This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE SAFEWAY OPEN
Winner's Share: $1.118M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the winner
Location: Napa, Calif.
Course: Silverado Resort & Spa (North)
2019 champion: Cameron Champ
After another offseason, the PGA Tour is back! Since we last checked in at the end of last season, we've gotten lunch and went for a walk. How about you?
Yes, the 2019-20 season ended on Monday and the 2020-21 season begins on Thursday. Truth be told, it's not like there's a much longer break under normal circumstances, but the pandemic-squashed season has led to all sorts of aberrations, none bigger than the U.S. Open being played next week. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The new season begins with what could be called the traditional opener, since the Frys/Safeway Open has been the annual lid-lifter every year since the Tour went to the wraparound season in 2013-14, save last year when it was third. That change did wonders for the tournament, as it had the best field in its history and perhaps the best field ever in a stateside fall-season event. But that was then...
And this is now. Sandwiched this year between the Tour Championship and the U.S. Open, the Safeway Open still has a bunch of big names; it's just that most of them are well past their primes. The headliners are Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth, along with Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry and maybe Brandt Snedeker. None of the 30 golfers who played in Atlanta last week are entered, not even 2019 Safeway winner Cameron Champ. Only five of the top 50 and 14 of the top 100 in the world rankings are on hand.
The 156 golfers normally would enjoy the beautiful Napa Valley and the decadent Silverado Resort & Spa, which is co-owned by tournament host Johnny Miller. But that's not only changed this year because of the pandemic, but perhaps because of the California wildfires. One of the two biggest fires in California is the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, which is actually a series of fires and is adjacent to Napa. There is no indication the tournament will be affected, other than the air quality, which probably won't be great. As you may recall three years ago, just hours after the tournament ended, wildfires crept onto the edge of the Silverado property. The resort was evacuated, and that included players staying until Monday. No one was hurt, and the grounds and golf course were largely unscathed. But it is at least an underlying storyline for this week.
This is the seventh year Silverado has been the host course. A few years back, it underwent a Miller-led overhaul with the hopes of one day attracting a U.S. Open or PGA Championship. He thought getting Tiger Woods to play would help. And for a couple of years, Miller did have visions of Woods showing up – mostly because Woods said he would, first in 2016 and then in 2017, only to yank the football away just as Charlie Brown was about to kick it. There was no chance he would play in 2018, right after the Ryder Cup. And Woods didn't show last year and of course will not play this year. But for the fifth straight year Miller gets the next-best thing in Mickelson.
Silverado is not long, but with tree-lined and dog-legged fairways, it somewhat mutes the biggest hitters with narrow landing areas. Silverado usually lands somewhere in the middle of the pack on the difficulty meter among all the courses that host events. Last year, it was 19th out of 41. Interestingly, three of the four hardest holes annually tend to be par-3s, led by the 240-yard No. 2. Conversely, the finishing trio of Nos. 16-18 were among the easier holes, which is to be expected when two of them are par-5s and the other is a 375-yard par-4. The greens are bentgrass and poa annua – not everyone's favorite – and average more than 6,000 square feet. We'll break all that down and more in the key stats and Champions Profile below.
Weather-wise, it was extraordinarily hot over the weekend in Napa, approaching 110 degrees. But it will "cool" significantly by Thursday, and temperatures are expected to be in the mid- to upper-80s all four days. There will be no rain and only moderate wind.
A fun Safeway Open factoid: Tony Romo isn't playing. Last year on a sponsor's invite, he went off at 10,000-1 to win on golfodds.com with an over/under of 78.5 for his first-round score. He beat that easily with a 70 before ballooning to a 78 for a Friday trunk-slam. Impressively, he finished ahead of 12 guys and was tied at 4-over-par with, among others, Mackenzie Hughes, who is the same Mackenzie Hughes who went on to play in the TOUR Championship.
Key Stats to Winning at Silverado
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in order of importance.
