I’ve a theory when it comes to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am: You have to arrive in form. That sounds obvious, but consider that Tommy ‘Two Gloves’ Gainey very nearly won last week on the back of three missed cuts, second placed Jason Dufner hadn’t broken into the top-30 in his previous two starts and European Tour winner Thomas Bjorn’s form figures prior to Qatar success read 82 – 44 and it just shows that ordinarily it’s not unusual for a golfer’s fortunes to turn around quickly.
Not in the AT&T National.
In the last 12 years, two champions were gaining back-to-back victories, two tied for third the week before, five others finished in the top-20 and two others the top-35. The exception? The exceptional Phil Mickelson in 2007. One reason for this, I believe, is that this unique tournament is played across three very different courses.
Firstly you have Monterey Peninsula Country Club, a short and straightforward par-70. Then you have Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach itself, both remarkably short par-72s by modern standards. This means that every facet of a golfer’s game is tested in some way, especially when the wind gets up, and that ball-striking is all-important.
Top of anyone’s list has to be Dustin Johnson. The South Carolina slugger has two wins (and a tied seventh) in three starts in the event and will arrive to defend his title with 2011 form figures of T9 – T3 – T29.
Indeed it looked for a while like he might arrive here on the back of a win as he started the Phoenix Open well only to wobble in the middle.
Even so, he bettered the missed cut he gained when last playing the event two weeks prior to his first victory here, suggesting that there’s a lot right in his game at present.
Stats-wise he fits the bill too. DJ ranks second in driving distance which will mean he’ll be hitting mid-irons into the short par-5s all week, 17th in greens in regulation, 1st in birdie average and par breakers, 3rd in birdie or better and crucially 4th in final round scoring average.
He’s 20th in putting average too, one of the most underrated parts of this exciting talent’s game. Dustin is the only man currently on TOUR with four wins under his belt before his 30th birthday. Quite simply, he’s a world-class golfer playing in his favourite tournament, and he arrives in great form.
The negatives? Well, there’s one. Famously, he shot 82 on his last visit to Pebble Beach in last year’s US Open, in the process waving goodbye to the three shot lead he’d built with extraordinary golf in rounds one to three.
It would be understandable were the mental scars to return as soon as he sets foot on the first tee. But if there’s one thing that has impressed me most about Dustin Johnson, it’s his ability to bounce-back from disappointments that would end the careers of lesser men.
In his two major starts after the US Open he threw away (a five over 76 would’ve been enough for the win), he finished tied 14th at St. Andrews and tied 5th in the PGA Championship. Again famously, that last result could have been a win had he not fallen foul of a controversial ruling, one that meant another major victory slipped through his fingers.
And, once again, he responded, this time by gaining the biggest win of his career in the BMW Championship less than a month later. To add further substance to the case for him being one of the toughest characters in golf, DJ ranks 3rd on the TOUR’s ‘bounce back’ stat, one that reflects how players respond to a bogey or worse.
So the case for Dustin Johnson is clear. Indeed, I’m confident that he’ll be even more determined this year – not just to become the first man to win this event three times on the spin, but also to erase the memories of the US Open for good.
Take the standout 15/2 and pop him in an each-way double with Martin Kaymer too, a bet that would have given us a nice profit in each of the last two years and with the case for Kaymer stronger than ever, we might just hit the jackpot.
Elsewhere, the draw of Nick Watney is strong. He once more shaped like a winner-in-waiting in Phoenix and is capable of tearing these three courses apart when on-song.
The concern is that he’s developing a tendency to start slowly and with the winning score likely to be 15-under or better that could mean we need three rounds of 66 for him to capture the title come Friday morning.
Consider him in-running if he does take a while to warm up, but bettingzone followers have him in the bag for Money List honours already and at a slightly bigger price Tim Clark looks a better bet.On admittedly limited evidence Clark has started 2011 in a similar fashion to how he ended 2010, striking the ball superbly well and making up for a lack of length from the tee with his accuracy.
In the Tournament of Champions he hit almost 90% of greens in regulation and is currently tied for first in the season-long rankings. He bettered his share of 17th there with a joint-second in the Sony Open on his next start before taking a short break due to a blister on his foot, making that performance all the more meritorious.
