Winner's Share: $1.116M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the winner
Location: Napa, Calif.
Course: Silverado Resort & Spa (North)
2016 champion: Brendan Steele
Welcome to the start of the 2017-18 PGA Tour season. But before we start, we're wondering what did y'all do during the offseason. Get lunch? Maybe catch a nap? Yes, it was a really quick turnaround, with the first tee ball at Silverado to be struck just 11 days after Xander Schauffele tied a surprising bow around the end of last season by winning the Tour Championship.
One more thing before we start: If you recall, the biggest news leading up to the Safeway the past two years was Tiger Woods not showing up. Twice. The first time was when the tournament was still the Frys and the second introduced Safeway to the perils of title sponsorship. Woods cited either injury or recovery while leaving Silverado co-owner and tournament host Johnny Miller in the lurch.
Okay, now we can start. For the second straight year, Miller will get someone who perhaps is still the next best thing to Woods: Phil Mickelson. Mickelson impressively tied for eighth last year, one of his best showings all season. But back then, there was a week off after the Ryder Cup. Now, Mickelson is taking part just four days after the end of the Presidents Cup. The only other such golfer is Emiliano Grillo, who is kind of bound to play because he won the Frys two years ago. Adam Hadwin, another International, was in the original field but has withdrawn, and that was probably a prudent move after an emotionally draining week. Other big names in the field are Tour Championship participants Tony Finau and Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas, defending champion Brendan Steele and Sangmoon Bae, the 2014 champion back on Tour and fully exempt after serving nearly two years of military service in South Korea. Oh, and there's also John Daly, at least for two days.
As for Silverado, this is the fourth year it's been the tournament course, so we're starting to get some good history. A few years back, it underwent a Miller-led overhaul with the hopes of one day attracting a U.S. Open or PGA Championship. It's not long, but with tree-lined and dog-legged fairways, it somewhat mutes the biggest hitters. What's really interesting about Silverado is that past editions seemingly show the unimportance of greens in regulation. But it's not that they aren't important, it's that the greens are hard to hit because they're so small. We'll expand on this in the Champion's Profile below.
Weather-wise, we often see autumn conditions in Central California this time of year. But temperatures are forecast to be close to 90 all four days, meaning the usual chilly morning air will not be in play. And with zero chance of rain and only light breezes, Steele's winning 18-under score from last year certainly seems achievable.
Key Stats to Winning at Silverado (in order of importance)
• Proximity to the hole/strokes gained approach
• Scrambling/strokes gained around the green
• Greens in regulation
• Birdie or better percentage
2016 - Brendan Steele
2015 - Emiliano Grillo
2014 - Sangmoon Bae
2013 - Jimmy Walker
2012 - Jonas Blixt
2011 - Bryce Molder
2010 - Rocco Mediate
2009 - Troy Matheson
2008 - Cameron Beckman
Of course, the greens-in-regulation stat is important. But when looking over the past three years, Steele, Grillo and Bae also ranked better in proximity and scrambling than GIR. With the greens on average small and undulating, just getting the approach shot on the putting surface and keeping it there means close proximity that could lead to birdie. And when greens are missed, sound scrambling translates in successful up-and-downs. (While Steele and Grillo were significantly better in proximity and scrambling than GIR, Bae was great in all three: T6 in GIR, 4th in proximity and 3rd in scrambling). As we often note, smaller greens neutralize the better putters. While Steele was sixth in strokes gained putting, Grillo (61st) and Bae (45th) were woeful. And they still won. Bae was the rare golfer in the past 15 years to win a tournament without making a putt longer than 15 feet, according to PGATour.com.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Zach Johnson - $10,500 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 25-1)
Johnson has the honor of being our first value pick of the new season. He is only fourth on the DraftKings board. Tony Finau is an emerging player, for sure, but this week too pricey for someone who has trouble closing the deal. Webb Simpson for whatever reason has missed the Silverado cut both previous visits. And we're gun shy about Phil Mickelson being able to refocus so soon after the Presidents Cup. Johnson has never played the season opener before, but we think a short course with a weak field is a good combination for him. So is his deft touch -- 36th on Tour last season in proximity, 38th in strokes gained around the green and 26th in SG putting.
Bill Haas - $9,900 (25-1)
Haas has to be chomping at the bit to get going in 2017-18 -- he didn't qualify for the Tour Championship or the Presidents Cup. His short game (fifth in SG around the green last season) should serve him well this week. He was T20 last year in his lone visit to the Safeway.
Kevin Na - $9,400 (25-1)
Na is coming off a sub-par season for him, though he was better at the start and the finish. The start was a T7 at Silverado, where he was runner-up the year before. And with a ranking of eighth in SG approach last season and 12th in proximity, it's easy to see why. Also 35th in birdie or better percentage (BOB).
