Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Safeway Open Tips 2020

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Welcome to the 2020/2021 PGA Tour season.  After crowning Dustin Johnson as the 2019/20 FedEx Cup Champion, the 2020/21 PGA Tour kicks-off in just 3 days in California at the Safeway Open.

Despite its establishment as recently as 2013, the wraparound season format still takes some getting used to and 2021 will yet again see some considerable changes in these Covid-19 impacted times. The Far East Swing has been cancelled, with the WGC-HSBC Champions event now scheduled for 2021. However both the South Korea (CJ Cup) and Japan (ZOZO Championship) stop-offs have been relocated to Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas and Sherwood Country Club in California.

The Corales Championship will be a full FedEx Cup tournament played in the final week of September, with the Bermuda Championship also on the schedule – whether it will have full FedEx Cup status is to be decided. The Houston Open moves to Memorial Park Golf Course and is scheduled the week before the delayed Masters Tournament, which will be played between 12th-15th November.

We start the fun with this week’s Safeway Open at Silverado Country Club, with the mere matter of the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot next week. My US Open Research Preview is available here for those doing some early analysis.

Before we talk through my Safeway Open tips, the number of new visitors to Golf Betting System is increasing by the week, with the U.S. Open next week. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) the Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

The Safeway Open at the classical Silverado Country Club attracts a number of quality players year in, year out. This 2020 renewal sees Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Shane Lowry, Brandt Snedeker and Sergio Garcia amongst a full 156-man field who are all looking to start the new season with a win.

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Course Guide: Silverado Resort and Spa 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 Resort and Spa, 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: Bermudagrass with Poa Annua, 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. 2018: 71.10 (-0.90), Difficulty Rank 29 of 49 courses. 2019: 71.24 (-0.76), Difficulty Rank 19 of 41 courses.

Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the North Course at Silverado and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:

  • Silverado: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:26; 300:24; 325:25; 350:24.
  • East Lake: 250 yards from the tee: 28 yards wide; 275:26; 300:25; 325:24; 350:23.
  • Olympia Fields: 250 yards from the tee: 28 yards wide; 275:26; 300:25; 325:26; 350:26.
  • TPC Boston: 250 yards from the tee: 37 yards wide; 275:35; 300:34; 325:27; 350:33.
  • Sedgefield: 250 yards from tee: 29 yards wide; 275:28; 300:26 325:23; 350:22.
  • TPC Harding Park: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:26; 300:28 325:27; 350:26.
  • TPC Southwind: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:29; 300:29; 325:31; 350:26.
  • TPC Twin Cities: 250 yards from the tee: 38 yards wide; 275:38; 300:31; 325:30; 350:36.
  • Muirfield Village: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:33; 300:29; 325:24; 350:29.
  • Detroit Golf Club: 250 yards from tee: 34 yards wide; 275:34; 300:35 325:34; 350:33.

Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Robert Trent Jones Jnr designs include:

  • Chambers Bay – 2015 US Open
  • CordeValle – 2010-2013 Open
  • The Mines Resort & GC – 2010-2012 CIMB Classic

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 very difficult to hit – but the penalty is not massive despite 3″ rough. Green complexes and surrounding rough are the main defence with some fairly severe undulations, and with winning totals at -17/271 (last year), -14/274, -15/273 (3 times) and -18/270, this course is by no means the total, out-and-out resort scoring pushover we often see on the PGA Tour.

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 5 renewals, big-hitting, ball-strikers in the shape of Cameron Champ, Kevin Tway, 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 typically ranks in the top 20 hardest for Going for the Green, which makes sense when so many fairways are missed by the field. 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.

safeway open tips

Winners: 2019: Cameron Champ (-17); 2018: Kevin Tway (-14); 2017: Brendan Steele (-15); 2016: Brendan Steele (-18); 2015: Emiliano Grillo (-15); 2014: Sang-moon Bae (-15); CordeValle Winners: 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 | Combined Stats.

