New dad Spieth can win again

Berger wins at Pebble.jpg

The PGA Tour visits iconic Pebble Beach for the AT&T and Steve Rawlings is back with his detailed preview here…

Tournament History

Originally named the Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur and first staged in 1937 the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am has been in existence for 85 years. The Crosby name was dropped from the title in 1985, eight years after Bing’s death and a year before long-time sponsors, AT&T, began their association.

Format

The AT&T Pebble Beach National is a pro-am staged over the three courses detailed below. They’re played in rotation over the first three days before a cut is made and the top-60 and ties fight out the finish at Pebble Beach on Sunday.

Due to the pandemic, no amateurs were in attendance 12 months ago and only Pebble Beach and Spyglass were used, with three of the four rounds played around the iconic host course.

Venue

Pebble Beach (host course), par 72, 6972 yards, stroke average in 2021 – 71.19
Spyglass Hill par 72, 6960 yards, stroke average in 2021 – 72.79
Monterey Peninsula, par 71, 6858 yards, stroke average in 2020 – 69.69

The host course, Pebble Beach, needs no introduction to most keen golf fans. This iconic seaside links has hosted the US Open six times and the PGA Championship once. It isn’t a long course and it’s not a tough driving test either. The fairways are largely generous and the course’s defence is its small greens, and of course, the weather.

With no amateurs present, Pebble Beach was lengthened by 150 yards last year and the organisers have decided to retain the added length this time around.

Spyglass differs from the other two venues in that it’s largely tree-lined and although it’s often the toughest of the three, if you get drawn to play there on a very windy day you’ve had a result because it’s much more sheltered than the other two courses.

Monterey is the most generous of the three courses used and that’s usually where the best scores are made. The greens are slightly bigger than those at Spyglass and twice the size of the ones at Pebble.

The greens at all three venues are Poa annua, as they were at Torrey Pines last week, and all three are running at up to 12 feet on the Stimpmeter.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days starting at 16:30 UK time on Thursday.

Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2021 – Daniel Berger -18 17.016/1
2020 – Nick Taylor -19 210.0209/1
2019 – Phil Mickelson -19 36.035/1
2018 – Ted Potter Jr -17 850.0849/1
2017 – Jordan Spieth -19 10.09/1
2016 – Vaughn Taylor -17 960.0959/1

What Will it Take to Win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am?

What you do off the tee in this event is largely irrelevant.

The average Driving Accuracy ranking of the last 15 winners is only 38.53 and average Driving Distance ranking for the last 15 victors is 35.7.

It doesn’t make an awful lot of difference where your drives finish up but where your second shot lands tends to be key. The average Greens In Regulation ranking for the last 15 winners is 5.2 and 13 of the last 15 winners have ranked inside the top-nine for greens hit.

Last year’s winner, Daniel Berger, ranked only 18th for Strokes gained Putting and 29th for Putting Average which is as poor as it gets here. In the previous 15 editions, the worst Putting Average ranking of any winner had been 16th (Brandt Snedeker in 2016 and Dustin Johnson in 2009), so performing on the greens is essential but the best stat to peruse is probably Par 4 Scoring.

Jordan Spieth was the only man to play the par fours better than Berger last year and the worst any winner has ranked on the par fours this century is 25th (Johnson in ’09). All the other winners have ranked eighth or better.

Is There an Angle In?

It stands to reason that given Pebble Beach is a links-style course and that’s perched alongside the ocean that Open Championship form stands up well here. When Spieth followed his victory here with success at Royal Birkdale in 2017 he became the third different AT&T winner to also win the Open Championship this century. The five-time winner, Phil Mickelson, is also an Open champion and something of a links specialist and a number of recent winners have a cracking record in the world’s oldest Major Championship.

Wind is nearly always a factor here so players that play well in blustery conditions prosper but at this early stage, we look set for a benign week this year.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

This is a funny event to assess as the winners seem to be either straight out of the top drawer or virtually impossible to spot!

Berger was a well-fancied 16/1 shot last year but two of the last six winners have been matched at 1000.0 before the off and the 2020 winner, Nick Taylor, was also a huge long-shot so taking a chance on a wild outsider or two may well play handsomely but it might still be worth sticking to a few rules…

Nick Taylor, a Canadian, was only the fourth overseas winners in the event’s entire history, Americans have an incredibly strong record, and course form stands up really well.

