SAFEWAY OPEN: Though golf has survived and adapted better than most sports in this Year of the Pandemic, the schedule has been discombobulated to the point that it feels a bit silly to call this week’s Safeway Open the beginning of a new season, though technically that’s exactly what it is, as last week’s Tour Championship marked the official end of the ’19-’20 campaign. So the race to the FedEx Cup begins anew, and the Tour announced last week that this will be a “superseason” consisting of a whopping 50 tournaments, including six majors and next summer’s Olympic Golf competition. Assuming we avoid further global catastrophes, we’re about to experience the most action-packed 12 months of golf in the history of the sport. Ain’t life grand?
And though we’ll have to do without some of the top-tier talent that played for the big bucks last week at East Lake, the field this week is stronger than we often see in these Fall Series events, as many guys want to stay tournament sharp in preparation for next week’s U.S. Open. This is the seventh consecutive year that the North Course at Napa Valley’s Silverado Resort has played host to this event; it’s a layout that prioritizes accuracy off the tee and precision with the irons due to the narrow fairways and small, knobby greens, so in that way it will be good preparation for next week.
The similarities between Silverado and Winged Foot probably end there, however– Silverado is a short course by Tour standards, measuring just 7,165 yards, and the rough is nothing like the cabbage we’ll see at next week’s Open. Plus, the greens at Silverado are poa annua and aren’t particularly severe, meaning players can putt aggressively and often do, as this course has yielded some crazy low scores and otherworldly putting rounds over the years. West Coast guys and poa annua specialists are generally the ones to watch here– big-hitting Cameron Champ took home the trophy last year, Kevin Tway in 2018, and Brendan Steele reeled off back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017. You couldn’t find two players much more different stylistically than Champ and Steele, which is proof that there’s many different paths to success at Silverado, a nod to the quality design work of Robert Trent Jones Sr. and later Johnny Miller.
So… where does that leave us? Si Woo Kim heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 25.0, and though he’s started to hit the ball well here lately, that price still feels a bit short for a guy who’s logged just a single top-10 in his past 25 starts. The mere fact that no one is shorter than 25.0– and that Kim sits atop the market– speaks to the lack of top-line talent on hand this week, but there’s no shortage of mid-market types with a bit of form and course history, so we do have some interesting options. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Harold Varner III (31.0)- Though his missed cut at the Northern Trust ended his run in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Varner had been playing quite well in the month of August, finishing T29 at the PGA Championship and then 7th at the Wyndham, where he opened with a 62 and closed with a 65. One of the more consistent ball-strikers on Tour, Varner tends to have success on courses with small targets, and so Silverado, with its tight fairways and smallish greens, fits him nicely. Indeed, this tournament has been a very profitable spot for him over the course of his career, as he’s 5/5 on cuts made and has finished 17th or better three times, including a T17 last year and a T14 in 2018. The one gaping hole on Varner’s resume is the lack of a PGA Tour victory, but he’s knocked on the door plenty of times, and a week like this– on a preferred course, two starts removed from a top-10 finish, with a field that doesn’t include too many big names– feels like the perfect time to walk through that door. I’ll take a chance on HV3 at 30/1.
Brandt Snekeker (54.0)- When you think “poa annua specialists”, one of the first names that comes to mind– or should, anyway– is Brandt Snedeker. That little jabby putting stroke of his has holed miles of putts on poa-covered courses like Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach, and after seeing the same pattern repeating year after year I’ve come to the conclusion that anytime a tournament is held on poa annua, Snedeker is a threat. It should come as no surprise, then, that he has an excellent record in this event, posting top-20 finishes in his past three appearances and finishing runner-up in 2018, when he held the 54-hole lead but ended up losing in a playoff. He hasn’t been particularly sharp since the restart, which is why his price isn’t shorter, but he’s made three cuts in his last 4 starts, so it’s not like he’s lost out there, and he’s always been a player who makes the majority of his money in a small handful of tournaments– this being one. I’m all over Snedeker at a price like 54.0.
Tyler Duncan (76.0)- During the pandemic, most of us wasted the days away by reading, watching television, doing home improvement projects, learning how to cook, researching life insurance loopholes and odorless, colorless poisons… you know, typical stuff. Tyler Duncan, on the other hand, found himself a golf game after stumbling into quarantine having missed 6 of 8 cuts in 2020. Since play resumed, Duncan has missed only one cut in 10 starts and has finished 32nd or better five times, including a T29 at the Northern Trust last month and a T13 at the Wyndham the week prior. He’s got to be brimming with confidence after this recent stretch, and it’s been less than a year since he tasted victory at the RSM Classic, so we know, and he knows, that he has it in him. Moreover, he’s made the cut in all three of his appearances in this event and gave it a serious run in 2017 until a final round 75 left him in a tie for 5th, so he obviously knows his way around Silverado. I feel like Duncan is a really interesting under-the-radar play this week– most don’t realize how solid he’s been lately, and that his record in this tournament includes a near-win in the not-too-distant past. Don’t be afraid to throw some cash his way.