10 Players to Watch: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

  1. Dustin Johnson, United States — The second-ranked players in the world has played some of his best golf at Pebble Beach, where he has claimed two victories, but also suffered one of his infamous collapses on the Monterey Peninsula in the 2010 U.S. Open. Johnson won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am by four strokes over Mike Weir of Canada in 2009, when the event was shortened to 54 holes because of the inclement weather the area is famous for, and repeated the next year when he held off David Duval and J.B. Holmes on the strength of two 64s. He has four other top-10 finishes in the tournament, but squandered a three-stroke lead entering the final round of our national championship seven years ago and wound up in a tie for eighth. DJ got the new year off to a solid start with a tie for sixth in the SBS Tournament of Champions, but then missed the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open.
  1. Brandt Snedeker, United States — Not only has Sneds claimed two of his eight PGA Tour victories at fabled Pebble Beach, he has started 2017 with two solid tournaments heading to one of his favorite courses. He closed with a 7-under-par 65 to beat Chris Kirk by two strokes in 2013 along Stillwater Cove, and won again two years later after opening with a 64 and then reeling off three 67s to finish three shots ahead of Nick Watney. Oddly, his best finish in seven other appearances in the tournament was a tie for 21st in 2010, but he tied for eighth in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach later that year. Snedeker started this year with a tie for 21st in the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua and two weeks ago he was in the chase most of the way before fading with a final-round 73 to tie for ninth in the Farmers Insurance Open, which he has won twice.
  1. Justin Rose, England — The Olympic gold medalist has recovered nicely from a minor back injury that caused him to withdraw from the Hero World Challenge in December, finishing in the top four in his first two PGA Tour tournaments of the new year. He shot 6-under-par 64 in the second and last rounds of the Sony Open in Hawaii and wound up second, although he was seven strokes behind runaway winner Justin Thomas. Rose came back two weeks later to take the first-round lead in the Farmers Insurance Open with a 7-under-par 65 on his way to a tie for fourth. He didn’t show any rust despite missing some practice time over the holidays and figures to be in the hunt again this week in only his second start at Pebble Beach. Surprisingly, his first appearance on the Monterey Peninsula didn’t come until year and he took an immediate liking to the place, starting with 66-68 en route to a tie for sixth.
  1. Jordan Spieth, United States — After being No. 1 in the world four times for a total of 26 weeks in the last two years, Spieth is down to No. 6 even though he’s gotten off to a strong start this year after passing on all the PGA Tour events in the fall portion of the wrap-around schedule. He has finished in the top-10 in all three events he has played, tying for third in the SBS Tournament of Champions, finishing solo third at the Sony Open in Hawaii and tying for ninth in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Spieth has claimed eight victories in the last two years, including the Australian Open in November, and can be expected to find the winner’s circle again sometime soon. He is making his fifth appearance at Pebble Beach and has finished in the top 25 every time so far, topped by a tie for fourth in 2014 and a tie for seventh the following year.
  1. Phil Mickelson, United States — Lefty came close to tying Mark O’Meara’s record of five victories in the AT&T Pebble Beach last year, when he lipped out a five-foot birdie put on the 72nd hole and finished one stroke behind champion Vaughn Taylor after a closing 66. He won by one stroke over Tom Pernice Jr. when the tournament was shortened to 54 holes by rain in 1998, opened with a 62 and won by four over Mike Weir on 2005 and won by five shots over Kevin Sutherland in 2007. However, most noteworthy was his victory in 2012, when he beat Charlie Wi by two strokes with a closing 64 along longtime rival Tiger Woods, whom he dusted by 11 shots in their head-to-head match. Mickelson has played well early this year following two hernia surgeries, tying for 21st in the CareerBuilder Challenge, tying for 14th in the Farmers Insurance Open and tying for 16th in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
  1. Jason Day Australia — The top-ranked player in the world is easing his way into the season after missing three months following a back problem that forced him to withdraw from the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship in September. He showed some rust while tying for 12th in the SBS Tournament of Champions and shot 73-74 — 147 to miss the cut by three strokes in the Farmers Insurance Open. After taking a week off, Day will try to kick-start his season this week when he makes his eighth start at Pebble Beach, finishing in the top 10 on three occasions previously. His best result on the Monterey Peninsula was a tie for fourth in 2015, when he shot 62 in round two and closed with a 67 to finish five shots behind winner Brandt Snedeker. Day also finished solo sixth on both 2008 and 2013, in addition to tying for 11th last year, when he was in the chase before closing with a 73.
  1. Jon Rahm, Spain — Coming off his first PGA Tour victory in the Farmers Insurance Open, the former All-American at Arizona State played well as one of the crowd favorites last week in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, shooting 65 in the third round on his way to a tie for 16th. It was his fourth top-25 results in six starts as a rookie on the PGA Tour after earning his playing card in four events right out of college last year. Rahm figures to do well during the West Coast Swing since he claimed 11 victories during his career with the Sun Devils, eight of them in California and Arizona, so he should be used to the grasses and even some of the courses. Of course, he also won seven amateur tournaments at home in Spain and has finished in the top 10 of PGA Tour events in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, so it’s obvious this guy has a top-level game that travels well.
  1. Jimmy Walker, United States — Showing up at Pebble Beach after taking two weeks off to get healthy might be exactly the medicine Walker needs after an illness he picked up in Hawaii sabotaged the first part of his year. He tied for ninth in the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua before catching a bug and then missed the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Farmers Insurance Open. Walker has played nine times previously at Pebble, finishing in the top 10 on four occasions, including one of his six PGA Tour victories in 2014. He built a six-stroke lead through 54 holes with scores of 66-69-67, but finished with a 74 and barely held on to win by one stroke over Dustin Johnson and Jim Renner. He had to sink a five-foot putt for par on the final hole to ensure his third victory in the first eight events of the wrap-around schedule in a breakout season at the age of 35.
  1. Patrick Reed, United States — Having slipped a few spots to No. l0 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Reed is looking to start heading upward again after he tied for 68th in the Waste Management Phoenix Open last week. He admitted to being worn out late last year after enjoying another strong season and helping the United States regain the Ryder Cup, and it showed when he failed to break the top 50 in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. However, he started 2017 by tying for sixth in the SBS Tournament of Champions and tying for 12th at the Sony Open in Hawaii, so he could be close to his old form. Reed will make his fifth start at Pebble Beach and last year posted his best result on the Monterey Peninsula, a tie for sixth, when he shot 7-under-par 65 in the second and fourth rounds. He also tied for seventh in 2013.
  1. Matt Kuchar, United States — Kooch said he took off the first month of the year, skipping his usual trips to Hawaii and California, because he needed a break at home after playing through the events in December. He came out of the chute firing by taking the first-round lead with a 7-under-par 64 in the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open last week, and even though he faded a bit still managed a tie for ninth. That was his 66th finish in the top 10 since 2010, the most on the PGA Tour during that time. This week, he will make his 11th appearance in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but his first since 2010, when he withdrew after two rounds because of illness. Surprisingly, his only top-10 finish in the tournament was a tie for seventh in 2007, when he closed with a 66, but he tied for sixth when the U.S. Open was played at Pebble in 2010.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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