Course form and course experience counts for plenty.

As unfathomable as they were to find, those last three outsiders to win all had a bit of event form. Nick Taylor had finished 10th back in 2017 and the 2016 winner, Vaughn Taylor, had finished inside the top-ten 12 months earlier. The other 999/1 winner, Ted Potter Jr, had finished 16th in 2013, before winning five years later.

Course form can be overplayed some weeks but not at this event. Berger and last year’s second, Maverick McNealy, had finished tied for fifth 12 months ago, and the likes of Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Jason Day, Max Homa and Kevin Streelman all contended for the second year in-a-row.

It’s sometimes hard to convince yourself to take a shorter price than players usually trade at because of a bit of previous event form but it’s worth it here. Year after year the same faces contend, the leaderboard always has a familiar look to it and multiple event winners are common.

A total of 13 men have won the tournament more than once and Brett Ogle is the only debutant winner.

Winner’s Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2021 – Daniel Berger – T2nd – trailing by two 7.413/2
2020 – Nick Taylor led by a stroke 2.915/8
2019 – Phil Mickelson solo 2nd – trailing by three 6.611/2
2018 – Ted Potter Jr – tied for the lead 14.013/1
2017 – Jordan Spieth led by six strokes 1.141/7
2016 – Vaughn Taylor – T9th – trailing by six 200.0199/1

In-Play Tactics

In addition to Vaughn Taylor, trailed by six through 54 holes, we’ve also seen Tiger Woods win from five strokes adrift, Phil Mickelson six, and in 2001, Davis Love III won from seven back but like many a tournament played on a links course, if the weather is kind (as it will be this year), being up with the pace is very often the place to be.

The last two US Open winners at Pebble, Gary Woodland and Graeme McDowell, were both in front at halfway and no more than three off the lead after round one, and Tiger Woods famously powered to a wire-to-wire 15-stroke victory here in the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach.

Phil Mickelson (twice), Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and the 2020 winner, Nick Taylor, have all won this event wire-to-wire in the last 16 years and 15 of the last 18 winners have all been within three strokes of the lead after the first round. Berger trailed by five in a tie for 11th but he was inside the top-two places after that.

If you’re betting in-running on Sunday, be very wary of the par five 14th hole, as it’s far from a certain birdie hole. The market tends to assume players will pick up a shot there but Berger was the only player in the top-six to birdie it on Sunday last year and it always averages over-par.

Market Leaders

Patrick Cantlay and the defending champion, Daniel Berger, are the first two in the betting for the second year in-a-row and so they should be.

Cantlay opened-up last year’s edition with a course record-equalling 10 under-par 62 around Pebble Beach but he lost his ball on the first hole at Spyglass on day two and much like two weeks ago, when he started the American Express with a 62 around La Quinta to lead after round one (alongside Lee Hodges), he failed to kick on. Cantlay was third 12 months ago and he finished ninth in the American Express.

The world number four has event form figures reading 9-48-35-21-11-3 and it’s hard to imagine him not contending but I’m happy to look elsewhere.

Although there have been plenty of multiple event winners, we have to go all the way back to 1990, when Mark O’Meara won the third of his three titles, for the last successful defence and I’m happy to swerve Berger too.

Berger wins at Pebble.jpg

Last week’s beaten playoff protagonist, Will Zalatoris, looks short enough given he went off at around this price 12 months ago before backing up his disappointing debut 68th in 2018 with an almost equally poor 56th. He needs to lift himself after Saturday’s disappointment and he’s yet to win on the PGA Tour.

Selection

I’ll have a look at the outsiders in the Find me a 100 winner tomorrow but for now I’m going with just one selection – the 2017 winner, Jordan Spieth.

Spieth has been poor so far this year – finishing only 21st in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and missing the cut at the Farmers last week – but his record here is extremely good and he’s even contended at Pebble when deep in the midst of his slump.

Being a father for the first time will have understandably hindered his start to the year but I suspect we’ll see a much-improved effort this week and I thought 27.026/1 was fair given his event form figures read 22-4-7-21-1-20-45-9-3.

Selection:
Jordan Spieth @ 27.026/1

I’ll be back later with my Saudi international preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

Author: Ellen Garcia