AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Rory looks ready

Rory McIlroy can taste victory again
Rory McIlroy can taste victory again
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Dave Tindall previews this week's PGA Tour event - the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California...

"Having won an Open and a US PGA at Kiawah Island he can thrive by the coast too."

Main Bet: Back Rory McIlroy e.w. @ 11/1

Each-way terms: 1/5 odds, 7 places

Main Bet: Back Rory McIlroy e.w. @ 11/1

There's a saying in golf that great players win at great places and that's why I want to play Rory McIlroy in this week's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the beautiful Monterey Peninsula in California.

There is an obvious reason to swerve Rory this week as his one experience of Pebble produced a missed cut in the 2010 U.S. Open. There's also no real way to brush that aside given that he was T10 in the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage and famously won it by eight at Congressional in 2011.

But look at the list of winners at Pebble and you'll find Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.

Rory belongs in that company at his best and we might just be seeing the golf that has won him four majors emerge again.

After a three-month absence and re-boot over Christmas, Rory looks refreshed and re-energised.

It's shown in his play and in two starts so far he's already 40-under par from eight rounds after taking tied third in Abu Dhabi and finishing runner-up in Dubai.

True, they came on desert courses where traditionally he's excelled but having won an Open and a US PGA at Kiawah Island he can thrive by the coast too.

One thing that I like this week is the excellent weather forecast - lots of sun and little wind. That's not to say he can't battle away in the grotty stuff but it means there's no chance of him being on the wrong side of the draw. It's a level playing field and Rory has beautiful conditions in which to shine.

Pebble will play much easier than it does in U.S. Opens due to the presence of the amateurs and Rory's record in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship (three second places and a third) shows he enjoys a bit of 'giggle golf'.

I expect McIlroy to say he's died and gone to heaven when seeing the courses this week. After his strong start to the season, it looks a great venue for him to take the next step and get back into the winner's circle.

Conventional wisdom says it helps to have a few cracks at this event but Rory, like the other elite players, doesn't conform to an average derived from much lesser talents.

It's certainly a hot front end of the market as Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth are both winners of this event while Jon Rahm was fifth on his debut last year.

Jason Day, the winner at Torrey Pines, has a Pebble CV showing four top sixes.

I'm not ruling any of them out but this week I'm nailing my colours to Rory. It's been too long for a player of his class to go without a trophy and he's a bigger price to win here (no scar tissue or demons) than he is The Masters (8/1).


Next Best: Back Pat Perez e.w. @ 35/1

I've got three players around the 28/1-35/1 mark that interest me but I'll side with Pat Perez ahead of Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed.

Mickelson is a four-time winner at Pebble and played some fine golf to finish top five at Phoenix last week, another of his favourite venues.

Perhaps at this stage in his career, just backing Phil at places of former glory is the way to go, in which case he's a legitimate bet here and at Augusta.

Reed has strong Pebble results of 23-6-29-13-7 and was T17 at TPC Scottsdale last week so boasts a nice mix of course and current form.

But it's Perez who is the strongest pull.

Think of Perez and Pebble and the strongest memory is of his meltdown in 2002 when losing it completely at the last and smashing his driver into the turf after driving out-of-bounds to run up a triple and finish second.

But that was then and this is now.

He's still walking to a different drum compared to most on Tour but it's a much more settled Perez we see these days and the obvious talent has been allowed to flourish.

Open up the world rankings and there's not much of a scroll before you get to 'Pat Perez' at No. 19.

After winning the CIMB Classic in October and adding a top five at the CJ Cup, PP started the calendar year with fourth place at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

He then used his new status as a world top 20 player to go travelling and finished T21 in the Singapore Open and T29 in the Dubai Desert Classic.

Speaking in Dubai, he explained: "I've got an incredible group with me. My wife's amazing. I signed with a new agency with Carlos and Irek at Impact Point. My caddie has been with me since high school and my coach, Drew; I have a great circle going on.

"I signed with PXG a couple years ago which I find is the greatest clubs in the world. I really enjoy having a company behind me that I haven't really had in the past.

"I don't know, I'm at a different point in life. I'll be 42 in March, and, I don't know, life just seems different. Everything off the course, such peace, we have a baby coming in September. So I just have a whole different outlook at 41 than I did at 24."

Return trips to Pebble have shown his obvious liking for the place as he's made 13 of 15 cuts. The last four years have produced T4 in 2015, T7 in 2014 and T14 last year.

It's a great venue for him to keep his hot play going and I'm happy to get involved at 35/1.


Outsider: Back Scott Stallings e.w. @ 200/1

Finally, I'm going to throw a bit of a dart at Scott Stallings at a massive price.

The American already has on his CV a win in a top-class field on the California coast. That came in the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and, to prove it was no fluke, he returned there to finish runner-up when defending 12 months later.

He had no luck in this tournament in his early visits when missing the cut in 2011 and 2012 but he'd failed to make the weekend in two tries at the Farmers Insurance before suddenly going 1-2.

He didn't quite produce the same turnaround in this event but last year Stallings returned to Pebble to post an encouraging tied 14th. He'd been in the top six with 18 to play following a 65 on day three at Monterey Peninsula.

Apart from location, the other common thread between Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach is the Poa Annua grass.

Stallings is ranked sixth on the Future of Fantasy's table of Poa Specialists so he's had stronger performances overall on these bumpier surfaces than other greens.

A three-time PGA Tour winner, Stallings knows how to get it done and looks to be rounding into some nice form after a top 25 in Phoenix last week.

He was excellent for three of the days (69, 65, 67) but was undone by a Saturday 74 after sitting fifth at halfway.

Speaking after that 6-under-par lap on Friday, the 32-year-old responded to a question about his modest results up to that point this season. "Yeah, it stinks because we kind of play a result-oriented sport, but it was kind of like, oh, where have you been?

"It's like, I've been working hard. Nothing really changed, it's just a matter of seeing some putts go in and driving it a little bit better and I've been able to do that this week."

Stallings will never win an award for consistency but when he's on, the American will give you more hope of landing a coup than others at massive prices.

Dave's 2017/18 PGA Tour P/L (based on £5 e/w per selection outrights, £10 win top 5s/10s)

Staked: £370
Returned: £825
P/L: +£455

(After the Waste Management Phoenix Open)

2016/2017:
P/L: +£1179.89

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