AT&T Pebble Beach 2021
Nothing that warranted getting excited about from a punting point of view, but a seriously exciting finish to a tournament that has a habit of producing just that. Daniel Berger saw fit to miss his first weekend since July, and Hideki Matsuyama never got out of second gear. Will Zalatoris did give us a sniff of a chance with an excellent Saturday 64, indeed he began the final round just a shot behind Brooks Koepka. He never got it going after an opening hole bogey, and high hopes I had for him delivering an each way dividend, were quickly dashed. Ben An was just too inconsistent off the tee to justify the top 20 selection.
Being a massive Jordan Spieth fan, and a firm believer that him being in contention makes golf events far more entertaining, I really hoped he would produce his best on Sunday. It can have been no real surprise that he floundered though. Back in contention for the first time in quite a while, with a long game that he still doesn’t trust, he was always going to be very reliant on the putter. Unlike Saturday, it didn’t bail him out on this occasion. Slightly more surprising was the abject display from Xander Schauffele. If he had been beaten by a big round from Spieth, or if a closer challenger went low to post -22, well then that would have been more excusable. To lose to -19 will be hard for him to take. It was a course begging for birdies, and he simply didn’t deliver. He had spoken in recent weeks about his lack of recent success, so it has obviously been playing on his mind. That will be ramped up now, as will media talk until he does deliver. That makes a tough task even tougher.
It was an event Brooks really burgled. He once again hit turbo over the closing holes, and with those around him stalling, it was enough to get the job done. It wasn’t his absolute best by any means, but it was a sight better than his recent performances, and will give him no end of confidence ahead of bigger future targets.
It’s to the Monterey Peninsula for the next stop for the PGA’s elite, though in a change from the norm for the AT&T it is not a Pro-Am event, and will only feature two courses. Monterey Peninsula Golf Club drops off the rota for a Covid challenged 2021 edition, which leaves players facing Spyglass Hill for 18 holes, and the famed Pebble Beach for 54.
Pebble is one of the shortest courses on Tour, a Par 72 playing just over 6800 yards is very rare these days, and Spyglass is only 200 yards longer. All types have been successful here over the years, as you would imagine on such a short layout, it is not all about length from the tee. I can see this week being another example that a golf course doesn’t have to be long to be challenging. It is notable how many repeat winners there have been, and course form does tend to stand up very well.
That brings us to tournament favourite, two time winner, and pretty much course specialist Dustin Johnson. The Masters winner has picked up where he left off at the end of 2020, notching another win in the Saudi International last week. Indeed his win there is all the more meritable given how poorly he putted for much of the 4 days. He will be hard to beat here, his best is a notch above this week’s competition, and he is certainly the right favourite. Is he worth backing? At a top price 4/1 I have to say no. I had hoped he might have been put in at an early 6/1, and that would have been tempting, but the odds compilers haven’t had their eyes closed either! When betting at 4/1 in a field of 156 players, you sure as hell don’t want any negatives. I may be grasping at straws given the small sample size so far, but it is notable that the last two years have seen DJ perform well below market expectations here. The common denominator is that in the last two years he has arrived here on the long haul flight from Saudi Arabia. It may be pure coincidence, but has to be a slight worry that is somewhat draining. His record prior to that had been two wins and 7 other top 10s in 12 appearances around here. It is clear that he relishes his time on the famed links, and the fact that it will probably play tougher this year with no amateurs can only be of benefit to the world’s best player. A tournament that often sees comfortable winners, DJ may very well be another. There will be better 4/1 shots to be with throughout the season though. Indeed at likely a couple of points bigger at Riviera next week, I would view that as set to be more appealing.
I had thought of avoiding the outright market here, given the fact that DJ will be so tough to beat, but offers no value himself. On closer inspection though, I feel his presence and price offers some excellent each way value on a couple of the fields other big names. I will return to my reasoning behind that later.
The first of those is the serious talent of PATRICK CANTLAY. The Californian arrives here in excellent shape himself, his latest appearance being a runner up slot at The American Express. He set out there as the field’s big name, and tournament favourite, and I’m not quite sure that is a mantle that rests too easily with him yet. He played his best golf over the weekend from well off the pace, and I think he will enjoy the fact that DJ is here to hog the limelight. Prior to that display he had been a solid 13th at the Tournament of Champions. He clearly has his game in superb nick on the resumption for 2021, and looks cherry ripe to back up his impressive win at the Zozo which is only 4 outings ago. 9th here in 2013, he played twice in the interim, but the next time he played injury free was last term when he finished 11th. There is little doubt this tee to green machine has exactly what it takes to be successful around Pebble. There is no disguising the fact that take DJ out of it, and this will be one of the poorest lineups all year, and Cantlay will fear no one else. With the slight niggle about Johnson arriving in peak form, I am more than happy to get Cantlay onside.
