If you're betting on the Safeway Open First Round Leader market then check out our combined FRL current/event form stats here.
Welcome to the 2018/2019 PGA Tour season! Just 2 weeks after crowning Justin Rose as the 2017/18 FedEx Cup Champion, the 2018/19 PGA Tour kicks-off in California at the Safeway Open.
Despite its establishment as recently as 2013, the wraparound season format still takes some getting used to and 2019 will yet again see some considerable changes. With the season now ending on the last weekend of August, ahead of us are 46 tournaments - 3 less than last season. The Players Championship moves from May to March creating a 4-week Florida swing; the PGA Championship moves from August to May, meaning that the 4 Major Championships are contained within a 14-week window; the FedEx St Jude becomes a WGC-Invitational replacing the Bridgestone at Firestone, a week after the Open Championship; and 2019 will also see the new 3 tournament FedEx Cup PlayOff format with the Northern Trust, BMW Championship and Tour Championship. We'll also see 2 new events in the summer with the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit and the 3M Open in Minnesota. There are returns to Coco Beach G&CC (Puerto Rico Open), Bethpage Black (PGA Championship), Hamilton G&CC (RBC Canadian Open), Pebble Beach (U.S. Open), Royal Portrush (Open Championship), Liberty National GC (The Northern Trust) and Medinah CC (BMW Championship). The RBC Canadian Open moves from the week before the Open Championship to the week before the U.S. Open.
The 2018 Safeway Open at the classical Silverado Country Club sees a weaker renewal than we saw in 2017 when team USA Ryder Cup members Tony Finau, Phil Mickelson and Webb Simpson all played, but Brendan Steele goes for a famous three-peat and Phil Mickelson returns direct from Paris. As ever with a mix of solid PGA Tour players and a raft of new web.com Tour products to cast our eye over, we'll be in for an interesting week.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Paddy Power are attacking this week's Safeway Open and are offering a massive 8 places each-way at 1/5 odds. If you haven't already got a Paddy Power account then new customers can access a £/€20 risk-free bet which is refunded in CASH if it loses. 18+, T&Cs apply: Promo code YSKA01 required – use this qualifying link to claim.
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 had 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 re-routed.
North Course, Silverado Country Club, Napa, California: Designer: Trent Jones Jnr, 1966 with a Miller redesign, 2011; Course Type: Classical; Par: 72; Length: 7,166 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. 2016: 70.83 (-1.17), Difficulty Rank 36 of 50 courses. 2017: 71.76 (-0.24), Difficulty Rank 23 of 51 courses.
Silverado Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Silverado and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Robert Trent Jones Jnr designs include:
Course Overview: The North Course is a classical, tree-lined track that's set up to be scoreable at the Safeway Open. It's not overly long at just over 7,150 yards, however the Par 72 features plenty of dog-legs with Napa Valley Oaks and Redwoods strategically placed to block approach shots. Miller re-routed a number of holes, lengthened the course and re-worked the bunkering with the goal of creating an 'Augusta-type' feel. Fairways are on the tight side and are difficult to hit - 3rd most difficult in 2017, 6th most difficult in 2016 - but the penalty is not massive despite 3" rough. Green complexes and surrounding rough are the main defence with some fairly severe undulations, but with winning totals at -15/273 (3 times) and -18/270, this course is more than attackable - especially when green conditions are receptive.
This event has traditionally 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. Previous to 2015, 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 in the past 3 renewals ball-strikers in the shape of Brendan Steele (x2) and Emiliano Grillo have won here at Silverado. Steele has always had a penchant for putting on the West Coast though having grown up in California.
Set-up wise, the North Course at Silverado is a classical-style golf course - indeed Johnny Miller has a long-term goal of landing a U.S. Open or PGA Championship here. Fairly tight, tree-lined fairways can block approach shots and pin positions can be tucked into areas where accessibility is difficult. To add to the difficulty, 2017 saw 7 green complexes feature closely mown run-off areas which grab wayward approaches. These now feature across the 15th to 18th holes just to add a new variant. 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), 21st (2015), 5th (2016) and 17th (2017) for Going for the Green. With 5 holes (the 5th, 8th, 9th, 16th and 18th) where Going for the Green becomes a factor, look for players who can be successfully aggressive with their approach shots.
