After a scheduled stop of just one week, the PGA Tour is up and running again with a brand new campaign. First on the 2021-22 calendar is a trip to Napa, California, where the usual season opener will take place on the North Course and Silverado Resort. It’s the same event as always, but this year sees a name change from the Safeway Open to the Fortinet Championship.
A new season means new opportunities, both for seasoned top-tier regulars such as Jon Rahm, who seems keen to waste little time after the disappointment of finishing runner-up in the FedEx Cup last term, as he features here for the first time since 2016, and PGA Tour newbies, such as the collective of players who will feature thanks to their exploits on the Korn Ferry Tour last season. Last season’s winner Stewart Cink won’t be in attendance to defend his title, but there are several previous winners in the field, including 2019 winner Cameron Champ and 2015 winner Emiliano Grillo.
What does it take to win at Silverado?
The North Course at Silverado, re-designed by architect wizard Robert Trent Jones Jr, presents players with the opportunity to get on the front foot and play attacking golf. In other words, it’s not exactly the sort of track that requires a steady approach. The fairways, which were widened in 2011, aren’t difficult to hit, while there are also fewer bunkers these days, which again lessens the challenge. Two Par 5’s in the final three holes, neither of which are among the toughest on tour, also allows for no shortage of shots to be made up late in the day, meaning that slender leads can easily be overturned.
Last year’s winning score of -21 showed the North Course is a beast that can certainly be tamed, so expect low scores this week. In terms of what’s required here, there’s probably not one recipe for success, and it’s more a case of being sold tee-to-green gets the job done. As alluded to above, accuracy and positioning off the tee isn’t paramount, but being long can help, while those equipped to gain strokes off-the-tee can certainly thrive, which is what we saw in 2019 with Cameron Champ, who finished the week first for strokes gained: off-the-tee.
As also mentioned in this week’s fantasy preview, strokes gained: tee-to-green is probably going to be the be-all-and-end-all this week. On average, the last four winners each finished the week in Napa ranked second for strokes gained: tee-to-green, so if you’re not picking up shots in this area, then you’re unlikely to be walking away from the California course with the trophy in hand.
So, with the above in mind, which players look like they have what it takes to thrive this week? Which players are worth betting on?
Kevin Na Top 10 Finish - 2 Units @ +250
Kevin Na Top 5 Finish - 1 Unit @ +500
I’m doubling down on Kev this week. In a line-up of the highest quality a fortnight ago, the man born in the South Korean capital of Seoul flourished, storming home to finish third in the race for the FedEx Cup, and there’s little reason why he cannot make his presence felt in a big way here.
He’s yet to win the season opener, but that’s not to say that the 37-year-old is lacking form at this venue. Three top 10’s in five appearances at Silverado since 2013 is hard to ignore, as is the fact that he has the fourth lowest average score of those in the field to have played more than two events on this track. Tee-to-green Na has a strong game, and that’s often been in evidence when he’s attended this tournament, ranking as the seventh-best player in the field for strokes gained: tee-to-green here.
Play around the greens isn’t massively important here, though it did help Kevin Tway when he won in 2018, which bodes well for Na, who finished the previous campaign as the number one player on tour in terms of strokes gained: around-the-green. Previous winners have also shown that a strong approach game can help on Silverado’s North Course, which again, won’t be a problem for Na, who on average, picks up 0.81 strokes on approach here, which only a handful of players in this field can beat.
Ryan Moore Top 20 Finish - 1 Unit @ +450
At odds of +450, I’m really sweet on Ryan Moore for a top 20 finish this week. The Tacoma native hasn’t won since his John Deere Classic victory back in 2016, and he certainly wasn’t a prolific cut-maker last season. However, we’re talking about a player who is something of a horse for certain courses, and the North Course at Silverado seems to be one of them.
Moore has made the cut here in five out of seven appearances, hitting the top 20 on every occasion, most recently finishing second in 2018, which followed a 17th place finish in 2017. It’s fair to say that this is one of the venues where the American plays some of his best golf, as is shown by the fact that he ranks as the tenth best player in the field for strokes gained: total on this track in the last five seasons. At a venue where he knows how to do well, and a venue that he’s shown a clear likeness for, Moore rates as a much better top 20 bet than a few of the players at lower odds, so taking some of the +450 on offer represents a slice of value.