The 2020/21 PGA Tour kicks off on Thursday in California with the 14th edition of the Safeway Open. Steve Rawlings previews the brand-new season starter here...
"All six course winners have ranked inside the top-seven for Scrambling and the last two winners have both managed to get up-and-down more often than anyone else.
And just like that we're off again. Following Dustin Johnson's win at the Tour Championship yesterday, the brand new 2020/21 PGA Tour season will kick off on Thursday with the Safeway Open.
The Safeway Open, formerly 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 2018 - 71.24
After three years at Grey Hawk in Arizona and four at Cordevalle in San Martin, California, the Safeway Open moved to the North Course at the Silverado Resort in Napa Valley, California, in 2014 so this will be the seventh 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 six 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 but because we're on the west coast, it's on quite late in the UK and the full live coverage on Sky Sports will start at 21:00 on Thursday and Friday and 23:00 over the weekend.
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Cameron Champ -17 [200.0]
2018 - Kevin Tway -14 [110.0]
2017 - Brendon Steele -15 [36.0]
2016 - Brendon Steele -18 [75.0]
2015 - Emiliano Grillo -15 [75.0]
What Will it Take to Win the Safeway Open?
We now have six years of course form to survey, so here's the top-three and ties at the last six editions with all the key stats - Driving Distance, Driving Accuracy, Greens In Regulation, Scrambling, Putting Average and Strokes Gained Putting.
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 winner, Cameron Champ, last year, the first three home all ranked inside the top-30 for Driving Accuracy 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 six course winners have ranked inside the top-seven for that stat and the last two winners have 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, as we saw at the recent US PGA Championship.
The defending champ, Cameron Champ, who contended at Olympia Fields last month 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.
Ryan Moore, who finished second here two 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.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Jimmy Walker was fairly well-fancied six years ago (generally a [36.0] shot) and Steele was the same price to defend the title three years ago but outsiders have a reasonable record.
The last two 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
2019 - Cameron Champ led by three strokes [2.64]
2018 - Kevin Tway second - trailing by three strokes [7.2]
2017 - Brendan Steele T3 - trailing by three [6.4]
2016 - Brendan Steele T6 - trailing by four [32.0]
2015 - Emiliano Grillo T4 - trailing by two [14.0]
Eventual second, Adam Hadwin, put the heat on overnight leader, Champ, in round four last year when he birdied the last three holes and a nervy bogey at 17 by Champ saw the pair briefly tied at the top, but Champ made the simplest of birdie fours at the par five finishing hole to claim his second PGA Tour title.
Steele was never outside the first three places at any stage in 2017 and having trailed by two going in to the fourth and final round, he was in front by the fifth on Sunday. He won the event comfortably by two strokes with the minimum of fuss. He did drop a couple of shots at 12 and 14 but nobody pushed him with any urgency and there were no dramas at all but that certainly wasn't the case in the 2018 renewal, or in the 2015 and 2016 renewals, so despite the late finish in the UK it might be worth staying up to trade.
Brandt Snedeker began the final round with a three-stroke lead two years ago and after birdies at five and seven, he opened up a five-stroke advantage. He was matched at a low of just [1.08] but he soon lost his grip on the title.
A troublesome wind irritated as Snedeker turned for home but it was no excuse for his sudden bout of 'the lefts'. From 100 yards out on the fairway he pulled his approach in to the left rough on 10, missed the green left on the par three 11th, and he pulled his approach on 12, again from the fairway, in to the left-hand greenside bunker and on every occasion, he failed to get-up-and down for par.
To his credit, he looked to have steadied the ship after that with three hard-fought pars in-a-row before a birdie at the par five 16th saw him move back in to the lead but a bogey soon followed after his tee-shot found position Z in the left rough on 17 and he failed to birdie the par five 18th.
Defeat had looked an impossibility when he turned for home but all of a sudden he was in a playoff with playing partner and eventual winner, Tway, who had been matched in-running at [300.0], way before he birdied 17 and 18 and with Ryan Moore, who was matched at [1000.0] before he birdied three of his last four holes to also post a 14-under-par total.
In the 2016 edition, Paul Casey was matched at [2.3] and Scott Piercy just [2.0] before we'd even got to Sunday and in addition to those two trading so short, Johnson Wagner also hit a low of [2.3] and the runner-up, Patton Kizzire, was matched at just [1.6].
And five years ago, in addition to both Justin Rose and Steele trading at around [2.5] 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 [1.5] and the eventual winner, Grillo, was matched at [1.07] at the first playoff hole before he missed from three feet for the win. He did go on to win but it wasn't hard to back him back for a profitable trade after the miss.
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.
We've only had six renewals here so far 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 and Tway was five, four and three strokes adrift after rounds one, two and three two years ago, so he was never too far away either but Moore trailed by seven with a round to go before getting into the playoff. 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. Grillo was six back and tied for 19th at halfway when he won five years ago and the first nine home were all outside the top-five through 36 holes. 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 four years ago.
Si Woo Kim lost his way at halfway in the Northern Trust last time out when his putter went cold but he should have won the week before at the Wyndham Championship, where he eventually finished third, and his 13th at the US PGA Championship was a decent effort before that. Although he was four clear at the aforementioned Texas Open at halfway last year, where he eventually finished fourth, the Korean's course form figures here to date read an uninspiring MC-49 and I'm happy to swerve him.
After his first Champions Tour win in his first Champions Tour event a fortnight ago, 50-year-old Phil Mickelson deserves plenty of respect. He was also second at the WGC St Jude Classic at the start of August but in-between those two efforts he finished down the field in the US PGA Championship and he missed the cut at the Northern Trust so who knows which Lefty turns up this week? His course form figures, reading 8-3-17-MC are as inconsistent as his current form and I'm happy to leave him out too.
The only other player trading at less than [30.0] in what's a wide-open betting heat is the two-time winner, Brendan Steele, and he's been playing consistently well enough since the restart to be worth a saver at least. He hasn't been pulling up any trees but sixth at the Travelers, 13th at the Memorial Tournament and 22nd in the US PGA Championship are all very solid efforts and he signed off the BMW Championship last time out at Olympia Fields with an under-par round.
I've had a small saver on Steele and I've backed three outsiders with form at TPC San Antonio - two of which, like Steele, are Californians.
First up is Adam Schenk who's from Indiana but he was 14th here two years ago, he was seventh in the Texas Open last year and he ranks seventh for Scrambling on the PGA Tour. Although a winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, he's yet to win on the PGA Tour but he's in reasonable form. I've missed all the triple-figure prices but I thought he was just about worth chancing at [90.0].
Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell both come from California and both have won the Texas Open at San Antonio so I'm happy to chance them too at [95.0] and [150.0].
Brendan Steele @ [26.0]
Adam Schenk @ [90.0]
Charley Hoffman @ [95.0]
Kevin Chappell @ [150.0]
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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