SAFEWAY OPEN: The PGA Tour’s blink-and-you-missed-it offseason is now behind us: the money list and FedEx Cup standings have been wiped clean, a fresh crop of talent from the Web.com Tour is eager to make a mark, and the world of golf will begin its fade back to normalcy after a typically intense Ryder Cup, starting with this week’s Safeway Open.
This tournament may feel like a comedown for many fans and for Phil Mickelson, the only player in the field who was in Paris (and oh lord the grief Phil will get in some corners if he plays well this week), but, hey, it’s a pleasant comedown– who wouldn’t want to spend the first week of October in Northern California wine country?
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.
I distinctly remember Patton Kizzire having an out-of-body experience in this event a couple of years back– he didn’t win but I believe he was runner-up– and afterwards he talked about how the greens lent themselves to great putting rounds.
So who’s going to be filling it up this week? Patrick Cantlay heads BETDAQ’s Win Market– probably a first for Cantlay, and if you’re willing to back him at 13.5 you’re bolder than me. Let’s see if we can start the new season on a winning note with these selections:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Brandt Snedeker (29.0)- Though he fell short of qualifying for the Tour Championship, Snedeker played some good golf over the back-half of the summer, finding the top-10 three times in his past 7 starts and winning the Wyndham Championship in late August– just three starts ago. Now he gets to tee it up at a course where length off the tee isn’t a requirement and wedges and short-irons are abundant… attributes that suit him perfectly. And Snedeker’s prowess on poa-annua greens is legendary– aside from possibly Dustin Johnson, I can’t think of anyone who is regarded as more of a poa-annua specialist. He last played this event in 2016 and finished 17th despite an opening-round 73, so his last memory of Silverado was a positive one (69-69-67 in the final three rounds), and he’s much more experienced and accomplished than the vast majority of the field this week, which is largely made up of young guys, newcomers, and lower-rung players. As one of the clear favorites, I think Snedeker is fairly priced here at nearly 30/1.
Sangmoon Bae (37.0)- I know, I know– you think Bae’s price is a bit short here, right? I mean, when’s the last time he won a tournament, right? Well, if you were keeping up with the Web.com Tour Finals you’d know that he won in Boise two weeks ago, earning back his PGA Tour card in the process, and finished 6th the previous week. This is the best golf Bae has played since his return to the sport after a 2-year stint as a rifleman in the South Korean military, and now he returns to the site of his greatest triumph– his victory here in 2015, when it was known as the Frys.com Open. Bae blew away the field that week, opening with rounds of 66-69-65 and putting enough distance between himself and the rest of the field that he was able to shoot 73 on Sunday and still win by two. The precision iron play the carried him to the precipice of stardom has now returned, as he was quoted after his win in Boise saying that this was the best his swing had ever felt– “I’m keeping it really simple, no complicated thoughts,” he said. Sounds pretty good to me. Don’t be surprised if Bae is jostling with the leaders come Sunday.
Alex Prugh (196.0)- If you want to take a stab at a genuine longshot this week, you may want to consider Alex Prugh, who is trading at nearly 200/1 at the moment. Prugh is a 34-year old veteran with plenty of PGA Tour experience, though he lost his card in 2015 and has played the Web.com Tour for the past couple of years. He had a great season on that Tour, ranking 9th in birdie average and 11th in scoring average, and he earned his card back with his play over the past two months, netting seven top-25 finishes in his past eight starts. But his recent form isn’t the only reason to take a hard look at him this week– Prugh is a West Coast guy, growing up in Washington state and playing collegiately at the University of Washington, so he’s very comfortable on poa-annua greens and has registered some of his best finishes as a professional in California-based events (his 5th-place showing at the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open marked the last time he seriously contended on the PGA Tour). He may not be a household name, but Prugh has a better chance this week than his price would indicate.