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Culp's Corner

Safeway Open Preview

by Josh Culp
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The slates are wiped clean and the FedExCup projections are ready for a reset. 

It's opening day for the 2018-19 PGA TOUR season. The lack of a true offseason makes this feel like just another event, unlike other sports that build up the drama before a new season. 

This fall portion of the schedule provides a good chance for all the recent Web.com Tour graduates to showcase their talents and increase their standings in the reshuffle. 

For veterans, this week's event provides a nice getaway in wine country, as event number one takes place in Napa, California. Fermented grape juice will be flowing heavily this week. 

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The Course

This will be the fifth year in a row that Silverado Resort and Spa's North Course will host the event. 

This is a classical layout designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr in the mid '60s and later touched up by Johnny Miller around 2011. 

Off the tee, golfers will have options when it comes to hitting driver or clubbing down. There isn't anyone water in play, except for two of the par 3s. Instead, the challenge lies in the tight, tree-lined corridors as the North Course features some of the narrowest fairways on TOUR. Golfers will be easily exceeding the field average if they split 8-of-14 fairways each round. The field average typically falls around 53 or 54% here.  

On approach, they'll see strategically placed greenside bunkers and tricky greens with plenty of slope to deal with. This is where ball-strikers really separate on this course because they are able to access some of the pin locations here while others are forced into lag putting or scrambling. 

Where do these approaches come from? The field typically averages around 8 approaches from inside 140 yards at this course. That tells us we should target great wedge players and/or short-iron players. Similar to the Phoenix Open, conditions will often vary by a club or two when comparing distances from the AM tee times to PM. The ball just doesn't travel as far when Mother Nature is still trying to wake up. 

As for the greens, they are poa annua surfaced with plenty of slope, as you'd imagine with a classical design. 

With tight fairways and tricky greens, past leaderboards typically show elite ball-strikers rise to the top here. You could even say golfers with a poor short game get a boost here, if you want to look at it that way. If we look at all the golfers that have posted top 10s here at Silverado, just 37% of them arrived with positive SG:Putting form and only 43% arrived with positive form in the SG Around-the-Green area. Off-the-Tee and Approach are both around 65% which is much closer to the typical TOUR stop. 

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how they will play...
Phil Mickelson: "I think a lot of guys struggle with the poa annua greens, which is a grass that I grew up playing so I’m very comfortable on the greens. When you grow up and spend most of your time back east in Florida on the bermuda, this is a very awkward surface to putt on. The color looks different, it’s hard to sometimes read. But when you’re used to it, I don’t know of much better surfaces than these right here."
Lucas Glover: "Third time here, I think. Yeah, there’s just some places there’s some funny breaks and some tricky speed putts, but yeah, experience goes a long way on these greens. "

Zach Johnson:
 "That’s kind of what my caddie and I were talking about. I kind of feel like it’s perfect, but I’ve also played golf courses and been like, man, this place is custom for me and I play terrible. And vice versa, you know, I’m like this place isn’t good and I play great. I think I get why people would say it favors someone that hits it moderately straight, plays boring golf, I understand that. At the same time, you have to execute here."

Kevin Na: "It’s not a bomber’s course. You have to shape the ball, which I like doing. Short game is a big part of the game out here on this golf course."

Martin Laird: "And with the course not being the longest golf course to play, there’s some tight pins on the front of the greens that some guys just can’t get to if you don’t hit it high. And you know, I hit it high. So coming in with mid irons, coming in landing soft is definitely a big advantage as opposed to maybe hitting a slightly longer club and coming in a little flatter."

Overview: There is plenty of talk about these tricky, slopey, poa annua greens. ZJ and Na talk about how the course suits them because it's not a bomb-and-gouge type of course. Lastly, Laird gives a hint that a high ball flight could come in handy when trying to access some of these pins. 

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week: 

TPC Scottsdale
TPC Kuala Lumpur
GC of Houston
TPC River Highlands
Farmers Insurance Open (Torrey Pines)
CareerBuilder Challenge (PGA WEST & La Quinta courses)

We have poa greens, lots of short irons/wedges, a course that allows flexibility off the tee, and tricky greens. I usually stick to the top 5 when it comes to correlated layouts but the Farmers and CBC were neck and neck when it came to #5 on the list, so I included both. Try looking at success on these courses/events if you need a tiebreaker this week. 


The Weather

Thursday: Sunny with a high near 75 degrees. 

Friday: Sunny with a high near 77 degrees. 

Weekend: Remains beautiful with sunshine and highs in the upper 70s.  

There is some wind and rain in the lead-up to the event but the actual tournament looks clean. 

For formats that allow daily subs, it should be worth noting that morning tee times will see cool temps in the 50s before it warms up each day. On the flip side, the morning will see fresh greens so there are pros and cons to both sides. I will talk more about this in the DFS Dish on Wednesday, as the forecast becomes more clear. 


