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With U.S. Open next week, Safeway field thin

By Wes Reynolds  () 

Dustin Johnson (2-1) won the Tour Championship, with the assist of the -10 start as the FedEx Cup leader going in. He won not only the event but the FedEx Cup and the $15 million bonus that goes with it. Johnson, like the rest of the 30-man field at East Lake, will take this week off before heading to New York for the U.S. Open. 
 
When one PGA Tour season ends, another begins, and the 2020-21 campaign starts this week in Napa Valley with the Safeway Open. The Safeway is the first of 50 PGA Tour events slated in the new season. Scheduled the week before the U.S. Open and being held across the country, this week’s field draws none of the elite crop, but some notable names are playing. 
 
Matt Kuchar was to be the highest-rated player in the field at No. 27 but withdrew Monday, so Phil Mickelson, Si Woo Kim and two-time champion Brendan Steele compose the trio of favorites at 20-1. Shane Lowry now is the highest-rated entrant in terms of Official World Golf Ranking at No. 28, and he slots in just behind at 25-1 along with Joel Dahmen and Harold Varner III. Some big names are priced at 30-1, including Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth.
 
The Event
 
The Safeway Open marks the first PGA Tour event on the 2020-21 schedule as fans and bettors have an offseason of about 64 hours. This event began in 2007 and moved to its location in Napa for the 2014 tournament. While the field quality is down due to its tough spot on the schedule immediately before a major championship on the other side of the country, this is still an important event to many players. It awards full FedEx Cup points and provides all the perks for the winner, such as a Masters invitation and a two-year PGA Tour exemption. There’s also a $6.6 million purse, with $1.18 million to the winner. Cameron Champ won last year, and it propelled him into all the majors and into the top 30 for last weekend’s Tour Championship, so this is a big opportunity against a less top-heavy field.
 
The Course
 
The Silverado Country Club’s North Course in Napa, Calif., has hosted since 2014. The course’s first major redesign was done in 1966 by Robert Trent Jones Jr., and Johnny Miller did it again in 2011. It plays as a par-72 of 7,203 yards. The fairways are narrower than tour average (27 yards wide on average) and are heavily bunkered. Miller wanted to reconfigure the bunkering to create an Augusta-type feel. A strong, balanced game off the tee in distance and accuracy is required because the 2.5-inch Bluegrass/Ryegrass rough can be tricky. Players will be hitting into Bentgrass/Poa Annua (11.5 Stimpmeter) that are elevated with shaved runoffs. Six years is not a huge sample size, but West Coast players have fared relatively well on these greens, with Champ and Steele, both California guys, winning here recently. Besides great putting, statistics that can prove beneficial here include greens in regulation, scrambling and total driving.
 
Recent History/Winners
 
Safeway Open Recent History
2019: Cameron Champ -17/271 (100-1)
2018: Kevin Tway  -14/274 (66-1)*
2017: Brendan Steele -15/273 (33-1)
2016: Brendan Steele -18/270 (50-1)
2015: Emiliano Grillo -15/273 (50-1)**
2014: Sangmoon Bae -15/273 (150-1)
* - playoff win over Ryan Moore and Brandt Snedeker
** - playoff win over Kevin Na
 
Trends and Angles
— Every Safeway Open winner at Silverado has ranked seventh or better in scrambling during their winning weeks:
* - 2019: Champ, first
* - 2018: Tway, first
* - 2017: Steele, seventh
* - 2016: Steele, fifth
* - 2015: Grillo, fifth
* - 2014: Bae, fourth
— The last four Safeway Open winners have averaged a field rank of fourth in strokes gained: tee to green:
* - 2019: Champ, first
* - 2018: Tway, third
* - 2017: Steele, first
* - 2016: Steele, 11th
 
Statistics 
With a new season upon us, this is the first week for new statistics. Here is where the players rated in the important categories for the 2019-20 season:
 
