Safeway Open: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

In his last start, Phil Mickelson — with brother Tim on the bag — won in his PGA Tour Champions debut. Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Hope everyone enjoyed the PGA Tour’s break. Two days is plenty of time to handle those household chores and catch up on sleep.

So it goes in the modern world of professional golf. The men return to work this week at the Silverado Resort North Course, a par-72, 7,196-yard layout.

Obviously, most of the players who lived on the leaderboards during the FedEx Cup playoffs are skipping this event. There’s a major championship on the docket next week in New York and most players played a greater percentage of tournaments than usual since the restart.

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What they’ll find at Silverado is a course where Tour players hit 53 percent of the fairways compared to 62 percent at a regular PGA Tour event. The greens in regulation percentage is comparable – 67 percent this week (65 percent on average) and the proximity to the hole is right on the Tour average of 28 feet.

When looking at recent champions at Silverado North, Cameron Champ and Brendan Steele dominated the course tee-to-green. The putting on poa can be difficult, especially for the leaders in the late rounds. I predict a jumbled leaderboard and a winning score around 16 or 17 under par.

With most of the field having been at home for a week or two, I relied heavily on the Fantasy National model this week. I’m also looking ahead. Although this fall portion of the Tour will be different than most, since it includes two major championships, typically a handful of players emerge and ride the momentum to a great year (i.e. Brendon Todd last season).

A big barrel of wine awaiting the winner in the Napa Valley.

Golfer power rankings

25. Chris Baker​ – Top 10 on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy last season which should be useful on a course where the average pro misses the short stuff 45 percent of the time. Failed to make the FedEx Cup playoffs but closed the regular season with four consecutive cuts made and a T-20 at Wyndham. Don’t be afraid to fill him into one of your last roster spots.

24. Cameron Tringale​ – His combination of accurate iron play and exquisite touch have him near the top of one statistical model that I weigh heavily each week. The recent results are solid with three top 30s in his last five starts. We’re reluctant to rank him higher though because his best finish at Silverado is a T-43.

23. Emiliano Grillo​ – Indifferent record in the Safeway (two top 30s, one MC) since his victory in 2016. Made the cut in his last three starts in 2019-20 and is yet another player who arrives hungry and anxious to improve upon a disappointing season. He’s third in the field in SG: Ballstriking at Silverado over the last 24 rounds.

22. Charl Schwartzel – ​Other than a T-3 in July at the 3M Open, there’s little on the former Masters champion’s recent record to forecast a resurgence. It just feels like he’s ready to reclaim his position as a top-70 player on the PGA Tour. Why not start the season with a bang at Silverado, where he was T-6 in his only appearance in 2012?

21. Maverick McNealy​ – Has made the cut in three career Safeway appearances, with his best finish a T-52. He’s on our short list of players ready to surge to a higher level this season. Flourishes on poa annua but needs to sharpen his approach game, losing strokes there each of the last five weeks.

20. Xinjun Zhang​ – He’s 16 under over eight rounds at Silverado North with a T-7 last year. His 2019-20 season ended with a missed cut in the first playoff event at Northern Trust, but the two weeks off should leave this birdie machine (4.10 per round) refreshed and ready to start accumulating FedEx Cup points.

19. Brice Garnett​ – Another accurate driver who has flourished at Silverado, riding good putting to top 25s in his last two appearances (2017, 2019). Wasn’t on good form when last season ended but that’s last week’s news.

18. Denny McCarthy ​- This cat can roll his rock. Led the Tour in SG: Putting last year and while poa isn’t his favorite surface (is it anyone’s?) he is eighth in the field over the last 24 rounds on the frustrating, often uneven surface. Coming off a solid year (74th in FedEx Cup) and hit his irons well in making the last five cuts of 2019-20.

17. Mark Hubbard​ – Good putter on poa (ninth in field over last 24 rounds) and hasn’t missed a cut since pre-pandemic. Best finish is a T-12 in those nine tournaments and his bank account is sitting flush after a 44th place FedEx Cup finish. The driver has been his weakness, or he’d be much higher.

