The 2021/22 PGA Tour season kicks off on Thursday in California with the 15th edition of the Fortinet Championship and Steve Rawlings previews the brand-new season starter here...
"Kevin Na is impossible to ignore given how prolific he is now and 25.024/1 is more than fair."
After a whole week off following Patrick Cantlay's victory at the Tour Championship in the final event of the 2020/21 season, the 2021/22 PGA Tour season begins on Thursday in California with the Fortinet Championship so it's a great opportunity to see some of the new Korn Ferry Tour graduates.
The Fortinet Championship, formerly the Safeway Open, and before that, the Frys.com Open, is a fairly-new event and it's only been in existence since 2007.
The North Course, Silverado Resort and Spa, Napa Valley, California.
Par 72, 7166 yards
Stroke Index in 2020 - 70.21
After three years at Grey Hawk in Arizona and four at Cordevalle in San Martin, California, the Fortinet Championship moved to the North Course at the Silverado Resort in Napa Valley, California, in 2014 so this will be the eighth year in-a-row the course has hosted.
The Robert Trent Jones Jr designed North Course opened in 1957 but it has been substantially reworked in recent years by Troon Golf and one of the venues co-owners, Johnny Miller.
In addition to the last seven editions, Silverado hosted the Kaiser International between 1968 and 1976 and the Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic from 1977 to 1980 and some of the game's legends won here during those 13 years. Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw all tasted victor at Silverado and some big names also won here during the 14 years it saw Champions Tour golf when it hosted the Transamerica from 1989 to 2002, with the likes of Bernard Langer, Lee Trevino, Tom Kite and Dave Stockton all winning here.
This is what the 2014 winner, Sangmoon Bae, had to say about the venue.
"I really like this course because it's a classic. Always classic courses you need really good iron shots. Really narrow, small greens, a lot of undulation."
The fairways are largely tree-lined and reasonably tight and the Poa-annua greens aren't expected to run any faster than 11.5 on the stimpmeter - a fairly modest pace by PGA standards.
There will be live Featured Group coverage from 15:00 on Thursday and Friday with full live coverage on Sky Sports from 17:30 but because we're on the west coast, it's on quite late in the UK over the weekend with coverage beginning at 23:00.
Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2020 - Stewart Cink 570.0569/1
2019 - Cameron Champ -17 200.0199/1
2018 - Kevin Tway -14 110.0109/1
2017 - Brendon Steele -15 36.035/1
2016 - Brendon Steele -18 75.074/1
2015 - Emiliano Grillo -15 75.074/1
What Will it Take to Win the Fortinet Championship?
We now have seven years of course form to survey, so here's the top-three and ties at the last seven editions with all the key stats - Driving Distance, Driving Accuracy, Greens In Regulation, Scrambling, Putting Average and Strokes Gained Putting.
1 Stewart Cink -21 DD 11 DA 24 GIR 1 SC 2 PA 52 SGP 13
2 Harry Higgs -19 DD 21 DA 48 GIR 59 SC 17 PA 5 SGP 17
T3 Chez Reavie -18 DD 61 DA 1 GIR 11 SC 34 PA 21 SGP 42
T3 Doc Redman -18 DD 54 DA 5 GIR 40 SC 21 PA 8 SGP 24
T3 Kevin Streelman -18 DD 49 DA 20 GIR 11 SC 49 PA 3 SGP 12
T3 Brian Stuard -18 DD 55 DA 13 GIR 15 SC 5 PA 18 SGP 16
1 Cameron Champ -17 DD 1 DA 21 GIR 10 SC 1 PA 38 SGP 1
2 Adam Hadwin -16 DD 46 DA 29 GIR 1 SC 37 PA 12 SGP 4
3 Marc Leishman -14 DD 8 DA 18 GIR 20 SC 5 PA 47 SGP 2
1 Kevin Tway -15 DD 14 DA 40 GIR 18 SC 1 PA 22 SGP 18
T2 Ryan Moore -15 DD 59 DA 1 GIR 2 SC 24 PA 18 SGP 6
T2 Brandt Snedeker -15 DD 33 DA 30 GIR 40 SC 42 PA 1 SGP 2
1 Brendan Steele -15 DD 1 DA 3 GIR 4 SC 7 PA 60 SGP 29
