The 2016 Safeway Open
Finally, after an excruciatingly long offseason, the PGA Tour returns to grant us something to watch besides the NFL. You know, on the off chance that your most-heavily owned wide receiver’s habit of catching touchdowns while out of bounds is sending you into an existential crisis. It’s not as if that would ever happen to me . . .
Anyway, the Tour kicks off its 2016-2017 season with the Safeway Open (formerly the Frys.com Open). This event is being held at Silverado CC — a Par-72 course that measures just over 7,200 yards. This course does not require overpowering distance and can be dominated with solid ball striking and accuracy — as seen in Emiliano Grillo‘s 2015 victory in which he hit 79.6 percent of his Greens In Regulation (GIR). Also, Long-Term Adjusted Round Score (LT Adj Rd Score) will receive an even heavier emphasis than it normally does, because nearly half of the field has played only two or fewer events in the last five weeks, making recent statistics less actionable for those specific players.
With only a two-year sample, we don’t need to place a heavy emphasis on course history, so let’s dive straight into the tiers with LT Adj Rd Score and LT GIR as our focal points. Let’s go!
$9,000 – $11,600
LT Adj Rd Score: 68.6, Matt Kuchar ($11,500)
Mr. Consistency leads a weak field of golfers in what is our best measure of a player’s overall performance, but he still leaves a lot to be desired at the second-highest salary of the week. He earns the moniker “Mr. Consistency” simply because he has finished tournaments with a positive Plus/Minus 80 percent of the time over the past year, but his 30 percent Upside Rating is the lowest among players priced in this range of salaries. He does set up well for this course, with a LT GIR of 68 percent and LT Driving Accuracy (DA) of 65.1 percent. He is definitely a suitable cash-game option. Also, he hasn’t missed a cut since the PGA Championship, but it is worth taking a look at some similarly priced options who may present more upside when selecting players for your tournament rosters.
LT GIR: 71.5 percent, Paul Casey ($11,600)
Casey is one of the reasons to look away from Kuchar this week, as his 11 Pro Trends are the most of any player in the field. At only $100 more than Kuch, he has a similar LT Adj Rd Score (68.9) and finished last season by playing some of his best golf of the year. He concluded last season with second-, second-, and fourth-place finishes in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and he doesn’t have to worry about players like Rory McIlroy charging up the leaderboards from behind him in this week’s field. He averaged 27.6 Putts Per Round (PPR) through those three events, which is light years better than his LT average of 30.1. Always an excellent ball striker, he could very well be among the top-5 fantasy players this week if the putter stays hot.
$7,000 – $8,900
LT Adj Rd Score: 69.5, Brendan Steele ($8,700)
Four other players in this salary range — Webb Simpson, Robert Streb, Harris English, and Tony Finau — are tied with Steele for the highest LT Adj Rd Score, but he leads the pack in our other highlighted metric of the week. His 69 percent LT GIR is among the best in the field, but he is often held back by his abysmal play on the greens (29.9 LT PPR). However, Steele has managed to finish 17th and 21st in his last two appearances at this course, despite averaging only 0.4 fewer PPR than his LT average. Additionally, his +5.0 Plus/Minus, 75 percent Consistency, and 33 percent Upside Rating on the year collectively speak to his viability in cash games and guaranteed prize pools, especially in a weaker field.
LT GIR: 72 percent, Cheng-Tsung Pan ($7,400)
Cheng-Tsung’s LT GIR and DA of 72 and 70.1 percent are surely impressive, but it is important to note that they were accomplished mostly in easier conditions than what the PGA Tour typically offers. However, Pan did finish last season with seven top-10 finishes on the Web.Com Tour, averaging 13.9 Adjusted Birdies per Tournament (Adj Birdies). The last place that you likely saw Pan was the 2016 Olympics, where he was a tad all over the place. He posted a double bogey in three of his four rounds but did manage to string together a total of 13 birdies through the four-round event. He finished the event at one-under par, which was one stroke better than both Danny Willett and Rickie Fowler. However, at his salary of $7,400 (which is comparable to the salaries of several tour-proven players), Cheng-Tsung probably isn’t worth anything more than tournament-flyer consideration at this point.
$6,000 – $6,900
LT Adj Rd Score: 69.9, Jason Bohn ($6,600)
Bohn is a bit of an old-timer on Tour (he turned pro in 1992), but you have to work with what you are given in the sub-$7,000 range of a weak field. He is not very long off of the tee, as he has averaged only 277.1 yards over the past 75 weeks. However, he keeps his drives out of trouble by hitting 68.9 percent of his fairways. His accuracy off of the tee ranked 14th on Tour last season, and he ranked sixth on tour in three-putt avoidance, so he finds fairways and avoids big mistakes on the greens. However, his problems come from a lack of distance and inability to hit greens at a consistent rate (66.2 percent LT GIR). Distance shouldn’t be too necessary this week, and he has shown that he can really take advantage of some solid ball striking at this course, as he finished third last year while hitting 83.3 percent GIR during the week.
LT GIR: 74.2 percent, J.J. Spaun ($6,800)
This range of salaries features eight players with LT GIR averages of at least 70, but (as was the case with Cheng-Tsung) most of these golfers accomplished these marks on courses easier than those on Tour. Spaun played 23 events on the Web.com Tour last season and finished third in the money rank with 15 made cuts, 11 top-25 finishes, and three top-five finishes, one of which was a victory. He displayed solid ball striking during that time, ranking second in GIR and 30th in DA percentage, but his 1.78 putting average (ranked 89th) is concerning. His 63.5 percent LT Scrambling percentage is somewhat surprising when coupled with his average of 30.1 PPR, but even solid work around the greens to save par is not exactly a recipe for success at a tournament that required a score of 11-under par to crack the top 10 last season.
New Season, New Me
In all honesty, I have no idea what I meant with that heading, but it just seemed right. I am pretty much the same old me (aside from the overwhelming nervousness that comes with being days away from the birth of my first child), and my personal golf season is nearing its end up here in Boston. Either way, it is the beginning of a new PGA season, and what better way to kick it off than reliving some of the moments from last season’s playoffs?
Best of luck!