In this crazy, mixed-up year, the 2020-21 PGA Tour season opener takes place and that’s with two major championships of the 2019/20 season still to be played (the US Open and Masters). Of course we’ve just completed the normal year ending 2020 FedExCup where world #1 Dustin Johnson blew the field away with three weeks of superb golf. Confused, so are we! Regardless the PGA Tour "Goes West" and takes a trip to California.
The PGA Tour, for its opening event of the 2020-21 season, makes the first of several stop-offs in the most populated of all the US states for the SAFEWAY OPEN. Now many of you will remember this event from last year, when 150/1 Cameron Champ landed the prize. Here's a preview of the action in the "Golden State"...
The Safeway Open was first held in 2007 (and ran as the Frys.com Open until 2015) and although it isn't one of the higher profile events on the schedule, it will deliver some very competitive golf as players look to start the new season in good form. The usual mix of semi-well-known names, journeyman pros and the new intake of players from the Korn Ferry Tour make up the field.
Cameron Davis, Aaron Baddeley, Rhein Gibson, Cameron Percy and John Senden are the Aussies in action this week, chasing a still sizable purse of USD$6.6 million. Not bad coin in a weakened field.
We're at the Silverado Country Club (North course) in wine country... Napa, California. The land was converted to golfing use in the 1950s under the direction of famous course designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. After a few subsequent modifications it's now a 7,166 yard par 72 since undergoing several upgrades, and this is now the 6th year in a row that the PGA event has been held here. Despite its tree-lined fairways and relatively small greens, scoring is generally good with recent winning scores averaging around 14-under to 18-under-par.
72-Hole Record - 262, Troy Matteson, Rickie Fowler & Jamie Lovemark (all 2009)
18-Hole Record - 62, Scott Piercy (2016)
Past Winners - Cameron Champ (2019), Kevin Tway (2018), Brendan Steele (2017), Brendan Steele (2016), Emiliano Grillo (2015).
The Field - A normal PGA Tour field of 156 line-up in California this week. Si Woo Kim is the 20/1 favourite.
All sun, no cloud. Nil chance of rain. Temperatures in the low 80s... in other words, about as good as it gets for golf, or anything else for that matter.
The Players of interest by the Golf Insider:
LUKE LIST - "This event is wide-open. And just as it produced a big-priced winner 12 months ago, it could very easily do the same this year. Almost all the big names are resting-up after the Fedex Cup, so it's left to the journeyman, bridesmaids and newcomers to do the heavy lifting this week. A scenario that could well suit a guy like List. A steady, experienced and "nearly man", the golfer from Seattle has a number of Top 10 finishes to his name without, as yet, bagging a maiden PGA Tour win. List does though have a win on the Korn Ferry Tour this year, and I genuinely believe he has a win in him - with an event like this week giving him the perfect opportunity. He's played here each of the last four years, with a best of 4th in 2018. "
CHARLEY HOFFMAN - "When it comes to nearly men, there are few who qualify for the term better than Hoffman. The native Californian still has four PGA Tour wins to his name, so he does know how to win, but his career record of 52 Top 10 finishes (and 8 as a runner-up) shows that he's often struggled to get the job done. Which is why a tournament like this week, without all the big names, should give Hoffman the chance to shine. Not long off the tee, by modern standards, Hoffman is a tidy operator on and around the greens, and if he can carry on the form that saw him finish 13th on his last start in the Northern Trust, then he can mount another serious challenge this week."
BRANDEN GRACE - "Grace had the potential to be a Major champion just a few years ago, as the South African posted plenty of tournament wins (12 in total worldwide, plus one on the PGA in 2016) and several big showings in top-class events. However, a couple of years down the line and that potential is still to be fully realised. Now we backed Grace when he won earlier in the year, back in his homeland, and I have a hunch he'll play much better this week in California than his recent run of form (five MCs on the spin!) suggests. Despite some poor finishes, Grace is playing well enough tee-to-green, but is having no luck at all with the putter. If he can fix this one part of his game, he has the ability to win - no question."
CHRIS BAKER - "Baker has an exceptional game from tee-to-green, ranking Top 30 for Greens-In-Regulation built, largely, on his laser-accurate driving. So his lack of success comes down to one thing, his putter. The old "Texas wedge" continues to be his downfall but, that said, in recent weeks his numbers have been pretty decent - and certainly better than average. His last four starts on the PGA Tour since lockdown have seen Baker finish 45-41-53-20 and that last start in the Wyndham saw Baker post rounds of 63 and 65. Now it's still a leap to make him out to be one of this week's leading contenders, but we see players at huge prices post Top 10 finishes all the time, and there's no reason why Baker can't do the same."
HANK LEBIODA - "Lebioda has just two Top 10 finishes in 43 career starts on the PGA Tour. But the man from Orlando makes the staking plan with two eye-catching tee-to-green efforts in his recent starts in the 3M Open (10th) and Wyndham Championship (6th). Both times his good work was undermined by moderate putting stats, but Lebioda, like Baker, is at least giving himself the chance to shoot good numbers on account of this solid approach play. "