Golf expert Ben Coley expects Hideki Matsuyama to go well in the Safeway Open, for which he also has a selection at 400/1.
Certain events on the PGA Tour are easy to categorise in terms of the required skill set. At first glance, the Safeway Open isn't really one of them. At the RBC Heritage, we know keeping the ball in play and finding small greens is key. At Torrey Pines, it's hard to keep up if you're anything but above-average in driving distance. It's exceptionally rare for anyone to win the John Deere Classic without putting the lights out.
Since the Safeway Open came to Silverado in 2014, a tree-lined course in Wine Country which was given a facelift earlier in the decade by Johnny Miller, we've been treated to a disparate collection of leaderboards, each its own micro-climate of specific skills that appear at first to have been necessary for those four days only and little help when it comes to figuring things out a year later.
But look closer, and you'll see that there have been some awesome displays of ball-striking from players who, in general, we would consider pretty awesome ball-strikers. Brendan Steele might not be a particularly big name, but he's been one of the most consistently excellent drivers since his rookie year in 2011. Emiliano Grillo would have a collection of titles by now if he owned a behaving putter, and when he beat Kevin Na in a play-off both players had putted poorly. In fact, I can't think of another play-off between two players who lost strokes on the greens.
Hunter Mahan, Graham DeLaet, Charl Schwartzel, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Paul Casey, Scott Piercy: these are Silverado contenders who relish a classical, tree-lined course where waywardness off the tee is hard to overcome. It's not impossible - Patton Kizzire finished runner-up in 2016 on the back of a hot putter - but while we're still in the formative stages of analysis and there has been a lack of year-to-year consistency, I look at these leaderboards and see reliable drivers who can go to work from there.
The first renewal of the event here in Napa went to Sang-moon Bae, who led the field in strokes-gained tee-to-green, and in the hope that something similar unfolds it's Hideki Matsuyama who gets the vote from those towards the top of the market.
Both Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay have played well here and are respected, but Matsuyama has the superior adjusted scoring average and I felt he hinted over the final weeks of the 2019 season that a return to his devastating best is imminent.
That best is two years in the past now, but the 27-year-old has time on his side and, as explained in my pre-season preview, he looks one of the lurking, world-class talents who is most likely to enjoy a renaissance year and win more than once.
Here at Silverado, where he was third in 2014 and 17th in 2015, ranking second and ninth in strokes-gained tee-to-green and each time hitting upwards of 75 per cent of greens, he's making his return to action at a course which has proven ideal for his game.
Matsuyama arrived on the back of a month-long break in 2014 and three weeks off in 2015, so the absence since East Lake isn't a worry, and having started to putt consistently well during the FedEx Cup Playoffs he's expected to make a flying start.
He actually drove the ball appallingly in the TOUR Championship yet still finished 12th in elite company, excelling for the third week in succession around the greens. That long-game issue will prove a blip and providing he's in similar form a title challenge has to be expected.
Ryan Moore has a flawless record here and plenty in his favour, but at 50/1 he looks about the right price and similar comments apply to the doubtless popular Sungjae Im, Collin Morikawa and Scott Piercy.
As such, my remaining selections are on offer at bigger prices and first among them is Harris English, who has started the season with a bang.
English has put together back-to-back top-six finishes for the first time in his PGA Tour career and he's done so at exactly the right time, given that he's playing out of a lowly category having narrowly missed out on the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Over the first two events he ranks fourth in driving accuracy, ninth in greens, fourth in birdie average and second in total driving, and he played more than well enough to be involved in Sunday's play-off at the Sanderson Farms, a series of short misses on Saturday and burned edges on Sunday confining him to a share of sixth place.
The big picture is that he's back playing the sort of golf which once marked him out as a guaranteed Ryder Cup star of the future and who knows, if he converts this form into a third PGA Tour win and maintains his form through to November, Presidents Cup captain Tiger Woods could yet come knocking.
More likely is that such opportunities will have to wait, and for now it's all about maintaining the momentum which has been building for some time. As I wrote last week, English has fixed his weakness, the driver, and once he sharpens up around the greens there's no reason he can't race towards the world's top 50.
"I've been trending in the right direction the last probably month or two," he said at the Greenbrier.
"Making a lot cuts, just hadn't had a top finish like this. It feels good to get in contention and have a chance to really go low today and press Joaquin (Niemann) a little bit. Feels good.
"I got two events coming up, Jackson next week and the Napa the week after, so I'm going to use this to put me in the right direction."
It's so far, so good and having led the field in driving accuracy in both the Greenbrier and last week's event, ranking third and second in greens hit too, English is simply playing too well to ignore. No doubt his modest course record will be too off-putting for some, but he's never been in this sort of shape teeing off and is bursting with confidence.
For all that it's not been a particularly good year to date for these previews, one aspect which has been rewarding has been following players who I believe are close - specifically Thomas and Patrick Reed. Both had featured in the weeks prior to their wins and justified the faith with high-profile success in the FedEx Cup.
It's in that spirit I'll return to Cameron Tringale, who went close to landing the each-way money at big prices more than once and may finally do so returned to his native California.
