The future is bright but the future does not look like being Tiger Woods which means there is a vacancy for an iconic golfer and Dustin Johnson could step up to the plate. He is the worthy favourite for this week’s Pro-Am at Pebble Beach in a format that suits his laid back nature. Jimmy Walker and JB Holmes are much less high profile but they have the skills to give Johnson a run for his money this week.
The European Tour is in Malaysia for the Maybank Championship. The event is in its second year but the host course at Saujana Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur will provide familiar demands in weather conditions that are alien to the European contingent. Bernd Wieseberger, Gregory Bourdy and Pablo Larrazabal are the players to back against a relatively moderate field that does include Danny Willett.
The Maybank Championship is in fact the tournament that has replaced the Malaysian Open played in Kuala Lumpur. Lee Westwood is a two-times winner with his victories spanning 17 years (1997 and 2014) and he is back for more. Willett is still not at his best after the traumas at the Ryder Cup but played four rounds in Dubai last week, unlike Woods who only completed one. However, the two high profile players are overlooked with our three against the field who have the right profile.
Woods won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in his prime when he was winning major championships for fun. His return to the sport over the last two weeks has seen a missed cut and the debacle of an opening round of 77 in the Dubai Desert Classic. Woods withdrew from the tournament complaining of back spasms but surely he is fighting a losing battle and its time to put himself out of misery by retiring.
The former world number one has won 14 major championships but he has been stuck on that number since 2008. He now has no hope of overhauling Jack Nicklaus’s record total of 18 and even winning a regular tournament looks beyond him in his current physical condition. The Masters is now his best chance of winning another major but there must be a transformation in his game and condition for that to happen.
Johnson like Woods has had issues off the course with certain lifestyle choices but has got his career back on track after a sabbatical. The 2016 US Open champion is a two-times winner at Pebble Beach and has a game suited to the course and personality that is a good fit for the format that brings together pros and amateur and sometimes celebrity partners. Rounds can last an age and a player must have patience to maintain form when all around him are hacking around the host courses.
A pro-am is unique to the sport of golf and you never see tennis players, cricketers or footballers competing in the same event as people who play these sports as hobbies. The Pebble Beach version is played on three courses in the area with the final round taking place at the famous Pebble Beach course. These are proper courses, much tougher than those usually used for pro-am events. 180 professionals play each of the courses with an amateur partner over the first three days and the top 60 professionals and 20 teams then play Pebble Beach on Sunday.
Overall due to the nature of the courses the key skills for good scoring are driving distance, hitting greens in the correct number of shots and putts per round. Johnson has an ideal profile in this context, won the event in 2009 and 2010 and has now won his first major championship. Another key element of his credentials is his temperament. He won’t be phased by amateurs making a pig’s ear of shots and can maintain his concentration to win the Pebble Beach Pro-Am for the third time.
Holmes and Walker are viable alternatives to make the payout places on all known form criteria. Walker’s game is all about putting the ball in the right areas but he is not short off the tee. Holmes would be classed as a big hitter who putts well and he has a solid record at Pebble Beach. Woods won’t be winning golf tournaments any time soon and his days look numbered. Johnson is now in good shape to reach the pinnacle of the game and that process can begin at Pebble Beach on Sunday.