With only two more events scheduled in the Golden State, the end of the West Coast Swing will soon come to an end.
The first of those two events is this week's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
As the title suggests, it's a pro-am event, where each golfer will play 54 holes before a Sunday cut will allow the Top 60 and ties to play the final round. With a full field of 156 golfers to start with, that means a very low percentage of the field will play all four rounds this week.
All the celebrities come out of their foxholes for this one, which typically leads to a lot of TV coverage of celebrities shanking their approach shots. You've been warned.
Thanks to the pro-am format and the time of the year this event is played, we have three courses in the rotation this week. This particular trio of courses has been used at this event since 2010.
Pebble Beach Golf Links (Host Course):
This iconic links layout will play the role of host course this week, which means that after 18 holes at each course, the golfers that make it through the cut will return to Pebble Beach for Sunday's final round.
Over the last 10 years, this course has averaged as high as 73.60 during R1 thru R3 but it's also played as easy as 70.19, with the weather being the key indicator of the scoring environment.
Since 2010 when the current course rota was put into place, Pebble Beach has played as the hardest (relative-to-par) in 3-of-8 years, played as the median course in 4-of-8 years, and played as the easiest course once, back in 2010 when Monterey was still a par 70.
For tournament play, golfers will be faced with a par 72 that plays just over 6,800 yards. The poa annua greens are tricky for everyone involved, but pin placements and rough (lack of) are generally set up in favor of the amateurs playing in the pro-am.
Played right on the coast with no real cover, the wind forecast is definitely something to keep an eye on this week.
The course record is 10-under 62, shared by David Duval (1997) and Tom Kite (1983). Perhaps that tells us this course is technology-proofed since the record hasn't been touched in over 20 years. Or maybe we will finally see someone eclipse 62 this week?
Monterey Peninsula Country Club's Shore Course:
Known as the easiest course, part of that is due to it being a par 71 (6,958 yards), so the raw scores are lower. Still, even when you consider the scores relative-to-par, the Shore Course has played as the easiest of the three courses in 6-of-8 editions since 2010 (current course rota).
In the past, Jordan Spieth has called these the toughest greens to putt on, of the three (in his opinion) because they are so soft. The poa annua surfaces lead to a lot of good putts wobbling off-line.
The course record here in 11-under 60 which was fired recently by Sung Kang (2016) when he had Fluff Cowan on the bag.
This has been the ideal starting spot for contenders, with 11-of-26 podium finishes starting their week at Monterey (since 2010). While that 42% may seem like a vast majority, it's only one or two years from the narrative being flipped since 7-of-26 have started at Spyglass and 8-of-26 have started at Pebble Beach. Only a difference of three or four golfers over an eight-year span. It's also worth noting that the course rotation alternates in even/odd years.
Regardless of the starting course, all of those 26 podium finishes started their weeks with rounds of 71 or better. Not a week to put yourself in an early hole.
Spyglass Hill Golf Club:
Known as the toughest test in the rotation, the numbers paint the same picture.
Since 2010 when the current rota started, Spyglass has played as the toughest course in 5-of-8 editions.
At the same time, it played as the easiest last year, due to rough weather. Many of the golfers talked about the tree coverage at Spyglass helped ease the pain of the harsh weather.
From an expectation standpoint, you should not expect low round at this course and should try to avoid this course in fantasy formats that allow daily substitutions like PGATOUR.com's game. The field has averaged 0.24 strokes over par since 2010, playing under-par in just two editions since that time (2010, 2015).
A par 72 that plays to roughly 6,953 yards, this course also features the bumpy poa annua surfaces.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the courses to see how they will play...
Phil Mickelson: "The greens being poa annua are what I grew up on, so it’s a grass I feel comfortable. Not just putting on, but chipping on, chipping into and hitting full shots into. It can be challenging for guys if they’re not used to it. It’s something that I’ve become very comfortable with over the years."
Spencer Levin: "These kind of greens are the kind of greens I grew up on, the poa annua greens. Like you said, good memories. Played well here in the past. You kind of get to know it, like I was saying, it’s one of those courses where at least for me, if you know where certain pins are, if you can miss it in the right spots."
Brandt Snedeker: "I love the greens here, I love the golf courses, the greens are poa annua, which I’m a big fan of. And I love the format. I have played the last four years with a good friend."
Chesson Hadley: "It’s just an awesome old school golf course [Monterey Peninsula's Shore Course]. The greens are really old poa annua and the course is, it kind of has, almost has a slight links feel to it. Pebble Beach is my favorite, that’s my favorite course ever, but this course is in awesome shape and like I said, the weather is, this is as good as it gets in golf."
Overview: Poa annua is the hot-button issue around here. Some love the bumpy putting surface while others can't wait to leave the West Coast. Levin brought up the idea that course/event knowledge is useful in knowing where they typically set up the pin locations. Hadley also mentioned that Monterey has a slight links feel to it, so it's no wonder that this event's scoring environment can be largely influenced by the weather since 3 of the 4 rounds are played on links style layouts that are exposed to the elements.
Let's see what other courses show a correlation to success here in Northern California. Looking at past performance, golfer quotes, and course setup, these five courses/events show up as potential pointers:
Plantation Course at Kapalua
Augusta National GC
The Open Championship
Most of what we see here features poa annua greens or courses/events that provide generous landing areas but force you to battle with the elements.
The weather is something to certainly watch closely this week. We saw last year just how important this can be.