• Greens in Regulation/Strokes Gained: Approach
• Scrambling/Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green
• Driving Accuracy/Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
• Birdie-or-Better percentage
2019 - Cameron Champ (Silverado)
2018 - Kevin Tway (Silverado)
2017 - Brendan Steele (Silverado)
2016 - Brendan Steele (Silverado)
2015 - Emiliano Grillo (Silverado)
2014 - Sangmoon Bae (Silverado)
2013 - Jimmy Walker (CordeValle GC)
2012 - Jonas Blixt (CordeValle GC)
2011 - Bryce Molder (CordeValle GC)
2010 - Rocco Mediate (CordeValle GC)
In the six years the tournament has been played at Silverado, we have seen some really horrible putting rewarded. Bae ranked 45th in SG: Putting, Grillo was 61st, and Steele was 29th in 2017 (he was sixth in 2016), while Tway was a decent 18th. Last year, Champ ranked 28th. Maybe the poa annua baffles a lot of the golfers. Regardless, they overcame that with strong iron play and scrambling. The greens are average size and the poa annua is definitely an acquired taste. Champ and Tway both led the field in scrambling and Bae and Grillo ranked third, while Steele was seventh in each of his wins. 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. Despite all the poor putting, the winning score generally is in the mid-teens. Three of the past six years, it was 15-under, while Champ was at 17-under and Tway at 14-under. Steele's 18-under three years ago was the highest of the bunch. Distance has not correlated to success at Silverado (proof: Zac Blair tied for fourth last year), but we wanted to note that Champ averaged 337 off the tee. AVERAGED! He also ranked 21st in driving accuracy, which is some serious play off the tee, while ranking 10th in GIR. Adam Hadwin, last year's runner-up, put together a nice parlay – first in GIR and seventh in SG: Putting.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Shane Lowry - $10,200 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 25-1)
Lowry is the highest-ranked golfer in the field at No. 28 in the OWGR, yet he is third on the DK board behind Si Woo Kim and Phil Mickelson. Lowry has been in the United States since the beginning of the restart and has appeared in nine tournaments. It was only toward the end that he showed any form, tying for sixth at the WGC-FedEx event and then for 23rd at the Wyndham Championship to sneak into the playoffs. He ranked an impressive 28th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and 42nd in Approach.
Brendan Steele - $10,000 (25-1)
Steele could be considered Mr. Safeway as the only two-time winner of the event, going back-to-back in 2016 and 2017. He also made the cut the past two years but finished far back. Steele played very well after the restart, making his final seven cuts with three top-25s, one of which doubled as a top-10. He finished inside the top-50 in points to make it to two playoff events. He ranked an elite 16th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach for his best season in years.
Chez Reavie - $9,600 (30-1)
Reavie struggled a bit down the stretch and was done after one playoff event. He had a couple of good showings after the restart, notably tying Lowry for sixth at the last WGC tournament. He's 7-for-7 in cuts at Silverado, with three top-25s. Reavie ranked 29th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach.
Joel Dahmen - $9,500 (30-1)
Dahmen just missed the Tour Championship in his finest season on Tour. He finished in the top-25 in half of his 22 starts, with five top-10s and only four missed cuts. One of those top-10s was at the PGA Championship and he also tied for 20th at the BMW Championship last time out. Dahmen ranked 29th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 44th in Approach and 31st in Tee-to-Green. Don't pay attention to his two MCs in three visits to the Safeway; he's a far more accomplished golfer now.
Tier 2 Values
Doc Redman - $9,200 (30-1)
Redman was my sleeper pick for this season in the RotoWire 2020-21 Sleepers and Busts article (https://www.rotowire.com/golf/article.php?id=52835). But that doesn't mean I was any less startled to see this large price. It's all relative in such a weak field but still. There's so much to like about his game, beginning with ranking 11th in SG: Approach and 30th Off the Tee last season. His putting was average and his wedge game needs work. Redman had seven top-25s last season but also seven missed cuts, a number that should go down this season as he matures.