Golfers to Watch

Phil Mickelson
Disappointed in Paris last week but now he'll head to Napa to wash away his sorrows and take on a course that's yielded finishes of T8 and T3 in his two appearances. If jetlag wasn't in the mix I'd probably make him the man to beat this week as he's a Cali native, among the class of this field, and has proven he likes Silverado's North Course. Instead, he inserts in at #4 on my rankings and I'll be cautiously optimistic that he can rebound from last week's showing. 

Patrick Cantlay
Was plenty of chatter that Cantlay should have received a captain's pick, especially with Le Golf National as the host course. There will be plenty of chances for him to rep Team USA in the future, as long as he stays healthy. Heading home to California, Cantlay will make his debut at Silverado Resort and Spa. Should be one of the favorites to take home the hardware this week. 

Brandt Snedeker
In the course section, I talked about how this course leaves you with lots of approach shots from inside 140 yards. That is perfect for a guy like Snedeker who is a magician with a wedge in hand. Add in poa annua greens, and Snedeker quickly rises to the top of potential contenders this week. 

Ryan Moore
Making his third appearance at this course (T10, T17). If we read the quotes about the course it is easy to see why Moore likes it here. Kevin Na said this isn't a bombers course. We know there are a lot of approach shots from inside 140 yards. TPC Kuala Lumpur grades out as one of the top correlated courses. All this points in Ryan Moore's direction. There is a clear-cut top 4 for me this week, and Moore is a part of that pack. 

Brendan Steele
Long-time readers know I'm a fan of course history but I don't blindly follow it into dark alleys. Steele is the back-to-back champ here in Napa. He hasn't arrived in stellar form ahead of either of those wins. This year, his form is particularly poor, losing strokes to the field in each of his last six starts. It's not just one area of the game that needs tidying up, either. He's struggling with his irons, around-the-green, and putting. His long-term skill combined with stellar course history makes him fantasy relevant this week, but he's not one of my favorites to hoist the hardware come Sunday evening. 

Patrick Rodgers
When in doubt, trust the comfort factor when it comes to poa annua greens. Rodgers attended Stanford so he's very familiar with this week's climate and green surfaces. He's 2-for-4 here but a T6 in 2015 showcases the potential. Still hasn't spread his wings fully on the PGA TOUR when you consider his elite pedigree. 

Beau Hossler
Another youngster with pedigree and California roots. Hossler finished 74th here last year in his debut. He was making his first start as a card-carrying PGA TOUR member that week. Now with five top 10s to his name, Hossler arrives back home in California with less pressure on his shoulders and a lot more confidence. As if you need a reminder, don't forget about his ability to fire out of the gate. He's been inside the top 10 after R1 in 13 of his 40 career starts. It would be surprising if he goes another full season without hitting the winner's circle. This week present as good of chance as any to accomplish that feat. 

Sungjae Im
Diving into the bag of Web.com Tour graduates, nobody gained more strokes over the field last year on the Web circuit.  Even more impressive, Im is just 20-years-old. We have just two PGA TOUR starts to dive into specific stats but those two starts suggest he's extreme in the fairways-and-greens style of golf. Not long off the tee by any means. That should be perfectly fine during the fall schedule where distance isn't a major factor on most of the courses. I will gladly take a sprinkle in DFS formats this week and continue to back the youngster until 2019 rolls around, then become more selective. 

Cameron Davis
Another youngster that played his way through the Web.com Tour. This Aussie made a big splash when he won the 2017 Australian Open. The top 10 of that leaderboard included guys like Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Lucas Herbert, Cameron Smith, Matt Jones, and Jonas Blixt. Davis outdueled them all. He's made five starts on the PGA TOUR with a T15 at the OHL Classic being the highlight (another short course). Also appealing, Davis gained 1.2 strokes putting at the 2018 Farmers and gained 1.9 strokes putting at the 2018 Pebble Beach Pro-Am, both events with poa annua greens. Also arrives in good form, having posted a pair of podium finishes during the Web.com Tour Finals. 

Sangmoon Bae
Guess who's back? Back again? Sangmoon's back. Tell a friend. The Korean struggled after he returned from military duty but he just finished the Web.com Tour Finals with a T6 and a WIN. Now he heads to Silverado's North Course which is the site of his 2014-15 victory. Not someone I fully trust just yet but I will definitely own some DFS shares this week, in case that form carries over into the new season on a course he knows very well. 


Ranking the Field

1. Ryan Moore
2. Patrick Cantlay
3. Brandt Snedeker
4. Phil Mickelson
5. Emiliano Grillo
6. Adam Hadwin
7. Patrick Rodgers
8. Joaquin Niemann
9. Martin Laird
10. Beau Hossler
11. Danny Lee
12. Brendan Steele
13. Anirban Lahiri
14. J.B. Holmes
15. Russell Henley
16. Chez Reavie
17. Lucas Glover
18. Vaughn Taylor
19. Bronson Burgoon
20. Brandon Harkins
21. Hunter Mahan
22. Luke List
23. Jhonattan Vegas
24. Fabian Gomez
25. Cameron Davis


Head over to Dave Tindall's Alfred Dunhill Links Preview. Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our Expert Picks and Wednesday for the DFS Dish. 

Josh Culp
Josh Culp joined Rotoworld in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.