2 Tony Finau -13 DD 11 DA 39 GIR 52 SC 10 PA 16 SGP 16
T3 Chesson Hadley -12 DD 7 DA 24 GIR 47 SC 48 PA 1 SGP 9
T3 Phil Mickelson -12 DD 45 DA 74 GIR 32 SC 44 PA 3 SGP 19
1 Brendan Steele -18 DD 23 DA 5 GIR 21 SC 4 PA 8 SGP 6
2 Patton Kizzire -17 DD 35 DA 67 GIR 21 SC 21 PA 4 SGP 1
T3 Paul Casey -16 DD 10 DA 34 GIR 35 SC 2 PA 6 SGP 29
T3 Michael Kim -16 DD 50 DA 34 GIR 16 SC 12 PA 5 SGP 18
T3 Scott Piercy -16 DD 12 DA 29 GIR 7 SC 48 PA 8 SGP 4
T3 Johnson Wagner -16 DD 42 DA 29 GIR 9 SC 9 PA 9 SGP 8
1 Emiliano Grillo -15 DD 37 DA 8 GIR 16 SC 5 PA 41 SGP 61
2 Kevin Na -15 DD 30 DA 5 GIR 10 SC 40 PA 12 SGP 51
T3 Jason Bohn -14 DD 64 DA 5 GIR 1 SC 71 PA 4 SGP 39
T3 Justin Thomas -14 DD 25 DA 67 GIR 2 SC 23 PA 11 SGP 19
T3 Tyrone Van Aswegen -14 DD 44 DA 31 GIR 10 SC 21 PA 12 SGP 8
1 Sang-Moon Bae -15 DD 26 DA 45 GIR 6 SC 3 PA 18 SGP 44
2 Steven Bowditch -13 DD 17 DA 67 GIR 71 SC 2 PA 12 SGP 9
T3 Retief Goosen -12 DD 29 DA 49 GIR 50 SC 15 PA 14 SGP 1
T3 Martin Laird -12 DD 34 DA 16 GIR 9 SC 1 PA 39 SGP 8
T3 Hunter Mahan -12 DD 21 DA 37 GIR 6 SC 52 PA 6 SGP 16
T3 Hideki Matsuyama -12 DD 25 DA 8 GIR 3 SC 12 PA 22 SGP 45
T3 Bryce Molder -12 DD 64 DA 45 GIR 48 SC 15 PA 2 SGP 12
Although nobody hit it further off the tee than the 2019 winner, Cameron Champ, the first three home all ranked inside the top-30 for Driving Accuracy, the most accurate driver finished tied for third last year and the first three winners here ranked inside the top-eight for DA so I'd suggest being straight and short is slightly better than long and inaccurate but the key stat looks to be Scrambling.
All seven course winners have ranked inside the top-seven for that stat, Stewart Cink ranked second for Scrambling last year and the two winners before him both managed to get up-and-down more often than anyone else.
Is There an Angle In?
Putting on Poa is always a bit tricky and the locals are often at an advantage on the west coast.
The 2019 winner, Cameron Champ, is from California, as is the two-time winner, Brendan Steele, and we've also seen Californians Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker contend so that's something to consider but the best angle in is probably form at TPC San Antonio - home of the Texas Open.
Stewart Cink has only ordinary form at TPC San Antonio (22nd on his last appearance), but two of the players to finish tied third last year have performed well there. In 284 PGA Tour starts, Brian Stuard has only eight top-four finishes on the PGA Tour in a career that stretches back almost 12 years so his fourth in Texas in 2019 is significant and Kevin Streelman has finished eighth and sixth in his last two appearances at TPC San Antonio.
Ryan Moore, who finished second here three years ago has form figures at TPC San Antonio reading 53-8-18-7-3. Tony Finau, who was second here in 2017, was third in Texas that year too, alongside the 2018 winner here, Kevin Tway. The aforementioned Snedeker was fourth there in 2011, and so too was Chesson Hadley in 2015, a year before he finished third here. Brendan Steele has won the Texas Open at San Antonio and so too has the second and third here in 2014, Steven Bowditch and Martin Laird. It looks like a really decent correlation.
Coincidently, Jimmy Walker has also won both tournaments but his victory in the October of 2013 was in the final renewal at Cordevalle Golf Club in San Martin, California, before the switch to Silverado.
It's not as strong a link, but form at the Sony Open in Hawaii pops up repeatedly too.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Jimmy Walker was fairly well-fancied seven years ago (generally a 36.035/1 shot) and Steele was the same price to defend the title four years ago but outsiders have a fine record.