Winners: 2017: Brendan Steele (-15); 2016: Brendan Steele (-18); 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 predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Phil Mickelson, Patrick Cantlay, Ryan Moore, Cameron Champ, Roberto Castro, Brendan Steele, Sung-jae Im, Scott Langley, Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Bridgestone Invitational / Barracuda Championship and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2017: Steele 33/1; 2016: Steele 50/1; 2015: Grillo 50/1; 2014: Bae 150/1; 2013: Walker 30/1; 2012: Blixt 28/1; 2011: Molder 40/1; 2010: Mediate 150/1; Past 4 Renewals Average: 71/1. Average: 66/1. For a full summary of winner's odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Napa, California is here. This part of California, famous for its vineyards, is notoriously dry. So the interest this week from a meteorological perspective is rain on Tuesday prior to the tournament, which by the looks of it will give the course a 4-5 hour drenching. Across the tournament itself there will be clear conditions throughout with no rain forecast. Wind here is often a feature, so expect a freshening breeze in the afternoons (go for AM FRL tee-times - see below) which should be around the 12-15 mph. The strongest day for breeze looks to be Sunday. Temperatures climb from 21 degrees Celsius on Thursday through to a very pleasant 28 degrees Celsius on Sunday.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of Silverado winners Brendan Steele, Emiliano Grillo and Sang-moon Bae gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:
Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how Silverado has played in recent years and what specific skills it requires:
Brendan Steele: "The difficulty on this course is definitely on the greens. You have to be careful where you leave it. They're quick and got a lot of slope. A few have tons of slope. Nos. 3, 4, 8, these holes, like if you get on the wrong side you've got no chance. As the week goes on it's going to firm up. If you're out of position it's going to be almost impossible to hold the greens, as it was last year. I think even though there are some shorter holes that they're really good strategically because they have areas where you can't be always. So you know, okay, if I'm going to lay up here I need to lay up left so I can come in this way or you have the tree in your way or there is a bunker on the other side. If you're hitting good shots you can score well, and if you're not hitting good shots it'll penalized you a little bit."
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."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2011:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave (where applicable) and winning score since 2010. For full first round leader stats click here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of pure Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
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 7 renewals. All of these players arrived in California having seen recent competitive action, although Brendan Steele of late highlights that immediate top 10 form here is no requirement for victory. Steele, Bae, Molder, Blixt and Walker also had previous main Tour top-10 finishes 'Out West' to their names. 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 in 2015 at Silverado at 50/1. Sang-moon Bae had won at TPC Four Seasons in 2013 prior to winning here in 2014 and Brandon Steele, who this week goes for the three-peat, had only tasted PGA Tour victory once, a distant 4 years prior to lifting the trophy here in 2016.
Spreading things slightly broader and taking the first tournament after the Tour Championship into account across the last 8 seasons - naturally this includes the Fall Series from 2010 through to 2013 - 7 of those 8 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:
My selections are as follows:
Patrick Cantlay 3pts EW 14/1 with Bet £/€5 get £/€20 for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply* (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
Patrick Cantlay is my first bet of the new season in a tournament where he has the highest Official World Golf Ranking at 22nd in the field. He may be the highest ranked player in attendance, but I'm thinking that Cantlay's entry in the Safeway Open tells you exactly where the 26 year-old Californian is mentally at the moment - undoubtedly hungry for his 2nd PGA Tour victory. I picked out Patrick at the Shriners Open 11 months ago at 20/1 when he captured his first title and there's absolutely no doubt that the UCLA product is a huge talent. However there are already doubters who say he doesn't win enough when in contention and I reckon that Cantlay has selected to make his Silverado debut with a huge focus on putting that right. A course set-up which rewards Strokes Gained Off the Tee and Approach is perfect for Patrick, especially as the UCLA graduate is undoubtedly in good nick from tee-to-green right now.
A form line of 21(Tour Championship)-51(BMW)-24(Dell)-8(Northern Trust) is reasonable across a FedEx Cup PlayOff schedule packed full of the best players in the world. He was 4th after 36 holes at the Tour Championship a fortnight ago after a Friday 64 (tied best in the field) and he played nicely at both Ridgewood (4th for SG Tee to Green) and TPC Boston (14th for SG Tee to Green). So in a field where the difficulty is undoubtedly a level or even two down from the PlayOffs, I think Cantlay is in a very strong position to contend for a win this week. 10th for SG Off the Tee, 16th for SG Approach, 9th for SG Tee to Green and 4th for Going for the Green across last season on the PGA Tour are statistics made in heaven for Silverado where powerful tee-to-green navigation far outweighs putting. 4th at Riviera (led for a huge chunk), 4th at Muirfield Village, 6th at Firestone and 8th at Ridgewood highlight a player more than comfortable on Bentgrass/Poa Annua mixed greens.
