PEBBLE BEACH PRO-AM: There aren’t many places on the planet as picturesque as California’s Monterey Peninsula, and for nearly 90 years the PGA Tour has visited this little slice of heaven for one of the most unique events on the schedule, a pro-am that includes celebrities from across the sports, entertainment, and business worlds. Formerly known as the Crosby Clambake, this tournament, now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, is the jewel of the Tour’s West Coast Swing and generally features one of the strongest fields we’ll see until The Players in March.
As always, the Pro-Am portion of this event is held over the first three days, with each team getting a crack at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, and Monterey Peninsula Country Club before all the action moves to Pebble on Sunday for a pros-only final round. The pro-am format is challenging for some, as the pace of play is slower and the atmosphere is a bit more casual than most weeks, but friendly course setups, enthusiastic crowds, and the sheer beauty of the courses and surrounding area combine to make this one of the more player-friendly stops on Tour. This will be a different Pebble Beach than the players saw at last year’s U.S. Open, believe me.
That being said, it’s still Pebble Beach, one of the most revered courses in the game and the main attraction this week as the only course used twice. A modified links-style layout that sits right on the Pacific Ocean and boasts iconic views of the rocky coastline, Pebble has played host to six U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship, with the Open scheduled to return again in 2027. It’s a shortish track that features generous fairways and small, knobby, poa annua greens, but if the wind starts whipping, as it often does, it can be quite treacherous. That said, it’s generally set up pretty friendly this week, so we’re sure to see plenty of birdies and low numbers. The other two courses that the players will see– Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula– are both on the shorter side as well, though the tree-lined Spyglass has some trickiness to it and generally plays as the most difficult of the three.
This tournament can be a bit difficult to predict, as twice in the past four years we’ve had triple digit longshots with little form coming in (Ted Potter in 2018, Vaughn Taylor in 2016) hoisting the trophy come Sunday. But a handful of guys play well in this event every year, and those who are most comfortable with poa annua greens– looking at you, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker– seem to fare especially well. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Jason Day (22.0)- Day seems to have found his form again after a disappointing finish to 2019, when he failed to notch a top-10 after June’s Travelers Championship. He had a couple of solid international finishes over the winter and then returned to the PGA Tour at the Farmers Insurance Open a couple of weeks ago, where he finished 16th despite a disappointing opening-round 73. Now he gets a shot at one of his favorite courses in the world, a place where he consistently outshines the competition– Pebble Beach. This event has become a reliable six-figure paycheck for Day, who has reeled off finishes on 4th, 2nd, 5th, 11th, and 4th in his last five appearances and has logged 8 total top-15s in 10 career starts. His precision iron play is ideal for the small, knobby greens at Pebble, and he’s obviously comfortable with the pro-am format, perhaps because it allows him to take his time and not feel rushed (Day is one of the slowest players on Tour). Whatever the reason, Day’s record here speaks for itself, and after watching him play a sharp final three rounds at Torrey Pines two weeks ago, I feel great about backing him here at better than 20/1. You should too.
Daniel Berger (60.0)- Berger cooled off dramatically after a runner-up finish in Puerto Rico last year, notching just one top-15 finish in his final 16 starts of the season. But after putting in some work this offseason he seems to have found his form again, making 6 of 7 cuts and logging four top-25s since the wraparound season began. He was particularly good in Phoenix last week, shooting 66-67 over the weekend to finish 9th, his first top-10 in nearly a year. So he has momentum on his side as he comes to a place that should suit his game nicely, given his proficiency with the irons and his past successes on poa annua greens. Indeed, Berger has only played this event once and it seemed like a natural fit, as he hung around the first page of the leaderboard all week and wound up finishing 10th. Given his current trajectory– improving every week, top-10 last week– it feels like Berger could be a dark horse contender this week. He’s certainly worth a bet at a price like 60.0.
Patrick Rodgers (90.0)- Injuries played a major role in Rodgers’ disappointing 2019 season, as he missed time with a bad wrist and couldn’t get things right even when he returned, missing the cut in 3 of his final 5 starts of the year. His struggles continued into the fall, but the holiday break seems to have done him some good– he’s made the cut in all four of his 2020 starts and has been on the cusp of contention in his last two events, finishing 9th at the Farmers and 16th in last week’s Waste Management Open, where only five players in the field hit more greens than him for the week. Ball-striking like that bodes well for this week, and Rodgers has excelled in this tournament before, finishing 8th on debut in 2018. Coming off back-to-back good weeks, he feels like an absolute steal at the current price and is probably my favorite bet on the board.