DJ has pulled out since I wrote this, and at a top price 7/1, I no longer see Cantlay as betting material. Much of the upside on him was the 2/1 on him notching a top 8 finish to place. There has in effect been a 30 cents in the euro reduction placed on his price, which is slightly over what it should have been. This erodes the bit of value there was in that win price. It reduces his place odds from 2/1 to 7/5, which is a big chunk too, and just confirms my argument that DJ being in there offered an edge on betting Cantlay each way. There is also now the worry that Patrick is the main man here this week, and that has to add an extra notch of pressure. If I had backed him at 10/1, I would obviously be delighted DJ was gone, and happy with my bet. As I wasn’t already on, I won’t be getting on board now.
DANIEL BERGER gave us no run for our money last week, but what events at the Phoenix Open showed us was, never rule out the chances of a player winning off the back of a missed cut. In truth I thought Berger did very little wrong, he just didn’t find his range from the fairways over those two days. A poor finish to Friday saw him go from still very much a contender to missing the cut. It is fairly easy to imagine he would have finished somewhere near Rory McIlroy had he made the cut, and I don’t think we would be seeing the prices we are now. A few bad holes, given his unerring consistency over the past few months, don’t worry me at all. His previous missed cut was at The Memorial last July. In his next event he finished runner up at the WGC. Quick to bounce back is Daniel.
He has only made the two appearances here, and both offered much promise. 10th here on debut in 2015, and 5th last year, he is 10 under par for his 4 rounds to date around Pebble Beach. With that course now accounting for 75% of this week’s play, that takes on even more importance. Also likely to play a part is that conditions will be tougher than the average year here. With no amatuers to be catered for, pin positions will be tucked away that bit more. Weather will also likely see players kept honest. Colder than average temperatures, allied with a healthy wind on both Friday and Sunday would leave me estimating a winning score of approx 12-14 under par. This will also play to the strengths of Berger. All of what I said about him last week still stands. I expect him to be challenging for major honours this year, and with DJ now taken out of the equation this is a gilt edged opportunity to get back on the winning trail. Berger’s price has also not seen the same reduction factor as Cantlays. I feel the 14/1 on offer (16s in a place) is still more than fair.
Quite a few others have also had their odds slashed far more than they should have been for a 4/1 non runner. Jason Day is the prince among them. Now just top price 20/1 I feel that is a few notches too short. Yes he has some sexy form figures around here, but though his play last week was better than a missed cut suggests, he still has some way to go to look near his tournament winning best. An ice cold putter over the first two days at Scottsdale was the reason for the weekend off, and though that is unlikely to continue, I would be still cautious about him being fully in sync with all the changes he has made.
I suggested last week that 40/1 quotes on Will Zalatoris may soon be a thing of the past. If told then that he would be just 18/1 for this week, I would have been delighted. As I would have had to assume that he had won there. He didn’t, and though this is a weak field, 18/1 still seems on the skimpy side. I couldn’t be recommending that.
If Paul Casey can produce his best this week, I want some of whatever he is on!! This will be his 4th week in a row playing, which has seen him fly the 18 hours from La Quinta to Dubai, a week from in contention to going the whole way. A quick two hour jaunt to Saudi Arabia where he once again dug deep for a 12th place finish, before the 20 hour flight back to line up here. He may be one of the fittest 43 year olds around, but surely the wall is just waiting to be hit. One to take on in my opinion.
Jordan Spieth!! As much as I would dearly love to see him win again, he just didn’t play well enough last week to suggest he should once again be just 20/1 to win a tournament. He got very lucky with some of his waywardness there, and I just don’t see that happening this week. Those loose drives will be punished, and I can see too many big numbers for him to be contending, regardless how well he putts. Hopefully he is on the road back though.
I had two other outright bets in mind prior to Dustin’s withdrawal, and am happy enough to proceed with them at their altered prices.
First of those is KEVIN STREELMAN. I actually did back him yesterday at 45/1 to 8 places, but am happy enough to proceed in putting him up at the revised 35/1. One could say it’s a short enough price for one of his standing in the game, or that it is indicative of how poor a field this is, but I do feel it is very much justified here this week. Streels may not have the course form figures of DJ, Day, or Phil Mickelson, but he is quite the operator around the Pebble Beach Links. From 2016 his finishing positions have been very impressive, reading 17/14/6/7/2nd. He was also 9th back in 2012. In finishing runner up last term, his 68/68 scoring at Pebble was the best in the field. Again, that takes on more credence this year. Indeed that is par for the course for Kevin who produced a Sunday 65 there in 2019 to leapfrog into 7th. Last year he arrived here off 2 missed cuts in 3, and in 2019 he was playing some pretty average golf also.
