February is here and golf has begun to enter it’s first glimpse of awesomeness with Pebble Beach this week.
The Masters is just a couple months away. Can you believe it? This week will be the true checkpoint before that major and the year 2020 itself. Pebble Beach is one of those magical places, an iconic venue that has even kept the same sponsor for many years, AT&T. Formerly known as the Crosby, this event used to host the world’s best on the No. 2 ranked exclusive club Cypress Point, where many players will play this week in practice (and where I used to caddie). It’s a club with a limited membership that would make any club blush. Clint Eastwood has his fingerprints all over this city and this tournament.
I’ve covered this event for CBS Sports and even followed one of my friends inside the ropes, Roland Thatcher, who competed well here for four days. I also had my first job down the road. This place has a lot of meaning for me. I also played one of my best rounds against Stanford here.
49 year-old Phil Mickelson defends his title here with his brother Tim on the bag this week and there’s a ton of statistics to breakdown since. For the players, there’s a calming effect that Monterey Peninsula will have this week that removes all stress. At least until the back nine on Sunday if you’re in the red. Just like the Amex, there will be amateurs playing for their piece of this event and sometimes they bring out the best in the pro partner. Pay attention to those tee times!
With three different courses in the Pebble rotation, it’s a good time to do a little research about those tracks if you don’t know what they play like. Monterey Peninsula CC and Spyglass Hill are both formidable tests. I want to pay more attention to par 3 scoring this week. Most players who played at the Farmers will be excited to play poa annua greens again that are bred in a perfect Pacific Northwest climate. The greens will roll true and fair.
Not only do we have a ton of analysis between the history of the event and recent play, but there was a recent U.S. Open AND U.S. Amateur with players in the current field. Here are my top 6:
- JASON DAY
Nobody has come closer to winning here in the last 5 years without a win and has consistently improved at an event – while not finishing outside the top 10. 4th last year, T2 the previous year, T5 in 2017, T11, and T4. The last time he finished outside the top 11 here was in 2014. 2015 ended up being his best year on Tour, where he won his sole major. J-Day quietly finished T16 two weeks ago at the Farmers and has been well rested for the most part this season. He has a tremendous work ethic and I expect him to be in this thing. Even if he’s behind going into the final round, Day will climb up the leaderboard on Sunday at Pebble like Thomas did last week in Phoenix. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Some say he’s not 100%, but they’ve been saying that his whole career. If he can shoot the scores he shot two weeks ago, he’s ready and under the radar.
2. DUSTIN JOHNSON
He’s the highest rated player you can pick – and for good reason. Dustin owns this event with his multiple wins and solid performances year after year. Coming off a runner-up on the European Tour, he’s a clear favorite to win in the odds. Why does Dustin do so well here? His length at Pebble is impossible to contain. With the ball flying at relatively normal distances with the coastal sea breeze, his strength separates itself from the crowd. I’ve seen him drive the green on holes in this Monterey Peninsula area that few can come close to. He’s good on these greens and has exceptional control from the rough here. Pebble brings out his best.
3. GRAEME MCDOWELL
With a U.S. Open win here many years ago and coming off a win, McDowell is in the best form he’s been in SINCE he won the championship here. This is a a course that fits Graeme’s eye and the tougher the course gets, the better he will play. He judges the wind well with his grinding Irish hack swing. He makes 10-12 foot putts like they owe him something. His recent play has been absolutely pure and he could be on the verge of a huge year.
4. PATRICK CANTLAY
I’ve watched Patrick since he was an amateur at tour events. I’ve seen him struggle with his ball striking. I’ve seen him angrily shoot over par and watch guys that were in his age group on Tour dominate events while he watched from the sidelines. The dude is a force now. I’m not surprised he’s such a high priced target for the Masters as an early favorite – but we just don’t know when he’ll win next. He’s a streaky, dangerous putter! I mean dangerous because I think he’s the best putter on Tour!!! I don’t say that lightly.
- VIKTOR HOVLAND
Hovland won the US Am here in dominant fashion – and since he just barely missed the cut in the desert, he’ll be a welcome addition to your team at a much different venue this week. We go from desert firm to coastal soft grass here – and Hovland’s game will excel where ball striking is premium. My only concern is how he fares with his amateur partner and what kind of vibes he gets. It will be VITAL for him to enjoy this event and not let his expectations get the best of him.
- BRANDEN GRACE
After watching him play in South Africa over the past few weeks, his wins and pedigree have to point towards a win and SOON. He is well educated now to have a breakout season. He’s just the right age, just the right experience. He’s won ALL of his home land’s national championships and now it’s time to put his tremendous talent to the ultimate test and join the likes of Louis and Ernie with some majors. He has the game.