Gazing back into The Takeaway Archives, Mo let us know that last year 31 of the 65 cut-makers started their week on Monterey Peninsula CC (19 started on Pebble, 15 started on Spyglass). Jason Day and Joel Dahmen talked about getting a good break in R2 by playing Spyglass in the tough conditions. The start of that round was delayed due to weather and 121 of the golfers needed to return on Saturday to finish their rounds.
Based on those numbers alone, this is certainly a week to think about stacking course waves in Daily Fantasy Leagues, similar to an Open Championship. Mo also pointed out that FIVE of the last SEVEN winners all played Pebble Beach in Rounds 3 and 4.
Back to the current-week forecast, it currently calls for sunny conditions in the low-to-mid 60s for most of the week. Winds look to be rather calm until Saturday where it may pick up to 15+ MPH with gusts over 20 MPH.
If this forecast holds true, we will probably want to target golfers that play Spyglass in R3. That could certainly change before Thursday morning so keep an eye on the forecast. I will also revisit the weather on Wednesday during the DFS Dish.
Players to Watch
I'm ready for a bounce-back year from Rory McIlroy in 2018. However, he's kicking off his PGA TOUR season at an event he's never played in. The odds are not in his favor when it comes to event first-timers. Looking at the last 15 winners of this event, 13-of-15 winners were playing the event for at least the fifth time. None of those winners were first-timers at the event. To find the most recent debut winner, you'd have to go back to 1993 when Brett Ogle took home the hardware. Playing this event with his father, I think he will be relaxed and may just buck his head and possibly even buck some first-time trends.
The Texas Longhorn is playing the role of defending champion here but he arrives with a cold putter. He's lost strokes putting in four straight PGA TOUR starts. That is the first time he's done that since 2013. After that 2013 putting slump he rebounded to post a T23 at the Greenbrier and then WIN the John Deere Classic (gaining 8.9 strokes putting in those eight rounds). Unfortunately, just before that he had a stretch of five-straight events losing strokes putting. At the Tournament of Champions, Spieth was on the record for making some putting tweaks over the holiday break, and those clearly haven't worked out yet. He's too good to stay in a slump for much longer, making him a nice rebound candidate this week.
Lefty found himself right in the mix last week on Sunday. After being so close on Sunday, he surely picked up some confidence that he is ready to reach the winner's circle again. This is a perfect event for that to possibly happen, as a four-time winner of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Entering the week, he's gained strokes putting in 10 of his last 11 starts with ShotLink and he's on the record as feeling comfortable on poa annua surfaces.
If you believe in Karma narratives, then Cink may be next in line for a big finish. First, Ryan Palmer fulfilled the terms of his major medical just three weeks ago (dealt with his wife's battle with cancer the prior season). Two weeks ago, Jason Day found the winner's circle after having a terrible year off-the-course in 2017. Then last week, Gary Woodland hoisted the trophy at the WM Phoenix Open. Woodland also had a tough time off the course in 2017, with him and his wife losing one of their twins, mid-pregnancy. Similarly to Palmer, Cink had to go through a recent battle with cancer with his wife. The golf gods may be rewarding these golfers for being good fathers/husbands during rough times in their life.
Speaking of husbands/fathers, this Aussie spent a lot of 2017 tending to his family after becoming a father for the second time. He talked about it affecting his play on the course but is re-committed to his golf game in 2018. I'm not fully on board yet, but I'm definitely going to watch his early-season form closely.
Love this event. Loves poa greens. Loves his Vanderbilt partner. He's a two-time winner here and still searching for his route back to the Masters. Posted a T23 last week in Phoenix, and I'd expect similar, if not better, here at an event that has been really good to him over the years.
Returns from overseas with his pockets lined with dough. Generally one of the strongest West Coast performers, Perez is sneaking in for the back-end of this Swing. He will be making his 16th appearance at this event, with a five-pack of top 15s already to his credit. Don't let him fly under the radar this week.
Last week was the first time I've heard Watson reference his 2017 weight loss as illness-related. I previously thought it was just a diet thing. He also talked about stepping up his dad game when his wife underwent knee surgery. With a new ball, health returning to normal, and a healthy wife, Watson's form is starting to slow simmer. He's still not circling lots of birdies but I will fully jump back on board once he finds his way back into the top 25. Might be a decent time to jump on the train early if you want to be on Bubba Island when he finally connects.
I finally caved and rostered Harkins last week...Missed cut. However, the missed cut was on the number, so I'm not writing him off just yet. We have two more weeks on the West Coast which means more Harkins exposure. Once we hit Florida, it's really a toss-up on where his form will go, in my opinion.
Ranking the Field
1. Dustin Johnson
2. Jordan Spieth
3. Rory Mcilroy
4. Jon Rahm
5. Jason Day
6. Adam Scott
7. Phil Mickelson
8. Brandt Snedeker
9. Patrick Reed
10. Paul Casey
11. Matt Kuchar
12. Gary Woodland
13. Patrick Cantlay
14. J.B. Holmes
15. Pat Perez
16. Rafa Cabrera Bello
17. Branden Grace
18. Brandon Harkins
19. Shane Lowry
20. Austin Cook
21. Kevin Kisner
22. Chez Reavie
23. Jason Kokrak
24. Russell Knox
25. Kevin Streelman
Playing European Tour Fantasy Golf? Give Dave Tindall's World Super 6 Perth Preview a look. Check back on Tuesday for our Expert Picks and then on Wednesday, I will return for some last-minute DFS tips in the DFS Dish.