The Safeway Open
After a barren summer we finished our 2019/20 PGA season in style with our second winner in as many weeks as our 12/1 selection Xander schauffele topped the ’72 hole score without starting strokes’ market for us at the Tour Championship.
While there was some inevitable back nine tension for us in the end Xander closed things out fairly comfortably by three strokes from a fast finishing Scottie Scheffler.
The main Tour Championship and Fedex Cup prize went to Dustin Johnson who after starting the week in first place on -10 never really looked like being past despite the odd wobble.
As a result, while the pundits in the commentary box looked to put a dramatic spin on proceedings, we basically got what you would expect when you give two or three of the best players in the world a head start - an event, which only a small handful of players could ever realistically win and which was pretty predictable from beginning to end…If we get the same again next year I suspect that may well be when the Tour decide to revisit the system.
So with the dust barely settling in our three day ‘off season’ break we go from Atlanta, Georgia, we go approximately 2500 miles west to Napa for The Safeway Open and the opening event of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season.
As a result of the revised schedule due to the Covid-19 pandemic the 20/21 PGA Tour season will take in approximately 50 tournaments including six majors. Not unsurprisingly it is already being labelled a ‘Super Season’!
The opening event The Safeway Open was first staged as The Fry’s Electronics Open in 2007. The following year the event was renamed the Fry’s.com Open.
In 2010 the event then moved from its initial home in Arizona to the CordeValle Club in San Martin, California, before finally arriving at its current home, The Silverado Country Club in Napa, for the 2014-15 season.
The event was then renamed The Safeway Open for the 2016-17 season.
With the first of the six Majors scheduled for the season taking place next week at Winged Foot in New York not unsurprisingly the field this week is a pretty week one.
Of the 30 players who made last weeks Tour Championship not one has chosen to make the trek across country with even defending champ Cameron Champ choosing not to play.
At the time of writing the market is headed up by the in form Si Woo Kim and recent Champions Tour victor Phil Mickelson. This pair are then followed by Shane Lowry and the likes of Sergio Garcia and former champion here Emilliano Grillo.
Silverado North Course is a par 72 measuring just over 7150yds.
The greens are Bent Grass with Poa Annua.
The course was originally opened in 1955 before being redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Jnr in 1966.
In 2010 the resort was then purchased by a consortium including Johnny Miller.
At this point Miller, who’s long term goal is to attract a major championship to the venue oversaw a renovation/redesign of the course.
Silverado is a classical, tree lined set up with narrow fairways, which are tough to find. The rough historically however has not been overly penal and this making the course fairly ‘gettable’.
So let’s firstly take a look at the winners of the event since it moved to Silverado in 2014.
2019 Cameron Champ
2018 Kevin Tway
2017 Brendan Steele
2016 Brendan Steele
2015 Emilliano Grillo
2014 Sang Moon Bae
The first thing we should bear in mind when looking at this list is prior to last year this event was holding down the spot of the first PGA Tour event of the new season, a slot which was held by the Greenbrier in 2019, and from that point of view the primary factor to consider coming in to the week was momentum that players had picked up either at the end of the previous PGA season or at the Korn Ferry tour finals. This is something, which is born out by the fact that ten of the 39 players to make the Top 7 places[& ties] over the five events from 2014 – 2018 inclusive were players who had won or regained their cards through the Korn Ferry Tour. These include 2015 winner Grillo who was victorious here straight of the back of winning the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
This year while the event regains that traditional spot in the calendar the circumstances of course aren’t the same as there have been no Korn Ferry finals leading to a new crop of players graduating on to the tour. As a result if we are looking for any players with momentum coming in it is more likely to be found in those who perhaps turned a corner late in the 19/20 season to get in to the play off’s.
Taking a closer look now at the winners here and we see that three of the six winners Steele [twice] and Grillo are renowned for their ball striking prowess from tee to green.
In addition, while this is not necessarily the case for the 2018 winner Kevin Tway as a rule, he did have a great week here off the tee that week gaining more than eight strokes on the field in SGTTG and finishing the week ranked third in that category, whilst last years winner Cameron Champ lead the field from tee to green gaining over 11 strokes on the field in that department.
Whilst as noted above with it being the first event of the season this has been a good hunting ground for Korn Ferry graduates the winners themselves with the exception of Grillo have tended to triumph here on the back of a fairly humdrum end to their previous campaigns.
