(CBS San Francisco) — The PGA Tour returns to the California coast this week for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Big names dot the field, including Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day. Storylines are beginning to form as the Tour ramps up in the new year and the new decade. Yet the focus, as it always is at this event, remains on the setting itself.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course and Monterrey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore Course set challenging holes within coastal terrain and against breathtaking coastal vistas for maybe golf’s most picturesque tournament. “It is the Mecca of American golf,” according to longtime CBS Sports golf anchor Jim Nantz. “It’s public. It’s spectacular in its beauty. Its ties to the history of the game run deep.”
Of the tournament’s three courses, Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill are both par-72s, while the Shore Course is a par-71. All three measure somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 yards. Accuracy matters more than distance at Pebble Beach. With greens smaller than those typically found on Tour and winds that can kick up at any time, length isn’t necessarily an asset. Approach shots become a challenge.
Perhaps the best — and most recognizable — example of what awaits the players is Pebble Beach’s eighth, ninth and tenth holes. This series of strong par-4s along the water can set up players for a strong finish or ruin a contender’s chances.
The instantly recognizable eighth hole, which extends only 418 yards, “…has arguably the greatest second shot in golf,” in Nantz’s opinion. “Your second shot must fly over this giant chasm, with Carmel Beach down below, to a tiny putting surface. And you’re coming in there with a medium iron. It’s a long-ish shot by today’s standards.”
The ninth, at 466 yards, may be the course’s hardest hole. The fairway tilts toward the coast, making approaches difficult to judge. “Nine is just a long, difficult test,” Nantz stresses, “impossible to get close and to. Pars are hard-earned.”
Ten is 446 yards long and wraps up this famous stretch of holes. “…You’re really jutting out over Carmel Bay and Carmel Beach,” Nantz points out. “And if you’re able to stay focused for long enough and not lose concentration by being completely awestruck by the beauty of it, then 10 is a little bit easier than eight and nine. But it’s not simple task.”
Pebble Beach boasts some of the PGA Tour’s great champions. From this year’s field, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson have both won here. Mickelson is the defending champion. Johnson last won at Pebble Beach back in 2010. Both are viable contenders for this year’s title as well.
Mickelson last won on the PGA Tour a year ago at this event, his fifth Pebble Beach title. A winner of 44 PGA Tour events and five majors, the golf legend has seen his world ranking drop to 72nd from 17th in the last year. He is coming off a third-place tie at the Saudi International. “I happened to see Phil two weeks ago in San Diego, and in his own words, he’s hitting the ball better than he has in years,” Nantz confirms. “He is highly optimistic about what this year is going to bring for him. He’s hitting it farther than he did a year ago. And I expect we’re going to see another great tournament from him at Pebble Beach.”
Johnson bested Mickelson by one stroke in Saudi Arabia, but fell two strokes short of winner Graeme McDowell. The world’s number-five player also boasts a strong history at Pebble Beach, with two wins among his eight top-10 finishes. Johnson can drive the ball as far as anyone on the PGA Tour. The courses at Pebble, however, don’t necessarily reward length. “What it proves is that Dustin has a complete game,” Nantz says. “He has all the shots. When he is in peak form, he is as fascinating, or as exhilarating and exciting to watch as anybody there is in the sport. His record here is phenomenal. And I know he’s glad to be coming back here.”
Jason Day, like Mickelson, has slipped 30-plus spots in the rankings over the last year. But also like Lefty, his future holds out hope for some more great golf. The former world number one has struggled with injuries in recent years. He still has six top-10 finishes at Pebble Beach on his resume. “Jason Day would love to have a great week here,” notes Nantz. “If he did, it wouldn’t surprise anybody. If he doesn’t, that doesn’t mean anything. He’s liable to go win five times this year. He has that kind of game and that kind of talent. It would be great to see him competing for a trophy again, if that’s what develops this week.”
Some of the PGA Tour’s biggest names are set to square off in one of the PGA Tour’s marquee events. They’ll look to take their place (possibly again) among the esteemed list of champions at Pebble Beach. “It’s been such a good postcard through the years,” Nantz confirms, “for the sport, for the PGA Tour, for the best to perform here at their highest level.”
Here are the favorites:
Dustin Johnson (13/2)
DJ is the highest-ranked player in the field and has a long history of strong showings at Pebble Beach. His wins here came very early in his career. though he’s placed second twice in the intervening decade. Expect to see Johnson in the mix come Sunday.
Patrick Cantlay (9/1)
Cantlay, at eighth in the world, is the only other top-10 player at Pebble Beach. A ninth-place finish was his best at the event, but that was back in 2013. He did finish fourth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions a month ago, however.
Paul Casey (16/1)
Casey is ranked 20th in the world. But he placed second at Pebble Beach last year and eighth the year before.
The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am airs Saturday, February 8 (3:00 – 6:00 pm ET) and Sunday, February 9 (3:00 – 6:30 pm ET) on CBS.