AT & T PEBBLE BEACH NATIONAL PRO-AM
Sunday?s dramatic finale at Scottsdale, where Phil Mickelson lost having traded as short as 1-10 after his sole rival JB Holmes birdied the 18th and first play-off hole, was a familiar affair for me. For the first decade of Mickelson?s career, I regularly made hay opposing him on golf courses not suited to his attacking brand of golf. Since 2004 though, the year Mickelson ?grew up? and started thinking about course management, I changed strategy and am now prepared to back him under the right conditions. However even though he?s won numerous events in the meantime, I can’t remember profiting once from them. Without question, Lefty has become my ultimate ?jinx? player.
Bearing all that in mind, it stands to reason that I can?t consider him this week at extremely prohibitive odds. On pure golfing reasons, I can?t make a case against him. He?s won this event three times, twice in the last three years, and is undoubtably the man to beat but 9/2 seems a very short price to take about anyone bar Tiger Woods, especially in a pro-am.
Nevertheless the Pebble Beach pro-am, played at three different venues, remains very much a ?horses for courses? event. Unlike other pro-ams that are played on easy resort courses, these three are all testing. None more so than Pebble Beach itself, a regular US Open venue though obviously conditions will be nowhere near as difficult this week than in that brutal Major. Hitting greens in regulation, alongside an ability to cope in bad weather, has been the key to success over the years here. So not surprisingly under these distinctive conditions, some players seem to contend more or less every year whilst others frequently struggle.
With Mickelson avoided due to the price, preference is for another left-hander whose course record is comparable. Before missing the cut last year when struggling with his game, MIKE WEIR had finished no worse than 4th in the previous four years and only twice worse than 8th in eight years. He?s been disappointing whilst carrying our money over the past fortnight, but having identified Weir as a resurgent player to follow I would be kicking myself if I missed out on him at 20/1 in what must be his best chance of the year.
The same odds about Open champion PADRAIG HARRINGTON also look reasonable. Pod has only once previously played the pro-am here, fighting back well over the weekend last year to finish in mid-division. But he was 5th in Tiger?s 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach, and will surely love this linksy test. His claim is further strengthened by the fact this is a pro-am, which suits Padraig?s temperament down to the ground. Its no surprise that he has twice won the only other prestigious pro-am not played on target golf courses, the Dunhill Links Championship.
DANIEL CHOPRA has become something of a course specialist over the past four years, and must enter calculations now he?s taken his game up another level. Two PGA Tour wins since an October plus a play-off defeat in Australia represent the high water mark of Chopra?s career, and he looked set for another big finish before a terrible final round at Scottsdale. Since 2004, the Swede has finished no worse than 25th here, and made the top-11 in the last two seasons. If replicating his overall improvement this week, he would be hard to keep out of the places.
With such an emphasis on tee to green golf, I also like the look of another rapidly improving player, HUNTER MAHAN. Even when not scoring so well over the past fortnight, Mahan has been playing some excellent tee to green golf, and is strongly fancied to get some reward soon. Quite possibly on route to a Ryder Cup place. 14th and 16th placed finishes here over the last couple of years is a respectable record, and having finished as top American in last year?s Open, Mahan looks ideally suited by these linksy conditions.
For my final two selections, I?m going for a couple of Australians at 200/1. Firstly BRETT RUMFORD made an instant impact in the recent pro-am, finishing 8th on what was his first PGA Tour start since earning his card at Q-school in the close season. Throughout his years in Europe and Australasia, I?ve come to expect Rumford to shine on courses where his usual tee to green accuracy is rewarded. He?s also a fine bad-weather player with his career best coming when winning the 2004 Irish Open in poor conditions. Seeing as he won a competitive European event just 5 months ago, 200/1 looks massive.
I can?t make quite as strong a case for Rumford?s compatriot, MATTHEW GOGGIN, though he is someone I?ve long felt was capable of springing a huge-priced shock in the States. If and when that first victory comes, it will be on a testing golf course. Seeing as he has previously finished 8th in this event, and has some excellent recent greens in regulation stats, he looks worth a small punt at massive odds.