16. Brandon Hagy​ – Played in only three tournaments after the restart, so this pick is based on limited data but his ability to gain strokes off the tee (sixth in the field) is a weapon this week. The former Cal Berkeley bomber should feel comfortable in the Napa Valley conditions.

15. Tyler Duncan – ​Made 9 of 10 cuts after the restart and advanced to the weekend in five of those tournaments despite losing strokes on the greens. Finished fifth here in 2018.

14. Henrik Norlander​ – Excellent driving and strong iron play enabled Norlander to make six consecutive cuts before he missed the weekend at Northern Trust, ending his season. With two weeks off, should be fresh and dissect the Silverado North course from tee-to-green.

13. Troy Merritt​ – Posted a T-4 and T-15 in the last four years at Silverado and recorded a T-29 at the Northern Trust in his final event of the 2019-20 season. Has a knack for climbing the leaderboard at under-the-radar Tour events, winning the Barbasol in 2018 and finishing runner-up at the Barracuda in early August.

12. Jordan Spieth​ – I’m not ready to give up on the three-time major champion just yet. A lowkey week like this one might be just what he needs to start populating leaderboards on the regular again. His short game and putting are strong on poa. Has to drive it better. Lost strokes off the tee in each of his last five tournaments while gaining strokes on approach each week.

11. Bud Cauley​ – His iron game has been trending upward and has made the cut here each of the last three years with a T-7 in 2017. The putter is always the big question mark (lost strokes in four of the last six events of ‘19-20) but his short game is strong, a valuable asset at Silverado North.

10. Si Woo Kim​ – Game returned to form in the latter part of last season due to deadly iron play, including his ace at Wyndham that produced the most subdued reaction in the history of holes-in-one. Tied for 49th here last year. Has made eight consecutive cuts with four top 25s sprinkled in.

9. Chez Reavie – ​Premium ballstriking has enabled Reavie to make the cut at Silverado every year since the Safeway moved here in 2015. The 2019-20 season ended with a T-49 at Northern Trust but he leads the field in SG: Approach at Silverado and has cashed checks in spite of mediocre putting.

8. Phil Mickelson – ​The best 50-year-old lefthander in the world dominated the course and competition to win his Champions Tour debut and lest we forget, also finished T-2 against young heavyweights in Memphis. Had two top 10s and a T-17 at Silverado before last year’s missed cut and leads the field in SG: Total, including fourth in SG: Putting over the last 24 rounds here.

7. Brendan Steele​ – The 2017 and 2018 champion has made the cut in all five Safeway appearances since Silverado became the tournament home. Obviously the Californian enjoys poa greens and his game is firing strong with six consecutive cuts before 2019-20 ended at the BMW.

6. Harold Varner III​ – Feels like HV3 is on the cusp of a breakthrough season and he’s fond of Silverado, finishing in the top 20 three of the last four years. Top 25 in the field in SG: Ballstriking and SG: Short Game over the last 24 rounds at Silverado.

5. Kevin Streelman​ – Scuffled down the stretch in 2019-20 but also made the last seven cuts. Posted top 25s here two of the last three years. Iron game was on point for most of that stretch and poa is where he putts his best.

4. Sam Burns​ – Missed the cut in his only previous Safeway appearance but he was one of the Tour’s more quietly consistent players to finish the ‘19-20 season, going five straight weeks inside the top 32. Solid through the bag and with 60 PGA Tour starts under his belt, could be poised to climb inside the Tour’s top 50 this season.

3. Cameron Davis​ – He’s a streaky player and finished the ‘19-20 season with a flourish, landing inside the top 30 in his last three events (missed the four previous cuts). Not many flaws in his game, he finished T-17 here in 2018.

2. Doc Redman – ​I’ve been tracking the former U.S. Amateur’s progress for years and his recent third-place finish at the Wyndham should have been a huge confidence booster. Was booted from the playoffs after the first week, so he’s well rested. Missed the cut here last year. Top 20 in the field in SG: Total, SG: Approach and SG: Off-the-Tee.

1. Talor Gooch​ – Has made the cut but finished worse than 50th in both appearances at Silverado, however, his game should be a perfect fit for a course known to produce unheralded champions. Finished last season dialed in with his irons and gaining strokes on the greens. Just beginning to realize his potential.

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