10 Players to Watch: Safeway Open

  1. Paul Casey, England — Following a strong run through the FedExCup playoffs after tying for 10th in the PGA Championship, Casey hopes to keep it going at the start of the new PGA Tour season. He finished second to Rory McIlroy in the Deutsche Bank Championship, was runner-up the following week behind Dustin Johnson in the BMW Championship and was fourth in the Tour Championship to wind up fifth in the FedExCup point standings. The Englishman has bounced back from injuries that stalled his career after a strong start and has climbed to No. 12 in the World Golf Ranking. Casey owns 16 wins in his pro career, but surprisingly his only victory on the PGA Tour came in the 2009 Shell Houston Open, so he is overdue. He tied for 11th in the opener in 2011 when it was the Frys.com Open.
  1. Matt Kuchar, United States — After helping the United States regain the Ryder Cup with a 2-2 record, although he lost to Martin Kaymer of Germany on the final hole in singles, Kuchar is playing in the opener at Silverado for the second straight year. Last season, when it was still the Frys.com Open, he was tied for third after playing the middle rounds in 68-66, but he closed with a 4-over-par 76 and slid to a tie for 21st. Kuchar has won seven times on the PGA Tour, but not since the 2014 RBC Heritage. However, he is coming off another solid season in which he posted 10 finishes in the top 10, including third on three occasions — in the Players Championship, the AT&T Byron Nelson and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He also captured the bronze medal at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
  1. Phil Mickelson, United States — Lefty was hoping to play alongside Tiger Woods in the Safeway Open before Woods withdrew from the opener on Monday. We last saw Mickelson two weeks ago, when he recorded a 2-1-1 record to help the United States regain the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, where he halved his singles match with Sergio Garcia of Spain. Even though he hasn’t won since claiming his 42nd PGA Tour victory in the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield, the 46-year-old was close several times last season, finishing second in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the FedEx St. Jude Classic and the Open Championship at Royal Troon among his six top-10 results. The only other time he played in the fall opener, he shot 71-70–141 and missed the cut on the 2007 Frys.com Open.
  1. Emiliano Grillo, Argentina — Coming straight to the PGA Tour opener last year after winning the Web.com Tour Championship, Grillo became the second player off the Triple-A circuit to win his first start as a member of the big tour, joining Russell Henley (2013). The Argentine lipped out a 3-foot birdie putt to beat Kevin Na on the first hole of a playoff at Silverado, but he came back to nail down the title with a 10-foot birdie on the next hole. Grillo saved the rest of the best in his rookie season for the stretch run, tying for second behind Patrick Reed in The Barclays and tying for 10th in the Tour Championship to wind up 11th in the FedExCup standings. He also tied for eight in golf’s return to the Olympic Games in Rio.
  1. Bill Haas, United States — Three of Haas’ six victories on the PGA Tour have come in California, and he would love to add another this week in the Safeway Open at Silverado. He captured what is now the CareerBuilder Challenge in the California desert when it was the Bob Hope Classic in 2010 and in its last year as the Humana Classic in 2015, and he also beat Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in a playoff at the 2012 Northern Trust Open at Riviera near Los Angeles. Haas is making his third start in the fall opener, the last when he tied for 20th in 2008. The 2011 FedExCup champion is coming off a season in which he finished in the top 10 in six tournaments, including a playoff loss to Charl Schwartzel of South Africa in the Valspar Championship.
  1. Kevin Na, United States — Na is back at the PGA Tour fall opener for the fifth time, and he came close to winning each of the last two years. He got into a playoff with rookie Emiliano Grillo of Argentina last year, but he drove behind a tree on the second extra hole at Silverado and wound up falling to 0-3 in playoffs. The year before, Na made a run on the weekend with 64-64 to tie for third, three strokes behind winner Jimmy Walker. His only PGA Tour victory came in the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, but he has finished second eight times in his career, including twice last season. After losing to Grillo last year, he tied for second in the Shriners behind Smylie Kaufman in his next start, then tied for third in both the CIMB Classic and the CareerBuilder Challenge.
  1. Justin Thomas, United States — One of the youngsters from the high school class of 2011 who are making a splash on the PGA Tour, Thomas claimed his first PGA Tour victory just about a year ago in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. That came a couple weeks after he tied for third in the Frys.com Open, now the Safeway Open, at Silverado, where he opened with a 6-under-par 66 and was in the hunt all the way before finishing one stroke out of the playoff in which Emiliano Grillo beat Kevin Na. Grillo is another one of those kids out of the class of 2011, along with Jordan Spieth, Daniel Berger and Patrick Rodgers. Thomas finished in the top 10 on the PGA Tour seven times last year, including a tie for third in the Players Championship and a tie for sixth in the Tour Championship.
  1. Jon Rahm, Spain — Rahm, 21, came out of Arizona State last spring and earned his PGA Tour card in only four starts. He led or shared the lead after each of the first two rounds of his first start in the Quicken Loans National before tying for third, and after tying for 72nd in the Barracuda Championship and tying for 59th in the Open Championship at Royal Troon, he wrapped up his card for this season with a tie for second in the RBC Canadian Open. Before that, he was low amateur with a tie for 23rd in the U.S. Open at Oakmont and tied for 10th in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba before turning pro. Rahm showed the year before that he could play with the big boys by thrilling the Arizona State fans when he tied for fifth in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
  1. Brendan Steele, United States — Last year, Steele was in command most of the way at Silverado, opening with a 9-under-par 63 and holding onto the lead by shooting 70-69 in the middle rounds, but he stumbled home with a 76 and slipped all the way to a tie for 17th. This will be his sixth start in the fall opener, and his best result was a tie for seventh in 2011, when he again held the lead after the first round with a 67. Steele’s only PGA Tour victory came in the 2011 Valero Texas Open, a year after he earned his card by capturing the Nationwide Tour (now the Web.com) Championship at Daniel Island. His best result last season was a tie for third in the CIMB Classic, and he kept his playing privileges by posting 11 finishes in the top 25.
  1. Jhonattan Vegas, Venezuela — Following a five-year drought after he burst onto the scene by capturing the 2011 Bob Hope Classic in a playoff over Bill Haas and Gary Woodland, Vegas finally made it back to the winner’s circle last year at the RBC Canadian Open. That and four other results in the top 10, including ties for fourth in the Sanderson Farms Championship and the Barbasol Championship, allowed him to make it all the way to the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta for the first time. Vegas, who played college golf at Texas, is making his fifth appearance in the PGA Tour’s fall opener, and last year he posted his best finish, a tie for 10th. He opened with an 8-under-par 64 and stayed in the hunt until carding a 73 in the final round.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

Related Articles

Stay Connected


Latest Articles