AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
PEBBLE BEACH is one of the most iconic and instantly recognisable golf courses in the world. It is sad, then, that the PGA Tour's annual visit to this fantastic location is the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which also takes at nearby Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula.
Sad? Well, how would you feel about being saddled with a Z-list list celebrity for 54 holes during rounds of golf that take six hours, regardless of the scenery. By the time you get to the 18th, the chances are that you would want to throw your celebrity partner into the Pacific Ocean, especially if that partner happened to be Bill Murray, who is surely the least funny man on the planet. If only somebody had the courage to tell him that.
Recent winners include Dustin Johnson (2010), D A Points (2011), Phil Mickelson (2012), Brandt Snedeker (2013 and 2015), Jimmy Walker (2014), and Vaughn Taylor (2016). Johnson, Mickelson and Walker are all big hitters, but you could never say that about Points, Snedeker or Taylor, so picking a winner is no easy task.
Johnson returns to the scene of his 2010 triumph at a tournament in which he has enjoyed a number of top-10 finishes. He was also the 54-hole leader at the 2011 US Open at Pebble Beach before suffering a catastrophic blow-up in the final round. You will probably remember that Graeme McDowell was the beneficiary as he took his first major. There is little doubt that the Dustinator believes Pebble Beach owes him one, but then again, he could say that about an awful lot of courses at which he has thrown away majors and routine PGA Tour events.
Winning the 2016 US Open helped Johnson to lay his demons to rest once and for all, although he has never been one to dwell on past failures. And he will be paired with Wayne Gretzy, the ice hockey legend who also just happens to be his father-in-law. For the record, other celebrities this week include musician Kenny G, actor Andy Garcia, pop star Huey Lewis, American football star Peyton Manning, former tennis player Andy Roddick, singer Justin Timberlake, somebody called Larry The Cable Guy (I kid you not) and, of course, Murray.
Don't get me wrong, some of these are seriously good players who don't look to steal the limelight from their professional partners, but the pro-am format really isn't much fun for the pros or golf enthusiasts.
Meanwhile back at the golf tournament, there will be a lot of attention on Daniel Berger, who is finally matching consistency with his undoubted talent. Berger is one of a new generation who look like dominating the game for years to come. He may not be blessed with perfect technique, but he hits the ball a long, long way and has an old head on young shoulders. He is still only 23 years of age and was rookie of the year in 2015, even though he missed 14 cuts.
He looked like a player who might be dogged by inconsistency but last season he missed just three cuts, recorded his first victory and enjoyed six top-10 finishes. He has missed just one cut this season and already has a second place to his name at the HSBC Champions World Golf Championship event in Shanghai. It all points to the fact that he is a fast learner.
And the same must be said of Mackenzie Hughes, a Canadian who won the RSM Classic in November and became the first rookie since Tim Herron way back in 1991 to win wire to wire. He has continued to play impressively and it would be no surprise to see him add another title before the season is finished.
Shane Lowry has been struggling since throwing away the US Open last year, but it is time for the Irishman to move on and get his game back in shape. He enjoys championship golf courses and will be inspired by Pebble Beach. he is also something of an extrovert, which means he is unlikely to be troubled by the travails of the hapless amateurs hacking their way around these famous links alongside him.
The form of Jason Day continues to puzzle. Not so long ago he looked like a man who could and would win just about every event in which he played, but he has lost his way somewhat. His driving in particular has been wayward and erratic and that has seeped into other parts of his game. No longer is he consistently rifling long iron shots to the heart of greens, no longer is he chipping stone dead from around the greens and, crucially, no longer is he holing putts with the sort of frequency that saw him win the Canadian Open and US PGA Championship in 2015. On top of that, he continues to complain about niggling injuries and has recently repeated that he will not speed up his game for anybody.
If he is not careful, the Australian is in danger of being left behind by the new wave of players that includes Justin Thomas and the glorious Tony Finau, the latter of whom is one of the most impressive ball strikers currently playing the game. Finau has been an impressive speciman rigth from the off but he has now added accuracy to his prodigious distance. And, unlike many long hitters, this boy can putt.
For much of the recent Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Snedeker looked like he might make a successful defence of his title, but he came up short in the end. Nonetheless, he is in fine form and returns here as a two-time champion. He is my tip to make it win number three.
To Win: Brandt Snedeker. Has been bubbling under for weeks
Each Way: Daniel Berger. Great competitor
Each Way: Dustin Johnson. Adores this course
Brandt Snedeker. Time to win again
Daniel Berger. Will rise to the occasion
Dustin Johnson. Can bring Pebble to its knees
Jason Day. Forget the niggles Jason and get on with it
Tony Finau. The whole package
Phil Mickelson. California specialist
Shane Lowry. Plays his best on tough courses
Jon Rahm. Beware, genius at work
Justin Rose. Putting injury woes behind him
Patrick Reed. This event is made for him
Tags: PGA Tour
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