The Safeway Open ushers in the 2016-17 PGA TOUR season at Silverado Resort and Spa (North). Emiliano Grillo returns to defend his lone PGA TOUR title. Here is the first preview of the new season to get you off and running in your research!
Silverado Resort and Spa (North) is a 7,166 yard par-72 layout in Napa, California. It includes the expected breakdown of four par 5s, 10 par 4s and four par 3s. This is just the third year Silverado has served as the host course, with Sangmoon Bae winning in 2014.
Anytime we see a course with a quartet of par 5s, our attention should immediately turn to par 5 scoring average. Of note, 15-under-par was the winning score each of the first two trips to Napa. That means a player could theoretically dominate the par 5s and walk away with the trophy. Looking back at the stats for the last two editions, it seems as if SG:TTG stood tall with a tilt towards GIR. Furthermore, proximity to the hole was relevant as well.
One trend the Fall Series has produced of late is a penchant for players previously on the cusp of breakthrough wins shattering the glass ceiling. Over the last few years, those guys include names like Jimmy Walker, Kevin Kisner, Justin Thomas, Robert Streb, Emiliano Grillo, Smylie Kaufman, Ben Martin and Russell Knox. With that, it’s wise to give a hard look to those players who have yet to win but are trending in that direction.
It’s also not a bad idea to look at players coming in hot off the Web.com Tour. Mentally, they are still in Web.com Tour mode and playing a field that is only a half-step stronger than a Web.com Tour Finals event. They haven’t had time to sell out for different equipment and change other key variables. In short, they haven’t had time to process their step up to the big leagues.
With that as the backdrop, here we go with the first power ranking of 2016-17.
1. Kevin Na – There are several things converging in his favor. For starters, Na lost in a playoff here last year. Less obvious but equally important, Na tends to play well in weaker events and has a nice history when the calendar turns to Fall. Throw in a shorter course, by TOUR standards, with par 5s in his wheelhouse, and he’s as dangerous as anyone.
2. Emiliano Grillo – Defending a title has different impacts on different people. Because we have never watched Grillo defend a TOUR title, it’s probably a good idea to holster him in a OAD format. He played reasonably well in his last few starts of 2015-16, tying for 10th in the TOUR Championship.
3. Paul Casey – Last three PGA TOUR starts? They went runner-up-runner-up-T4. He finished last season ranked seventh in SG:TTG. That he’s never played here before is only a minor detail.
4. Matt Kuchar – Has a T21 here and posted a boatload of top 10s and top 25s on TOUR last year. Arguably the safest option in the field if you are only looking for a guaranteed payday.
5. Justin Thomas – Dumbing it down, he tied for third here last year and tied for sixth in the TOUR Championship. Par 5 scoring is one of his better stats, so a par-72 layout is right in his wheelhouse.
6. Phil Mickelson – The only question that matters is how focused he will be for this event. We all saw him essentially shoot a 63 in his Ryder Cup Singles match with Sergio Garcia for a halve. He has not played this event at this venue.
7. Grayson Murray – Web.com Tour grad and rookie posted a third and a win in his last two Web.com Tour starts. Fits the profile of a guy that can stay hot right into the beginning of his PGA TOUR career.
8. Roberto Castro – One of the best players entering the new season without a PGA TOUR win to his credit, the ball-striking extraordinaire would fit the mold of a Jimmy Walker or Kevin Kisner knocking out a win during this portion of the schedule.
9. Hudson Swafford – Has a top 10 and another top 20 in his two trips to Napa. Has the look of a PGA TOUR winner and this could be the time and place it all comes together.
10. Brendan Steele –Owns a couple of top 25s in his two visits to Silverado Resort and Spa (North). His consistency on this course is appealing.
11. Jon Rahm – Baller will win in 2016-17. While there is no clear indication that this will be the week, there’s also no reason to ignore the possibility.
12. Bud Cauley – While he missed the FedExCup Playoffs, he did end last season with back-to-back top 10s and enough money to secure his full status. Not bad for a guy that began the season on the bench due to injury. He was once a rising star, and can get back on that track now that he’s healthy.
13. Bill Haas – While he’s never teed it up at Silverado Resort and Spa, he does play well in Presidents Cup seasons and has the class to contend.
14. Keegan Bradley – The stats really line up for him this week. He also ended 2015-16 playing a little better, and an argument can be made that he can’t play much worse. He made his last seven cuts, including three top 25s.
15. Smylie Kaufman – Kicked off a great rookie season with a T10 here last year. Recent form isn’t great, but he’s good enough to overcome that detail.
Here’s to a great start to the new campaign! Best of luck to all!