Scrambling
1. Adam Schenk (7) 65.29%
2. Mark Anderson (8) 65.12%
3. Bud Cauley (13) 64.29%
4. Cameron Tringale (14) 64.24%
5. David Hearn (15) 64.14%
6. Kramer Hickok (18) 63.76%
7. Russell Knox (22) 63.42%
8. Tim Wilkinson (24) 63.33%
9. Brandt Snedeker (26) 63.08%
10. Ben Martin (27) 62.91%
Strokes gained: tee to green
1. Sergio Garcia (4) 1.336
2. Harold Varner III (8) 1.145
3. Luke List (22) 0.805
4. Emiliano Grillo (24) 0.723
5. Cameron Tringale (25) 0.702
6. Jason Dufner (27) 0.686
7. Shane Lowry (28) 0.678
8. Joel Dahmen (31) 0.652
9. Keegan Bradley (33) 0.638
10. Doc Redman (37) 0.598
Greens in regulation
1. Jim Furyk (1) 74.22%
2. Kyle Stanley (2) 72.54%
3. Aaron Wise (3) 72.10%
4. Will Gordon (4) 71.70%
5. Emiliano Grillo (T7) 71.54%
6. Josh Teater (T7) 71.54%
7. Doc Redman (12) 70.80%
8. Henrik Norlander (13) 70.65%
9. Harold Varner III (15) 70.57%
10. Pat Perez (T16) 70.51%
11. Martin Laird (T16) 70.51%
Total driving
1. Jhonattan Vegas (3) 90
2. Lucas Glover (4) 92
3. Martin Laird (5) 94
4. Doc Redman (9) 108
5. Adam Schenk (11) 117
6. Sergio Garcia (6) 120
7. D.J. Trahan (T15) 128
8. Harold Varner III (T15) 128
9. Chesson Hadley (21) 130
10. Kristoffer Ventura (25) 134
Selections
 
Harold Varner III 25-1
Varner fits all the statistical profiles, as he has one of the more underrated tee-to-green games on the PGA Tour. The putter has kept him from getting that first PGA Tour win, as he rated 141st last season for strokes gained: putting. Varner has been a fixture at the Safeway over the last five seasons and has three top-20 finishes. This might be a good opportunity for one of the best ball strikers in the field to nab his first win against a down field. 
 
Luke List 50-1
List does have a win this summer, albeit on the Korn Ferry Tour at TPC Sawgrass. A fourth here two years ago shows he can do well at Silverado. Of the players in this week’s field, only Sergio Garcia and Harold Varner III rank ahead of List for strokes gained: tee to green. 
 
Mark Hubbard 50-1
Hubbard played college golf about an hour and a half away at San Jose State. Although he is still seeking that maiden PGA Tour win, he did finish 44th in the FedEx Cup and has made nine of 10 cuts since the restart in June. Hubbard finished 13th here last year.
 
Maverick McNealy 60-1
California kids tend to play well here, and the Bay Area-born and -bred McNealy fits that template. The tee-to-green game needs development, but not many can roll it on the greens like McNealy. He made the top 70 for the FedEx Cup, so the form is getting better. A home game could be what he needs to start his winning ways and keep up with girlfriend Danielle Kang, who has won twice this summer on the LPGA Tour.
 
Adam Schenk 80-1
Schenk has made six straight cuts and seven of nine since the restart. Scrambling has proven to be key in winning at Silverado, and Schenk is rated the best in this week’s field and seventh on the tour. Schenk also possesses a good mix of distance and accuracy off the tee, rating fifth in this field and 11th on tour. 
 
Martin Laird 150-1
A boom-or-bust candidate for sure, considering last weekend’s Korn Ferry Tour event in Springfield, Ill., was the first time he had teed it up since February at the Puerto Rico Open, where he tied for sixth. Laird has played well here in the past, with a third and an eighth to his credit. Although he doesn’t have much form of late, he rates as third best in this week’s field for total driving and certainly fits the course profile.
 
Portugal Masters
 
John Catlin is from Sacramento, Calif., but has been playing primarily on the Asian Tour. He had limited status on the European Tour, but that all changed Sunday when Catlin won the Andalucia Masters at odds as high as 140-1. He won at 2 over par, and his final-round 75 with no birdies was good enough to win a battle of attrition with gusty 20-mph winds on a tough Valderrama course. Catlin was disqualified from the English Championship several weeks ago when he left the bubble to go out to dinner with his caddie, but the tumultuous weeks ended happily as he is now a full member of the European Tour. He is slotted at 50-1 this week for the Portugal Masters.
 
