Horses for Courses: Season Opener Safeway Open

ROLL OUT THE BARREL!

I always travel with a church key, you know, just in case!

I hope everyone enjoyed the 18-hour or so offseason! Plenty of time to see the family and just enough time to explain to them how it’s back to work.

Roll out the barrel and sunscreen as Johnny Miller’s Silverado Resort and Spa kicks off the 2020-2021 50 event marathon. The North Course in lovely Napa Valley will host for the seventh consecutive season and will serve as the season opening event for the sixth time during that stretch. Wine country is a great place to kick back and relax if there wasn’t the pressure of winning the season’s first event and punching a ticket for most of the big events later this season. That sounds weird to say one day after The TOUR Championship but it’s time to pop the cork and get on with it.

The North Course at Silverado plays 7,166 and to Par-72. Those numbers would suggest 30-under and course records somewhere in the 50s.

Nope. There’s no way Miller would allow that!

One of the toughest tracks on TOUR to hit fairways, the North Course annually hangs around the top five in this category. Bombing and gouging may work but with rough that’s approaching almost four inches it’s hardly guaranteed. Robert Trent Jones’ green complexes of Poa/Bent roll true as a sip of Silver Oak yet aren’t the easiest to read. Only one winner in the last six has finished inside the top 17 in Strokes-Gained: Putting so there will be plenty of noses buried in green books this weekend.

The “short”-ness and Par 72 will have players chomping at the bit but patience, navigation and experience doesn’t hurt. In the last three seasons, the leading birdie taker has circled only 23 so this place is anything but a pushover. Chesson Hadley and Ricky Barnes share the course record of 61. Brendan Steele posted a tournament best 270 in calendar 2017 but the average winning score is 272.

Cameron Champ is not here this week to defend but that won’t bother the full field of 156 players. Up for grabs are a $6.6 million purse ($1.188 winner), 500 FedExCup points and essentially a three year exemption, the rest of this 49 event season and the two seasons after. Not to mention a spot in the 2021 Masters, PLAYERS and a really cool wine barrel trophy to top it off!  

Recent Winners at Silverado

2019: Cameron Champ (-17; not entered)

Led by three after 54 holes and won by a shot. … Sacramento native became the second Californian to win in the last three years. … Fourth winner of six 30 or younger at 24. … Fourth winner of six to lead the field in Strokes-Gained: Tee to Green. … Also led in Strokes-Gained: Off the Tee and Scrambling. … Second straight winner to rank outside the top 12 in Strokes Gained: Approach but also top also top eight in Driving Distance. … 21 birdies (T2). … Won in third attempt (T25-MC).

Notables Playing This Week: Zac Blair (T4) posted 16-under over the final three rounds after opening with 75. … Cameron Percy (T7) signed for four rounds of 70 or better. … Xinjun Zhang (T7) led the field with 22 birdies. … Nick Watney (T10) sat two shots off Bryson DeChambeau’s (not entered) 36-hole lead at 10-under after 69-65. … Adam Scott (not entered) was the only player in the top 32 to post two rounds above par. … Top 16 were double digits under-par. … 2-under played the weekend. … Just 23 bogey-free rounds on the week.

2018: Kevin Tway (-14)

Defeated Ryan Moore (not entered) and Brandt Snedeker in a three hole playoff. … Birdied Nos. 17 and 18 to get into playoff. … Birdied all three playoff holes to win for the first time on TOUR. … Joins all winners here by finishing in the top three in Bogey Avoidance. … Third in Strokes-Gained: Tee to Green. … Began the final round three shots back in the last group.

Notables Playing This Week: Brandt Snedeker (P2) led by three after 36 and 54 holes, led the field with 23 birdies. … Aaron Baddeley and Luke List shared fourth with Troy Merritt and Sam Ryder. … JB Holmes cash alone in ninth. … Top 10 was all double digits under par on 10-under led by Bill Haas. … Phil Mickelson (T17) was the only player in the top 24 to have a round at par AND a round OVER par. … Sepp Straka (T46) posted 63 on Thursday for the first round lead. … Ricky Barnes (T69) tied the course record with 61 in Round 2. … 3-under played the weekend.

2017: Brendan Steele (-15)

Defended his title successfully as he won by two shots. … Trailed by two shots entering the final round in the penultimate group. .. Ball-striking clinic from the Californian as he led the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Tee to Green. … One of six winners to place in the top three in Bogey Avoidance. … Third winner in four to lead Par-5 Scoring. … Third winner in four to finish outside T25 in Strokes-Gained: Putting.

Notables: Chesson Hadley (T3) broke 70 once as he posted the course record 61 in Round 2. … Phil Mickelson (T3) didn’t have anything better than 68. … Graham DeLaet, who returns from injury this week, was T5. … Tyler Duncan (T5) co-led after Round 1 and led alone after 36 and 54 holes, closed with 75. … Bud Cauley (T7) played with Steele on Sunday and shot 74 to round out the group at 10-under. … Only seven rounds in the 60s on Sunday as gusty winds and wildfires raged. … Hadley and Mickelson co-led with 23 birdies. … 1-under played the weekend.

Key stat leaders

Top golfers in each statistic on the 2019-2020 PGA TOUR are listed only if they are scheduled to compete this week.

* – Previous Top 10 finish at Silverado

Strokes-Gained: Off the Tee
3  Sergio Garcia (debut)
5  Jhonattan Vegas
14 Will Gordon (debut)
16 Sam Burns
17 Harold Varner III
25 *Luke List
29 Joel Dahmen
30 Doc Redman
34 Lucas Glover
35 Harry Higgs

Scrambling
7  Adam Schenk
9  Mark Anderson
13 *Bud Cauley
14 Cameron Tringale
15 David Hearn
18 Kramer Hickok
22 Russell Knox
24 Tim Wilkinson
26 *Brandt Snedeker
27 Ben Martin
29 Carlos Ortiz
30 Maverick McNealy
32 Shane Lowry

SG: Approach the Green
8  Cameron Tringale
10 Doc Redman
13 *Emiliano Grillo (2015 winner)
14 Jim Furyk
16 *Brendan Steele
20 Branden Grace
22 *Cameron Percy
23 *Matthew NeSmith
24 Jason Dufner
26 Russell Knox
28 Harold Varner III
29 Chez Reavie
30 *Chesson Hadley
31 *Nick Watney
32 Lucas Glover

Sommeliers

Brendan Steele: Two-time champ has been quiet the last two seasons but he’s the all-time money leader by a million bucks. Never missed in all six.

Phil Mickelson: Backed up his T8 in 2017 with T3 in 2018 and followed with T17 in 2019 before MC last year.

Martin Laird: Only other player in the field other than Steele and Mickelson to hit the top 10 twice since the move here in calendar 2014. Enjoys golf in the West and cashed T3 in 2015 and T8 in 2017.

Emiliano Grillo: Won in his first attempt in his first event with a TOUR card. Won the week prior at the KF Tour Championship so he was a bit scalding hot. T26 is his best in four visits since winning.

90 Points

Chez Reavie: All six have cashed including three T22 or better but nothing inside top 10.

Harold Varner III: Never missed in five. Stroke average of 70.25 comes with an 80 and 79! Top 17 three of last four.

Brandt Snedeker: P2 in 2018 hasn’t missed in four tries.

Bud Cauley: Four of four as well with T7 in 2018.

Charl Schwartzel: Teed it once, T6 with all four rounds in the red 2016.

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