SAFEWAY OPEN: The 2018 PGA Tour season kicks off this week with the Safeway Open, an event that has steadily grown in prestige in its ten years of existence and now attracts players such as Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson, among others.
Of course, the location of the tournament has as much to do with that as anything– Northern California’s wine country is beautiful this time of year, and Silverado Resort and Spa, the host venue, is a luxurious, five-star resort that is surely a hit with the wives and girlfriends. The property boasts two championship golf courses, but the North Course is the only one that will be used this week. It’s a par-72 that’s short by Tour standards, measuring just 7,166 yards, and it’s the rare course that has held up through the years without many architectural changes, as the layout is pretty much the same today as it was when Miller Barber won the Kaiser International at Silverado back in 1969.
The poa annua greens are small, knobby and difficult to find from the rough, so driving accuracy will be critical this week, as will precision iron play. Scores are always low at Silverado but not crazy low, with the winning score falling between 15 and 18-under in each of the past four years. Brendan Steele is the defending champ and is currently trading at 33.0, while long-hitting Tony Finau sits atop the market at 18.5 after a good run in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
We’re only two weeks removed from hitting on Xander Schauffele at 100.0 in the Tour Championship, and hopefully we can keep the good vibes going with these three selections:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Kevin Na (29.0)- Normally one of the most consistent players on Tour, Na lost his way over the summer, missing five of six cuts at one point and going six whole months without logging a top-25. He’s found his form again, however, registering top-10 finishes in two of his past four starts, including a T6 at the Dell Technologies Championship that earned him his largest paycheck of the season. He’s in a good spot to capitalize on that momentum this week, as Na has found the top-10 in both of his trips to Silverado, including a T7 here last year. He’s a West Coast guy who putts really well on poa annua greens, and the tight fairways and small greens are ideal for such a consistent ball-striker. The field is a little thin this week so Na qualifies as one of the headliners, but I still think he’s a good value at a price like 29.0.
Chez Reavie (41.0)- This is really a perfect setup for Reavie: like Na, he’s a West Coast guy who has played some of his best golf in the state of California, and the 7,166-yard North Course is a good fit for his game. By that I mean, Reavie can’t hit it out of his shadow, so he simply can’t compete on some of the bigger courses, but he’s right at home at a place like Silverado. Not surprisingly, he has a good record at this event, finding the top-25 in two of his three career appearances. He’s also been playing well lately, with top-25s in four of his past six starts, including a T12 at the BMW Championship and a T10 at the Northern Trust, two FedEx Cup Playoff events. Don’t be surprised if Reavie makes some serious noise this week and finds himself in contention come Sunday afternoon.
Keith Mitchell (98.0)- Mitchell is part of this year’s rookie class, having earned his playing privileges after a successful season on the Web.com Tour. This will be just his second career PGA Tour start but he didn’t seem too intimidated last time, finishing 11th in this year’s Valspar Championship. We’ve seen rookies break through before in these Fall Series “wraparound” events, and if it’s going to happen this week, Mitchell may be the top candidate. He’s been playing some great golf lately, finishing 6th or better in four of his past five Web.com Tour starts, and he’s both long and straight off the tee, averaging over 321 yards per drive (!) and ranking 11th on the Web.com Tour in total driving, so he could potentially overpower Silverado and turn it into a glorified pitch-and-putt, which is the argument that many are making for market leader Tony Finau. Admittedly, Mitchell is a bit of a shot in the dark this week, but with his pedigree and a price like 98.0, I think it’s a shot worth taking.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Phil Mickelson (1.91) vs. Tony Finau (1.91)
Mickelson is no longer the player he once was but he can still compete at a high level, and he played very well last week in anchoring the victorious U.S. team in the Presidents Cup. He also had a strong finish to the FedEx Cup Playoffs, finding the top-20 in each of his past two starts, and he finished 8th in his only previous appearance at this event. But as well as he has been playing, Finau has been playing better, registering back-to-back top-10s in the last two Playoff events, including a T7 at the Tour Championship. And Finau has had success at Silverado, too, making the cut in all three of his appearances here, including a 12th-place showing in 2015. Recommendation: Finau at 1.91
Jamie Lovemark (1.72) vs. Keegan Bradley (1.85)
Lovemark is one to watch this week– the California native is always dangerous in his home state, and he should be confident at Silverado after closing with a 66 here last year to finish 20th. He’s been remarkably consistent over the past couple of months, finishing 33rd or better in 8 of his past 11 starts, and if he gets hot with the putter he’s a threat to win any week. Bradley may have more high-level experience than Lovemark, but he’s only found the top-25 once since June. Recommendation: Lovemark at 1.72