan Spieth over the Japanese world-beater at the ball-striking paradise that is the Stadium Course, I can't help but like Hideki who's brought home some good profit for us in the past. Like last year, a number in the crowd seemed determined to upset the Japanese World Number 5, but nothing was going to stop the charging 24 year-old who captured his 4th PGA Tour title overall and his 5th global victory since mid-October. Masters betting now reads Spieth 8/1, McIlroy 10/1, Day 11/1, Matsuyama 12/1, Dustin Johnson 12/1, with Scott/Watson 25/1.
For the 5th successive year we're running our popular Majors Competition in association with bet365 who've put a total of £250 in bonuses up for grabs to the winners. 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.
With the interest in Fantasy Golf growing, I've also written a dedicated preview for DraftKings for the Farmers Open - click here to read it.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Maybank Championship - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
We move from the desert of Arizona to the beautiful Carmel Bay on the Pacific Coast for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which is played across 3 courses and should see some lively weather.
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 dictate 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 Palmer 2007; 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. 2016: 72.50 (+0.5), Rank 16 of 50 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 (+1.76), Rank 11 of 48 courses. 2015: 71.20 (-0.80), Rank 32 of 52 courses. 2016: 72.51 (+0.51), Rank 15 of 50 courses.
Monterey Peninsula CC - Shore Course. Designer: Baldock and Neville, 1959, with Strantz re-design 2003; Par: 71 (2014); Length: 6,958 yards (extended 2017); 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. 2016: 70.70 (-0.30), Rank 25 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for host course Pebble Beach and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
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 3s and 4 par 5s, Monterey can yield low scores.
Wide off the tee, where even the most wayward of drivers can hit over 1 in 2 fairways, host course Pebble Beach is a second-shot classical golf course. The track is fairly unremarkable statistically unless the elements really close in. Despite a murky and slightly blustery Thursday, 2014-type conditions are unlikely this year, so instead we should see plenty of par breakers - but only for those who are comfortable on the poa annua greens. Key stats are that the green complexes at Pebble are traditionally some of the hardest to putt on from within 10 feet on the Tour. Miss the green and scrambling from distance becomes a real problem, as does making par from Pebble's notorious bunkers (7th most difficult on Tour for Sand Saves last season).
Winners: 2016: Vaughn Taylor (-17); 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 Dustin Johnson (No.1), Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day and Justin Rose.
DraftKings Predictor Model: For those of you who play DraftKings there's now a dedicated predictor model available here.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Turkish Airlines Open / Shriners Hospitals Open and includes 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: 2016: Taylor 300/1; 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: 71/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Pebble Beach, California is here. We should see soft conditions at the AT&T with a wet January also leading into a wet February. Rain looks part of the picture on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of tournament week. Gusting 20mph winds also look part of the weather window on Thursday and Friday, before we see calmer conditions across the weekend.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how the courses and tournament format affects play:
Justin Rose: "That was actually my first look at Spyglass. I came out here the other day and went around a couple of holes checking it out, but I picked the wrong one not to play, because it's a pretty tough course. There's some strong holes on it. And I heard some strange reports about Spyglass, like the first few holes are great then it disappears into the hills and it's not that good. That's not what I saw. That's a pretty stellar golf course to me and really enjoyed playing it. All the courses in the rotation have impressed me this year.
Justin Rose [on Monterrey Peninsula]: The greens aren't as good here. They're bouncing a little bit, but they're also really quick. So kind of quick and bouncy. My last hole of the day I had a beautiful 6-iron in to about seven feet and had maybe a 6, 8 inch break in it. I knew I was trying to lag it and I missed low and suddenly had four feet coming back up the hill. So there was some very awkward putts out there today. But the putts are makeable, but also if you're not seeing them go in early, it's the one course that maybe gets in your head a little bit. But the greens at Spyglass and Pebble are a little firmer and they're rolling really well. I think I need to learn Pebble a bit more, a bit better. This is the course that probably gave me more trouble than the other two. That's why it's a U.S. Open venue, because it's got some subtleties to it. But I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the whole week, the courses are in great shape the weather was perfect."