Concerns about his ability to close out a tournament were at least partially allayed with last season’s Players’ Championship success and history shows that ball-strikers can more than match the sluggers in this event.
The par-5s across the three courses are ones that he can reach anyway, but so brilliant is his wedge play that we needn’t worry should he choose to lay up. The last time he arrived at this tournament on the back of a tie for second he finished in a share of fourth; Clark is a better player now, has shed his nearly-man tag and has three other top-15 starts in the event to call upon.
Furthermore, with the Phoenix Open running over into Monday there may be one or two players – Watney included – who suffer as a consequence. Fresh from his break, expect the South African to take advantage with a big performance.
The trouble with my ‘arriving in form’ theory is that everyone who does is accordingly priced, so perhaps we need to think outside the box to complete the staking plan.
Looking down the list, I’ve been really impressed with Chris Kirk over the last 18 months and he has to be worth an interest at a big price. The University of Georgia graduate won twice on the Nationwide Tour last year, once in his home state of Tennessee and once in Arizona, the latter event advertising the fact that he enjoys his golf on the west coast.
He’s made nine out of 10 cuts on the main Tour over the past four years, including all four this time around, and really looks to have the game for these courses.
I like the fact that he’s tied for 10th in par-5 performance, while 17th for par-3 performance is also rock solid, which helps to explain the fact that he’s 5th in total birdies and 29th in the all-round ranking.
Last week, Kirk started brightly with an opening 66 before struggling throughout a disjointed weekend only to climb back up the leaderboard with a final round 65 and only a closing 70 cost him a place a fortnight earlier in the Bob Hope Classic.
Thanks to Jhonny Vegas and Tommy Gainey we’ve seen already this year that the Nationwide graduates are well up to scratch and I’m convinced that Chris Kirk – second only to Jamie Lovemark in last year’s Nationwide Tour money list – has the game to become a winner on the PGA Tour. Courses with reachable par-5s on the west coast look to suit and the 125/1 with Sportingbet looks to be generous.
Finally then let’s take a real flyer – the PGA Tour has a habit of throwing up some crazy results – and give Josh Teater the chance to confirm his liking for the setup in California.
Last year, the deceptively long Teater scored a T5 in this event and it would have been even better but for a double-bogey midway through his final round, his second of the week.
Aside from those two blots on the copybook his game was impressive; Teater led the field in greens hit, tied for second in total birdies and hit the ball both long and straight throughout all four rounds.
This year’s results are nothing to shout about, but having missed his first two cuts it’s encouraging that he’s made his last two and his results prior to the event last year – T57 and T54 – weren’t much better than this year’s run of T63 – T68.
With scoring on par-5s set to be crucial, it’s also interesting that he’s a remarkable 23-under par for the par-5s this season, but 23-over par for everything else. If he can brush up on his par-4 performance on his return to Pebble Beach there must be a chance that he can make bwin.com’s odds of 300/1 look inaccurate.
5pts win Dustin Johnson to win at 15/2 (Stan James, bodog). Two wins in three starts here and can erase US Open memories with the hat-trick.
2pts e.w. Tim Clark at 20/1 (Boylesports, Betfred 1/4 1,2,3,4,5). Arrives fresh, hitting the ball as well as anyone and likes the layouts.
1pt e.w. Chris Kirk at 100/1 (totesport, Betfred, VCBet 1/4 1,2,3,4,5). Stats look strong and he can continue the run of Nationwide grads.
0.5pts e.w. Josh Teater at 200/1 (Blue Square, Coral, totesport 1/4 1,2,3,4,5). Placed here last year when arriving in similar form.
1pt e.w. double Dustin Johnson to win AT&T Pebble Beach and Martin Kaymer to win Dubai Desert Classic (15/2 and 5/1 Boylesports). Place part paid out in last two years and can do so again.
Spaniard looking ahead.
Englishman has high hopes.
Northumberland course recognised again.
Slieve Russell impressing again.
World number four feeling confident.
Home favourite wants to press home advantage.
Merger to create better opportunities.
Spanish ace extends sponsorship.
Mallorcan course impressing.