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 Luke List, Jhonattan Vegas, Grayson Murray, Cameron Davis, Sergio Garcia, Brandt Snedeker, Phil Mickelson, Sam Burns, Brendan Steele and Jordan Spieth.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Memorial Tournament, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour (where recorded) 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:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Brian Stuard; 2) Kyle Stanley; 3) Ryan Armour / Austin Cook; 5) Henrik Norlander; 6) Tyler Duncan; 7) Chris Baker; 8) Jason Dufner / Chez Reavie / Kevin Streelman; 11) Denny McCarthy; 12) Joel Dahmen / Brendan Steele; 14) Jim Furyk / Ted Potter Jnr; 16) Bo Hoag / Josh Teater; 18) Doug Ghim; 19) Emiliano Grillo / Troy Merritt / Vaughn Taylor.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Hank Lebioda / Shane Lowry / Cameron Tringale; 4) Doug Ghim; 5) Erik van Rooyen; 6) Pat Perez / Kyle Stanley; 8) Luke List; 9) Cameron Davis; 10) Jhonattan Vegas; 11) Tyler Duncan / Si Woo Kim; 13) Chris Baker / Jason Dufner / Jim Furyk; 16) Henrik Norlander; 17) Brendan Steele; 18) Russell Knox / Robby Shelton; 20) Harold Varner III.
  • Scrambling: 1) Tim Wilkinson; 2) Johnson Wagner; 3) Cameron Tringale; 4) Phil Mickelson; 5) David Hearn; 6) Chris Baker / Brendan Steele / Harold Varner III; 9) Fabian Gomez / Adam Schenk; 11) Russell Knox; 12) Michael Gligic / Nate Lashley / Carlos Ortiz / Nick Watney; 16) Jason Dufner / Shane Lowry; 18) Doug Ghim / Henrik Norlander / Vincent Whaley.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Aaron Wise; 2) Roger Sloan; 3) Zack Sucher; 4) Cameron Davis; 5) Joel Dahmen; 6) Ricky Barnes / Si Woo Kim / Robby Shelton; 9) K.H. Lee; 10) Patton Kizzire; 11) Talor Gooch / Denny McCarthy; 13) Hunter Mahan; 14) Charl Schwartzel; 15) Brice Garnett / Chesson Hadley / Mark Hubbard / Scott Stallings / Kevin Streelman; 20) Phil Mickelson.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 20 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Memorial Tournament, which includes PGA Tour events where recorded. 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:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Sam Burns; 2) Emiliano Grillo / Kyle Stanley; 4) Sergio Garcia; 5) Kramer Hickok; 6) Erik van Rooyen; 7) Cameron Davis; 8) Ryan Brehm / Beau Hossler / Brendan Steele; 11) Luke List; 12) Doug Ghim; 13) Will Gordon / Harold Varner III; 15) Kristoffer Ventura; 16) Peter Kuest; 17) Chris Baker / Joel Dahmen / Patrick Rodgers; 20) Jhonattan Vegas; 21) Keegan Bradley; 22) Shane Lowry; 23) Robby Shelton; 24) Tyler Duncan; 25) Russell Knox / Ted Potter Jnr.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Chris Baker; 2) Hank Lebioda / Si Woo Kim; 4) Josh Teater; 5) Brendan Steele; 6) Jason Dufner; 7) Cameron Tringale; 8) Henrik Norlander; 9) Jhonattan Vegas; 10) Jordon Spieth; 11) Tyler Duncan / Chez Reavie; 13) Adam Schenk; 14) Brendan Grace; 15) Shane Lowry / Denny McCarthy; 17) Mark Hubbard; 18) Cameron Davis / Robby Shelton; 20) Patton Kizzire; 21) Scott Stallings; 22) Luke List; 23) Kevin Streelman; 24) Talor Gooch; 25) Emiliano Grillo / Russell Knox / C.T. Pan.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Hank Lebioda; 2) Brandon Hagy; 3) Bud Cauley; 4) Harold Varner III; 5) David Hearn; 6) Michael Gligic; 7) Doug Ghim; 8) D.J. Trahan; 9) Carlos Ortiz / Jordon Spieth; 11) Jason Dufner; 12) Rob Oppenheim / Charl Schwartzel; 14) Phil Mickelson; 15) Si Woo Kim; 16) Luke List; 17) Brandt Snedeker; 18) Sebastian Cappelen; 19) Pat Perez; 20) Peter Kuest; 21) Joel Dahmen / Will Gordon / Kevin Streelman; 24) Robby Shelton; 25) Bo Hoag / Seamus Power.
  • Top 20 SG Tee to Green: 1) Hank Lebioda; 2) Si Woo Kim; 3) Chris Baker; 4) Jason Dufner; 5) Doug Ghim; 6) Luke List; 7) Robby Shelton / Brendan Steele / Harold Varner III; 10) Sergio Garcia; 11) Cameron Davis; 12) Erik van Rooyen; 13) Cameron Tringale; 14) Emiliano Grillo; 15) Tyler Duncan / Kyle Stanley; 17) Sam Burns / Shane Lowry / Jordon Spieth; 20) Russell Knox / Kevin Streelman; 22) Bud Cauley / Jhonattan Vegas; 24) Michael Gligic / Branden Grace / Adam Schenk.
  • Top 20 SG Putting: 1) Cameron Davis; 2) Patton Kizzire; 3) Roger Sloan; 4) Brendan Steele; 5) Joseph Bramlett; 6) Joel Dahmen / Patrick Rodgers; 8) Vincent Whaley; 9) Talor Gooch; 10) Aaron Baddeley / David Hearn / Xinjun Zhang; 13) Sepp Straka; 14) Wyndham Clark; 15) Beau Hossler / Mark Hubbard; 17) Denny McCarthy / Nick Watney; 19) Peter Uihlein; 20) Chesson Hadley; 21) D.J. Trahan; 22) Doc Redman; 23) Troy Merritt / Zack Sucher; 25) Harry Higgs / Andrew Putnam.
  • Top 20 SG Total: 1) Cameron Davis; 2) Si Woo Kim; 3) Brendan Steele; 4) Chris Baker; 5) Hank Lebioda; 6) Doug Ghim / Robby Shelton; 8) Talor Gooch / Adam Schenk; 10) Jason Dufner; 11) Harold Varner III; 12) Sam Burns / Denny McCarthy / Henrik Norlander / Cameron Tringale; 16) Bud Cauley / Kyle Stanley / Nick Watney; 19) Joel Dahmen / Erik van Rooyen; 21) Kristoffer Ventura; 22) Patton Kizzire; 23) Michael Gligic / Shane Lowry / Pat Perez / Xinjun Zhang.

