Safeway Open: Trading opportunities await in the PGA Tour opener, says The Punter

Paul Casey – favourite to kick the new season off with a win
Paul Casey – favourite to kick the new season off with a win

Tiger Woods was due to make his long-awaited return to action as the 2016/2017 PGA Tour commences this week but there's been a late twist, so read Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's kick off here...


“With three 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.”

Tournament History


The Safeway Open, formerly the Frys.com Open, marks the beginning of the 2016/2017 wraparound PGA Tour season. The event has been in existence since 2007 and this will be the fourth time it's kicked off the new season.

Interest in the tournament was set to be more fervent this time around with a certain Mr Woods making his overdue reappearance on the PGA Tour after an absence of almost 14 months, but Monday's late news that he has withdrawn has rather dampened that particular interest.


Venue

The North Course, Silverado Resort and Spa, Napa Valley, California.


Course Details

Par 72, 7203 yards
Stroke Index in 2015 - 71.11

After three years at Grey Hawk in Arizona and four at Cordevalle in San Martin, California, the event moved to the North Course at the Silverado Resort in Napa Valley, California, in 2014 so this will be the third 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 venue's co-owners, Johnny Miller.

In addition to the last two 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."


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live coverage on Sky Sports all four days at 22:00, starting on Thursday.


Last Five Winners

2015 - Emiliano Grillo -15 (playoff)
2014 - Sang-moon Bae -16
2013 - Jimmy Walker -17
2012 - Jonas Blixt -16
2011 - Bryce Molder -17 (playoff)


What Will it Take to Win the Safeway Open?


With two years of course form to survey, we've got a little more to go on this time around so here's the top-three and ties at the last two editions with all the key stats - Driving Distance, Driving Accuracy, Greens In Regulation, Scrambling, Putting Average and Strokes Gained Putting.

2015

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

2014

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

Accuracy from the tee appears more important than power but neither stat looks crucial and brilliant putting doesn't look vital either. Scrambling was the key stat in 2014 and hitting greens proved to be the most significant last year so GIR and Scrambling could be the two categories to concentrate on.

If the early weather forecasts come to fruition an ability to handle windy conditions will be essential and short game prowess will be vital. The wind got up here on day four in 2014 and this is what Hunter Mahan had to say about conditions on that occasion.

"The greens were really tricky. The wind was really tricky today. Trying to chip it around the greens was really difficult. A really good test today."


Is There an Angle In?


The Byron Nelson Championship, at the Four Seasons resort in Dallas, Texas is an event that appears to correlate quite nicely. The first and second here in 2014, Bae and Steven Bowditch have both won there and Jason Bohn and Tyrone Van Aswegen, who finished tied for third here 12 months ago, both have bits of form in Dallas. Bohn has twice finished inside the top-10 there and Aswegen was 16th there in 2004. That doesn't look especially impressive but it was his best performance on the PGA Tour that year.


Is There an Identikit Winner?


Jimmy Walker was fairly well-fancied three years ago (generally a 36.035/1 shot) but outsiders have a decent record of late. Moon and Bryce Molder both won at triple-figure prices and last year's winner, Grillo, was matched at 75.074/1 before the off, so don't be afraid to go for an outsider or two.

I used to theorise that PGA Tour rookies, fresh off the Web.com Tour and eager to get going with the big boys, might be worth siding with in this event but I gave up on that idea last year - just before Grillo won two weeks after victory on the Web.com Tour had secured his playing privileges!

That theory obviously needs to go back on the agenda but looking at the last two events at this course, veterans look just as likely to come to succeed so it's hard to gauge.


In-Play Tactics


Given we're over on the West Coast, the tournament isn't going to finish until the early hours of Monday morning in the UK but if last year is anything to go by it'll be worth staying up.

In addition to both Justin Rose and Brendan Steele trading at around 2.56/4 earlier in the event, three players were matched at long-odds on at the death. Jason Bohn and Kevin Na both hit a low of 1.51/2 and the eventual winner, Grillo, was matched at 1.071/14 at the first playoff hole just before he missed from three feet for the win.

With three 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.

We've only had two renewals here so far but it looks like a venue where winning from off the pace is perfectly possible. Runner-up, Bowditch, was tied for 80th after round one two years ago and he was still six adrift and tied for 36th at halfway and last year's winner was six adrift at that stage too. In fact, the first nine home last year were all outside the top-five at the halfway stage.


What Can We Expect from Tiger Woods


How fantastic would it be to have Tiger Woods back playing golf even close to the standard we'd all become accustomed to? He was a joy to behold at his best and better than anyone else most of the time, even when not at his best.

It's going to be fascinating to see how he performs this week but we have to bear in mind that he hasn't played in over a year and that he's probably only in the line-up this week because he'd promised to appear in this tournament. He's the last of eight players that had committed to playing in this event when they skipped off to Turkey to appear in a match-play exhibition match four years ago and I can see him missing the cut.

*EDITITOR'S NOTES - Tiger has officially withdrawn from the event but Steve was happy to keep this section in as it still has relevance.


Market Leaders


After his fine finish to the 2015/2016 season, England's Paul Casey heads the market and rightly so but he's definitely not for me. Paul has still only ever won once in the States and he's seeing Silverado for the first time. He's also going to have to pick himself back up and go again after the disappointment of finishing fourth behind Rory McIlroy at the Tour Championship and missing out on FedEx Cup glory.

Matt Kuchar, who finished 21st here two years ago, has been in typically consistent form of late but as is the norm with Kooch, he's either not quite threatened the leaders or shirked the chance of a win when he has. He's extraordinarily hard to get over the line given his undoubted ability and he's always one to swerve at prohibitive odds.

With his tremendous West Coast record, Phil Michelson is a very interesting contender. It's hard to believe how well he played in the Open Championship, and in his singles encounter at the Ryder Cup and yet he came away without a victory on both occasions. Luck seems to have deserted Lefty of late and as every year ticks by winning again becomes harder. He's my all-time favourite player and he used to be a very profitable no-brainer bet in this state at one time but he's now gone more than three years without a win and he can't be backed at less than 20/1.

Next up is defending champ. Emiliano Grillo, and he's a best price of 22/1 with the Sportsbook but even that looks like a shocking price to me.


Selections


I'm going to keep my powder dry before the off here and see how the tournament develops but I have backed two outsiders and I may add one or two more before the off. And if I do, I'll post any bets to Twitter, but for now I'm going with just Scott Stallings and Geoff Ogilvy.

Stallings is back on the PGA Tour via the Web.com Tour after he lost his card last year following a somewhat harsh three-month ban for taking a prohibited drug. The whole affair wasn't handled particularly well and Stallings lost his form completely but he could just bounce back nicely this season. He has a fine record in California, having won the Farmers Insurance once and gone close there again, and at the Humana Challenge, and I thought he was worth chancing at a big price. He was 21st here in 2014 before missing the cut 12 months ago.

Ogilvy's record in California isn't quite so good, although he did win the WGC Match Play here 10 years ago. He's also only appeared here once and missed the cut but his GIR and Scrambling stats are respectable and he won't mind the wind getting up. I thought he was slightly too big at 200/1 with the Sportsbook.


Selections

Scott Stallings @ 150.0149/1
Geoff Ogilvy each-way @ 200/1 on the Sportsbook


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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