Keegan Bradley - $9,300 (30-1)
Like Haas, he had to eat at Bradley to watch the Presidents Cup on TV. And while the wave of young U.S. superstars likely signals an end to playing in any team competition for both guys, Silverado should get Bradley off to a good start. He was 22nd there last year. He finished the season 30th in SG tee to green, 20th in GIR, 37th in BOB and he was a decent scrambler.
Tier 2 Values
Brendan Steele - $9,000 (25-1)
Steele is the defending champion who also was T17 and T21 in the two previous visits to Silverado. We are concerned that Steele had a horrible finish to last season, tumbling from 16th at the start of the playoffs to clear out of the top-30 -- something that's not easy to do. But the field is weak, he has a good track record at the course, and he aligns statistically: 23rd in SG tee to green, 37th in SG approach, a better-than-average 65th in proximity and 31st in BOB.
Chez Reavie - $8,900 (30-1)
It will be hard for Reavie to repeat his best season since 2011. But he was T4 in proximity and T13 in scrambling last season, when he tied for 22nd at the Safeway. And he was T17 there the year before.
Peter Uihlein - $8,800 (40-1)
Uihlein can undoubtedly be the Fantasy Golf's flavor of the month for October, as everyone tries to latch on to the "Next Big Thing." The Massachusetts native who spent a lot of time in Europe trying to secure his PGA Tour card finally did it by winning the first tournament in the Web.com Tour playoffs last month. Uihlein played only seven times on the PGA Tour last season, but with three top-25s.
Harold Varner - $8,000 (50-1)
Varner was among the hottest players going at the end of 2016-17, when he vaulted not only into the top-125 but even a second playoff event. For a long hitter, Varner was pretty accurate, too, finishing 32nd in GIR. He's improved at Silverado from T48 two years ago to T15 last year.
Tier 3 Values
Luke List - $7,900 (50-1)
This is like deja vu all over again. We, and many gamers, rode List a lot at the start of last season. And he did well, at least before fields got stronger in January. He had top-15s in five of his first six starts, with the lone exception being a not-to-shabby T26 at the Safeway. List had quite the statistical combination of being fourth on Tour in driving distance and 14th in GIR (he was 157th in fairways hit, yet another blow to the importance of driving accuracy). Plus, he was ninth in BOB.
Chad Campbell - $7,500 (100-1)
Campbell won't make enough birdies to win, and his long odds give us pause, but otherwise his game should keep him going quite nicely for his $7,500 price tag. Campbell was 15th in GIR, T15 in proximity last season and fifth in scrambling.
Seamus Power - $7,400 (80-1)
Power sweated out the end of the Web.com Tour Championship on Monday before learning he had finished 25th in playoff earnings -- the final spot to get a PGA Tour card. He had lost it in the final event of the regular season, slipping to 130th. So Power should be playing free and easy with the weight of the world off his shoulders. Regardless, he should've been so much better than 130th. Power was 63rd in SG tee to green, 66th in SG approach, 32nd in SG around, 64th in SG putting and even 53rd in SG total. How does that add up to 130th?
Richy Werenski - $7,300 (100-1)
Werenski was a rookie last season, and he kept his card, closing strong with two of his three top-10s in his final three starts. He also opened with a T35 at Silverado. Werenski was 36th in GIR, 30th in proximity and 48th in scrambling. Fun fact: Werenski's strokes gained putting was .000. That's right -- not a plus, not a minus. That ranked him 102nd.
Grayson Murray - $7,100 (50-1)
This is a curious price for a recent PGA Tour winner who finished 66th in points and made it to three of the four playoff events. His odds seem more in tune with that. Murray did miss a lot of cuts, which happens when a golfer likes to go for it on so many shots. But it also translated into 18th on Tour in BOB last season.
Ben Martin - $7,000 (80-1)
Martin eked into the top-125 despite getting DQed from the Wyndham. In the weeks before, he had two top-15s in opposite-field events. The Safeway is far from that, but still a lesser field. Martin was 50th in SG approach last season and T20 in proximity.
Sung Kang - $6,900 (80-1)
Kang missed 12 cuts last season -- that's a lot -- but six of them came in his first eight events, including the Safeway. He reversed course thereafter, finishing 59th in the point standings with eight top-25s. Kang was 59th in SG approach and 69th in SG tee to green.
Sam Ryder - $6,600 (Field, 2-1)
This is the portion of the Value Picks where we go out on a limb. Ryder is a 27-year-old Floridian who secured his card by finishing second on the Web.com regular-season money list. He won a tournament by a whopping eight strokes. For the season, he was first in total driving, 13th in GIR and 16th in birdie average. This is a tough first test for any rookie -- firing at tiny, sloping greens. But we won't necessarily abandon Ryder after just one tournament. Unless he's really bad.