Winners & Prices: 2019: Champ 150/1; 2018: Tway 66/1; 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 6 Renewals Average: 83/1; Overall Average: 75/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2019: Thursday: Sunny. High of 85. Wind SW 6-12 mph, with gusts to 18 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy. High of 77. Wind SW 6-12 mph. Morning tee times were delayed 10 minutes due to fog. Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 73. Wind NW 12-18 mph, with gusts to 25 mph. Sunday: Sunny. High of 69. Wind W 6-12 mph, with gusts to 18 mph.
  • 2018: Thursday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 70. Wind SW 6-12 mph. Friday: Sunny. High of 74. Wind SW 8-15 mph. Saturday: Sunny. High of 78. Wind NW 7-12 mph. Sunday: Sunny and windy, with a high of 84. Wind N 15-25 mph, with gusts to 36 mph.
  • 2017: Thursday: Sunny, with a high of 84. Wind SW 5-10 mph. Friday: Sunny, with a high of 84. Wind SW 5-10 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 86. Wind SW 5-10 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with a high of 84. N wind 15-25 mph, with gusts to 30 mph.
  • 2016: Thursday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 69. Wind SW 5-10 mph. Friday: Cloudy, with moderate rain showers in the afternoon. High of 66. Wind SW 10-20 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy, with a high of 66, with heavy rain in the afternoon. Sunday: Cloudy, with a high of 66. Wind SW 8-15 mph.
  • 2015: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 78. Wind SW at 8-14 mph. Friday: High of 79. SW wind at 5-10 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy. High of 77. Wind S at 10-15 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy in the afternoon, with a high of 75. SW wind at 6-12 mph.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Napa, California is here. This part of California, famous for its vineyards, is notoriously dry. With little in the way of rain this month and none due in tournament week, we should again see fast fairway conditions. Tournament organisers have never overly drenched the greens in tournament week here previously as well, so we may well see a scenario where approaches release a little. Nothing more than the lightest of breeze from the south west forecast, with temperatures of 29 degrees to 30 degree Celsius throughout.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of Silverado CC winners since 2014 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2019, Cameron Champ (-17). 337 yards (1st), 53.6% fairways (21st), 73.6% greens in regulation (10th), 37″9″ proximity to hole (51st), 84.2 % scrambling (1st), 1.74 putts per GIR (38th).
  • 2018, Kevin Tway (-14). 319 yards (14th), 51.8% fairways (40th), 72.2% greens in regulation (18th), 36″3″ proximity to hole (48th), 80.0 % scrambling (1st), 1.73 putts per GIR (22nd).
  • 2017, Brendan Steele (-15). 328 yards (1st), 67.9% fairways (3rd), 79.2% greens in regulation (4th), 29″10″ proximity to hole (6th), 73.3 % scrambling (7th), 1.81 putts per GIR (60th).
  • 2016, Brendan Steele (-18). 292 yards (23rd), 64.3% fairways (5th), 75.0% greens in regulation (21st), 30″0″ proximity to hole (16th), 72.2 % scrambling (4th), 1.65 putts per GIR (8th).
  • 2015, Emiliano Grillo (-15). 300 yards (37th), 64.3% fairways (8th), 73.6% greens in regulation (16th), 30″0″ proximity to hole (3rd), 73.7 % scrambling (5th), 1.74 putts per GIR (41st).
  • 2014, Sang-moon Bae (-15). 299 yards (26th), 55.4% fairways (45th), 75.0% greens in regulation (6th), 28″5″ proximity to hole (4th), 77.8 % scrambling (3rd), 1.70 putts per GIR (18th).

