It was a funny old week in Phoenix for us which ultimately ended in disappointment with Rickie fading away on Sunday. JJ Spaun withdrew with injury and the rest of the team played poorly. One of those weeks basically!
Moving on the tour heads back to California and up the coast to Pebble Beach for the AT & T Pro Am.
The field is a strong one this week with players no doubt starting to have half an eye on 2019’s upcoming US Open at Pebble Beach.
Defending Champion Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day all tee it up.
Those familiar with the event will be aware that, as was the case at the Career Builder three weeks ago, there are 3 courses in play on rotation with Pebble Beach acting as host course.
All players get one round on each of the three courses over the first three days with those making the 54 hole cut playing the final round at Pebble on Sunday.
Those familiar with the event will also be aware that this can be a ‘double edged sword’ of an event to watch on TV over the first three days.
On one hand you have the spectacular scenery offered by the California Coast line, which I would argue is as beautiful as anywhere offered in the golfing world. On the other hand we have the 5 ½ - 6hr rounds that we have come to expect in these Pro-Am’s.
In addition a large chunk of the coverage over the first three days is given up to interviews with, and swing analysis of, a combination of has been rock stars [step forward Huey Lewis] actors from various US Cop shows, American Football team coaches [the vast majority of whom with no disrespect to my US readers us guys across the pond have never heard of]…and of course Bill Murray….
As noted above the event is played across three courses. The courses used at present are as follows;
Monterey Peninsula Shore Course
This has been the rotation in play since Monterey Peninsula was added in 2010.
All three courses are short at under 7000 yards, so length of the tee is not an issue here at all.
Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hills play to a par 72, whilst Monterey Peninsula plays to a par 71 with all three par fives coming on the back 9.
The greens are Poa Annua on all three courses.
Historically Spyglass Hills has played as the toughest course of the three however with the wind being the main defence of the courses if it blows one day but not on another this can have a big effect on the scoring averages across the courses from day to day.
If the wind does blow then Pebble Beach in particular suddenly becomes a brute but if Mother Nature is kind to the players the courses are there for the taking.
In 7 of the last 10 yrs this been an event for the ‘big guns’ with DJ [twice], Spieth, Mickelson, Sneds [twice] & Walker all winning, however in the other 3 yrs there have been absolute ‘skinners’ getting over the line in the form of Vaughn Taylor, DA Points [who memorably played with Bill Murray] and Steve Lowery.
One other area all of the winners over the last 10ys had in common is a decent amount of course/event experience and some previous high finishes.
9 of the last 10 winners had a previous top 15 finish and in most cases they had made many starts in the event.
The only exceptions to that were DJ who won on his second visit, having been 7th the year before on debut. and Lowery who had made many starts in the event but only had a best place finish of 21st to his name.
Either way whether it is due to the unique skill sets required to play the pro am format or just a case of getting used to the courses and not being distracted by the wonderful views, this doesn’t appear to be a week for the rookies.
Indeed the motto appears to be either go with one of the favourites, or a seasoned pro who may just have one of those weeks where everything clicks in the relaxed company of their amateur partner.
The winning score is very much dictated by the weather. Over the last 5yrs we have seen winning scores ranging from -22 [Snedeker in 2015] to – 11, [Jimmy Walker in 2014].
As noted below this week’s weather forecast as I write is favourable so I would suspect a hot putter and low scoring will be required this week.
Looking at the forecast it would appear that Mother Nature is going to play ball for the competitors this week as sunshine appears to be the order of the day all week with the wind not forecast to blow to any great degree.
Before I get to my selections this week I think it’s worth saying that the most likely winner of the event is Dustin Johnson and I was sorely tempted to go with him even at 6-1.
The problem is of course there could always be one who beats him and as well as DJ may play Rahm could obviously play better, or Day could carry on his momentum etc, etc, so I am going to pass up DJ in the hope of finding the e/w value, or of course the one who finds a way to beat him.
PHIL MICKELSON – 33-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 2nd
At the beginning of the year if you’d asked me if I would have been backing Phil at this point I would have said it was unlikely, however he showed enough for me at Phoenix to think it’s time to jump on board.
There was a time when a Mickelson win was all but guaranteed at least once a year on the West Coast swing, and if he had a decent finish one week it was the green light to get on him the next.
Obviously, though over recent years it has not been business as usual with no wins since his memorable Open triumph in 2013 and the suspicion has been over the past couple of years that Phil’s time at the top echelons of the game may be over.
Phil though of course is no ordinary golfer and he seems reinvigorated since the start of the 17-18 season to have one last push for a big hurrah.
No doubt big motivating factors are that it is a Ryder Cup year and that the US Open returns this year to Shinnecock Hills and Phil will be desperate to be part of both of those events.
However, amazing as it is to say, currently teetering on the brink of falling out of the world’s top 50, if he did have a poor first half of 2018 he could find himself having to go through US Open qualifying!
So undoubtedly we have a motivated Phil coming to one of his favourite courses where he has had great success in the past.
If we then look at his play at Phoenix we see that until the 72nd hole [when he was no doubt trying to find something extra of the tee to somehow make the 2 he needed!] he was bogey free over the weekend and played really nicely down the stretch to get in to contention.
Looking closer we then see that he topped the scrambling stats for the week and was third in putting at Phoenix, both of which will be key at Pebble.