It’s quite the opposite this time around, with the two time PGA Tour winner arriving in off the back of an excellent display at Scottsdale. A cold putter, and a poor back 9 on Sunday cost him a chance of victory there, but was very eye-catching was his approach play. He gained nearly 5 shots on the field in that department, and given how his putting has typically been very good around these layouts, I expect him to go very close this week. He may be viewed by some as just a journeyman, but he is only just outside the Top 50 in the OWGR, and knows how to get the job done when an opportunity presents itself. I feel this week’s test sets up very nicely for him indeed, and would be more than happy to play at the current prices.
Last man in for me is BRANDEN GRACE. Somewhat in the wilderness now for the past couple of seasons, the South African would relish the test ahead if at his best. He would also be about 20/1. That of course is pretty irrelevant as he hasn’t been near that peak for awhile now. He has however shown signs that he is on the road to rediscovering the form which saw him look the likely winner of the US Open in Chambers Bay in 2015. That week showcased just how well suited Grace is to seaside and links golf, and also how well he can putt imperfect Poa greens. His one win on Tour came at Harbour Town Links, and it is probably no surprise that he has chosen this event as his first back after the death of his father. The last event he played was the Sony Open, and a promising opening 69 was undone by a Friday 75. In hindsight given the circumstance with his father that was totally understandable.
He did miss the cut here last year, but 28th and 20th the previous two occasions he has played here offered plenty of promise. Like Berger and Streelman, he also excelled on the Pebble layout, and that is an obvious positive. There are plenty of players around Grace’s price that would have no aspirations to being a major champion, but at just 32 Branden still has what it takes to get back towards the game summit. Given the right layout he is a match for anyone, and this week’s set up is perfect. The signs at the end of 2020, which saw him finish 8th in the DP World Championship on the European Tour, which followed a decent display in Mayakoba, which came after an eye-catching Sunday 64 at the RSM. The RSM of course takes place at Sea Island, again no coincidence that Grace found some magic by the sea. South African’s are a proud bunch, and though it has no part to play in my recommending him, I do feel Grace will be eager to play well here in his fathers honour. When playing at big prices, any potential upside is a good thing.
That is all for me in the outrights. Slightly frustrating that DJ has come out, as it has meant a bit of a re jig, and that I have had to leave aside Cantlay.
Straight out of traps here in the quest to take on what has to be a fatigued and jet lagged Paul Casey! Taking on this type has been key to my success in these alternative markets over the years. A short priced favourite who has a big question mark over them being pretty much ideal. Casey has performed very well here in two of his three visits, but on all 3 occasions he arrived off a two week break, and not continent hopping as he has been doing. At 4/6 I wouldn’t be backing him with stolen money for this. Ben Taylor doesn’t make many weekends, and is unlikely to do so here either. Luke Donald continued in pretty atrocious form, and hit only 24 from 36 greens before another weekend off at the Phoenix. Seamus Power simply doesn’t appeal, and Tom Lewis makes his debut here which isn’t ideal. It’s looking like a pretty weak section, and if Casey is off his game the likelihood is that it will be RUSSELL KNOX or PADRAIG HARRINGTON to take advantage. At 9/2 and 10/1 I am prepared to back both.
Knox has had some very respectable finishes here, indeed in his last 6 appearances he has 4 top 30s, including 15th in 2018 and 14th in 2019. Another who appreciated these short fiddly seaside layouts, Knox doesn’t have his lack of length off the tee exposed here. Sitting 5th on Tour in strokes gained on approach this term, the Scots game is in decent nick. His last 8 outings have seen 3 missed cuts, but also 3 top 16 finishes, and this week sets up well for another high end finish. I couldn’t say that about much of the opposition here.
Harrington is as mad as a box of frogs, but he is keen to perform well in his appearances in the year of his Ryder Cup captaincy, and here on a links layout in a weak field is as good a place as any for him to get competitive. And he hasn’t been playing badly at all. 6th in the Dubai Desert Classic just two outings ago, saw POD mention how he wants to get back challenging for tournaments. Many will say that and you can cast it aside, but the 3 time major winner is a different fish. If he has that steely determination back, he could very well surprise a few over the coming weeks and months. He then went from Dubai to Scottsdale last week, and really should have been around for the weekend. 3 under par through 16 on Thursday, he dropped 3 shots over the last two holes. A lost ball cost him a double on 18, and he put his poor display on Friday down to that. Jet Lag and fatigue may also have been a factor by then too, and maybe a weekend off ahead of Pebble was ideal. Given how he played at the Emirates Golf Club, and that promising opening last week, I feel he is well equipped to take advantage of a hopefully jaded Casey this week. 10/1 is a big price to do so.