Tournament Skill Averages:

Driving Distance: 17th, Driving Accuracy: 20th, Greens in Regulation: 13th, Proximity to Hole: 21st, Scrambling: 4th, Putting Average 31st.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 2019, Cameron Champ (-17). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 13th, SG Around the Green: 19th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 28th.
  • 2018, Kevin Tway (-14). SG Off the Tee: 19th, SG Approach: 23rd, SG Around the Green: 7th, SG Tee to Green: 3rd, SG Putting: 18th.
  • 2017, Brendan Steele (-15). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 3rd, SG Around the Green: 48th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 29th.
  • 2016, Brendan Steele (-18). SG Off the Tee: 20th, SG Approach: 8th, SG Around the Green: 38th, SG Tee to Green: 11th, SG Putting: 6th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:

  • SG Off the Tee: 10th, SG Approach: 12th, SG Around the Green: 28th, SG Tee to Green: 4th, SG Putting: 20th.

So let’s take a view from players as to how Silverado has played in recent years and what specific skills it requires:

Cameron Champ: “I just play (the par-5s) them as aggressive as I can. Obviously key is getting it in the fairway out here, some of the par 5s are pretty narrow, and then from there, like I said, I usually play my best whenever I stay aggressive and that’s what I try to do on the par 5s. Out here it just depends on the pins. Sometimes I don’t even care if I’m in the rough, it doesn’t really matter. I’ll just try to position it off the tee. If the pin’s far left, I’ll play the right side. And like I said, I’ll take it in the rough being up there hitting driver. So that’s kind of how I look at it this week. For me, the par 5s out here are key. I feel like I have to birdie those with my length, and some of the chances I can have at them, those are key for the rest of the week.”

Kevin Tway: Yeah, I played in the wind all the time from Oklahoma State, and now I live in Jupiter and it’s windy there, so I’m comfortable with the wind. Got to hit the ball solid and that’s just what I’m trying to do. Yeah, the 2nd hole’s hard, especially when it was cold this morning. I think I hit 2-iron and I don’t hit many 2-irons on par 3s. Yeah, that hole’s tough. If the greens firm up, a couple of pins could be pretty tough, but there’s no wind, so it should be pretty good scoring.”

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 past 6 Silverado winners:

  • 2019 – Cameron Champ: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2018 – Kevin Tway: Round 1: 22nd, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2017 – Brendan Steele: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2016 – Brendan Steele: Round 1: 9th, Round 2: 16th, Round 3: 6th.
  • 2015 – Emiliano Grillo: Round 1: 13th, Round 2: 19th, Round 3: 4th.
  • 2014 – Sang-moon Bae: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 6 winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2019 – Cameron Champ: Round 1: 1 2 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 3 ahead.
  • 2018 – Kevin Tway: Round 1: 1 5 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2017 – Brendan Steele: Round 1: level, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2016 – Brendan Steele: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 9 back, Round 3: 4 back.
  • 2015 – Emiliano Grillo: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 6 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2014 – Sang-moon Bae: Round 1: level, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 4 ahead.