Tommy Fleetwood was a last-minute entry here, and the odds-on favorite (11-2) will attempt to get his game back on track before coming back stateside for next week’s U.S. Open. Fleetwood has never done better than 12th in this event, so it’s curious that he’s not staying stateside at the Safeway Open, lessening the travel for next week. South African George Coetzee (16-1) won last weekend in his homeland on the Sunshine Tour and tied for second the week before. and he has good form here with three top-7s in his last seven appearances. Ryan Fox (20-1) is the third choice, and a cavalcade of players round out the top of the market at 25-1, including Haotong Li, Joost Luiten, Jorge Campillo, Marcus Kinhult and Jason Scrivener. Many players in good recent form who qualified for the U.S. Open are already making their way stateside, so the field quality dips a bit despite world No. 16 Fleetwood.
 
The Event
 
The Portugal Masters began as a European Tour event in 2007 and has remained on the schedule. This tournament will kick off back-to-back weeks in Portugal. The Open de Portugal, formerly Portuguese Open, will be held next week for players who won’t be taking part in the U.S. Open.
 
The Course
 
The Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura, Portugal, was designed by Arnold Palmer in 2004 and hosted the WGC World Cup in 2005 before becoming the permanent host for the Portugal Masters. It is a typically easy Palmer resort design that has been extended a bit to a 7,191-yard, par-71 layout. The track is pretty flat and exposed, with water in play on seven holes and a number of strategically placed fairway bunkers with which players must contend. Some new trees have been added to prevent the bombers from having so much of an advantage, and the Bermuda rough has been grown to penalize errant tee shots more stringently. Englishman Oliver Fisher set the course record in 2018 with a 59, the first official round below 60 in the history of the European Tour. Even with the attempt to toughen the course, birdies should be plentiful. The last eight winners here were ranked in the top seven that week in putting average. Strokes gained: off the tee and total driving are important here. You don’t have to be a bomber, as 2019 winner Steven Brown (46th in the field for driving distance) proved. Six of the last 10 winners have had a win or runner-up finish at some point in the season before the event.
 
Recent History/Winners
 
2019: Steven Brown (-17/267) 150-1
2018: Tom Lewis (-22/262) 50-1
2017: Lucas Bjerregaard (-20/264) 66-1
2016: Padraig Harrington (-23/261) 100-1
2015: Andy Sullivan (-23/261) 50-1
2014: Alexander Levy (-18/124) 70-1*
2013: David Lynn (-18/266) 80-1
2012: Shane Lowry (-14/270) 66-1
2011: Tom Lewis (-21/267) 100-1
2010: Richard Green (-18/270) 50-1
* - Weather-shortened to 36 holes
 Selections
 Wilco Nienaber 25-1
The South African turned 20 in July and is already showing his potential on the European Tour. He has two finishes of sixth or better in the last five weeks, including a T6 last week when he saw a very difficult Valderrama for the first time. Nienaber is the biggest hitter off the tee, leading the European Tour in driving distance at 338.8 yards, and is second on tour for strokes gained: off the tee (+ 0.98 per round).
Guido Migliozzi 40-1
The young Italian was scuffling during the UK swing but finished sixth under difficult conditions at Valderrama and could keep the momentum going here. Migliozzi was the only player in last week’s field to play the par-4s under par and had the fewest putts. 
Antoine Rozner 50-1
Rozner shot a 1-under 70 on Sunday to get into a back-door T3 finish last weekend in Spain. The Frenchman was first in the field for strokes gained: approach and seventh for strokes gained: putting.  
Laurie Canter 60-1
Canter has three finishes of 13th or better in his last five events, including a top-5 and a top-10. He took last weekend off after five straight events, so the respite may have done him some good. Canter rates third on tour for strokes gained: off the tee (+ 0.94). 
Justin Walters 80-1
The South African lost in a playoff two weeks ago at the Belfry for the UK Championship. A pair of 77s at Valderrama last weekend might have been the best thing for him to hit the reset button after the near-miss. Walters also has two runner-up finishes on this course (2013, ’19). 
Ashun Wu 100-1
Wu started poorly in Spain last week at 7 over for his first 13 holes, then rallied to make the cut and shot a respectable 1 over for his second and third rounds combined on a very tough course. Wu was seventh in his debut on this course three years ago.
 
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