2020 Safeway Open PGA betting preview

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With the Tour Championship for 2020 now complete, the PGA will move right into its 2020/2021 season this week with the Safeway Open. This event used to be named the Fry’s Open and was initially staged out in Scottsdale Arizona, beginning in 2007. In 2014, the event moved to its current location at Silverado Country Club in the Napa Valley and officially changed its name back in 2016. Its place on the calendar now makes it the official opening event of the season for the PGA and it will certainly have a little more significance this season as it also falls the week before a major. 

With so many big events mixed between it though it does appear that the field here for 2020/2021 won’t have its usual smattering of elite players mixing things up. With the Tour Championship ending on a Monday and the US Open being staged all the way across the country at Winged Foot (New York), many bigger names have left this event off their list. That’s good news for many rising stars though as the field is, quite literally, wide open with only a few veterans like Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar (has withdrawn)opting to play here as a final tune-up before the big event next week. 

This Safeway Open has seen first-time winners take the trophy here in five of the last nine seasons now and it has acted as good stepping stones for players like Cameron Champ and Emiliano Grillo–although the latter has yet to follow-up on his 2016 victory. With only four players in the field who occupy the top-50 in the Official World Golf Rankings, an out of the box winner here could easily strike. Focusing attention away from just the top players feels like a must this week for outright betting. 

The Safeway Open course details

Silverado Country Club (North Course)

  • Par: 72, 7166 yards
  • Greens: Poa/Bentgrass
  • Design: Robert Trent Jones (1966), Johnny Miller (2011)
  • Last Five Champions
    • 2019 Cameron Champ (17-under par)
    • 2018 Kevin Tway (14-under par)
    • 2017 Brendan Steele (15-under par)
    • 2016 Brendan Steele (18-under par)
    • 2015 Emiliano Grillo (15-under par) 

Silverado plays as a shorter Par 72 venue that has developed something of a trend over the past four or five seasons, and that trend revolves around big hitters. The past five winners at this venue have now averaged, as a group, over 305 yards off the tee, with the last four all producing season-long averages of well over 300-yards for the year of their wins. Last year’s winner Cameron Champ led the field in driving distance with a mammoth 337-yard average for the week, while 2018 winner Kevin Tway wasn’t far behind, averaging 318 yards off the tee the year he won. 

There’s a couple reasons why longer hitters may find Silverado so inviting and part of it stems around the fact that the fairways here are tough to hit, for everyone. The Driving Accuracy stats at this week’s venue are usually around 8-10% lower than the Tour average and if you’re going to miss, then being closer to the pin once you’ve done so certainly makes things easier on yourself. 

Silverado also contains plenty of shorter holes where bombers can cut corners as well. Nine of the 10 Par 4’s here measure in at under 450 yards, with two coming in well under 400 yards. The five Par 5’s also don’t pose much of a challenge either as they typically play as the four easiest holes every season. Three of them do measure in at over 550 yards in length though so, again, distance off the tee would certainly give you a better chance of hitting the dance surface in two.  

Silverado can certainly be had, but I’m probably making it out to be too big of a pushover. The winning score here has never ventured past 18-under par (despite the four par 5’s) and that’s likely due to the speedy Poa greens that course designer and owner Johnny Miller once described as “Augusta-like”. Figuring out the greens here is often the final piece of the puzzle for players and it’s no shock to see that noted West coast specialist Brandt Snedeker, widely known as one of the best Poa Annua putters in the game, has finished inside the top-20 here in his past three visits, a record that includes a playoff loss from 2018. 

The formula this week than shouldn’t just involve distance off the tee, although that’s a huge starting point. Looking for players with good West course form or Poa putting splits is a must too and there’s plenty of those in the field to choose from here. 

Key Stats

  • Driving Distance/Strokes Gained: Off the Tee
  • SG: Putting (Poa)
  • Par 4 Efficiency (400-450 yards)

2020 Safeway Open betting discussion and picks

From an odds perspective, here are where the last three winners of this event generally went off, from an outright perspective, pre-event for the year of their win:

2019-Cameron Champ +6600

2018-Kevin Tway +4500

2017-Brendan Steele +2800

As mentioned previously, this has been a good event for first-time winners on the PGA Tour, especially bombers, as the track seems to give them a slight edge. We’ll take a brief look at the top players in the field below, but for betting, looking deeper in the field this week could be the move. Like most Fall series events, the betting favorites here haven’t ever really been ones to target as younger, lower-ranked players have tended to use this time of the year to peak and take advantage of the weaker fields. 

