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.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”