Stat attack!: AT&T Pebble Beach National preview

By John AntoniniFebruary 4, 2014, 11:00 pm

Unlike baseball, where a hot streak can be ended by the next day’s starting pitcher, momentum in golf is under the player’s control and can be extended from tournament to tournament, until finally, after weeks of coming close, a victory is celebrated. Billy Horschel is a perfect example. A year ago Horschel began his season with 12 straight cuts made. The first eight were nothing too special, the best being a T10 at Humana. He followed that with three straight top-10s (including a T-2 at Houston), and finally he rode that four-month momentum charge with a victory at the Zurich Classic, the first of his PGA Tour career.

There’s also the Brandt Snedeker method of riding momentum. In 2013, Sneds was second at the Farmers Insurance Open and the Waste Management Phoenix Open to become the first player to finish second in back-to-back weeks in four years. Unfazed by the close calls, he shot four rounds in the 60s at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for a tournament-record aggregate of 267 for his fifth career victory. The start to his year in 2013 is worth another look.

Brandt Snedeker’s start in 2013:

 Tournament  Place  Scores  To par  Money
 Hyundai TOC  3 70-70-69—209 -10 $432,000
 Humana  T-23 67-68-67-67—269 -19 $51,520
 Farmers  T-2 65-75-69-69—278 -10 $536,800
 Waste Management  2 64-66-65-65—260     -24 $669,600
 AT&T Pebble Beach  1 66-68-68-65—267 -19 $1,170,000

At the AT&T, Snedeker took advantage of the par-3 holes, averaging 2.76 strokes on the shorter holes at Monterey Peninsula CC, Spyglass Hill GC and Pebble Beach Golf Links. He ranked T-3 in the field, the fourth time in the last six years the winner of the AT&T has finished in the top five in par-3 scoring.

AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am champion in par-3 scoring average:

 Year  Winner Average Rank
 2013  Brandt Snedeker 2.76 T-3
 2012  Phil Mickelson 2.88 T-14
2011  D.A. Points 2.82 T-4
2010  Dustin Johnson 2.94  T-30
2009  Dustin Johnson 2.62 1
2008  Steve Lowery 2.53 1

So, who are this year’s hot players, and do any of them dominate the par-3 holes? There are nine players in the field who have made the cut in six straight starts in the 2013-14 season. Here’s how they have fared on the par-3 holes.

Par-3 scoring of AT&T competitors with at least six straight cuts made on Tour in 2013-14:

 Players  Consecutive cuts made  Par-3 scoring (rank)
 Charley Hoffman  7 2.95 (T-23)
 Brendon Todd  7 2.94 (T-20)
 Ken Duke  6 2.98 (T-37)
 Matt Every  6 2.98 (T-37)    
 Chris Kirk  6 3.04 (T-90)
 Bryce Molder  6 3.10 (T-134)
 Kevin Stadler  6 2.93 (T-16)    
 Pat Perez  6 3.01 (T-59)
 Seung-Yul Noh  6 3.06 (T-106)

None are in the top-10 on Tour, but Phoenix champion Kevin Stadler leads the group with a 2.93 scoring average. Pay attention, Stadler will be back later.

Hitting greens in regulation is also a priority at Pebble Beach, where the putting surfaces are on the smallish side. Snedeker hit 56 greens a year ago and was T-6 in the field. Six top-10 finishers were also in the top-10 in GIR.

Top-10 finishers at the 2013 AT&T Pebble, who were also in the top-10 in GIR:

 Player  Finish GIR
 Brandt Snedeker  Won T-6 (56)
 James Hahn  T-3 T-4 (57)
 Kevin Stadler  T-3 T-4 (57)
 Jason Day  6 1 (62)   
 Patrick Cantlay  T-9 T-10 (55)
 Retief Goosen  T-9 T-10 (55)

Snedeker was also sixth in scrambling last year at Pebble, an important factor in a tournament on a course with small greens. Six top-10 finishers were also in the top-10 in scrambling, with Snedeker and James Hahn finding their way on both lists.

What does it mean for this week? There are 14 players in the field who are hitting more than 70 percent of their greens in regulation this year and have a scrambling percentage of greater than 60 percent.

 Player  GIR percentage Scrambling percentage
 Briny Baird  74.27 65.91
 Pat Perez  70.74 65.82
 Spencer Levin  71.85 65.79
 Michael Thompson  70.37 64.58
 Nick Watney  70.83 63.81 
 Brendon Todd  74.80 63.78
 Chris Kirk  71.76 63.11
 Kevin Stadler  72.45 62.18
 Charley Hoffman  70.63 61.49
 Jimmy Walker  71.37 61.19
 Joe Durant  71.43 61.11   
 Brendan Steele  70.00 60.74
 Phil Mickelson  70.27 71.03
 John Senden  70.96 60.00

It’s a long list, but notice how many players were also mentioned on earlier lists in this column (there’s Stadler again). Let’s take a closer look at that group to see how they have fared at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am.

• Phil Mickelson; A four-time winner at Pebble Beach (1998, 2005, 2007, 2012), Mickelson has won 13 times on multi-course tournaments, but only once at such tournaments in the last six years.

• Charley Hoffman: Making his eighth start at the AT&T, Hoffman has finished no better than T14 the five times he made the cut.

• Brendon Todd: He was T9 in 2012 but like everyone on the leaderboard that year, fell victim to Phil’s final-round 64. He missed the cut in 2009 and 2013.

• Chris Kirk: The runner-up to Snedeker last year (130 on the weekend), missed the cut in 2011 and was T69 in 2009.

• Kevin Stadler: Could the junior Walrus win two in a row? Probably not, but he was T3 in 2013, his fifth cut made in seven AT&T starts.

• Pat Perez: Does he have the patience to handle the slow pace of play caused by the amateur competition? He has made 9 cuts in 11 starts, with a solo second in 2002 when he lost a four-stroke 54-hole lead with a final-round 76.

ONE FINAL NOTE: The last three winners of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am played their first two rounds on the outside courses and played Pebble Beach on Saturday and Sunday. All three improved their scores from Saturday to Sunday quite a bit. Snedeker went from 68 to 65 in 2013, Mickelson went from 70 to 64 in 2012 and Points went from 71 to 67 in 2011.

If you haven’t already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc.

Getty Images

Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

Getty Images

Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

Getty Images

McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

Getty Images

Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.