Incoming form of winners since 2014:

  • Cameron Champ: 28th Sanderson/65th BMW/21st Northern Trust/MC Wyndham.
  • Kevin Tway: 43rd Dell Tech/56th Northern Trust/11th Wyndham/23rd Barracuda.
  • Brendan Steele: 44th BMW/56th Dell Tech/MC Northern Trust/MC PGA.
  • Brendan Steele: 64th BMW/72nd Deutsche/22nd Barclays/17th Travelers.
  • Emiliano Grillo: 1st Final/MC Nationwide/2nd Small Business/9th Hotel Fitness.
  • Sang-moon Bae: 15th ANA Open/MC Barclays/14th Wyndham/MC Canada.

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.

  • 2019 – Scott/Landry – AM/PM Split -7/65 – 28/1 125/1.
  • 2018 – Straka – PM -9/63 – 150/1.
  • 2017 – Duncan/Hoge/Steele – All AM -7/65 – 125/1 100/1 45/1.
  • 2016 – Piercy – AM -10/62.
  • 2015 – Steele – AM -8/64.
  • 2014 – Bae/Gonzales AM/PM Split -6/66.

For the record, here’s the breakdown of pure Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

• 5 – Phil Mickelson.
• 4 – Brandt Snedeker.
• 2 – Scott Piercy, Hunter Mahan, Jordan Spieth, Brendan Steele, Nick Watney.
• 1 – Aaron Baddeley, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Emiliano Grillo, James Hahn, J.B. Holmes, Russell Knox, Nate Lashley, Shane Lowry, William McGirt, D.A. Points, Ted Potter Jnr, Andrew Putnam, Chez Reavie, Scott Stallings, Chris Stroud, Vaughn Taylor, Kevin Tway, Bo Van Pelt.

The Safeway Open – previously the – 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 9 renewals. All of these players arrived in California having seen recent competitive action, although Cameron Champ, Brendan Steele and Kevin Tway of late, highlight that immediate top 10 form here is no requirement for victory.

Steele, Bae, Molder, Blixt and Walker 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 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, with Kevin Tway winning his first PGA Tour title here in 2018 at 66/1. Sang-moon Bae had won at TPC Four Seasons in 2013 prior to winning here in 2014 and Brandon Steele had only tasted PGA Tour victory once, a distant 4 years prior to lifting the trophy here in 2016. Cameron Champ was also another single winner when capturing the title here last year, having won the 2018 Sanderson Farms Championship prior to his win here at Silverado. A veritable melting pot in reality.

Spreading things slightly broader and taking the first tournament after the Tour Championship into account across the last 10 seasons – naturally this includes the ‘Fall Series’ from 2010 through to 2013 – 8 of those 10 tournaments have been won by players ranked in the top 90 in the Official Golf World Rankings. Bae (2014) and Tway (2018) won with OWGR ranks of 195 and 138 respectively.

  • Bill Haas – 2010 Viking Classic – OWGR 89 – 22/1
  • Kevin Na – 2011 Shriners Open – OWGR 76 – 60/1
  • Ryan Moore – 2012 Shriners Open – OWGR 44 – 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker – 2013 Open – OWGR 66 – 30/1
  • Sang-moon Bae – 2014 Open – OWGR 195 – 150/1
  • Emiliano Grillo – 2015 Open – OWGR 72 – 50/1
  • Brendan Steele – 2016 Safeway Open – OWGR 88 – 50/1
  • Brendan Steele – 2017 Safeway Open – OWGR 59 – 33/1
  • Kevin Tway – 2018 Safeway Open – OWGR 138 – 66/1
  • Joaquin Niemann 2019 Greenbrier – OWGR 84 – 28/1.