Emiliano Grillo 1.5pts EW 33/1 with Bet £/€5 get £/€20 for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply* (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
With 7 of the last 8 winners of the first tournament after the Tour Championship featuring players ranked in the top 100 in the OWGR, backing up Cantlay with another member of that clan makes a lot of sense. Silverado is the kind of test where metronomic tee-to-green game eventually wins out. Longish off the tee helps and, as ever, the straighter the better. That sets up opportunities for those who are aggressive on the short par-4s and the par-5s, all of which are driveable. As a non-Tour Championship qualifier and at 61st in the OWGR, Emiliano Grillo has a lot to play for over the next few weeks, with no invite to the WGC HSBC in a few weeks or any of the 2019 Majors. Naturally a winner here in 2015, 26th when defending in 2016 and 28th (5th after 54 holes) in 2017, the Argentine's game is perfect for this track. 8th for Driving Accuracy, 19th for Total Driving, 26th for Ball Striking, 40th for SG Tee to Green, 78th for Going for the Green and 72nd for Birdie or Better when Going for the Green, Grillo is a blue print for Silverado, especially when you see that he was 27th for Scoring Average and 32nd for Birdie Average last season on the PGA Tour. 23rd at Memorial, 19th at the Travelers and 31st at the PGA Championship, Grillo also sparked at TPC Boston a few weeks ago in a Major-class field. Middle rounds of -4/67 & -7/64 catapulted him into semi-contention on the final day and he eventually finished 7th. Yes he's scratchy when in contention, but these are the kind of low-quality tournaments that a player of Grillo's standing win and last season saw him rack up 7 top-10 finishes, with 4 of those in the each-way places. At 33/1 there is just enough juice for me to be interested in the Florida resident, who is running out of opportunities in 2018.
Sang-moon Bae 1pt EW 50/1 with New customers: Bet £10 get £30 & 30 free spins. 18+, T&Cs apply** (6 EW, 1/5 odds)
Brendan Steele proves that this tournament produces multiple winners and I'm more than happy to put up Sang-moon Bae, the 2014 champion here. Remember this is the South Korean player who qualified for the 2015 Tour Championship and at that time was ranked as the 85th best player in the world. He then played for the International Team in the President's Cup played in his homeland, winning 2.5 points before putting down his clubs and starting 2 years of military service as a rifleman. If this was a Hollywood movie you'd say it was too far-fetched!
Bae returned to professional golf just over a year ago and as you would expect his re-introduction has been very much work in progress under the guise of a Major Medical Extension. The 32 year-old has always played his best golf on old-style, classical golf courses and is a lover of Poa Annua putting surfaces, so when he dropped down to the web.com Tour Playoffs in late August after some encouraging performances in Korea and at the Wyndham Championship, I was always interested in seeing what he delivered. 35th at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship (Ohio State GC), preceded 6th at the DAP Championship (Canterbury GC - Bent/Poa Annua greens), where he was 3rd after both 36 and 54 holes. With a return in confidence, especially in his trademark top-notch putting game, Bae then travelled West to Idaho where he won the Boise Open at Hillcrest Country Club - a course which features Poa Annua greens. So Bae now finds himself back on the PGA Tour with 10 starts of his Major Medical Extension left and with the safety net of being part of the web.com Tour reshuffle. Fact is though, if he wants to re-establish himself on the PGA Tour he needs to keep pressing forward with the positive momentum he has right now.
A 2-time winner on the PGA Tour - he also won the 2013 HP Byron Nelson Championship in Texas - Sang-moon has some very linkable course form to Silverado across both Riviera Country Club (8th 2013, 12th 2014, 8th 2015) and Plainfield Country Club (6th 2015), both old-style courses which feature Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix greens. He's kept form together after wins in the past and the relaxed nature of the Safeway Open this week could see the South Korean's return story gather pace.
Bronson Burgoon 1pt EW 100/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet*** for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (8 EW, 1/5 odds):
In his second PGA Tour season, I was particularly impressed by Bronson Burgoon. 16th at the Byron Nelson, 6th at Quicken Loans National, 2nd at the John Deere Classic and 11th at the Northern Trust, Burgoon has played some great stuff at the latter end of the 2018 season. He impressed when playing with Tiger Woods at TPC Potomac and never took a backward step when runner-up to the inspired Michael Kim at TPC Deere Run. His -19/265 total that week highlights that he can go low and a look at his web.com background also shows that the 31 year-old Texan often comes to the front at true birdie-fests such as the 2014 News Sentinel Open (2nd, -20) and 2017 web.com Tour Championship (4th, -19). Bronson also has course experience here at Silverado, playing here for the first time 12 months ago: 11th at 54 holes, he eventually finished 17th - but his liking for these kind of tree-lined, old school, Bent/Poa mix tests can also be seen with a decent outing at Montreux in 2016 where he finished 23rd overall but was 5th after Thursday, 12th after Friday and 6th going into Sunday. Aggressive (31st for Going for the Green) and consistent Off the Tee (6th Total-Driving + 45th SG Off the Tee), I like him for the Safeway.
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