Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Preview: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

By Kevin Krest

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Last Week

33-year-old Gary Woodland seemed to the only player that was able to fully take advantage of the scoring holes down the stretch at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and ended up beating Chez Reavie on the first playoff hole in the desert. It was the third consecutive PGA Tour event and third year in a row that the Waste Management Open went to extra holes.

Third round leader Ricky Fowler couldn't put two nines together all week and faded down the stretch on Sunday. Other high-profile players who failed to exploit two reachable par 5s, a drivable par 4, and a relatively short par 3 on the last six holes were Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, and Matt Kuchar. I'll give Mickelson a pass as it was incredible the 47-year-old scored well all week, despite continued driving woes.

Once again, the tournament held in the Phoenix area set attendance records for a single day and the week. On Saturday, 216,818 raucous spectators showed up and for the tournament, and 719,179 fans entered the grounds. Those continue to be unbelievable numbers for a tournament that has contributed over $100 million to charity since its inception.

This Week

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Carmel, California
Pebble Beach Golf Links - Par 72 (host course), Monterey Peninsula Country Club - Par 71, Spyglass Hill Golf Course - Par 72

The PGA Tour golfers, for one of the very few times all season, almost take a back seat to the spectacular Pebble Beach Golf Links and the plethora of celebrities that make the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am a truly unique tournament. Although two other courses are in play and there are a number of high-profile corporate leaders among the amateurs in the field, they pale in comparison, especially given CBS' affinity for the views of the course and shots from comedians, actors, and athletes.

Ray Romano, Bill Murray, Tony Romo, Darius Rucker, Larry the Cable Guy, Huey Lewis, and a host of others will get plenty of air-time. As much of the country is still dealing with winter weather, sun will be drenching the Carmel Peninsula this week with temperatures ranging from 65 to 75 degrees, with whales frolicking in the bay. If recent years are any predictor, Saturday's television coverage will focus primarily on the celebrities as they play the par 3 17th hole.

History

The current form of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am dates back to 1947. From 1937 to 1941, Bing Crosby hosted a tournament in Rancho Santa Fe, California that included some friends of his and professionals to eat clams, play golf, and raise money for charity. Following World War II, the Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur was moved to Carmel, with Pebble Beach, Cypress Point Country Club and Monterrey Peninsula Country Club serving as host courses. Poppy Hills Golf Course has also been in the rotation. Cypress Point was dropped in 1991 since they wouldn't meet the PGA Tour requirement for host courses to open their membership to women and minorities.

Some of the biggest stars of their day have appeared in the tournament, each paired with a professional for a four-round pro-am competition. Famously, Jack Lemmon tried in vain almost to the end of his life to make the team cut and play on Sunday. Following Bing Crosby's death in 1977, the Crosby family continued to operate the tournament until AT&T took over as sponsor in 1986. Poor weather has plagued the tournament in the past, with the event shortened six times due to bad conditions. As noted earlier, that doesn't appear to be an issue this year.

2018 Field

* Eighteen of the top 22 finishers from last year's tournament are in the field

* Six of the top 10, nine of the top 20, and 39 of the top 50 in FedEx Cup points

* Five of the top 10, eight of the top 20, and 19 of the top 50 in the World Golf ranking

* Sixteen countries represented

* Five colleges have four or more former players represented: Arizona State (7), Florida (4), Georgia (5), Georgia Tech (6), Texas A&M (4)

Oldest Player

Peter Jacobsen (63)

Youngest Player

Zecheng Dou (21)

Major Champions (16)

Phil Mickelson (5), Ernie Els (4), Rory McIlroy (4), Jordan Spieth (3), Vijay Singh (3), Padraig Harrington (3), Angel Cabrera (2), Bubba Watson (2), Mike Weir, David Duval, Stewart Cink, Jimmy Walker, Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day

Total Tour Victories

408 (Phil Mickelson, 42)

Total Major Victories

34 (Phil Mickelson, 5)

Past Champions

Phil Mickelson (4), Dustin Johnson (2), Brandt Snedeker (2), Jordan Spieth, Vaughn Taylor, Jimmy Walker, D.A. Points, Vijay Singh, Peter Jacobsen

Who's Hot

Dustin Johnson remains atop the World Golf rankings and expect him to play well this week. He has a lot of success at this tournament and at Pebble Beach in particular, despite losing a big lead in the 2010 U.S. Open and finishing with an 11 over par 82. He will be playing the first three rounds with his father-in-law, Wayne Gretzky, which is a comfortable pairing for D.J. It takes a special mind-set to handle the distractions of this tournament format, and Johnson handles things pretty calmly.

Who's Not

Jordan Spieth is ranked third in the world, but the defending champ at the AT&T is struggling, especially with his putting. He missed the cut last week in Phoenix and didn't look particularly sharp in any facet of his game. Spieth finished in a tie for 21st in the 2016 AT&T, so with the way the rankings work, he needs to get a top-20 showing to keep from losing points in the two-year rolling system.

The three-time major champion's performances raise the issue about whether these young guns can stay hungry enough with the riches the sport provides to keep doing what's needed to continue winning at a high rate. Spieth is talented, but he's not as long off the tee as many of his competitors, so flaws in the rest of his game can become magnified. He has some work to do before making a run at another green jacket at Augusta in April.

What to Look For

The first three days of this tournament are tough to follow, especially because three courses are involved, as well as having the amateurs in the mix. The top 25 pro-am teams and ties make the cut for Sunday's finale, which in many cases results in amateurs ending up in the final groups. It also creates the possibility for a professional who doesn't make the cut in the individual tournament to play in the team competition on Sunday.

In addition to those already mentioned, there are a lot of good players in the field as World Golf ranking No. 8 Rory McIlroy makes his 2018 U.S. debut. He is joined by Jason Day, last week's winner Gary Woodland, John Rahm, Paul Casey, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, and Matt Kuchar, among others. Winners of 14 prior AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am's are in the field, bringing a lot of experience to the tournament and the courses.

Of note is the participation of 63-year-old Peter Jacobsen, Jack Lemmon's long time former pro-am partner, who will no doubt get a lot of attention. The good weather should improve both the caliber of the coverage and the golf, and I'm looking for the winner to come from the list of players that have had success in this unique format in the past.

Kevin Krest is the author of the entertaining PK Frazier series of sports suspense novels and the co-host of the weekly "The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports" broadcast. His books can be found on Amazon.com.

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