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 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 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
As a three course Pro-Am, it's well worth looking at the course rotation to see if there's 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 in breezy conditions, 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, with Taylor, last year, playing Monterey on Saturday when wind conditions were gusting 20 mph. Toughest wind conditions look set for Thursday and Friday gusting over 20 mph, with rain likely in the afternoon.
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, D.A. Points and defending champion Vaughn Taylor 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, Points and Taylor 12 months ago, they defeated Vijay Singh, Hunter Mahan and Phil Mickelson respectively to capture their titles.
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 7th on debut the previous year. Johnson went on to defend his title in 2010 and since then players with 4, 16, 6, 6, 7 and 8 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: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below. New customers can also get a free £10 no deposit required bet with Sky Bet - perfect for covering off one of the favourites this week:
My selections are as follows:
Justin Rose seems extremely motivated right now and his golf across both Waialae and Torrey Pines was excellent. 25 Birdies in Hawaii was followed by 2 Eagles and 15 Birdies at Torrey Pines generating 4th and 2nd place finishes into the bargain. For the second year running, Albany Resort, Bahamas-based Rose has focused on the PGA Tour West Coast Swing, believing that playing in the States will sharpen his game and save energy for the summer to come. His play at Waialae was unexpectedly strong and his lightning start on the Bentgrass greens of Torrey Pines North saw him take the Thursday lead with a -7/65 which he didn't relinquish till Saturday. Rose has always struggled on the fast Poa Annua greens of the famous South Course, so eventually he couldn't make the necessary putts to stop the charging Jon Rahm, but closer inspection of Justin's Pebble Beach debut 12 months ago is encouraging for his chances on the smaller and slower Poa Annua putting surfaces he faces this week: Rose finished 5th for Putting Average and 6th for Approach Shot Proximity here last year when he finished 6th overall. A -6/66 and -3/68 across Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula saw Rose 5th after 36 holes and if it weren't for a couple of bogeys on the closing par-5 18th at Pebble Beach across both Saturday and Sunday, Rose would have been right on the coat-tails of shock winner Vaughn Taylor and Phil Mickelson.
Teamed with Justin Timberlake again this week, Rose will feel far more comfortable across the 3 venues, especially Pebble Beach which he openly admitted has subtleties which you only learn with rounds. When he's hitting high numbers of greens, he's a dangerous animal - and he's more than capable of contending this week if conditions do get tough and wet.
Patrick Reed will always give you 100%, so a forecast for rain and bad weather will actually enhance the World Number 10's chances as plenty in the field won't fancy the challenge. A winner on Poa Annua greens as recently as Bethpage Black back in August, Patrick's record at Pebble Beach is eerily consistent. 7th (2013), 13th (2014), 29th (2015) and 6th (2016) clearly indicates that the Texan loves the challenge of the National Pro-Am where he can always find enough of the tiny greens to let his excellent short game come to the fore. It's also a huge plus point at a tournament where experienced players and course specialists come to the fore. I can disregard last week at TPC Scottsdale - a course that's never likely to suit - and instead 12th at PGA West and 6th at Kapalua are far closer to where Reed is actually at. PGA West featured only 5 bogeys and a closing -7/65 on a Pete Dye design we know Reed struggles on.
Reed has other plus points this week. A winner of the pro-am format Humana Challenge in 2014, throw in another couple of top-7 finishes here and it's clear that this format brings the best out of him. He's also a fantastic wind player as anybody who witnessed his WGC Cadillac Championship win at Doral in 2014 will confirm. His record here and at Kapalua highlights a player comfortable on the coast, as does his record at TPC Boston (4th 2015 & 5th 2016) which has a real inland links feel to it. European style weather won't put the Texan off either as his unbeaten performance at Gleneagles and 12th at Troon last year highlight perfectly.