Last years winner Cameron Champ had struggled for the vast majority of the season since his win almost 12 months prior at the Sanderson Farms while back to back champion Brendan Steele ended his previous campaign with four missed cuts in seven starts and nothing better than 24th place since June when winning for the second time and had finished the previous campaign with a whimper posting nothing better than 17th place in six starts since early July the year he first tasted victory in the event.
2015 winner Sang Moon Bae had also ended his previous season with some in and out form, which had included a 14th place at the Wyndham and three missed cuts in his last four starts, however 2018 champion Kevin Tway had made his final eight cuts on tour to at least finish his 17/18 campaign solidly.
All in all though he message seems fairly, don’t be too concerned if your fancy here isn’t in great form coming in having ended their previous campaign slowly.
With current form not being a huge issue the next thing to look at is course form. Bae naturally was getting his first look at the track competitively when he won here as was Grillo the following year. Steele though having grown up in California was 21st and 17th here the two years prior to his two victories while Tway was making his second start here having finished 62nd the previous year.
Finally last years winner champ had finished 25th in his first start in the event the previous year and in addition as a native of nearby Sacramento he also had decent knowledge of the area . Again then it would seem previous course form is not imperative.
One other line worth looking at though is course form elsewhere in California and particularly at Riviera, a course which several players likened to Silverado when they first got a look at this venue.
Sang Moon Bae had performed well at Riviera prior to winning here including having held the halfway lead and Brendan Steele had made his five previous cuts at Riviera including posting finishes of 14th and 10th. Finally while last years winner Tway has ‘no previous’ at Riviera the two men he beat in the play off Moore and Snedeker have strong records there and of course Sneds is a California specialist full stop.
Looking at the winning score we have seen -15 get the job done on three occasions and -18 was the number for Steele in 2016 while -14 was enough to make the play off in 2018 which Tway emerged victorious from. Finally last year saw Cameron Champ take victory with a total of -17.
Looking at the forecast this is certainly a great week to be in Napa with wall to wall sunshine and temperatures in the high 80s to low 90s everyday!
Wind doesn’t look to be an issue with nothing more than 10mph forecast all week.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
MARK HUBBARD –50-1 – 1.5pts e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Although I would have liked to have a given another chance to ‘winner waiting to happen’ Si Woo Kim he’s not for me at the odds this week and in my eyes after many weeks of having to decide, who’s turn it is out of Johnson, Thomas, Rahm etc, this is a week for speculation and a roll of the dice at bigger odds.
Before going further out on a limb however I will start the week with a player who in all honesty I expected to be shorter in the market, Mark Hubbard.
While 31yr old Hubbard is still winless on the PGA Tour the 2019/20 campaign was a breakout season for him, which saw him post seven top fifteen finishes and only miss the weekend on four occasions in 22 starts. All of this saw Hubbard tee it up at Olympia Fields a couple of weeks ago with a legitimate chance of making the Tour Championship, however it wasn’t to be for him unfortunately.
Despite this disappointment I am sure Mark will take huge heart from his campaign and will now know that he belongs out here and the next step up from here is for him to post that first victory.
Assuming Hubbard can maintain that level of performance in to the new campaign he will no doubt get plenty of opportunities to post that maiden success, however it may well be that the first week of the season offers him one of the best chances.
The first reason for this is of course the quality of field, which, whilst pulling some star names in the shape of Mickelson, Kuchar, Spieth, Lowry and Garcia, is lacking any of the top 30 who played in the Tour Championship along with plenty of other big names, all of whom will be preparing elsewhere for next weeks US Open.
Moving on from there and it is clear that Hubbard is at his strongest on a track, where lower scoring and plenty of birdies are the order of the day, something which makes plenty of sense if we look at the fact that he ranked ninth on tour in total birdies last season and fourth in total eagles and this is certainly the order of the day for this week.
Hubbard attended college in San Jose in California some ninety minutes away from this weeks venue and will clearly know the venue and the area well and having made the cut on three of his four visits here including a best placed of 13th last year he is clearly comfortable on the course.
Hubbard looks to me like a player who is ready to break in to the winners circle soon and having posted a victory on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019 he obviously knows how to get the job done. On this basis I am happy to chance him this week in an event I believe is well within his compass to win.
LUKE LIST – 55-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 65th
Next up for me this week is a player who has earned a reputation, perhaps somewhat unfairly, as a perennial maiden on tour, Luke List.