My selections are as follows:

Harold Varner III 1.5pts EW 33/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Harold Varner III leads the team for me this week on a course where powerful, top-level ball striking is rewarded. 9 appearances since the PGA Tour resumption have seen Harold deliver 1 top-10, 1 top-20 and 3 top-25 finishes and with the Safeway Open this week being a distinct dropdown in quality from the likes of the Charles Schwab Challenge, Travelers Championship and the PGA Championship where HVIII has been featuring, I think he has a good chance to shine this week.

Varner has always been slow work in progress when it comes to breaking his maiden, but in 2020 again there have been signs of progress. The 36 hole leader at Colonial, under the full gaze of the golfing media, he was still very much in the mix after 54 holes before finishing 19th. At the PGA Championship played at nearby San Francisco, middle rounds of 66/69, saw him well into the top 25 come Sunday and a closing 70 delivered his best Major Championship result with T29. Buoyed, he then flew direct to the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina producing a scintillating -8/62 to take a part of the First Round Leader prize at 80/1. Now HVIII of old could have shot an 80 and disappeared from sight, but rounds of 69/67 kept him in the top 10, before a closing, bogey-free 65 boosted him into the each-way paying places in 7th.

I’ve always liked Varner at Silverado, indeed I put him up last year. He arrives in Napa Valley for his 6th consecutive visit to Silverado. 4th after 54 holes here in 2015 as a rookie (he eventually finished 48th), 15th in 2016, 11th after 54 holes in 2017 (he finished 59th), 9th after 54 holes in 2018 (he finished 14th), and 17th here last year, it’s clear that Harold’s game suits Silverado very nicely indeed. And in 2020 that ball striking game has ratcheted itself up to world elite level. Full season numbers of 17th for Strokes Gained Off The Tee, 15th for Total Driving, 8th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 8th for Ball Striking surprised me with their quality. So I fancy Varner to contend this week on a course where tee-to-green play dominates. RESULT: T29

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Cameron Davis 1.5pts EW 40/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

I can remember backing Cameron Davis early in his rookie season on the PGA Tour around 2 years ago. He’d just shot a closing round -4/68 here at Silverado to finish 17th in tough 25-35 mph winds.

The 2017 Australian Open winner, beating 54-hole leader Jason Day, plus Jordan Spieth and Cameron Smith into the bargain, I commented at the time that Davis was likely to be the next big think out of Australia. I might have been too early on the curve, but after a poor 2018/19 season where he ultimately lost and then regained his PGA Tour playing privileges via the Korn Ferry Play Offs, 2020 has been far, far better for the Sydney-sider.

9th at the Sony Open and 8th at the Honda Classic preCovid-19 pandemic, late July and August has seen the 25 year-old finish 12th at the 3M Open, 32nd at the Barracuda Championship and 15th at the Wyndham Championship. And that was prior to the FedEx Cup Playoffs, where in his first ever event he shot opening rounds of -7/64 and -6/65 to sit level with Scottie Scheffler, 2 strokes behind eventual winner Dustin Johnson. 72/73 over the weekend was almost expected with a young professional in such lofty climes, but a final 29th spot marked my card for this Safeway Open.

Consistent from both off the tee and tee to green, Cameron ranked 22nd for Ball Striking and 31st for Total Driving last season. Averaging 308 yards off the tee is a great spot for Silverado where big-hitting, ball-strikers have won the past 5 renewals and Davis’ 8-week tracker numbers are even more spectacular in this field. 9th for Greens In Regulation, 7th for SG Off the Tee, 18th for SG on Approach, 11th for SG Tee to Green, 4th for Putting Average (Putts per GIR), 1st for SG Putting and 1st for SG Total.

Buoyed by a high-profile appearance in a Major strength field at TPC Boston, Cameron could prove to be a real handful this week at the start of his third PGA Tour season. RESULT: T36

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Sam Burns 1pt EW 50/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

Sam Burns is all about top level driving and his play of late has been excellent. 24th at the Travelers Championship, 30th at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, 17th at the Workday Charity Open, 32nd at the 3M Open and 13th at the Wyndham Championship.