I generally stake to return 20pts on an alternative market bet, but have upped that slightly here, as am particularly keen on these two at the prices.
Top 20 Finish:
Unusually for this market I also have two selections. First of those is a player who has done me a few favours in the past, MICHEAL THOMPSON. Always a player who I give a second glance to when conditions are likely to be tougher than the norm, and I feel he will be relishing the task ahead here. When notching his maiden win on Tour, he overcame very tough weekend conditions to prevail in the 2013 Honda Classic. Such conditions could be prevalent this weekend also. Take out last week’s missed cut at the Phoenix, and Michael had been showing some consistently good form. 5th at the Amex, 25th at the Sony, and 21st in the Tournament of Champions, Thompson has begun his year in fine fettle. I have backed him in a couple of US Opens at big prices, and it was in the 2012 edition at Olympic Club that he produced his best ever performance. Pebble will more resemble a US Open than it typically would for this event, and this grinder will not mind one iota about anything the weather throws at him. 10th here in 2019 I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see something similar this time around. 7/2 to get inside the 20 is perfectly fair.
My other arrow in this market is SCOTT STALLINGS. Unlike Thompson, Stallings has had a relatively slow start to 2021, but there were signs of life last week at Scottsdale. 36th there, he actually sat inside the top 20 heading into Sunday, but a poor final round saw him slip backwards. His long game caused the damage on payday, but that had been in excellent nick the first 3 days and I believe he will take plenty of positives. Especially arriving at a tournament where he has many positive memories. 14th, 7th and 3rd here in 2017/18/19 respectively, it is clear that the demands of these layouts suit the game of this 3 time Tour winner. When 14th in 2017 he actually 3 shots on the closing two holes, which deprived him of what should have been an 8th place finish. In 2018 and 2019 he shot Sunday 66s around Pebble, and all told he clearly over performs at this event. In a weak field, with a solid display behind him last week, I envisage him being on the premises once again. 7/2 to notch another Top 20 has a tasty look to it.
Defending champ Nick Taylor is much the likeliest winner of this section, and had he been 13/8 I would have got involved. 11/8 is currently tops though, so it’s a no play for me.
Top Continental Euro:
I had been looking to get Henrik Norlander on side this week, but nothing really stands out as must back material. Another who has contended more than once at Sea Island, and also has a recent runner up Torrey Pines to his name, this week’s test should really suit the Swede. The trouble is his recent run of decent results hasn’t been missed by the market makers, and 4/1 second favourite in this section just doesn’t have enough meat on it to get involved. Favourite Francesco Molinari has looked in decent shape himself since returning, his ball striking especially good. I can let this run.
As mentioned earlier, I feel Jason Day has become too short in the outright market. That led me to have another look at this section, but unfortunately that drastic shortening hasn’t really transferred across here. Matt Jones though belying it at the moment, just isn’t consistent enough to be taking 7/2 about. He was who I was looking to take Day on with.
In an extended version of this market, Top Australasian, the 18/1 on Aaron Baddeley held some appeal. He just hasn’t done enough since a promising showing at the Sony to draw me in again.
As it is, that is it for me for the week. I do feel they are 7 strong bets at the prices, and hopefully we can have better luck than in recent weeks. The tide will certainly turn, and no better place than at the beautiful Pebble Beach.
2pts ew Daniel Berger 14/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/PP/BFSB/365) (WON)
.9pt ew Kevin Streelman 35/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/PP/BFSB/365)
.4pt ew Branden Grace 80/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/Skybet/PP/BFSB)
Top GB & Ire:
5pts Russell Knox 9/2 (WH/365/SportNation) *7/2 and upwards acceptable
3pts Padraig Harrington 10/1 (WH/365/Unibet/Betway) *8/1 and upwards acceptable
Top 20 Finish:
5pts Michael Thompson 10/3 (WH/365/Betvictor/Betway) *3/1 and upwards acceptable 5pts Scott Stallings 7/2 (WH/Betvictor/Unibet/Betway) *3/1 and upwards acceptable
**I imagine both will be around the 7/2 mark on Betfair exchange when that market gains liquidity tomorrow evening
Running Totals 2021: