Safeway Open: Laird can claim California opener

Martin Laird is a fan of the course
Martin Laird is a fan of the course

Dave Tindall brings us his analysis and tips for the first event of the 2016/17 PGA Tour season - the Safeway Open at the Silverado Resort and Spa...

"His California results are particularly impressive of late with five finishes of T15 or better in his last seven starts in the Golden State."

Main Bet: Back Martin Laird @ 61.060/1

Each-way terms: ¼ odds, 5 places

Main Bet: Back Martin Laird e/w @ 60/1

The new 2016/17 PGA Tour season kicks off with a trip to California and, for some in this week's field, that means a welcome return to poa annua greens.

The 2014 winner here, Sang-Moon Bae, boasts excellent figures on such grass while last year's runner-up Kevin Na is also expert at handling these putting surfaces whose bumpiness as the day progresses takes some getting used to.

Martin Laird is another with excellent poa annua stats and he is my main fancy this week to start the season with a bang.

The Scot first marked himself down as a west coast performer when winning his first PGA Tour event in Las Vegas in 2009 and losing a play-off there the following year.

He continues to shine in that part of America and his California results are particularly impressive of late with five finishes of T15 or better in his last seven starts in the Golden State.

That run, which includes three top 10s, started with T3 at this week's venue, the North Course at the Silverado Resort, two years ago. Laird opened with a pair of 67s to lead at halfway but just couldn't get it done on the weekend.

In interview that week, the Scot admitted he had good vibes about Silverado as soon as he arrived.

"When I played on Tuesday, I liked the golf course right away. You know, I think it does suit my game because the greens are getting kind of firm, especially in the afternoon. And with the course not being the longest golf course to play, there's some tight pins on the front of the greens that some guys just can't get to if you don't hit it high. And you know, I hit it high. So coming in with mid irons, coming in landing soft is definitely a big advantage as opposed to maybe hitting a slightly longer club and coming in a little flatter.

"I like to cut the driver, and there's few holes that set up just perfect for cutting a driver, and then I like to draw my 3 wood and there's kind of two or three holes where I would hit 3 wood anyway. They're right to left holes. It sets up good for me."

Laird returned in 2015 and made an even better start, shooting a 65 on day one and adding a 71 to lie T6 at halfway. He suffered a poor weekend and slipped to T64 but it's important to know that he was in contention again.

The three-time PGA Tour winner played some good golf in the last few months of the season with second in Canada, T7 at the Barracuda and a couple of other top 25s, including T18 at The Barclays.

At 60/1 he looks to have plenty going for him in a pretty modest field.

Next Best: Back Justin Thomas e/w @ 22/1

Justin Thomas was ever so close to making the US Ryder Cup squad.

The youngster even practised with the team at Hazeltine in preparation for getting the nod from Davis Love and, under huge pressure, did everything he could to get the final pick by finishing T6 in the Tour Championship.

That might well have been enough but it just so happened that another contender, Ryan Moore, played even better and was named as Love's 12th and final member after losing the play-off to Rory McIlroy.

Thomas' day will surely come as he's a huge talent and one who has an excellent chance of winning this week.

For starters, he likes this course. Last year Thomas opened with a 66 and stayed prominent throughout with rounds of 70-69-69 taking him to tied third place. "It was just a great, great set up all week and a it was a lot of fun," he said later.

"I didn't have my best stuff and I was right there and had a really good chance to win the tournament."

If Thomas can find his best stuff - perhaps the sort of golf he produced when winning the CIMB Classic by a shot from Adam Scott last November - he'd have every chance of securing victory.

Other plus points are that he has a good record on poa annua greens compared to other surfaces and in his short career so far he's also posted California top 10s at the Farmers Insurance Open and Humana Challenge.

With a pair of recent top 10s in the FedEx Cup play-offs he's in fine nick again and I'm happy to take the 22/1.

As for the two favourites - 14/1 Paul Casey and 16/1 Matt Kuchar - the same argument can be made. Neither wins enough. Casey has just one victory on American soil and Kuchar is a poor bet at these sort of prices in these type of events.

Phil Mickelson (20/1) played well in flashes at the Ryder Cup but is winless in three years now while Emiliano Grillo (22/1) has the added pressure of being the defending champion.

Best Outsider: Back Scott Stallings e/w @ 90/1

Scott Stallings has had negative Strokes Gained Putting stats for the last few seasons but on poa annua he's been picking up over a shot on the field.

That doesn't come as a surprise for regular PGA Tour punters who will recall that his best moments have come at Torrey Pines where he won the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open and took second place the following year.

Stallings was controversially handed a three-month ban in 2015 when discovering that a hormone prescribed by his doctor for a known medical condition (extreme fatigue) was considered a performance-enhanced drug. He called the penalty on himself but was shown no leniency.

Whatever the ins and outs, that illness certainly affected his results while the ban added to a downwards spiral that saw him lose his card after finishing 128th on the FedExCup standings this summer.

However, Stallings has it back already after two top 10s in last month's Tour Finals - T6 in the DAP Championship and T5 at the Boise Open.

A trip to Silverado could just give him the ideal chance to hit the ground running. He missed the cut there in 2015 when rusty (he'd had over three months off) but the year before he posted a decent T21.

He'll have an edge on plenty of the field this week having been sharp for those events and before the illness and difficulties set in this was a guy who had posted a PGA Tour win in 2011, 2012 and 2014 so he knows how to get it done.

He putted well in those pair of top-sixes so that has to bode well as he heads to California and his preferred poa annua greens.

The 90/1 could look very good business.

Another I looked at around the same price was 80/1 Kyle Reifers.

He was T6 in this event last year (68-71-65-72) and also cracked the top 10 in another Californian event, the Northern Trust Open, in 2015. A top 25 in the US PGA was decent but he didn't really do anything in five starts after that.

Dave's 2016 P/L (based on £5 e/w per selection outrights, £10 win top 5s/10s)

Staked: £1090
Returned: £1048.75
P/L: -£41.25

(After the Tour Championship)

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