The PGA Tour schedule moves to one of the most scenic spots on the schedule at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
This tournament is one of the longest running on the PGA Tour schedule and its rich history brings some of the biggest names in the sport to the Monterey Peninsula.
Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, and Dustin Johnson are just some of the big names in the field this week.
Like the CareerBuilder three weeks ago, this event has a celebrity amateur aspect to the competition. Unfortunately, most of the celebrities are far from A-listers, but CBS’ broadcast shoves them in your face like they are.
Saturday’s broadcast is annually the worst sports telecast of any sport. CBS barely shows any shots by the pros, but instead they feature shots from the celebrities and a subsequent breakdown of their swings.
Again, with the exception of a few elite sports figures like Larry Fitzgerald and Peyton Manning, the telecast focuses on B-list celebrities like George Lopez, Kevin James, Ray Romano, and Kenny G.
This entire broadcast operates as a public relations and marketing firm for these celebrities. It pisses of golf fans annually, but CBS refuses to change the format.
The first three rounds are played over three courses: Pebble Beach, Monterey Peninsula, Spyglass Hills. Pebble is the hardest track, while Monterey Peninsula and Spyglass Hills have comparable difficulty.
The challenge this week will be handling the long rounds and weather conditions. The long rounds are a result of the challenging conditions and the amateurs in the field. The players who play well in these types of formats generally embrace the slow play and the celebrity atmosphere
The weather on the Monterey Peninsula is often fluid and unpredictable. Pebble and Monterey are right on the coast, while Spyglass is slightly inland so wind is always a factor. The conditions thus far this week have been cool, windy, and rainy and if that keeps up, players will have quite the challenge, especially on the coastal holes which have the most exposure to the elements.
After the first three rounds, there is a 54-hole cut for the pro and amateur leaderboards with Sunday’s play taking place exclusively at Pebble.
Pebble is a tale of two nines. The course is fairly gettable through the first seven holes, but becomes a bear from there. The second, third, fourth, sixth, and seventh holes are all legitimate birdie holes, but starting with the eighth, players hold on for dear life.
That tough stretch to the clubhouse includes one of the hardest par-5’s in the world. The par-5 14th is a long dogleg right, which is nearly impossible to reach in two and when a player lays-up, it provides the hardest 125-yard shot in golf.
The par-5 18th maybe be more scenic and famous, but 14 often plays a bigger role in determining the champion.
The green slopes like a turtle’s back, so if the ball lands 10 feet right of the pin, it will come back down to fairway. If you miss 10 feet left, the ball will roll off to the rough, leaving yourself a treacherous chip shot.
As the picture above indicates, the uphill and blind approach makes it especially difficult to dial in the correct yardage.
Some pros bitch about the green being unfair, but it definitely has their full attention. Paul Goydos equated the approach shot to “hitting a pitching wedge on to a moving school bus.”
Goydos has first-hand knowledge of how difficult the 14th can be as he made a quadruple-bogey nine when he was in the lead in the final round in 2010.
Last Year’s Event:
Vaughn Taylor won the event last year in one of the most improbable victories of the last 10 years on the PGA Tour. It was Taylor’s third win on Tour, but his first since 2005 – a stretch spanning 234 events in between wins. Taylor did not even have permanent playing privileges on the PGA Tour at the time of the victory.
He began the day six strokes off of Phil Mickelson’s lead. Taylor made nine birdies on Sunday, which included four straight on holes 13-16 to register a 65 and catapult himself into the lead. Taylor’s birdie putt on 16 was one of the best putts you’ll see.
Taylor was the clubhouse leader, while Mickelson was still on the course and trailed by two strokes with two holes remaining. Phil then birdied the par-17th by making a 15-foot putt from the fringe. After getting to within 20 yards of the hole on the par-15 18th in two, Mickelson hit a subpar chip shot to within seven feet and lipped out the ensuing putt to give Taylor the title.
Most Memorable Moment:
In 2000, Pebble Beach bore witness to a prelude of things to come for the rest of the 2000 season as Tiger came back from a six-stroke 54-hole deficit to earn the victory. The immensity of the comeback was impressive by itself, but Tiger’s hole out on 15 for eagle has become one of indelible images of his career.
K.J. Choi: Choi is one of the steadiest player on tour. With age, his play has diminished some, but he has always had success on the west coast.
Otter Room Pick:
Dustin Johnson (-14): Despite winning the event twice, Johnson’s history at Pebble is best known for his Sunday 82 in the 2010 U.S. Open. No one on tour is as well-versed at squashing internal demons like Johnson and expect his length to provide a significant advantage in the wet conditions. As long as his putter cooperates, Johnson will find himself in contention this weekend.