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Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

Confident Kentucky man set to fry his rivals

Healthy Holmes looks perfect fit for Pebble Beach

JB Holmes bagged more birdies than anyone in Phoenix last week
1 of 1

Starts 5pm Thursday
Liv on Sky Sports 4 from 8pm

Palmer's top tip
JB Holmes 40-1
Three of the top six players in the world are lining up in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, a tournament which can seriously test the patience of professionals if their amateur partner is overwhelmed by the occasion.

Amateurs tee up alongside the US Tour stars, meaning rounds can take an age to complete, and punters should support those with the right temperament for the challenge. Humble and cheerful Kentucky man, JB Holmes, is a perfect fit.

Holmes is loving life being healthy again after losing the best part of three years to injury and illness, including two brain-surgery procedures and a broken ankle. Last season he contended in the Masters and Open before making an excellent Ryder Cup debut for the triumphant USA team at Hazeltine, meaning he has never been more confident in his ability.

Holmes was first on the US Tour for driving distance last term, averaging almost 315 yards off the tee, and he can join the list of power-packed Pebble Beach champions in a week when the course has been drenched by recent rain.

Holmes was 16th on his Pebble Beach debut in 2007, runner-up to Dustin Johnson in 2010, and he has posted three other top-15 finishes there since. He made more birdies than anyone in Phoenix last week (25), signing off with a 67, and is a four-time US Tour champion who is well capable of upsetting the more fashionable names.

Next best
Jordan Spieth 9-1
Jason Day, so slow that he might end up annoying his amateur partner, flopped at Torrey Pines last time out and has made an unconvincing start to the year. Dual Pebble champion Dustin Johnson must be respected, but he has been poor on and around the greens in his two 2017 Stateside spins.

Jordan Spieth is the most appealing of the market leaders. He has not managed to combine all departments of his game in three tournaments this year – driving was the problem in Phoenix last week – but he looks close to making everything click.

Spieth seems more settled with his technique and equipment than Day and Johnson. Day has been working on shortening his back-swing, while Johnson tested a new driver and putter for half of the Abu Dhabi Championship.

Spieth has been grinding since the end of November, winning the Australian Open, then following up with sixth in the Hero Challenge, third in both the Hawaii events, then ninth in Phoenix. He appears to be ahead of his rivals in terms of getting his game in order for the early months of the year. There will be no excuses if he fails to produce a competitive 72-hole total at Pebble.

The Texan carded four under-par rounds for 22nd place on his Pebble debut in 2013, finishing fourth, seventh and 21st in subsequent visits.

The soaked poa annua greens are full of lumps and bumps this week, but Spieth is a brilliant feel putter who can handle any putting surface, as he proved when winning the US Open on the poa-infested dancefloors of Chambers Bay. He admits poa annua is his least favourite green type, but his record on them is not that bad, and the former world number one can rise to the challenge at Pebble. The greens are small and finding them in the right number is the key to success. Spieth tops the US Tour greens in regulation statistics.

Other selections
Cameron Smith 100-1
Daniel Summerhays 175-1
Two US Tour maidens are worth chancing at big prices for a tournament which has thrown up shock breakthrough victories for Matt Gogel, Arron Oberholser and DA Points since the turn of the century. Cameron Smith is particularly interesting.

Smith, who was fourth behind Spieth in the 2015 US Open, suffered with illness last year and lost his US Tour card. The Aussie youngster won it straight back in the Tour Finals, though, and is going from strength to strength. This healthy and increasingly confident US Tour performer finished 11th at Pebble Beach last year and is well suited to the assignment.

Daniel Summerhays got back in the groove last week with 16th place in Phoenix, rediscovering the sort of form which saw him finish eighth in the US Open last year and third in the USPGA. Pebble looks another decent chance for the 33-year-old, an excellent putter, to make a breakthrough.

Others to note
Jon Rahm
The Spanish youngster won the Farmers Insurance Open in grand style the week before last, then finished 16th in Phoenix on Sunday. Anything is possible for this world-class talent.

