Safeway Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
OK, SO it is October - we are all agreed on that, are we not? Yes, we are. It is October 2018. And if it is October 2018 and if it is the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort, Napa Valley, then it must be the start of the 2019 PGA Tour season.
To recap, Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship and Justin Rose won the FedEx Cup a couple of weeks ago. And then 12 of the finest golfers in Europe took on 12 of America’s best at Le Golf National, near Paris, with the Ryder Cup at stake, producing a sensational victory. A few more days to draw breath and off we go again at the start of the 2018-19 wraparound season, with Brendan Steele attempting to win the tournament for the third year in succession. It is, of course, a great tournament to win because if you can pick up the trophy it takes all the pressure off not only for the rest of the season but for the two years that follow - in effect, you win the Safeway Open and you get yourself a handy three-year exemption on the PGA Tour, along with all the perks that go with it. Happy days.
The tournament was won in 2011 by Bryce Molder (does anybody else hear the theme to the X-Files when they read that name?), in 2012 by Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, in in 2013 by Jimmy Walker, in 2014 by Sang Moon Bae, in 2015 by Emiliano Grillo, and in 2016 and 2017 by Steele. Confusingly, if you check out the PGA Tour it will tell you that Steele won in 2017 and 2018 and that, of course, is because the tournament he won last year (in October 2017) was part of the 2018 season. And the title he is about to defend, in October 2018, is part of the 2019 season. Will somebody please pass the headache tablets?
Anyway, none of that is of any concern to Steele or anybody else. A win is a win.
Golfers, like most sportsmen and women, are a pretty superstitious bunch, and Steele is no exception to that rule. After playing in the second round last year he headed out to eat at The French Laundry (it’s a restaurant, no really it is, and we assume that, somewhere along the line, something must have got lost in translation), which is owned by a celebrity chef called Thomas Keller. The French Laundry is 10 miles from the Silverado course. On the Friday night before he won the tournament in 2016 he also dined at the French Laundry. So can you guess where he will be eating this Friday night?
“In 2015 I had the 54-hole lead at Silverado,” Steele said. “The problem was that I didn’t have dinner there on the Friday night. The past two years I had dinner there on Friday night and we got two wins out of it, so that’s definitely a tradition that’s not going to end.”
There is clearly something about this place that he likes. Twelve months ago, in tough conditions, he went out on the final day and shot a 69 - it was one of only seven sub-70 rounds that day - to recover from a two-shot deficit. He finished at 15 under, two strokes ahead of Finau, who suffered a double bogey at the 14th hole that ultimately cost him a chance to force a playoff.
After playing the front nine bogey free for the third straight day, Steele grabbed the lead for good, and then bounced back from a couple of bogeys by birdieing the par-5 16th and 18th holes. With short-game coach Chris Mason on his bag, Steele made the right adjustments with his club selection. “You can’t just figure out your shot a minute before you play it while somebody else is hitting because it changes by the time that comes up,” Steele said about the windy conditions. “So you have to have a sense as you’re getting into it whether you’ve got the right club or not. … Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Today it did.”
After his victory, Steele maintained a strong position in the FedEx Cup standings but he was bitterly disappointed to end the year in 33rd place, meaning that he missed out on the Tour Championship at east Lake and on any hopes of claiming a place on the US Ryder Cup team. “I really felt like at the end of the season through the summer, I definitely limited myself to what I was trying to achieve,” he said. “I just wanted to make the Tour Championship so bad, I was just trying to scratch and claw for every point I could … I wasn’t trying to win. I wasn’t trying to play my best. I was just trying to get whatever points I could – and I played right to that level where you could just barely miss. I’m definitely going to try to not do that this year and just really move forward and try to win as many tournaments as I can and get myself into contention in majors and do all the things that everybody wants to do out here.”
As for his dining plans for Friday, the French Laundry is notoriously difficult to get a reservation, but Steele figures Keller might be able to set aside a table for the two-time defending champ. “I hope so,” Steele said. “I hope I didn’t do anything to get myself kicked out.”
Brendan Steele. Why not three on the spin?
Russell Knox. Has a point to prove after missing out on the Ryder Cup
Patrick Cantlay. Goes about his business with a minimum of fuss
Brandan Steele. Loves this place
Russell Knox. Consistent, great short game
Patrick Cantlay. Capable of winning on the toughest courses
Bronson Burgoon. Showed some promising signs last season
Jason Dufner. Every loves Dufner
Emiliano Grillo. Fabulous ball striker
Beau Hossler. Hits the ball a mile
Sean O’Hair. When he is good he is very good
Ryan Moore. Looking for a better year
Ollie Schneiderjans. First win must come soon
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