Tringale stepped up on his solid return at the Greenbrier (36th) when 16th last week, ranking second in strokes-gained tee-to-green, and for a long time now has been striking the ball with real authority.
Here at Silverado, he's never been in control off the tee and has in fact done well to make four cuts in five despite that. The hope is that having been building confidence in his long-game since the spring, he'll now be able to capitalise on his comfort levels on the greens here, which aren't to everyone's taste.
It's also worth noting that he has solid records at both TPC San Antonio and Riviera, two courses which may correlate quite well with this. Riviera makes sense as another tree-lined, classical course in California, an angle which led some to Bae here in 2014, but the link with San Antonio looks even more sturdy now.
Not only is it the only other course on the circuit where Steele has won, but defending champion Tway was third there, Andrew Landry has won in Texas and been seventh here, Andrew Loupe has top-10 finishes at both and Steven Bowditch, a shock San Antonio winner, was runner-up here to Bae.
These are not world-class players who consistently contend, and when we throw in the likes of Moore, Danny Lee, Bud Cauley, Martin Laird, Aaron Baddeley and Tony Finau, there are a heck of a lot of players who've performed well at both layouts. Not always do we need to be able to understand why that might be to conclude that, somehow, form translates from one to the other.
Tringale has two top-10 finishes at San Antonio and has been eighth and 12th at Riviera, which is the icing on the cake. In essence, he's fancied here because he's played solid golf in the event without hitting it well and now looks reliable from tee-to-green. He should threaten the places.
Next on the list is Adam Long, who won the Desert Classic in California last year and might just manage to complete a Golden State double.
Long has been one of the early-season eye-catchers, striking the ball really well to finish 14th in the Greenbrier, where he contended, and then 23rd last week in Mississippi.
He's yet to finish any round outside the top 25 on the leaderboard and that suggests he's ready to build on what was an encouraging enough course debut, as he sat fourth after round one here following a round of 66 at the start of his rookie season.
Long was in awful form at the time - he'd missed his previous four cuts and would have to wait until January and that shock Desert Classic win to make a weekend - yet still ranked ninth for total driving to demonstrate a liking for Silverado, at least from the tee.
If he can produce similar ball-striking figures to the last fortnight, and build on an improved putting display at the Sanderson Farms, he could be up to celebrating his 32nd birthday in style with a second PGA Tour win.
Sung Kang is one to consider having nipped home to Korea to finish fifth behind Jbe Kruger. He's got Damon Green on the bag for the first time this week (not that it helped Ollie Schniederjans much) and has that Riviera and San Antonio form which piques my interest.
Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman, two friends who've won the Texas Open at the latter course, also come onto the radar for that reason. Chappell is a Californian who shot 59 at the Greenbrier and he's better than he's shown at Silverado, where in the past he's been returning to action following a month or so off.
The trouble is, he rode a red-hot putter in West Virginia and his ball-striking is nowhere near the expected levels as he returns from injury, and it's also concerns around iron play which put me off Hoffman, who made everything in a second-round 64 last week to start the season encouragingly.
Instead, I'll take a chance on 2017 US Amateur champion Doc Redman at around the 200/1 mark.
Redman is primarily of interest because of the form he's shown over the last few months, finishing second in the Rocket Mortgage Classic to earn special temporary membership of the PGA Tour and then picking up enough points subsequently to seal his full status.
That's a big effort from a player whose success in the US Amateur was a surprising one, and reading through interviews he's surprised himself a little in terms of the speed with which he's graduated to the top level.
Perhaps that's an indication that we should keep expectations low, but at 200/1 from as short as 80/1 last week he looks overpriced having been really good with his iron play across both the Greenbrier and Sanderson Farms, ranking 16th and 12th for strokes-gained approach.
Redman had previously listed iron play as the area which needed attention, so it's encouraging that he's been firing at pins and a 24-52 start to his rookie season represents perfectly good form.
The clincher is that his US Amateur win in fact came at Riviera, and if he can take to Silverado like he did that more famous course then perhaps he can build on some strong form which also includes 20th in The Open back in July.
Finally, I'm taking a real flier on big-hitting Tyler McCumber in the hope he might emulate Tway and drive his way to glory.
Like Tway, McCumber is from a strong golfing bloodline, being the son of 1988 PLAYERS champion Mark, and although his route to the PGA Tour has been more complicated he's shown an ability to win silverware which makes him more interesting than most 400/1 shots.
Having won the 2018 Mackenzie Tour Order of Merit to earn his Web.com Tour status, McCumber played this event on an invite last year and he did well to finish 25th, experience which puts him at an advantage over many in the field. In doing so he drove the ball really well and ranked 18th in greens hit despite a real lack of experience at this level.
More recently he's without a top-10 finish since April, but he was very good off the tee again at the Greenbrier and it was only an unruly putter which hurt him last week as he learns on the job at courses he's never played before.
This will in fact be just his fifth PGA Tour start and it's little wonder he's off the radar, but at a massive price he's worth a very small bet in an event which may mark Matsuyama's return to elite level.
Posted at 1110 BST on 24/09/19.
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