The last three winners went off at triple-figure prices , and so too did Sang-Moon Bae in 2014 and the 2011 winner, Bryce Molder, so don't be afraid to go for an outsider or two.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2020 - Stewart Cink T7 - trailing by two 42.041/1
2019 - Cameron Champ - led by three strokes 2.6413/8
2018 - Kevin Tway second - trailing by three strokes 7.26/1
2017 - Brendan Steele T3 - trailing by three 6.411/2
2016 - Brendan Steele T6 - trailing by four 32.031/1
2015 - Emiliano Grillo T4 - trailing by two 14.013/1
We've only had seven renewals here but it's already shown to be a venue where winning from off the pace is perfectly possible.
Champ was never more than three strokes back or outside the top-five two years ago and Kevin Tway was five, four and three strokes adrift after rounds one, two and three three years ago, so he was never too far away either but Ryan Moore trailed by seven with a round to go before getting into the playoff.
Brendan Steele was always up there in 2017 but Chesson Hadley, who began the final round just a stroke behind the 54-hole leader, Tyler Duncan, was tied for 61st after round one before a course-record 61 in round two moved him up to third at halfway.
Sang-Moon Bae was always on the premises in 2014 and he was four clear after 54 holes but the runner-up, Stephen Bowditch, was tied for 80th after round one and he was still six adrift and tied for 36th at halfway.
Emiliano Grillo was six back and tied for 19th at halfway when he won six years ago and the first nine home were all outside the top-five through 36 holes. Last year's winner, Cink, trailed by eight at halfway and finally, Steele was nine strokes adrift at halfway and still four back with a round to go when he won here for the first time five years ago.
It may well be a place to take on any clear leaders too. Brandt Snedeker began the final round with a three-stroke lead three years ago and after birdies at five and seven, he opened up a five-stroke advantage. He was matched at a low of just 1.081/12 but he soon lost his grip on the title and was eventually beaten in extra time.
With three reasonably tough holes (13, 14 and 15) preceding three easy finishing holes, there's all sorts of scope for trading at Silverado and if the leaderboard looks tight going into Sunday's final round, a late night's trading may well reap rich rewards.
The money continues to come for the world number one, Jon Rahm, who finished 15th here on his only previous visit back in 2015 and I'm certainly in no rush to oppose hm.
The Spaniard has a cracking record in California with three wins, nine top-fives and 12 top-tens in 18 starts in the state so he couldn't really be any bigger than 4/1 given the form he's in.
He won the US Open at Torrey Pines back in June and that's his sole success of the summer but it's no exaggeration to state that he could legitimately have won another six titles.
Having been cruelly denied a successful title defence at The Memorial Tournament, when forced to withdraw due to a positive Covid test when six clear through three rounds, he's subsequently traded at odds-on in three events without winning - the Scottish Open, the Northern Trust and the Tour Championship - and he's finished third at the Open Championship and ninth in the BMW Championship, having led after round one.
Sooner or later that hot run will cool off and having just finished second to Patrick Cantlay in the FedEx Cup finale at East Lake two weeks ago, despite shooting the joint lowest 72 hole total, it wouldn't be the biggest surprise in the world if he wasn't quite in tip-top form this week.
The second favourite, Webb Simpson, has only ordinary current form and his course form reads MC-MC-17 so I'm happy to leave him alone and the same applies to Hideki Matsuyama, whose course form, reading 3-17-MC is regressive.
Given what a great event this has been for outsiders of late, I'll most definitely have selections here in the Find Me a 100 Winner column tomorrow but for now I'm playing just one player - Kevin Na - who I felt was impossible to ignore.
We witnessed on Sunday, when Billy Horschel won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, that a Ryder Cup snub by Steve Stricker can inspire and Na has plenty of other positives going into this week too.
Although Korean-born, Na grew up in Southern California, he has course form figures here reading 2-7-37-MC, he's a quite magnificent scrambling, he's twice contended at TPC San Antonio, he won the Sony Open in January, and he arrives at Silverado in magnificent form having been beaten in a playoff at the Wyndham Championship last month and having finished third at the Tour Championship after shooting the joint lowest round of the week.
Na is impossible to ignore given how prolific he is now and 25.024/1 is more than fair.
Kevin Na @ 25.024/1
I'll be back later with the Dutch Open preview.
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