Brandt Snedeker
A final-round flop in the Farmers suggested swing changes have not bedded in. California is a happy hunting ground, though, and he has twice won this event (2013, 2015).

Phil Mickelson
The darling of American galleries has won four times at Pebble Beach and almost made that five last year. Lefty has made a bright start to 2017 after close-season hernia surgery.

Justin Rose
Followed second place in the Sony Open with fourth place at Torrey Pines to start the new year in strong fashion. Greens in regulation machine impossible to ignore.

Patrick Reed
The Ryder Cup star has been flat since his Hazeltine heroics and he was tailed off over the weekend in Phoenix. When will the spark return?

Patrick Cantlay
The former amateur ace has had his career on hold since May, 2013, when a back injury demanded a long spell on the sidelines. Californian had massive potential prior to that.

Staking plan
JB Holmes
2pts each-way 40-1 Paddy Power
J Spieth
2pts each-way 9-1 general
C Smith
1pt each-way 100-1 general
D Summerhays
0.5pt each-way 175-1 bet365

Tournament lowdown

Courses Pebble Beach Golf Links, Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Spyglass Hill Golf Club, Pebble Beach, California
Prize money $7.2m ($1.26m to the winner)
Lengths Pebble Beach 6,816 yards, Monterey Peninsula 6,958 yards, Spyglass Hill 6,953 yards
Par Pebble and Spyglass both 72, Monterey 71
Field 156

Course records – 72 holes 267 Brandt Snedeker (2013) 18 holes Pebble 62 Tom Kite (1983), David Duval (1997) Monterey 60 Sung Kang (2016) Spyglass 62 Phil Mickelson (2005), Luke Donald (2006)

Course winners taking part Phil Mickelson (four times), Vijay Singh, Dustin Johnson (twice), DA Points, Brandt Snedeker (twice), Jimmy Walker, Vaughn Taylor

When to bet By 5pm Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 8pm Thursday

Time difference California is eight hours behind the UK and Ireland

Last week – Phoenix Open 1 H Matsuyama (11-1), 2 W Simpson (80-1), 3 L Oosthuizen (80-1), T4 R Fowler (35-1), JJ Spaun (225-1), 6 B H An (110-1), T7 D Berger (80-1), M Laird (80-1)

Course overview
This pro-am is always played over three different courses, with 36 holes of competition at the Pebble Beach Links (which has been used since 1947) and 18 apiece on the other two. Poppy Hills was on the rotation from 1991 to 2009 but was replaced by Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Spyglass Hill has been involved every year since 1967 apart from 1977. Pebble Beach hosted its first Major in 1972 (US Open), the 1977 USPGA, then four further US Opens since, most recently in 2000 (won by Tiger Woods) and 2010 (Graeme McDowell). The set-up is obviously considerably harder for Majors than the pro-am, where scoring averages at Pebble and Monterey are usually slightly under par. Spyglass is the most difficult of the three venues, nearly always averaging over par. Monterey has been lengthened slightly this year, but should still play easier than Spyglass. Every competitor in the event is partnered with an amateur.

Story of last year Vaughn Taylor ended a decade-long victory drought with a final-round 65, pipping four-time Pebble champion Phil Mickelson

Weather forecast Sporadic showers over the first two days, before a sunny weekend. Light breezes throughout

Type of player suited to challenge
Dustin Johnson dominated this event for two years, topping the driving distance statistics when winning in 2010, so Pebble Beach can clearly be slain by powerhouses. Mark O'Meara is a five-time Pro-Am champion, proving that short-hitters can succeed with quality ball-striking and finesse around the greens, but the evidence of recent winners (Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Davis Love, Tiger Woods and Jimmy Walker) suggests Pebble and Spyglass Hill can easily be overwhelmed by long drivers. DA Points won in 2011 through topping the putting statistics (a red-hot flat-stick can hide a multitude of sins) and dancefloor ace Brandt Snedeker triumphed in 2015. Birdie chances must be converted on tracks which are set up for low scoring

Key attribute Accuracy

Holmes made more birdies than anyone in Phoenix last week and is a four-time US Tour champion who is well capable of upsetting the more fashionable names
E.W. Terms
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