Two bookend -5/66s were the highlight of Chris Kirk's latest effort at TPC Scottsdale. 34th was a solid enough performance, but yet again highlights the Georgian's weakness at altitude; 4-time PGA Tour winner Kirk though is far more adept on the coast. A win (2014) plus 4th (2015) at Sea Island, 7th at El Camaleon (2016), 5th (2013) plus 2nd (2014) at Waialae, 7th at Kapalua (2012) and 2nd here at Pebble Beach (2013) make him an American who has no issues when there's sea air in his nostrils. He was even a top 20 finisher on his Open Championship debut at Hoylake in 2014. He's a decent player on a soft course and when he's striking the ball well he can handle windy conditions - it all makes sense when you know that Kirk lived full-time on Sea Island from 2007-2013 and still has a home on the Georgian eastern seaboard.
So why this week? Well it's worth remembering that this will be Kirk's 9th start on the PGA Tour this season - 8th at Silverado, 2nd at CC of Jackson and 7th at El Camaleon have been his best results to date - so his statistics are pretty telling of the state of his game: 20th in Bogey Avoidance, 16th in Birdie or Better Conversion, 8th in Scrambling from the Rough and 14th in Putting Average are season-to-date statistics that highlight a player who's more than ready to contend. 9th for Greens in Regulation at TPC Scottsdale and 4th for Putting Average at PGA West on his last 2 outings suggests to me a player who just needs to marry it all up and produce an all-round performance on a course that suits.
One of the PGA Tour's two recent 59 men, Adam Hadwin looks an exceptional bet this week. With this being Presidents Cup year, is it any real surprise that Byeong-Hun An, Louis Oosthuizen, Jeunghun Wang and Hideki Matsuyama have stepped up in the past 2 weeks? We can add Canadian Hadwin to that list as at Number 105 in the OWGR he's already raised himself 89 spots in the rankings after a playoff defeat to Hudson Swafford at PGA West and another big haul of OWGR points at TPC Scottsdale last week. The Stadium Course is ultimately too much of a power track to truly suit, where Hadwin likes to score heavily on shorter set-ups. So the Pro-Am's format of 3 short and receptive courses will be right up Adam's street, as will the playing with amateurs side of the tournament. Remember he's finished 2nd and 6th across both 2015 and 2016 at the CareerBuilder Challenge, so slow play is not a concern. Hadwin has also finished in the top 20 here at the Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational so has competitive experience of Pebble Beach Links and Spyglass Hill. 19th in Bogey Avoidance, 18th in Birdie or Better Conversion and 5th in Putting Average season to date statistics are just too good to look away from this week and Hadwin is comfortable on poa annua greens as 4th at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open hosted at Shuaghnessy CCC highlights.
A set of short, coastal courses - which will play a little tougher across the opening 36 holes - will not be every player's cup of tea. However you know that the young Aussie Cameron Smith will be undoubtedly looking forward to the challenge. 11th here 12 months ago, the 23 year-old - who grew up on the Gold Coast in Brisbane - was 2nd on Thursday after a -7/64 on Monterey Peninsula, saying in interview, "I think the three golf courses here actually suit my game quite a lot. So, hopefully, I can go out there and hit it the same as today and get the putts rolling in again. Strengths of my game? Putting and the irons all the way down, I would say. Distance, definitely no."
Those where Cameron's comments after his round and they highlight just how difficult Smith finds the challenge on the PGA Tour, where power and scoring is key. However Smith is enjoying his 2nd PGA Tour season far more where he's made 7 of 8 cuts and enjoyed a top 10 finish at TPC Summerlin. However bad weather and classical courses are a leveller and the last time we saw Smith at the business end of a leaderboard was at the Australian Open held at the classical Royal Sydney Golf Club in late November. Smith made a Playoff with Jordan Spieth after shooting a Sunday -6/66 and yet again gave us the nod that the Queenslander is a star in the making. He also finished an incredible 4th at the Chambers Bay-hosted 2015 U.S. Open on greens akin to Poa Annua and was 5th at the Royal Pines Resort-hosted Australian PGA Championship played in windy conditions. A tremendous putter, I like his chances this week at a long price.
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