Dustin Johnson can land a Pebble Beach hat-trick according to Ben Coley, who is also prepared to chance Jordan Spieth in this week's PGA Tour event.
It all depends on your point of view, but the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am feels a little tired to me. Perhaps that's because we've had two multi-course events already this year, perhaps it's Bill Murray, but with a humdrum field and better to come next week, this is one event I could go without watching, at least until the final round.
And yet, we are at Pebble Beach and, if you're lucky enough to have set foot on the property, you'll know that this is sacred ground, up there with the Old Course and Augusta National as part of golf's Holy Trinity. The tournament itself could do with a lick of paint, but the golf courses and the coastline should always remain as they are now.
From a punting perspective, the equation looks no more complicated with DUSTIN JOHNSON considered good value at 13/2.
It's true that Johnson's love affair with Pebble Beach has fizzled out a little in recent years - it's in fact a decade since he completed back-to-back victories in this event. That means he's failed to come out on top here ever since that calamitous finish to the 2010 US Open, but I find the idea that he's suffering from a mental scar a little hard to accept.
Johnson is nothing if not simplistic in his outlook and capable of putting things in the past, and six top-10 finishes in his last eight starts in this event confirm that he remains a massive threat in his favourite part of the world.
He ran into an inspired Ted Potter in 2018, when he should've won, and his late rattle came too late in 2014, but Johnson will likely win this title again and join Phil Mickelson, Mark O'Meara, Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus in landing the hat-trick.
Crucially, he's back in form. Seventh place in Hawaii was promising if a little untidy, and he followed it with an excellent defence of his title in the Saudi International, where a good weekend move might have been enough had anyone other than Graeme McDowell been out in front.
Johnson was delighted with his progress there, telling reporters his game is back on track, and it's only really the long-haul flight back to the west coast which concerns me here. Otherwise, his credentials appear rock solid and the lack of serious opposition at the front end of this market is enough to take on board the risk that he does struggle with the change in time zones.
Of course, he's won around the world and is well used to making similar trips, while his familiarity with the three courses in rotation here means he should be able to take it easy in the build-up. All things considered, at a couple of points bigger than last year, he has to be a bet.
Patrick Cantlay withdrew 12 months ago after I'd put him up at 25/1, and he's back at half that price. The Californian looks a likely contender but he's short enough having disappointed in Abu Dhabi, and the same is true of Paul Casey after he faded in The American Express.
Suddenly we're down to Jason Day, who hasn't been competitive for a long time, while McDowell is now a 33/1 shot having been twice the price last week and 150/1 here last year.
Indeed it strikes me as odd that McDowell and Phil Mickelson have been slashed owing to their performances in Saudi Arabia while Johnson is set to go off the same price. It makes for a straightforward decision and he goes in as a win-only selection.
Next is JORDAN SPIETH, who is quoted at what looks a generous 40/1 - even allowing for concerns as to his fall down the rankings.
Spieth is a former champion with a fine Pebble Beach record, so this is a good place for a renaissance, and I think there have been enough flashes of promise to chance him here, an event far more likely to spark a turnaround than Phoenix or the Farmers were.
The current world number 55 missed the cut last week but only just, and it was in fact his third missed cut in 25 events dating back more than a year. No, he hasn't been anywhere near his best and rarely if ever has he looked like winning, but he's hit the frame five times during this run and a degree of perspective is needed.
Day, a 20/1 shot, has been just as poor. Spieth in fact leads the head-to-head 8-6 over the last year, and it's 5-2 in his favour if we measure from the Open Championship onwards.
That tells me there's been an overreaction to last week, and yet Spieth's second round was as promising as he's produced in a long time. He hit 16 of 18 greens, gained shots with his ball-striking, and showed definite improvement despite confirming that he's made a fairly significant adjustment to his grip.
I've always found the Texas man to be a good judge of his own game, so here's what he told reporters after a frustrating finish at Scottsdale.
"Overall I'm really happy with the progress I've made off the tee. That was the best I've driven the ball in a couple years. So when that happens I know the rest of it's kind of coming behind. Did a lot today to make it work and I hit 16 greens which is another really good sign.
"When the driver starts to come around - that's normally last - so when that starts to come around, I'm not worried about the rest of the game. And I'm not worried about the putting, either.
"I've had bad putting weeks where I've walked away saying 'I don't know what's going on in the stroke'. But I hit my lines almost every single putt and just simply misread them all. And I know that that's not the case historically for me on the three courses next week, so I'm looking forward to that."
Asked about his ranking, which means as things stand he'll miss the WGC-Mexico Championship, he added: "I’m just trying to step up and win a golf tournament and let everything else take care of itself [but] you need to play all four rounds to win a tournament."
