(CBS SF) — The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am will temporarily succumb to the limitations of COVID this year. An event that usually teams up PGA Tour pros and celebrity amateurs will be formatted more like the typical tournament. Hollywood stars and athletes from other sports won’t be on hand. Neither will fans, for that matter. Instead, it will be players against course.
Or multiple courses. The Pebble Beach Pro-Am is usually played across three tracks. But this week the rotation is reduced to two — Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course. Pebble Beach will be the focus, however. Hugging the rocky central California coastline along the shores of Carmel Bay, its awe-inspiring views off of Monterey Peninsula never seem to end. The historic course, recognized as one of the sport’s iconic venues, has been challenging golfers for a century.
According to CBS Sports golf analyst Frank Nobilo, “if you were to grab a handful of the most iconic courses, you would throw in obviously St. Andrews, the home of golf. You would throw in Augusta National, Pinehurst, Royal Melbourne and Pebble Beach for the top five to play for various reasons.”
When Pebble Beach Golf Links hosts, it is always a major storyline. Though it’s not the only storyline. The field for this week’s tournament does not include anyone in the world’s top 10. Dustin Johnson, the number one-ranked player and a two-time winner here, recently pulled out of the event. He was a strong favorite. Patrick Cantlay, at 11, will now be the top-ranked player. He’s followed by No. 14 Daniel Berger and No. 17 Paul Casey. The field only includes five players ranked in the top 50.
But the relative lack of big names could create an opportunity for an up-and-comer. “I’ve been high on this young player called Will Zalatoris,” says Nobilo. “He’s phenomenal. And he’s had this sort of run of finishes inside the top 10. He came close last week. So I look at talented players like that. Sam Burns is another one that’s in good form.”
It also gives older players a shot. Phil Mickelson has won this event five times, most recently in 2019. Jim Furyk has five top-10 finishes at Pebble Beach over his long career.
And then there are the younger, experienced players looking to climb back to the rankings heights they once enjoyed. Jordan Spieth, three-time major winner and former world No. 1, hasn’t won since 2017. Pebble Beach was the first of three events he took that year. His current position at 69 is actually up 23 spots thanks to a strong showing at the Phoenix Open. His T4 at the Waste Management Open leaves many wondering, again, if his future is looking up.
“I’m very curious, like everybody else, to see what Jordan Spieth does,” says Nobilo. Is it an aberration, what happened in Phoenix, or is this really the start of him turning the corner and getting out of the abyss? He’s putting the work in. Hopefully it’s the latter.”
Jason Day (48th) and Rickie Fowler (63rd) have also seen their fortunes fade in recent years.
Pebble Beach Golf Links may be the star of this week’s event. The championship-quality track is one of the most scenic and visually stunning settings found anywhere on the PGA Tour. It’s a par-72 measuring 7,051 yards. While Pebble Beach is one of the shorter courses on the Tour, it also presents plenty of challenges.
Some of the more spectacular holes — the memorable par-3 No. 7 and the stunning par-4 No. 8 among them — are the stuff dreams are made of. But perhaps the best example of what awaits players is Pebble Beach’s eighth, ninth and 10th holes. This series of strong par-4s along the water can set up players for a strong finish or ruin a contender’s chances.
“I think eight, nine and 10 are, collectively, the best three par-4s in the world in a row,” says Nobilo. “Not only is it a fine piece of property, it’s just three beautiful par-4s in a row that are very different, and yet they just blend in so beautifully together.”
But Pebble Beach has so much more. “Twelve is a good par-3 down the hill, which is strong,” says Nobilo. “And then 17 and 18, which is the picturesque finish. Seventeen has that hourglass-shaped green on an angle that makes it really difficult. It will be interesting to see how long they get it to play on Sunday this year because it’s just pros. They should push that tee back.”
The lack of amateurs will allow for a more difficult course setup. “Normally, you’ll have to have hole locations or pin placements that are a little easier to get at,” notes Nobilo. “You’ll actually have setups that should be a little closer to a U.S. Open (played at the course in 2019), when you saw a Pebble Beach where some of the holes were a little harder to get to. You still have the same fantastic vistas. You get a very good feel too, consequently.”
Patrick Cantlay (15-2)
Cantlay, ranked 11th in the world, finished second in his last tournament, The American Express a few weeks ago. He finished 11th in AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am last year, but his best showing was ninth in 2013. Cantlay tied for 21st at the 2019 U.S. Open held at Pebble Beach. In the last three months, Cantlay has averaged and impressive 2.55 strokes gained per round.
Daniel Berger (14-1)
Berger is the world’s 14th-ranked player. While he missed the cut in Phoenix, he had three top-10 showings in his previous three events. Berger finished fifth at Pebble Beach in 2020, but only tied for 49th in the 2019 U.S. Open.
Paul Casey (16-1)
Casey, the world’s 17th-ranked player, notched a T8 in his only appearance of 2021. He’s placed inside the top 10 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two of the last three years, but only finished tied for 21st in the 2019 U.S. Open.
Watch the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Saturday, February 13, 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. ET and Sunday, February 14, 3:00 – 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS.