Course Preview: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
The final multi-track pro-am of the year takes place this week on Monterey Peninsula for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. A field of 156 players will tee it up on Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, and Monterey Peninsula Country Club for the first three rounds, with the top-60 players and ties returning to Pebble Beach for the final round on Sunday. Dustin Johnsonmakes his first PGA Tour start since cruising to a win at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Jordan Spieth will attempt to become the first back-to-back winner of this event in eight years, and Rory McIlroy makes his first career start at AT&T after two strong performances in the Middle East.
Pebble Beach Golf Links is the shortest course on Tour at just 6,812 yards, but this par-72 track offers a picturesque challenge unlike any other. Greens are some of the smallest anywhere, and when the winds blow it can transform this sleeping beauty into a wicked witch. Great iron players flourish at Pebble Beach, and hot putters will also be in contention. Pebble has hosted five U.S. Open championships, but don’t expect it to set up like a major with amateurs in the field all four days.
Spyglass Hill Golf Course is the most difficult of the three courses in the rotation. Some consider Spyglass Hill the best course to never host a major. The 6,858, par-72 track has larger greens than Pebble, but narrow fairways make it more challenging to avoid the rough. The first five holes at Spyglass play along the Pacific Ocean and then move into the Del Monte Forest for the final 13 holes – featuring sloping fairways, devilish doglegs, and water hazards protecting undulating greens. Great shots will be rewarded, but poorly placed shots will leave players struggling to score.
Monterey Peninsula Country Club is a 6,958-yard, par-71, parkland-style course that’s exposed to the elements more than Pebble and Spyglass. Extremely intense winds on the coastal holes can be maddening. Cypress trees frame the fairways masterfully, and native grasses give Monterey Peninsula a coastal prairie look. Large green complexes are slow rolling, which will give players a green light to attack even the most difficult pin locations.
Signature Hole (Pebble Beach)
Pebble’s signature 106-yard, par-3, 7th hole is one of most iconic par-3s in the world. Standing on the tee is equal parts exhilarating and spine-chilling. The hole plunges down from an elevated tee to a small green perched above the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. Swirling winds will dictate club selection, and any shot that doesn’t hit the green is cause for anxiety. Hit your tee shot long, and it’s lost in the ocean forever. Come up short in one of the two deep bunkers protecting the front, and getting up-and-down will be a challenge. No. 7 is a reckoning that can derail an entire round.
Birdie Watch (Pebble Beach)
The 543-yard, par-5 finishing hole at Pebble is fascinating because the more you take on its hazards, the easier every subsequent shot becomes. Tee shots into the sweeping right-to-left fairway can be terrifying. However, playing drives as close to the water as possible make second or third shots easier, and takes the tree overhanging the putting surface out of play. Anything right of the tree in the fairway makes it impossible to reach the green in two and forces a lay-up that must be hit back towards the ocean. No. 18 is a thought-provoking hole that always surrenders a good number of birdies. However, playing it safe and away from trouble can make this hole a nightmare.
Bogey Alert (Pebble Beach)
Hugging the coastline from tee to green, the 466-yard, par-4, No. 9 is the most difficult hole on Pebble Beach. The fairway and green slope left to right towards the ocean, and side-hill lies abound making any second shot tricky. Ideal drives will find the left-center of the fairway, but a deep fairway bunker on that side has to be avoided at all costs. Faint-hearted shots on approach will be punished by a deep bunker short and left of the putting surface. There’s simply no room on the 9th hole for anything less than absolute precision.
Players to Watch
There’s been a lot to admire about Rory McIlroy’s return to competitive golf this year. In two starts in the Middle East, McIlroy was peppering fairways and greens, and he clearly looks like he’s going to rebound with a big 2018. Rory has never played in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am before, and historically this event has been unkind to first-timers. McIlroy will be paired with his father, and that may settle any frustrations from inexperience on this course. Rory’s renewed smoke off the tee and invigorated short game should lead him to a top-10 finish in his 2018 Tour debut.
Jordan Spieth is clearly slumping right now, and the defending champion is having some major headaches with his putter. Spieth has lost strokes putting in four consecutive starts, and putting on poa annua greens won’t make it any easier for him to bounce back this week. Spieth leads the Tour in Greens in Regulation Percentage, and if he can work out his putting issues he should be right there on Sunday. That’s a big “if” however, and the confidence just isn’t there for Jordan right now. Expect Spieth to finish outside the top-25.
Length and short iron play can eat up short, classic courses. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dustin Johnson has seven top-10 finishes in eight trips to Pebble Beach – including back-to-back titles in 2009-2010. Johnson is ranked first on Tour in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and is hitting greens at an impressive 75-percent clip this season. DJ loves playing at Pebble, his ball striking form has been superb, and with a victory and T-2 finish in his two starts this season, there’s nothing about his game right now to suggest he won’t be anything less than dominant again this week.