Iconic venues can bring out the best in elite players. Pebble Beach is one of the most famous courses in the world, and it has produced a list of champions befitting its reputation.
Jack Nicklaus won both the U.S. Amateur (1961) and U.S. Open (1972) here, a feat not replicated at the same course until last summer, when Matt Fitzpatrick won the U.S. Open at Brookline. Tom Watson provided one of the great highlights of major championship history when he chipped in at 17 on his way to winning the 1982 U.S. Open. Of course, Pebble was the site of perhaps the most dominant performance in championship golf history, when Tiger Woods steamrolled to a 15-stroke blowout at the 2000 U.S. Open (after winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier that year).
Jordan Spieth hasn’t had a major moment here yet, but he has found immense success at the annual PGA TOUR stop on the Monterey Peninsula. The 2017 champion has six top-10 finishes in 10 career starts at this tournament. Since 2014, Spieth is 102 strokes under par at this event, best of any player. Only Jason Day (-97) is within 30 shots of Spieth in relation to par during that span.
But Spieth hasn’t quite been his best self recently. His most recent top-10 was at last year’s Open Championship. In his most recent start, at the Sony Open in Hawaii, he became the first player in tournament history to go from the first-round lead to a missed cut. The season is still young, but Spieth currently ranks well outside the top 100 on TOUR in Scoring Average, Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green and Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green.
Can a return to one of his favorite courses bring about a booming return to form?
Over the last 40 years, there are more than 500 players who have played 15 or more rounds at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The man with the best scoring average in that group is Spieth (69.0 strokes per round). There are three courses in use this week – players will also compete on Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Country Club– and Spieth has had success on all of them, posting a career scoring average of 69.5 or better at each layout. Of all players with at least five tournament rounds on each course, Spieth is the only player with that distinction.
Spieth has excelled with his approach play at Pebble throughout his career, averaging a stout +1.23 Strokes Gained: Approach per round on the tournament’s main course, third-best among all qualified players over the last decade. Since his tournament debut in 2013, Spieth has recorded six rounds in which he’s gained at least two strokes on the field with his approach play. No one has had more.
ShotLink data doesn’t exist for play on the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am’s other venues, but the traditional metrics echo what the ShotLink data shows at Pebble Beach. Over the last 40 years, Spieth ranks second in greens in regulation (72.8%) across all courses in this event among players with 20 or more rounds.
Pebble Beach brings out the best in Spieth. He has averaged an excellent +1.12 Strokes Gained: Total per round in his professional career. That number has nearly doubled in 21 rounds at this event (+2.20). Spieth gains, on average, nearly four times as many strokes with his approach play per round at this course compared to his career average. All of those pristine approach shots have added up to 4.7 birdies-or-better per round, one of the best career averages all-time at this tournament.
Early season statistical returns
As last season’s schedule headed into the heart of the summer, Spieth was assembling a strong array of on-course metrics. He had won the RBC Heritage the week after the Masters and had a pair of runner-up finishes, as well (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, AT&T Byron Nelson). He ranked in the top 10 in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, Scrambling and in the FedExCup standings. His Strokes Gained: Approach per round was solidly inside the top 30. He was on pace for a third straight season where he’d seen improvement in that statistic.
Since the U.S. Open, though, those trends haven’t continued their upward climb. Spieth ranks 131st in Strokes Gained: Approach and 113th in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green since. Spieth had top-10 finishes in back-to-back weeks at the Scottish Open and The Open Championship, but hasn’t collected one since. He appeared to be well on his way to a big week at Waialae, but an erratic 75 in the second round sent him home despite leading after round one.
Aside from his success at Pebble Beach, there’s also promising bounce-back trend to look to for Spieth this week. Five of the last six times Spieth has missed a cut on the PGA TOUR, he’s responded with a top-20 finish in his next start. That includes one year ago at this event, when he finished second in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am after missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open.