Jordan Spieth won his ninth PGA Tour title at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday, returning a bogey-free final round of 70 to post an overall total of -19 and a four shot margin of victory over Kelly Kraft, with former winners Dustin Johnson (-14) and Brandt Snedeker (-13) behind in third and fourth spots respectively. With this victory, ‘Heir Jordan’ jumps to 3rd in the 2017 FedEx Cup standings and becomes the second youngest player since WWII to win nine times on the PGA Tour (behind only Tiger Woods) and the player with the joint most number of wins on Tour in the span since 2013 (tied with Jason Day).
Jordan had produced some promising signs recently, beginning the year with consecutive third place finishes in the two Hawaii events, followed by another top-ten in Phoenix, but nobody should be surprised if Jordan turns up and wins whatever his form. His previous results at Pebble had been encouraging and this week he inevitably secured another one of his bucket list titles. All facets of Spieth’s game are in formidable shape, but the putter remains the ultimate decisive weapon, the lengthy birdie attempt holed on 17 to effectively put the win beyond doubt being a prime example, followed by the arguably even more impressive longer attempt on the 18th that just shaved the edge of the cup. Jordan expects to make make putts from anywhere and is one of the few players who consistently sends his ball rolling with that threatening ‘go-in’ look. When Jordan gets to the Augusta press room I hope that when fielding the inevitable questions regarding number 12 that he plainly responds: “if I play here like I have played here before then I have a great chance to win”. He is the favourite at Augusta by miles and miles.
As for the tournament itself, the circus referenced above is to highlight the travesty of what should be one of the most enjoyable spectator events of the season overshadowed by the wearisome fiasco that has become the Pro-Am. The antics of Bill Murray are just not funny anymore (actually they never were) and any professional who tells you that playing with high handicap amateurs does not distract them is lying. Staging a tournament on three different courses with a final day cut in the professional event in itself creates a disjointed format and would not be necessary in a standard tournament format. Similar to the annual European Tour tournament with St Andrews as its focal point, the obvious argument in its favour is that celebrities playing with pros is good for the profile of the sport. The organisers will argue that the amateurs are under instructions to pick up and get out of the way if they have taken too many shots and are delaying the progress of the hole. Some of the celebrities also use their involvement in golf to raise money for charity, which is obviously great. But, still, this is an era in which the golf authorities are actively trying to speed up the game, get more people watching and get more people playing. I fail to see how Bill Murray dressed like and acting like a clown along with six hour rounds of golf are going to achieve this. What spectators really want is to watch great golf being played by the best players in the world Thursday to Sunday. Wednesday is Pro-Am day and that is how it should stay.
If they are going to continue with the Pro-Am format I would propose a different set of rules where the celebrities would be at most ‘senior-scratch’ level, i.e. maximum handicaps of 5. This would keep the likes of Justin Timberlake (4), Kenny G (4), Andy Roddick (3), Jake Owen (3) and Kelly Slater (3) involved, whilst eliminating the ridicule brought to the table by hackers such as Ray Romano, Bill Belichick, Condoleezza Rice and Bill Murray. Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Andy Garcia and Kelly Rohrbach are admirably all on the brink with handicaps of 7, but I am afraid that under my proposal this is still not good enough to co-exist with the best players in the world in a serious professional event where world ranking points, FedEx Cup points and careers are all at stake. If insufficient low-handicap celebrity players are around to fill the spaces, then fine – simply scrap the Pro-Am altogether and stage a proper tournament, the kind of tournament that the famous peninsula deserves. Speaking of which, a further point worth noting is that Pebble Beach will again host the US Open in June 2019, meaning that the top players may want to play in a competitive environment at Pebble Beach over the next couple of seasons. I would hope that a potential 2019 US Open winner is not discouraged from undertaking valuable groundwork by ‘Larry the Cable Guy’ and his hazardous slice. This week’s European Tour event, the The World Super 6 Perth, is an interesting alternative attempt at innovation in competitive professional golf and note that there is no reliance on celebrity tomfoolery to enhance the event’s appeal. We will see come next Sunday if the format achieves its objectives.
Scramble Picks – Genesis Open at Riviera: My last prediction for an outside each way windfall was Kyle Stanley in Phoenix. A T36 result was not embarrassing, but nonetheless a disappointing return. This week I am looking for Charles Howell III at 66/1 to do some damage high up the leaderboard. He is in decent form following his recent second place finish at Torrey Pines and he won here at Riviera in 2007. You would be a fool not to.