The driver of course is still the achilles heel but on the courses in play this week that’s a club that he won’t have to call on as often as usual.
Finally whilst I am not for one minute putting these players in anywhere near the same league as Phil, as I mentioned earlier there is a precedent here over recent years for seasoned pro’s to break a long winless streak, and I see no reason why Phil can’t join that club this week.
BRANDT SNEDEKER – 40-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 20th
A bit like our first selection this week Sneds is another player with obvious claims based on his course history.
2017 was a frustrating year for Brandt as he was sidelined for 5 months with a sternum injury before returning at the RSM Classic in the fall.
Understandably his 2018 calendar year started a little slowly with a M/C at the CareerBuilder but the last couple of weeks has seen Sneds trend in the right direction.
Similarly to Mickelson Brandt is a West Coast specialist with 2 wins at the Farmers and numerous other high finishes on the West Coast Swing to go with his two wins at Pebble Beach.
Whilst Brandt hasn’t quite shown he is back to his best yet this is reflected in his price this week of 40s and the hope is he can continue to trend forward at one of his favourite events and get himself in the hunt come Sunday.
CHESSON HADLEY – 66-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED 35th
Whilst focusing mostly this week on players who are either at the top echelons of the game and/or are seasoned campaigners I cant resist including Chesson Hadley in the team.
Hadley first come on tour in 2014 after garnering a big reputation on the Web.com tour with a 2 win season in 2013.
It didn’t then take him long to deliver on that promise as he picked up his first PGA Tour win early in 2014 at the Puerto Rico Open.
As can often be the case with a player who tastes success early in their career [think of Matt Kuchar] things then went badly wrong for Chesson culminating in him losing his card at the end of the 2015-16 season.
Hadley then however turned what he has described as a “humbling experience” to positive effect and in 2017 he blitzed his way back on to the PGA Tour courtesy of 5 top tens including 2 wins on the Web.com from June onwards.
Chesson then began his return to the PGA Tour with 3 straight top 5 finishes in the Fall events and after a brief dip in form he was back in business with a top 5 finish last weekend in Phoenix.
There’s plenty to like about Chesson this week. Firstly he has previously shown an ability to string a run of great results together once he finds form.
Secondly he has previous form in this event, which includes two 10th place finishes in 3 starts, both of which came when he was in no form whatsoever.
Finally of course Hadley’s only PGA tour win came at another coastal ‘links feel’ event in Puerto Rico.
KEVIN STREELMAN – 100-1 – 1pt E/W 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 6th
Catching Streelman right is an incredibly hard thing to do as he often flatters to deceive, lurking on the fringes of contention before finishing 20th.
However the same could have been said of last weeks Play Off runner up Chez Reavie who had strung together 18 consecutive cuts made with just one top 5 finish before his close call in Phoenix.
Likewise Kevin has just missed one cut in his last 18 starts, which was back in August at the Northern Trust and it seems he just needs a week where it all clicks at once.
There is encouragement to be found in his record in the AT & T in that he has three top 17 finishes in his last 5 starts in the event and to that extent he fits the profile of winners who are experienced players with previous event form.
A closer inspection of his performance at Phoenix shows that he played averagely from tee to green for the first three rounds but found something on Sunday when he hit 12 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens and if he can continue this on to Pebble Beach, whilst getting his putter to hot up he shouldn’t be far away.
BRIAN GAY – 125-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 8th
I will finish this week’s picks by siding again with a player I have already backed twice in the 2017-18 season in the form of Brian Gay.
Brian did us a good turn when finishing in the places at the last event of 2017 the RSM Classic and after a solid if unspectacular start to 2018 he found his stride again at the weekend in Phoenix with a 9th place finish.
Whilst Gay’s record in this event isn’t spectacular he does have a couple of top 20s to his name in his last seven appearances and I like the fact that he fits the mould of experienced winners like V Taylor and Lowery.
In addition of course for Brian to be competitive he needs courses which require accuracy tee to green rather than power, combined with a good short game and these courses are perfect for him in that manner.
As mentioned earlier with the weather forecast being good for the week and no wind to speak of in the mix it is quite likely that this could turn in to a putting contest and there aren’t many in the game better equipped for that than Gay.
Finally whilst he doesn’t have too much form to speak of in this event, as the winner of the CareerBuilder Challenge in 2013 he has shown that he has the mental patience required to win one of the multi course Pro Am format events.
UPDATED 6th Feb
TRADER - STEPHAN JAEGER FINISHED 43rd TRADED @ 260
As I noted in my 'players to follow' blog for 2018 I think Jaeger is definitely a man to keep an eye on this year and I would be very surprised if he doesn't at least produce 2 or 3 big performances over the course of the season, if not a win.
After a solid start to his rookie campaign before the Christmas break Jaeger's form has dipped of late, however what makes Stephan someone to contantly keep an eye on his ability to find form out of nowhere. After all his infamous 58 on the Web.com came on the back of a string of poor results.
I chanced Stephan as a trader a few backs at the CareerBuilder as one of his Web.com wins had come in a Pro Am.
Unfortunately he didn't perform that week, however due to his dip in form his exchange price has now drifted out to the magical 1000 and that's a price I just can't ignore for an undoubted class act with plenty of potential .
Currently Trading at 1000