Safeway Open: Zach can shine at Silverado

Zach Johnson likes what he sees at Silverado
Zach Johnson likes what he sees at Silverado
Join today View market

After finishing the last PGA Tour season with profits of £1179.89, Dave Tindall previews the opening event of the 2017/18 campaign - the Safeway Open in California...

"A big part of the reason why he’s added this tournament to his schedule for the first time was other players telling him that the course would be right up his street."

Main Bet: Back Zach Johnson @ 25/1

Each-way terms: 1/5 odds, 7 places

Main Bet: Back Zach Johnson e.w. @ 25/1

Phil Mickelson might be seen as the go-to guy in this week's 2017/18 PGA Tour season opener - the Safeway Open in California - after his eye-catching play in the USA's Presidents Cup romp over the Internationals.

Lefty was the event's joint-second top scorer after posting three wins and a half and seemed to have a real spring in his step again.

But he hasn't won a PGA Tour event for four years now and since he captured the Claret Jug in 2013, Zach Johnson has won an Open Championship of his own (2015) and recorded two other PGA Tour wins.

Johnson has actually banked another victory since Mickelson's triumph and this one could have particular relevance.

In December 2013, he ousted tournament host Tiger in a play-off to win Woods' own event - the World Challenge. That reversed roles after Tiger had beaten Johnson by a stroke in 2011.

That tournament was held at another California venue, Sherwood Country Club, and was namechecked by Johnson in his press conference on Tuesday.

He's playing at Silverado Resort for the first time this week and, after Tuesday's practice, Johnson noted: "I see some parallels to Sherwood. Maybe not quite as hilly as Sherwood. The trees look very similar, the fairways are probably a little more narrow here.

"I see Sherwood. I see Riviera. Some of the shot-making is that of a Hilton Head, Colonial where you've got to be in the right side of the fairway versus the left side of the fairway, that kind of thing.

"This place looks pretty cool."

He also admitted that a big part of the reason why he's added this tournament to his schedule for the first time was other players telling him that the course would be right up his street.

The fact that Johnson compares it to Colonial (twice a winner there) and Hilton Head (once a runner-up) suggests there's something in that and any course that requires brain not brawn is definitely in his wheelhouse.

The two-time major winner and holder of 12 PGA Tour titles didn't have his best season in 2016/17 and his failure to reach the Tour Championship no doubt hurt. His competitive juices would also have been stirred by watching his teammates revel in their Presidents Cup win.

Johnson's run through the FedEx Cup play-offs came to end in the BMW Championship but he did finish on something of a high after shooting a 64 on Sunday for T20.

In August, he was runner-up at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and also fifth at John Deere two starts before that so there should be a bit of confidence in the tank.

As the BMW was just a few weeks ago and he returns now, that fits in with the normal pattern of his schedule and I think his decision to come to California will be a very smart move.

Take the 25/1 on a proven winner.

Next Best: Back Mackenzie Hughes e.w. @ 80/1

Mackenzie Hughes, like Johnson, also made it to the penultimate event of the play-offs after a strong rookie season.

In fact, he was just a whisker away from booking a place in the final 30 who contested the Tour Championship.

That campaign was given an early slingshot thanks to victory at November's RSM Classic in just his fifth start as a PGA Tour member.

He actually went wire-to-wire there, always a sign that you have a good dose of mental strength.

Having won of these Fall Series events, this could be a good chance for him to win another as there are several other useful pointers.

Firstly, he has some course form at Silverado having shot all four rounds in the 60s on his first start in the event in 2016. Those three 69s and a 68 gave him tied 13th.

That was actually his first ever start on the PGA Tour so there should be plenty of positive memories when he returns to the Napa Valley course.

Three months later he went to another California venue with small greens and took T10 in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

From Memorial in June to the BMW in September, Hughes missed just one cut in 10 starts so he really has established himself at this level.

On the stats last season, the 26-year-old finished 8th for Strokes Gained: Putting and only seven players racked up more than his 374 birdies.

You'll need to make a fair few this week given that the winning scores in the three years at Silverado are -18, -15 and -15.

Hughes won the RSM Classic with 17-under so I've seen enough to back him at 80/1, especially with seven pay-out places.

His good performance here in 2016 and subsequent win at Sea Island shows that rookies are worth looking at in all these events which take place before the calendar is turned for 2018.

I've read about this year's wave rather than seen much of them in action but, for this week, two who make plenty of birdies are Keith Mitchell and Denny McCarthy.

However, it's another player still fresh off some excellent play in the finals who gets my third pick....

Final Bet: Back Chesson Hadley e.w. @ 60/1

Chesson Hadley is no 21-year-old young buck ready to take the world by storm.

He's a 30-year-old who knows that plenty of talent and early promise isn't a golden ticket to years and years of automatic success.

Hadley was crowned Rookie of the Year in 2013/14 after shooting 21-under to win the Puerto Rico Open but didn't build on that and lost his card at the end of 2016.

It took him a while to get going again on the second tier but he finished runner-up at the Rex Hospital Open in June and returned to winning ways with victory at the LECOM Health Challenge in July.

After a third in August's Price Cutter Charity Championship he then went on a birdie-blitz during September with results of 10-1-2, his second win of the year coming at the Boise Open in Idaho.

"When you lose your card, you start thinking and you get to some pretty dark places. It's so awesome to be going back there," he said after securing his passage back to the PGA Tour.

It makes plenty of sense to think that someone hot from the finals can stay hot for this opener in California and we saw that very scenario play out two years ago.

On that occasion, Emiliano Grillo also delivered a win and a second in September before coming to Silverado and riding off with the trophy.

Hadley played here in 2014 (T57) and 2015 (MC) without much success but those two previous looks will only help and top 10s at Pebble Beach in 2014 and 2015 add a bit of weight to his chances.

Due to the extra 20 points, I picked 60/1 Hadley ahead of 40/1 Jamie Lovemark, another player touted for big things but yet to really deliver.

But I do like Lovemark here. He's a California local, finished T20 in this event last year after a closing 66 and was also in the top 15 after 54 holes the year before.

I think he'll win this season and this represents a decent chance.

At the front of the betting, I certainly like the chances of Tony Finau (course form 12-32-26) after he ended the final two play-off events with a pair of T7s.

But not at 16/1, a price that also puts me off Webb Simpson, who won his US Open in California.

Join today View market

Discover the latest articles