Betting favorites to win the 2020 Safeway Open

Si Woo Kim +2000

Kim has been a model of consistency of late posting nine made cuts in a row. Seeing him as a betting favorite in a full-field PGA event though is pretty jarring. He’s never finished better than T49 here in two previous attempts and his off the tee game is the weakest part of his game. There will be better spots and longer odds to target him with in the future. 

Update: Matt Kuchar has withdrawn from the Safeway Open.

Phil Mickelson +2000

Strangely enough, the 50-year-old Mickelson might have the most appeal of all the betting favorites this week. Lefty recently finished T2 at a WGC event in late July and also won in his first appearance on the Champions Tour at the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National two weeks ago. He’s posted top-10 finishes at Silverado in two of his four visits–including a T3 from 2017 and still averages over 300 yards off the tee. The price isn’t great but he feels like he’ll have a legit shot to contend this week. 

Shane Lowry +2500

Lowry flashed some good form at points late in the summer but has had issues putting his entire game together. He’ll also be playing Silverado for the first-time in competition. From a talent perspective, the Irishman deserves to be priced here but his recent form has been bettered or equaled by numerous players in this field with double or triple the odds. He’s a pretty easy avoid for outrights. 

Brendan Steele +2500

Steele being priced this low is based solely on his course history at this week’s venue. The now three-time Tour winner won here in consecutive seasons in 2016 and 2017 and is a consistent off the tee player. Steele has flashed solid form since the restart, posting a T22 at the PGA Championship so seeing him compete again here wouldn’t be shocking. He hasn’t won on Tour in over three years now though and this kind of price for a player of his calibre just isn’t big enough.

Favorite bets (each-ways and outrights)

For more info on types of golf bets available each week, be sure to check out more info here. Each way bets refer to bets that include a bet to win and a bet to place (usually to at least top-5 but sometimes are available up to top-8 or more). 

Sam Burns +5000 or better 

Burns is a big hitter who ranked out at 16th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee stats last year and 8th in Driving Distance. He’s also a higher-end putter who has gained +2-strokes or more on the greens in six of his last 10-starts. In the field, there may be no other player who has a game that compares so similarly to last year’s winner here, Cameron Champ. The 24-year-old showed a more complete game towards the end of last season gaining +1.4 strokes or more on his approaches in three of his last four starts.

The price here has him pegged at a bigger number than a player with similar pedigree in Doc Redman and also him available at a better price than another young-bomber in Cameron Davis. Burns has flashed better or similar upside to those two when he’s firing and, outside of the greens being his preferred Bermuda grass, the course certainly looks like a great solid fit. 

Patrick Rodgers +7500 or better (each-way)

Rodgers is another player with a game that really compares well to past winners at Silverado. He averages a healthy 308 yards off the tee and has gained the second-most strokes putting on Poa greens over the last 50-rounds of any player in this field–second only to Brandt Snedeker. That kind of lethal combo is good enough to hit him up for an each-way selection here but he’s also played this venue six times now in competition and posted a T6 finish here in 2015, along with three other made cuts. 

His approach game wasn’t showing as much polish as Burns’ was towards the end of 2020 but his putter has the ability to make up for that shortcoming on a course like Silverado. The course fit here makes him a good target for me at this price. 

Luke List +7500 or better (each-way)

I may be starting to sound like a broken record but List carries the same style of Off the Tee prowess as Rodgers and Burns and might be the best pure ball-striker of the three. The 35-year-old is a west coast native and won on the Korn Ferry Tour earlier in 2020. Ranked 27th in SG: Off the Tee stats in 2020, List has extremely solid course history at Silverado too, as he’s made three cuts here in four career appearances and finished T3 at this event back in 2018.

The putter has always been an issue for List and he’ll need that club to be better for him here–if he’s going to grab his maiden win–than it was for him down the stretch in 2020. However, it’s worth noting that Emiliano Grillo won here back in 2015 despite losing strokes putting for the week. List has actually gained over +1-stroke putting or more in two of his four visits to Silverado so the chances of a solid week on the greens seem promising. The price is big enough that he doesn’t warrant a huge investment either. 

Longshots

Kristoffer Ventura +8000 or better (each-way)

With Ventura, we continue the theme of big hitters who have the ability to get red hot with their putter. The Norweigan endured a terrible start to his PGA career in 2019/2020 but really turned his game around toward the end of the year, recording three top-25 finishes over his last four PGA Tour starts. He also mixed in four Korn Ferry Tour starts in the summer which yielded two top-10 finishes, a good sign given the relative lack of strength in the field this week. 