Harold Varner III - $9,100 (35-1)
Varner returns for a sixth straight visit to Napa. He's 5 for 5 in cuts, with three top-20s, including each of the past two years. He has thrived in the fall season the past two years. He's another strong tee-to-green player in this field, ranked 17th in SG: Off-the-Tee last season, 28th in Approach and an elite sixth in Tee-to-Green.
Cameron Davis - $8,900 (40-1)
Davis showed some real flashes toward the end of his second season on Tour. He shot 65 the final three days of the Wyndham, then immediately opened the Northern Trust 64-65. He wound up T15 and T29 in those two events and his season ended. Very early in the season he MCed at the Safeway with a 76-68, but he tied for 17th the year before. Davis needs to reduce his missed cuts (9 in 20 events), but he was pretty sound across the board in all the SG categories, highlighted by ranking 45th in Tee-to-Green.
Mark Hubbard - $8,100 (50-1)
Hubbard had by far his best season on Tour, missing only four cuts in 24 starts. One of his seven top-25s was a tie for 13th in at Silverado, where he's made 4 of 5 cuts. Hubbard was ranked a better-than-average 70th in SG: Approach last season and a sterling 29th in SG: Putting.
Tier 3 Values
Cameron Tringale - $7,500 (60-1)
There was a lot to like about Tringale's game last season, and it's a bit curious why he finished only 82nd in points. He missed only three of 18 cuts with four top-25s, three of them in the fall season. He was ranked an exceptional eighth in SG: Approach, 25th in Tee-to-Green and 40th in Around the Green. Plus he's a better-than-average putter. It doesn't quite add up. He's made the Safeway cut five of the past six years but without a top-25. Again, it doesn't quite add up.
Luke List - $7,400 (50-1)
List missed the cut last year, but he finished fourth in 2018 and 37th and 26th the prior two years. He certainly struggled last season, but the hallmarks of his game remain strong – he ranked in the top-25 on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee and Tee-to-Green. His best finish all season was a tie for 10th at the Memorial. And he made the cut last month at the PGA.
Maverick McNealy - $7,300 (60-1)
McNealy is only 24, but he's already played the Safeway three times, making every cut. And he missed only six cuts in 23 starts last season. While his game clearly has areas that need improvement, he made it to two playoff events. He finished top-10 on Tour in SG: Putting last season.
Talor Gooch - $7,300 (60-1)
Gooch is another guy who made it all the way to the BMW Championship. He had top-25s late in the season at the Wyndham and even at the Northern Trust. He's a bit of a cut machine, missing only five all season, and he's 2 for 2 at Silverado. Gooch is better than the Tour average in all parts of his game except off the tee, where his lack of distance really hurts him. That shouldn't be a big issue this week.
Robby Shelton - $7,100 (80-1)
Shelton came on strong at the end of his rookie season to get all the way to the BMW Championship. He made four his last five cuts with a career-best T3 at the 3M Open and a tie for 13th at the Northern Trust – that's no small feat in a loaded field. He closed with a 63. Shelton ranked 80th on Tour in SG: Approach.
Xinjun Zhang - $7,000 (100-1)
Zhang tied for seventh last year in his second visit to Silverado. He missed more cuts than we'd like from a player in the long-shot category, but only one came in the fall season. He finished with seven top-25s, and last year's Safeway was one of his three top-10s.
Tom Hoge - $6,900 (80-1)
Hoge had his best season on Tour, as he finished 50th in points. He didn't do it the conventional way – he missed more than 10 cuts and relied on a few very high finishes. That doesn't sound optimum for this week, but what stands out is that he ranked 35th on Tour in SG: Approach. Hoge's best finish at the Safeway was two years ago with a tie for 17th.
Brian Stuard - $6,600 (150-1)
Stuard has made the cut the past three years at the Safeway, with last year's T17 by far the best of the bunch. He's one of the shortest hitters on Tour, and that really hurts him in a lot of places but not so much here. He was third on Tour in driving accuracy last season.