8 Places Each Way! Stan James are going 8 places EW, 1/6 odds plus new customers can get a bet £10 get £20 offer - full details here.
Despite its establishment in 2013, the wraparound season format still takes some getting used to. Just 3 weeks after crowning the 2015/16 FedEx Cup Champion and a fortnight after seeing Team USA deservedly triumph in the Ryder Cup, the 2016/17 PGA Tour kicks-off in California at the freshly titled Safeway Open. Ahead of us, 47 tournaments with new venues at Club de Golf Chapultepec (WGC Mexico Championship), Eagle Point Golf Club (Wells Fargo Championship), Erin Hills (US Open) and Glen Oaks Club (Northern Trust - previously The Barclays) to look forward to in 2017.
The Safeway Open at the classical Silverado Country Club was all going to be about the return of California's very own former World Number 1 Tiger Woods. Priced up at a best price of 40/1, Woods announced yesterday (Monday) that he has put his 2016 plans to one side, "I know that I am not yet ready to play on the PGA Tour or compete in Turkey. My health is good, and I feel strong, but my game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be. I'm close and I won't stop until I get there. I will continue to work hard, and plan to play at my foundation's event, the Hero World Challenge, in Albany, Bahamas." Naturally it's a shame, but we still have a tournament to decipher.
Paul Casey (as short as 9/1) is the tournament favourite, followed by Ryder Cup heroes Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson. Defending champion Emiliano Grillo, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Kevin Na follow in the market with a field including the likes of Bill Haas, Tony Finau and Webb Simpson. From a bookmaker perspective, Stan James have gone in a totally new direction for the first time at the Safeway, offering 8 places each-way at 1/6 odds - you can access this and a £20 free bet for new customers here.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the British Masters - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: Silverado Country Club was purchased in 2010 by a small group of individuals including Johnny Miller who soon set about updating both the North and South courses. Set in the rich wine growing country of the Napa Valley, the North Course had played host to the PGA Tour from 1968 to 1976 and also the Champions Tour from 1977 to 1980. Miller's goal has always been to attract the PGA Tour back to the North Course with a view to potentially landing the U.S. Open or PGA Championship in the future. So 2011 saw Miller re-design both courses with the 1966 Trent Jones Jnr tournament course receiving a renovation that added 250 yards and saw a host of holes rerouted.
North Course, Silverado Country Club, Napa, California: Designer: Trent Jones Jnr, 1966, with a Miller redesign, 2011; Course Type: Classical; Par: 72; Length: 7,203 yards; Water Hazards: 2; Fairways: Bentgrass with Poa Annua, Kentucky Bluegrass and Rye; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass and Rye, 3"; Greens: 6,200 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Stimpmeter: 11.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2014: 71.70 (-0.30), Difficulty Rank 24 of 52 courses, 2015: 71.11 (-0.89), Difficulty Rank 33 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Silverado and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: The North Course is a classical, tree-lined track that's set up to be scoreable at the Safeway. It's not overly long at just over 7,200 yards, however the Par 72 features plenty of dog-legs with Napa Valley Oaks and Redwoods strategically placed to block approach shots. Miller rerouted a number of holes, lengthened the course and reworked the bunkering with the goal of creating an 'Augusta-type' feel. Fairways are on the tight side and were difficult to hit (10th most difficult on Tour) in 2015, but the penalty is not massive despite 3" rough. Green complexes and surrounding rough are the main defence with some fairly severe undulations, but the key over the past 2 renewals have been green speeds. Fast stimpmeter conditions in 2014 definitely favoured those with a short game bias, as opposed to 12 months ago where play-off participants Grillo and Na both had negative Strokes Gained Putting performances.
The event has traditionally always favoured free-scoring players who can putt beautifully and confidently on greens that have poa annua within their structure. As we know poa annua is not every player's cup of tea. Prior to last term, a winners' list with Molder, Blixt, Walker and Bae clearly indicated that strong putters, and those with an excellent scrambling game from the rough, had an advantage in Northern California. But 12 months ago Emiliano Grillo, with slower green speeds, won this with his standard tee-to-green excellence and a negative Stokes Gained Putting performance.
Set-up wise, the North Course at Silverado is no resort-style golf course. That's to be expected as Johnny Miller has a long-term goal of landing a U.S. Open or PGA Championship. Fairly tight, tree-lined fairways can block approach shots and pin positions can be tucked into areas where accessibility is difficult. The greens themselves, especially on the front side, are described as severely sloping by many, which in turn has placed Silverado in the top-half of difficulty on Tour when it comes to proximity to the pin since its arrival on the schedule. Another insightful statistic is that the course only ranked 14th (2014) and 12th (2015) for Going for the Green - Birdie or Better Conversion. With 5 holes (the 5th, 8th, 9th, 17th and 18th) where Going for the Green becomes a factor, look for players who can be successfully aggressive with their approach shots.
