In a tournament featuring a marquee course and a marquee field, the two most closely-watched players could be a pair of big names coming off a victory in their last PGA Tour event: World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, and World No. 1 at this time last year, Jason Day.
Dustin Johnson has an impressive history in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, winning in back-to-back years, 2009 and 2010, adding a runner-up in 2014 when he fell one stroke short of Jimmy Walker. He also finished solo-third in this event last year, and a T4 in 2015.
Clearly, this is a course where the best golfer in the world feels extraordinarily comfortable.
“I just really enjoy coming here. I enjoy the courses, they’re a lot of fun to play. This event is a special event. You get an amateur partner, you play with one other pro and his partner, it’s just a lot of fun,” said Johnson.
“Especially if you have a good partner and you have a good group. It’s a lot of fun out here, especially when the weather is like this, it doesn’t get any better.”
Perhaps an even better reason to expect another Pebble Beach championship run is DJ’s incredible recent form. In his last PGA Tour event, Johnson absolutely obliterated a stacked field at the year-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions, riding a 66-65 weekend to an 8-stroke romp over Jon Rahm.
He was unbelievably good tee-to-green in Hawaii, and co-led the field in birdies while also carding the second-fewest bogeys.
“I think I’m in a really good place. The game feels really good. I got a lot of confidence in it. I’m looking forward to the rest of this year,” said Johnson, in the understatement of the day.
In the month since that rout at Kapalua, DJ has not just been doing shots of pasion azteca off the immaculate midsection of his supermodel fiancee, he has been keeping form by playing in the UAE, finishing T9 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC-Championship.
While not as dominant as DJ over the past 12-24 months, former World No.1, and current World No. 10, Jason Day is coming off his first victory in 20 months, when he outlasted 10-time Euro Tour champion Alex Noren in a six-hole playoff at Torrey Pines at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“It was nice to get the win at Torrey Pines. It felt like it was a very long time, which it kind of was, but to be able to get that win early in the year, get my year started right, I was highly motivated to practice last week, get work done, didn’t really take much time off at all,” said Day.
“I finished Monday with the playoff and got back to work on Tuesday, went to the gym Tuesday, practiced Tuesday. So obviously I really want to try and get out and win this week because there are a lot of great players here.
“A win here could propel myself up in the world rankings pretty quickly. So that’s the way that I want to start the year off is that way.”
After a very disappointing 2017 season based on his lofty standards, finally getting back into the winner’s circle is a huge deal for Day, a man who won eight tournaments between the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
“Last year was a pretty big disappointment for me. Even though I made TOUR Championship, I think I finished 17th in the FedExCup. Yeah, having no wins is not where I want to be. I want to be able to be a consistent winner on the TOUR each year, kind of what Dustin’s done over the last 10, 11 years, being very, very consistent,” continued Day.
“He’s won a lot. 17 wins in that time frame is pretty special. But looking back at it you see all these young guys coming out and winning, so it’s very motivating when you’re sitting there on your butt and nothing’s really happening.
“So you just, you got to either do two things, you either got to quit or you got to work hard. Fortunately I worked hard in the off-season and got off to a great start.”
A troublesome back is still a threat to circumscribe Day’s ridiculous potential, but if it holds up this week, something which very nearly did not happen at Torrey Pines, Day is a good bet to contend at Pebble Beach, a place where he has had success in recent years, including a T5 in the most recent edition and a T4 in 2015.
“I’ve had some decent finishes here over the last few years. I feel like I play well here, whether it’s good weather or bad weather. Which is nice. I think it’s, fingers crossed, we’re going to have some pretty decent weather the rest of the week,” said Day.