SAFEWAY OPEN: The PGA Tour’s wraparound season rolls on this week with the Safeway Open, an event that has only been in existence since 2007 but is steadily growing in popularity, as evidenced by an unusually strong field this year that includes the likes of Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, and Francesco Molinari.
Why the surge in interest? Well I can only speculate, but I have a hunch that it has something to do with the location: I mean, spending a late September week in California wine country isn’t the worst idea in the world, right? People eagerly fork over thousands for an experience similar to what these guys call “work”.
Napa Valley’s Silverado Resort & Spa’s North Course will play host to this event once again; in addition to being within a short drive of several renowned vineyards, Silverado’s North Course is the type of place where just about anyone can win and any style can flourish, so optimism abounds this week. It’s a par-72 that is short by Tour standards, measuring just 7,160 yards, and though the fairways are narrow, the course isn’t overly demanding off the tee. The poa-annua greens are small and difficult to hit, but they’re not particularly severe or lighting fast, meaning players can put “offensively” rather than defensively, and every year a couple of guys just go unconscious out here and make everything they look at.
So who’s going to be filling it up this week? Justin Thomas heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 10.0, but this hasn’t traditionally been a tournament dominated by the favorites: Kevin Tway hoisted the trophy last year, and that was preceded by Kevin Streelman’s back-to-back titles. Still, it’s difficult to ignore the names near the top of the market, as it’s a nice mix of elite players and West Coast/poa-annua specialists. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Collin Morikawa (28.0)- Though only 22 years old, Morikawa quickly announced himself as a force to be reckoned with last year, winning the Barracuda Championship in just his sixth career PGA Tour start. And it wasn’t just a hot week, either– Morikawa finished runner-up in the 3M Open, T4 at the John Deere Classic, and made the cut in all nine of his starts. He now begins his ’19-’20 campaign in his home state of California, at a course that should suit him nicely– Morikawa grew up on poa annua greens, and his victory at the Barracuda last year came on poa. We’ve seen that some guys just putt poa greens better than others (Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson come to mind), so it stands to reason that we should give Morikawa a slight edge on these surfaces. He’ll be in his comfort zone this week, and we’ve already seen that he shines in the Sunday spotlight. I like him here at nearly 30/1.
Scott Piercy (68.0)- Piercy appeared to be in fine form at the season-opening Military Tribute at The Greenbrier two weeks ago, breaking 70 in all four rounds and sneaking inside the top-20. It was a good result for Piercy, particularly because it came outside of his traditional stomping grounds– the West Coast. A Las Vegas native who played collegiately at San Diego St., Piercy has always been somewhat of a West Coast specialist throughout his career, lining his pockets in California and in the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. Silverado’s North Course profiles as a great spot for him– poa annua greens, length off the tee is not much of a factor, and precision short iron play is required. He’s found the top-20 twice in four starts here, and something tells me we’re going to see a breakthrough one of these years. Maybe this is the year– at nearly 70/1, I’m willing to pay to find out.
Bud Cauley (90.0)- Unlike the above players, Cauley is not a West Coast guy– he’s a native Floridian who played collegiately at Alabama. However, he’s had his best results in Northern California, and at this event specifically. As a rookie in 2011, he finished 3rd in this tournament when it was known as the Frys.com Open and was held at CordeValle Golf Club, and he’s made the cut in each of his five subsequent appearances. His best finish at Silverado came in 2018, when he tied for 7th– still his best result in his last 53 PGA Tour starts. He was involved in a serious auto accident later that year but has now regained both his health and his form, as evidenced by his T10 at the Greenbrier a couple of weeks ago, when he closed with three straight 67s. So he’s coming off a good performance and is teeing it up at his favorite stop on Tour– that’s enough for me to have a little taste at a price like 90.0.