Spieth talking about winning, rather than a process, is encouraging, but most of all it's those positives with his long-game, the fact he's never missed a cut here and was in the mix last year before one big mistake at the end of round three, and the price, which encourage me to take a chance.
When a player of his calibre is in a slump, the opportunity to catch them comes from finding those green shoots of recovery. There were just enough of them in Phoenix, where those 'MC' letters have held up his price, and I'm more than happy to back him knowing he could struggle again.
Matthew Fitzpatrick is on the shortlist but he's without Billy Foster this week, while Viktor Hovland's Pebble Beach prowess is factored into his price. The Norwegian also missed the cut last week and yet he's a few points shorter than Spieth, further proof in my mind that the narrative has been overplayed. Spieth was third in a major last year and he will be back.
McDowell and Branden Grace are made for this but I like the look of a couple of players with local connections, with CAMERON CHAMP preferred to Patrick Rodgers.
The latter has played well over the last fortnight, as he tends to back close to where he went to college, but with three-figure prices all taken and concerns remaining over his approach play, I'm happy enough to look elsewhere.
Champ, a two-time PGA Tour winner, looks a far more likely contender and while power isn't the be all and end all here, he could well produce a performance akin to those of Johnson and Mickelson to land more silverware.
Last time out he suffered a poor final round at Torrey Pines, dropping from the places to just inside the top 20, but the state of his game remains strong as he again led in strokes-gained off-the-tee and putted well.
As with Rodgers, some tightening up with the irons would help but that's more than possible after a good ball-striking display carried him to 28th in this event last year.
At the time, Champ was in a serious slump - it took him six months to better that share of 28th place - so the fact he came alive at Pebble Beach, where he once played as a junior with his grandfather on the bag, is significant.
Champ's connection to his grandfather was made clear when he won the Safeway Open in such emotional fashion, and this is another event of real significance to a Californian with real class.
I found serious contenders hard to find here and in an event won by the likes of D.A. Points, Ted Potter and Vaughn Taylor lately, there's certainly room for a few rolls of the dice at fancy prices.
First, MARK HUBBARD could well follow-up last week's timely top-10 - his third of the season - now back at Pebble Beach.
Five years ago, Hubbard gained internet notoriety by proposing to his girlfriend here and he celebrated nicely on his return in 2016, striking the ball really well and sitting eighth at halfway before a quiet weekend.
He's a better, more experienced player these days, and having studied at San Jose State, he knows all three courses particularly well.
"I feel like I have an advantage out on this course because I played it probably 40, 50 times," he said of Spyglass. "So, it's actually my favourite course down here where I think it's a lot of guys' least favourite. I think that gives me a big advantage."
Hubbard also sat 13th at halfway on his only subsequent start in the event and, having been second in the all-around last week, he returns with his game in ideal condition.
JAMES HAHN was third here on debut in 2013 and has since won at Riviera, confirming that he's always to be considered when teeing it up on his favoured west coast.
Although hard to get right, Hahn has won two very good PGA Tour events and is dangerous when his approach play is on song, as it was last week as he took a couple of big steps forward in the Phoenix Open.
He plays Pebble Beach particularly well and has plenty of incentive here, where his attempt to play through the pain barrier came unstuck a year ago before a prolonged spell on the sidelines.
Hahn said at the time he felt compelled to keep trying as he knows he makes most of his FedEx Cup points out here on the west coast, and now that he's healthy again this represents another opportunity to sneak inside the top 10.
Finally, JOSEPH BRAMLETT is worth a roll of the dice, the San Jose resident another who will have had this event marked in the calendar since securing his card for 2020.
Bramlett played in the US Open here a week after graduating from Stanford, at a time when he was considered one of the most promising young players around.
Injuries have made life hard since he switched to the professional ranks, not least a serious back issue which almost forced his retirement, but he's in a much better place now and might be capable of doing something here on home soil.
Bramlett sat eighth at halfway in his debut in the event and is another who knows his way around.
"I’ve probably played 40 to 50 competitive rounds out here," said the San Jose resident. "I have had lots of flashbacks.
"This [course] is just at another level for me."
All that is only worth so much, but he ranked ninth for greens hit at both the Sony Open and the Farmers, leading in fairways in the latter, and that suggests he's ticking over nicely enough to be worth a small bet at huge odds.
Others to mention include Xinjun Zhang, who made far more birdies than anyone else last week, while Adam Hadwin might improve for his return to action following the birth of his child.
Posted at 1355 GMT on 04/02/20
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