Since the tours resumption in June Luke has tee’d it up nine times on the PGA Tour making the cut on five occasions with a best placed finish of tenth at the Memorial.
Nothing particulary spectacular then, however this doesn’t quite tell the full story as in addition to his starts on the PGA List tee’d it up once on the Korn Ferry Tour at TPC Sawgrass and duly went home with the trophy.
This victory, his first in eight years since his previous lone success will no doubt have given the Georgia resident huge confidence and his simple goal for the 20/21 season has to surely be to bag his first PGA Tour win.
The 35yr old has visited Silverado on each of the last four seasons and until a missed cut last year, which came on the back of horrid end to his previous campaign he had taken to the course very nicely posting finishes 4 37 26.
Away from List’s own form at the venue one other fact that draws me to him this week is that as a big hitter who performs strongly in the strokes-gained-tee-to-green category he certainly fits the profile of the past two winners here Tway and Champ who are both obviously known for their length of the tee and who as noted earlier both had great weeks in that stat when they won here. List finished the 19/20 season 22nd in this category, with only two players teeing it up this week, Garcia and Harold Varner III ahead of him.
Finally as noted earlier Silverado has drawn some comparisons to Riviera CC from the players over the years and it is therefore encouraging that Luke has performed solidly in Los Angeles over the years.
List has been unlucky not to get over the line prior to now on the PGA Tour particularly when losing out to Thomas at the Honda Classic in 2018 and you have to feel his time will come eventually and this seems the ideal event in my eyes to chance him.
MAVERICK MCNEALY – 66 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
With three of the six champions here hailing from the events home state of California [Steele x 2 & Champ] it makes sense to focus on players who hail from Cali and my next pick, Maverick McNealy is the first of three to make our team who do.
McNealy came out of Stanford on to the professional circuit with a huge reputation as a ‘can’t miss kid’ and after an initial season on the Korn ferry Tour to find his feat he duly graduated second time around on to the big circuit.
With all eyes on him Maverick missed his first two cuts of his full debut season however after finishing 52nd at this venue he went on a run of 11 straight made cuts through to the Honda Classic, which included a highlight of a fifth place finish at Pebble Beach down the coast in California.
Following on from the tour’s hiatus the 24yr old was a little more inconsistent however he still posted two further top ten finishes before rounding off a successful debut campaign with 61st and 40th in the first two Play Off events and a 68th place finish in the Fedex Cup standings.
So onwards to his sophomore season Maverick goes and with the expectation firmly that he could bag his first tour win this season he starts of with a home state game at an event that he has made the cut in on all of his three previous visits finishing 52 63 57.
After his 52nd place finish here last year McNealy went on to place 37th and 15th in his two further starts in his home state alongside his fifth place finish at Pebble Beach so clearly he loves teeing it up in California.
In addition to his solid form on the West Coast over the past 12 months one other performance of McNealy’s over the past couple of years grabs my attention and that is his third place finish at the Ellie Mae Classic in 2019. Another event in California played approximately an hour away from this weeks venue the Ellie Mae Classic was won by Zac Blair the year McNealy finished third and Blair went on to finish second here last year. In addition Jim Knous posted top ten across the two events over consecutive seasons so it is definitely a link that catches my eye.
McNealy’s time on tour to date has shown him to be one of those players who doesn’t appear to do too much to well from tee to green but putts incredibly well and makes an awful lot of birdies and in an event that certainly lacks strength in depth I am happy to chance him at the odds to break through this week.
ROBBIE SHELTON – 80-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up for me this week is another player who has just completed a successful debut PGA Tour season Robbie Shelton.
Shelton proved he has what it takes to get the job done by winning twice on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019 and those wins propelled him in to the big league.
Robbie then wasted no time making his mark on the PGA Tour as he placed seventh in his first start at the Greenbrier.
Following on from this Shelton posted two more top six finishes in the season with the highlight being a third place at the 3M Open and along with an 11th place finish at the Honda and 13th at the Northern Trust these results were enough to propel him to a more than satisfactory 66th place in the Fedex Cup standings.
Like many of younger breed fairly new to the Tour Shelton can be pretty inconsistent however when his game is ‘on’ he is strong from tee to green, something reflected in the fact that he ranked second in this category at the 3M Open recently.
Now that the 25yr old is in to his second full spin around on the PGA Tour he gets to revisit tracks that he was seeing for the first time last year and it is worth noting that at Silverado last Fall he opened with rounds of 70 and 67 to sit well placed at the halfway stage before falling away over the weekend.