He’s still work in progress, but undoubtedly the 24 year old, who went head-to-head with Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic and beat him, is a real talent. He certainly looked the part at the Workday Charity Open played at Muirfield Village in July, where opening rounds of 69/66 put him right in the mix in 4th spot. Grouped with Hovland and Matsuyama on Saturday he held his own before slipping to a final 13th position, mainly due to a triple bogey on Sunday’s opening hole. A pair of 65s at the weekend at the Wyndham Championship saw him produce his best finish post-resumption and an opening 68 at TPC Boston was decent enough, before he missed the cut by a couple at The Northern Trust.

1st for SG Off the Tee, 17th for SG Tee to Green and 12th for SG Total across my 8-week trackers, Burns also has a sprinkling of west coast form that I like. 18th and 6th at PGA West across the past 2 seasons, Burns was also 3rd at the 2018 Utah Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour, behind tournament winner Cameron Champ, who naturally won the last renewal here at Silverado. RESULT: T7

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Harry Higgs 1pt EW 80/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Harry Higgs was another to raise his hand in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Where plenty take a back seat and shy away, Higgs played his way into the BMW Championship, eventually finishing a creditable 55th in the FedEx Cup standings in his rookie season. Not to be sniffed at that.

11th at the Northern Trust played at TPC Boston, Harry was a feature throughout with rounds of 67/66/66 which propelled him into 5th place and into the top 30 in the Projected FedEx Cup standings. In the third from last Sunday group with Daniel Berger, things got a little real on the back-9, but an 11th place finish took him to Chicago and the BMW Championship. The fact that he’s clearly playing some confident golf right now came through again with an opening round 70, good enough for Thursday T4 on the leaderboard at Olympia Fields, before a combination of a Major difficulty golf course and the pressure of the FedEx Cup Playoffs saw him drop to 23rd on Friday and an eventual 56th place finish. But my card was noted.

Powerful with driver in-hand (averages 301 yards) and within the top 40 for Strokes Gained Off the Tee and top 30 for Total Driving, the Dallas, Texas resident was 23rd here last year in only his 3rd PGA Tour outing. That performance was based upon 8th for Driving Accuracy, 17th for Greens in Regulation, 11th for SG on Approach and 9th for Putting Average (Putts per GIR). It’s also worth noting that his 3 visits to California last season gleaned the aforementioned 23rd here, 9th at the star-studded Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines plus 18th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am where he was 8th at halfway.

2nd in Kansas, 11th in Utah, 3rd in Colorado, 11th in Idaho and the winner of the Price Cutter Championship, played in Springfield, Missouri in his 2019 Korn Ferry Tour season, Higgs clearly gets on with the agronomy he faces this week and that makes sense for a player whose formative years were in New Jersey. With confidence and in a particularly average field in Napa this week, I see no reason why he cannot feature. RESULT: 2nd

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Robby Shelton 1pt EW 90/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Robby Shelton but his hand up for this Safeway Open assignment back at The Northern Trust. In a 125-man field which featured the very best players on the PGA Tour, many a Tour journeyman or youngster keeps a low profile. But Shelton started strong with a 66 and powered by a Tee to Green game which was 13th best for the tournament, he finished with -6 across the final 6 holes to finish in an excellent 13th spot.

Despite the amazing heroics of Scottie Scheffler and Sungjae Im in the past 2 seasons, for a rookie to make the BMW Championship and the top 70 in the season long FedEx Cup standings is no mean feat. And in reality Shelton has shown plenty in his first PGA Tour season, with 7th at the season opening Greenbrier setting the tone, followed by 6th at the Mayakoba Classic, 11th at the Honda Classic and a 3rd place you might remember in late July at the 3M Open. So in weaker fields the 25 year-old, Alabama born and bred can certainly mix it.

A 2-time Korn Ferry Tour winner in 2019, both of Shelton’s wins came on Bentgrass greens and both at -15 winning totals, which are relatively tough assignments on the junior Tour. And his 8-week rolling numbers are eye-catching to say the least in this weak Safeway season opener. 18th for Greens in Regulation and 6th for Putting Average, in terms of Strokes Gained in this field he ranks 23rd for Off the Tee, 18th for Approach, 24th for Around the Green, 7th for Tee to Green and 6th for SG Total. 10th after 36 holes here last year, I’d expect Shelton to push on if he was in the same situation this time around in his second PGA Tour season. All-in-all the right profile for a 90/1 shot. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 09:10BST 8.9.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.