Winners: 2015: Emiliano Grillo (-15); 2014: Sang-moon Bae (-15); 2013: Jimmy Walker (-17); 2012: Jonas Blixt (-16); 2011: Bryce Molder (-17); 2010: Rocco Mediate (-15).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Safeway Open predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players in the Top 5 of the Predictor are Matt Kuchar (Predictor number 1), Paul Casey, Roberto Castro, Phil Mickelson and Jhonattan Vegas.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the PGA Championship and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Grillo 50/1; 2014: Bae 150/1; 2013: Walker 30/1; 2012: Blixt 28/1; 2011: Molder 40/1; 2010: Mediate 150/1; Average: 75/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Napa is here. Autumnal conditions will be the story of the week at the Safeway. Conditions will be cold for the early starters and Thursday should see low scoring with low winds. From there expect rain across Friday morning and gusting 20 mph southerly winds for Saturday afternoon. More rain overnight Saturday will see Silverado likely play soft and receptive for the first time since the Tour came here in 2014.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of Silverado winners Emiliano Grillo and Sang-moon Bae gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how Silverado sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Emiliano Grillo: "The course asks you to be aggressive a little bit, but you have to be very smart out there. If you play smart you can score well. Out here you got to play well off the tee. You got to play from the fairway. If not, you can get some bogeys out there. I think the main key is staying patient and hitting some solid shots."
Justin Rose: "Yeah, this is a golf course where you have to drive it well. If you do drive it well around here, you set up a lot of birdie chances. The par-5s are all within range and then there are a lot of par-4s where you have wedges into the green. That's why you see guys going low. Also a tricky course. Has its subtleties. You got to put the ball in play. There are some doglegs. Pretty narrow off the tee. It's kind of the course if you play well you can go low. It's going to find out our if you're not on your game."
Sang-moon Bae: "Honestly, I really like this course because it's like a classic - always classic courses you need really good iron shots for second, really narrow, small greens, a lot of undulation. I think the greens were pretty soft this week, but the fairways were a little firm, but rough is not easy. So I drove it pretty good, but iron shot was really, really good, and that's why I made a lot of birdies this week."
Andres Gonzales: "It's not overly long. It's not real overpowering, but there are a lot of sections of the green where if you're not in the right spot, you're going to have a tough up-and-down or a tough two-putt, so you want to be below the hole on a lot of them. You have to be in the right position on fairways. You can be in the fairway and not have a clear shot, so you have to be on the right half of the fairway, or if you do miss a fairway be on the proper side. I don't think that you're going to have anybody overpowering it. With some of the doglegs, trying to play into position and take some clubs out of your hands on certain holes."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 5 winners of this event:
Incoming form of winners since 2011:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Robert Trent Jones Jnr designs include:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since the tournament moved to Silverado in 2015. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
The renamed Safeway Open - previously the Frys.com - produces some interesting trends. Although the tournament has had various schedule slots across the 'Fall Series' before becoming the now PGA Tour curtain-raiser, all winners have been at 150/1 or less across the past 5 renewals. All of these players arrived in California having seen recent competitive action and had a CV that contained strong immediate finishes. Bae, Molder, Blixt and Walker also had main Tour top 10 finishes on the West coast previously. Grillo on the other hand was quite simply playing exceptional golf after winning the web.com Tour Championship on his previous outing. This tournament in recent times has undoubtedly promoted maiden Tour winners - Molder, Blixt and Walker at CordeValle. Grillo became yet another last term at Silverado at 50/1. Sang-moon Bae had won at TPC Four Seasons in 2013 prior to winning here in 2015.
Spreading things slightly broader and taking the first tournament after the Tour Championship into account across the last 6 seasons - naturally this includes the 'Fall Series' from 2010-2013 - 5 of those 6 tournaments have been won by players ranked in the top 90 in the Official Golf World Rankings. Only Bae won with a triple digit OWGR at 195.