Shelton who finished third on the PGA Tour at the Barbasol way back in 2015 when still an amateur is undoubtedly a big talent who’s time in the winners enclosure will come sooner rather than later and having watched Scottie Scheffler who he came through the ranks with pick up $2.5 million dollars at the Tour Championship last week he may well be inspired to push on this week and at the odds on offer I am keen to have him onside.
BRANDON HAGY - 150-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 67th
Having watched a big hitting Californian in the form of Cameron Champ bag the spoils here last year I am keen to chance another, Brandon Hagy, to follow in his footsteps this week.
Hagy’s career was derailed in 2017 by a serious wrist injury and after a lengthy absence he struggled to get his game back on track when he returned.
At the back end of 2019 however Hagy posted two top 3 finishes at the Korn Ferry finals and this gave him a decent level of starts on tour through the 19/20 season even though he failed to meet his medical exemption target earlier in the year.
At the end of February however Hagy posted his first top twenty on tour for a long while when placing 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open by making the cut in five of his remaining seven starts on the abbreviated season including a 21st at the Honda and a 12th at the Barracuda.
This week Hagy arrives back in his home state at a course he has missed the cut on the last two times he has visited, however these performances came during his injury struggles and if we go back further we will see he finished 35th in 2017 so will have some more positive memories of the course. In addition Hagy finished third up the road at the aforementioned Ellie Mae Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2016 so that link is there for us.
Brandon’s main weapon is undoubtedly his length off the tee as he sits sixth on tour in driving distance and as noted earlier this certainly fits the mould of the last two winners of this event Champ and Tway.
With his game gradually getting back on track it has also been a great time off the course for Hagy recently as he and his wife welcomed a baby daughter in to the world a couple of weeks back.
Buoyed therefore by a fantastic personal time in his life and back in his home state Hagy looks primed to me to go well this week and I am happy to chance him at three figure odds.
JOSEPH BRAMLETT - 150-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Finally this week I am happy to roll the dice on another former standout Californian amateur Joseph Bramlett.
As we know the world of professional golf is littered with players who never quite delivered on the big things expected from them and to date one such player is Joseph Bramlett.
A graduate of Stanford when Bramlett turned pro in 2010 he appeared to have the world at his feet, however as is the want things didn’t progress for him in the way expected.
Roll the clock forward ten years and after plying his trade between unsuccessful campaigns on the PGA Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour Bramlett returned to the big league last season and finally seems to have found a bit of momentum posting four top twenty finishes including a best placed ninth in Puerto Rico alongside back to back top three finishes on the Korn Ferry Tour after the hiatus.
A solid iron player who hits more than his share of greens Bramlett has only tee’d it up once before at Silverado back in 2016, which was infact his only PGA Tour start season so he should have reasonably fond memories of the track and I like his chances of going well here this week.
UPDATED 9th SEPTEMBER
FANTASY DRAF KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - ROGER SLOAN - DK VALUE $6700 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 31
In all honesty with the field lacking strength in depth for this season opener once you get below the $7K mark this week you are looking at 'taking a flyer'.
Having said that two of our main team Hagy & Bramlett sit in this bracket and as always I will add two further specific DK picks who could prove value plays.
The first man I am siding with is Roger Sloan,
The case for Sloan is a pretty straightforward one of course form meets solid current form. Sloan finished his largely disappointing 19/20 campaign with three made cuts in four including a 31st last time out at the Wyndham and he now arrives at a venue, which saw him post his best result last season, 13th.
Sloan should therefore arrive here in reasonable spirits and I would expect him to be with us for all four days.
PICK 2 - CHRIS BAKER - DK VALUE $6400 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 34
Next up for me this week is Chris Baker.
Baker struggled to make any kind of impact on the PGA Tour in his debut season missing seven of his first nine cuts including at Silverado. He did however finish more strongly making his last five cuts and closed things out with a flourish at the Wyndham posting 65 on Sunday to notch 20th place, his best finish of the campaign.
Due to the changes made around Covid 19 Baker now gets a second run at the Tour despite his poor season and he starts this week at a venue, which should suit his game despite his MC last year.
Ninth in DA and 24th in GIR on Tour last year the man from Indiana is clearly at his best from tee to green and on that basis he fits the mould of players like Grillo & Steele who have had success here.
Buoyed by his close to last season I am hoping Baker can make a bigger impact at Silverado this time around and enjoy a strong week.