Ventura ranked 29th in driving distance last season and 7th in SG: Putting. He was able to grab two wins in a short span on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019 so the fact he’s starting to find some rhythm to his game is significant. This feels like a great setup for the former Oklahoma State Cowboy to potentially strike with a big week.  

Wyndham Clark +10000 or better (each way)

Clark feels like he could easily be priced at +6000 or worse in this field as he carries similar talent to many of the players I’ve already highlighted. The former Oregan Duck endured a rough season on the PGA last year though, posting five missed cuts in his last seven starts. He did show some promise at the Northern Trust–his last official start of last season–where he finished T29, and landed a T33 at Silverado on his first attempt here in 2018. 

The poor form from Clark in 2019/2020 gives us a better betting price to take advantage of here though and it feels significant that his putter has remained a weapon for him during his downspell. Clark has now gained strokes on the greens in 11 of his last 13 starts and is certainly capable of matching what the last few winners achieved here on the greens. We often see struggling young players turn things around early in the Fall swing, when the fields and tension relax a bit, and Clark feels like a player who could accomplish just such a feat this week. 

Joseph Bramlett +15000 or better (each-way)

Bramlett makes a lot of sense as an each-way bet here at big prices. The 32-year-old has been dipping in between the PGA and Korn Ferry Tour this year and has put up some strong results on the minor league circuit, posting T2 and T3 finishes in his two Korn Ferry starts from June. He’s also a Stanford grad and has played on the West coast a couple times now in his PGA Tour career, posting a T35 at Silverado back in 2017. 

His stats don’t stand out much but he did finish T12 in his second to last PGA start of 2020 at the Barracuda and will encounter a similar field this week. Averaging 299 yards off the tee he should also have enough length in the bag to take on Silverado. He’s performed well when not up against the elites of the golfing world and the West coast venue is another big factor in his favour here. 

Top-20 market

Kevin Chappell +700

  • Chappell showed some improvement in his last couple of starts of 2019/2020, ranking 9th in SG:OTT stats in his last event in Detroit
  • He should be happy for the fresh start and a weaker field to take advantage of after failing to get his game on track in 2020 after an injury layoff
  • Originally from the West coast and finished T40 at Silverado last season in just his second event back; shot a 65 here back in 2015 as well
  • If his off the tee game stays similar to what he showed near the end of last season he should have a shot at hitting this bet

Martin Laird +700

  • Laird returned to action last week on the Korn Ferry Tour, it wasn’t a great start by any means but he ranked out well in off the tee stats and sank the 25th most birdies of the week
  • Has great course history at the this week’s venue and has finished inside the top-20 at Silverado in three of his last six visits to the course, including a T8 finish from 2016 and a T3 finish from 2014
  • Price simply looks too big for a player with positive Poa splits who has often played his best golf on the West coast

Matchups (72-holes)

Joel Dahmen -105 over Emiliano Grillo 

Dahmen comes in having hit top-20 finishes in three of his last four starts. The run included a T10 finish–his best ever finish at a major at the West coast based TPC Harding Park. Despite winning the event in 2016, Grillo has only gained strokes on the Silverado greens once in five starts here and has lost -2 strokes or more on the greens here in each of the last two seasons. Grillo’s ball-striking might carry him through to the weekend but Dahmen has the far better upside right now and could easily challenge for the win here if his ball-striking gets back to where it was in early summer.

Sam Burns -110 over Bud Cauley 

I outlined above why I like Burns so much this week. He carries a pretty massive Off the Tee advantage in this matchup with Cauley who last posted a top-20 finish on the PGA back in January of 2020. Cauley’s lack of distance is a hindrance for him on this course but so is his putting splits. He’s lost -21 strokes putting on Poa greens over his last 50-rounds. Burns is the player on the rise here so happy to take even money or worse even as Burns should be the clear favorite in this matchup. 

First round leader bets

Wyndham Clark +8000 or better (each-way)

You can read above for all the reasons why I like taking a shot on Wyndham Clark this week. He’s simply one of the most consistent putters in the game and has been a faster starter in his short time on the PGA Tour, ranking out 36th in round one scoring last season. Opened with a 66 here in 2019 and showcased much more consistent ball-striking in the last couple starts of 2019/2020. 

Martin Laird +10000 or better (each-way)

I outlined Laird’s course history at Silverado above, but let me go a little more in depth here. The Scotsman has shot 68 or better here in eight of his last 24 rounds and opened here with a 65 way back in 2015. He’s a solid par 5 scorer and someone who generally comes alive when he’s out West. This price simply looked too big for a player who should be looking for a quick start to 2020/2021 after taking off the back-half of 2019/2020. 

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