Bookmaker Offers: A number of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms this week with Stan James, for the first time ever in a regular event, going 8 places each-way at 1/6 odds:
My selections are as follows:
Jon Rahm is first up for me in season 2016/17. At a tournament where Tour maidens prosper, former World Amateur Number 1 Rahm will have been looking forward to this event ever since the Wyndham Championship in August. In the intervening period, the incredibly talented Spaniard has been back to his homeland to recharge his batteries and he was actively supporting fellow countrymen Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Sergio Garcia at the Ryder Cup - their brilliant performances for Team Europe will only help to inspire the 21 year-old from the Basque Country. It's easy to forget though that Rahm's golfing education has been mainly US-based as he attended Arizona State University and he was a member of their Sun Devils squad where he won 11 college tournaments and was World Number 1 for an incredible 60 weeks. Most of us were alerted to Jon when he finished 5th last year at TPC Scottsdale as an amateur and at June's US Open (his last appearance as an amateur) he putted beautifully on his way to an impressive 23rd. He immediately turned pro and led for 36 holes at none other than Congressional before finishing 3rd. 2nd at another classical course at Glen Abbey highlights that Silverado should be a perfect course for Rahm who is already 133rd on the OWGR.
Jason Kokrak found his game across the FedEx Cup Playoffs and up against Major Championship quality fields he delivered 7th at Bethpage, 8th at TPC Boston and 17th at Crooked Stick. Kokrak though failed to qualify for East Lake and so the World Number 89 is sure to be fired up with a view to getting both his first Tour win and a top OWGR 50 spot by year end. Long as you like, the North Carolina resident is a decent ball-striker who sits 9th in my rolling Greens in Regulation rankings. Adept in the wind and comfortable on poa annua greens, Kokrak is undoubtedly due a win and his CV contains 2nd (2012) and 12th (2013) at CordeValle which is sure to give confidence. He traditionally plays well on the West Coast, as 8th at PGA West (2013), 9th at Pebble Beach (2012) and 2nd this year at Riviera clearly highlight. He led down the stretch at Riviera against the likes of Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson and certainly held it together despite missing out by a shot to Watson. Silverado and the drop in field quality could be just the ticket.
Regulars will know that I've been tracking Bud Cauley for a length of time and again I think he's a danger this week. He travelled to Germany recently with a group of Americans in the form of Matt Every, Luke List and Lee McCoy and missed the cut by one at the Porsche European Open. That will have shaken off any rust and I can see Cauley hitting the ground running at a Silverado set-up which is sure to suit the 26 year-old Floridian. An excellent driver, with a decent touch around the greens by trade, Bud last season was held back by a recalcitrant putter in the main. But that all changed at TPC Deere Run and Sedgefield where he putted beautifully on his way to 8th and 10th place finishes. As we saw back in 2012, when Cauley is confident with his approach play his performances elevate, especially on low scoring tracks. 3rd at CordeValle in 2011, Cauley has also played well at Bethpage (10th 2012), Hamilton (4th 2012) and Pebble Beach (6th 2011 Pebble Beach Invitational) so I see no reason why he can't contend this week.
Chris Kirk is another who will see this week as a huge opportunity to kick-start his fortunes. A winner in weaker fields in the past at Annandale (2011) and Sea Island (2013), Kirk was ensconced in the OWGR top 50 at this point 12 months ago, boosted by high profile victories at TPC Boston (2014) and Colonial (2015). He had challenged for the FedEx Cup in 2014, finishing 2nd to Billy Horschel, and just played at the Presidents Cup where he had beaten Anirban Lahiri in the singles. 12 months on though he finds himself 76th in the OWGR and needing to perform strongly to guarantee 2017 Major appearances. There were some green shoots last time out at Crooked Stick when he finished 10th - Kirk was 4th in the field for Birdies - and he admitted that sessions with coach Scott Hamilton had improved his ball-striking no end. Has played well on the West Coast before - 7th at PGA West in 2011, 2nd at Pebble Beach in 2013 and if it rains significantly during the tournament Kirk loves receptive conditions.
I must admit I was surprised to see James Hahn at 61st on the OWGR, but he's always a player that it is underestimated - indeed he was 150/1 on first show with Coral. Still available at 100/1, Hahn who finished 5th at TPC Boston and 24th at Crooked Stick on his last 2 outings has masses to play for at Silverado this week. Let's not forget that Hahn won at the classical Riviera in Los Angeles (Bentgrass Poa greens) in 2015 and backed that up with a fantastic victory at Quail Hollow this year where he saw off Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson. So he arrives at Silverado - where he shot 66-68 across rounds 2 and 3 last year - hitting greens for fun, knowing that a win or a close call will see him move into the OWGR top 50. 4th at PGA West (2013), 3rd at Pebble Beach (2013), 5th at TPC Four Seasons (2014) and 6th at Old White TPC (2015) simply fuel the flames for me when you look at correlating course form results chalked up by Sang-moon Bae, Steven Bowditch and Kevin Na.
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