Courtesy of Marty James, Napa Valley Register
Call it the Shootout at Silverado. That’s exactly what it was during Sunday’s final round of the Safeway Open in Napa, with players hitting super shots and going low and moving up a bunched leaderboard on a day that offered so much excitement and thrilling golf from start to finish.
With so many players in red numbers and in contention to start the day, it was Stewart Cink, a veteran player who joined the PGA Tour in 1997, who took charge, taking care of business on the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa. The 47-year-old Cink closed with a 7-under-par 65 and came from behind to win the Safeway Open title, the kickoff event to the PGA Tour’s 2020-21 schedule that was carried by Golf Channel.
Cink, who was tied for seventh place at 14-under and two shots off the lead after the third round on Saturday, had the right touch on the par-72, 7,116-yard course, as he broke the tournament scoring record, completing the four-day, 72-hole event with a 21-under 267 total. The previous record was set by Brendan Steele, who shot 18-under 270 in winning the 2016 title.
He called it an emotional win – his first victory in 11 years, and he had his son, Reagan, 23, caddying for him.
Cink becomes the oldest winner on Tour since Phil Mickelson at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2019.
“It’s been an awesome time,” he said. “This is a really special place. I love being in Napa and I just had a really phenomenal time this week. And on top of that, my golf ball was pretty agreeable most of the way, so it was a really great experience top to bottom all week.”
Cink joins a coveted Safeway Open winner’s circle that includes Kevin Tway and Cameron Champ of Sacramento, and Steele, a two-time champion. This was the fifth year of the tournament, a $6.6 million event and the seventh straight year of the PGA Tour at Silverado, which has a long and rich history in professional golf.
Silverado’s list of past champions is a glorious one, led by Johnny Miller, and also includes Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Lee Trevino, Tom Kite, Dave Stockton and Billy Casper, just to name a few.
It’s Cink’s first win since he captured The Open Championship in 2009. He receives a winner’s check for $1.18 million and 500 FedExCup points.
“I’ve played some good golf over the years,” said Cink. “It’s been a while since I really played well for four rounds, and even here in the second round I was not exactly outstanding, but I really played great over the weekend.
“I was clear-headed and calm and that’s an area where I kind of have struggled over the years. I had a lot of good sort of vibes. It just felt like the right place for me to be up near the top of the leaderboard. Then when it came time for me to kind of wrestle the bull to the ground, we were able to keep our composure, me and Reagan both, and get the job done.”
Cink took part in a trophy presentation, as he was joined by Johnny Miller and John Evans from Silverado, Cliff Riggsbee from Safeway, Don Walker from Chevron, and Jeff Sanders and Matt McEvoy of SportFive. Miller is a World Golf Hall of Fame member and one of Silverado’s owners. Evans is Silverado’s Managing Director/General Manager.
“I definitely had a lot of emotions out there today,” said Cink. “I just was overcome at a few times with a feeling of gratitude and just feeling like how fortunate I am to be in the position that I’m in. We call it the bullets are flying out there. You know, the last four or five holes of a PGA Tour event your name’s on top of the leaderboard. But think about it, I’ve got my son caddying for me.
“I always try really hard to keep my heart in the right place when I’m competing. That’s just one of my main goals.”
It’s also his 100th career top-10 finish on Tour.
Cink finished two shots in front of Harry Higgs, who was second after shooting a 68, going 19-under for the week.
Tying for third were four players: Doc Redman (62), Chez Reavie (66), Kevin Streelman (67) and Brian Stuard (70), who were each at 18-under.
Sam Burns (70) and Kristoffer Ventura (70) tied for seventh, both at 17-under.
Rounding out the Top-10 finishers were J.J. Spaun (68), Pat Perez (69), Akshay Bhatia (68), Russell Knox (70) and James Hahn (72). They were at 16-under.
It was a fall season event that produced some of the lowest scoring in tournament history.
The weather was ideal – temperatures in the high 70s with a light breeze. Conditions were dry, firm and fast.
With the win, Cink secures a spot in next year’s Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua on Maui, the Masters Tournament, PGA Championship, and Players Championship, along with numerous invitational events.
Cink had eight birdies during his round, including the one on the par-5 18th hole as he gave himself some breathing room after a bogey on No. 17.
“For crying out loud, I left a five-foot putt short on the 17th hole that I needed to make,” he said. “That’s not like what a champion does. But a champion does get back up off the mat when he gets knocked down and I got knocked down a little bit there and I went and played the 18th hole the best I've played it in my whole life.”
He hit 11 of 14 fairways, 13 of 18 greens and was 5 of 5 scrambling, with 26 putts.
This marks his seventh win on Tour. His other wins came at the Canon Greater Hartford Open (1997), MCI Classic (2000), MCI Heritage and World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational (2004), and Travelers Championship (2008).
He has played on four Ryder Cup teams (2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010) and four Presidents Cup teams (2000, 2005, 2007, 2009 ).
This past year, he recorded one Top-10 finish, tying for ninth at the Houston Open, and finished the season No. 144 in the FedExCup standings. He made 11 cuts in 14 starts.
Redman, from Jacksonville, Florida, was the clubhouse leader at one point during the day, as he went out in 32 and shot 30 on back nine, with birdies on his last six holes. He finished his round early, as there was still three hours of golf to go. He birdied his last six holes during a bogey-free round.
“I hit it well. I didn’t feel like I hit it very well (Saturday) and I made some adjustments on the range,” said Redman. “I know if I can get it rolling, especially early, with my ball-striking, then I get a lot of confidence and there’s no telling how close I can hit it. I was playing well. I just got hot. It happens, so it was awesome. It’s awesome to have a really good round and post a good finish.”
He had birdies on Nos. 1, 5, 6, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18. He hit 9 of 14 fairways, 17 of 18 greens, and had 25 putts.
Redman turned pro in 2018 and joined the PGA Tour in 2020.
This past year, he had made 17 cuts in 24 starts. He advanced to the FedExCup Playoffs in his first season as a full-time Tour member, ending the season No. 71 in the FedExCup standings.
Streelman enjoyed his week in the Napa Valley.
“It’s one of my favorite places on Earth, I just love Napa,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite stops. It’s always a relaxing stop for us and to start the year off on a Top-5 finish is nice.”
Fifth year of Safeway Open
This is the fifth year of the PGA Tour event at Silverado with Safeway as the title sponsor. The five-year agreement with Safeway runs through 2020.
Jeff Sanders, the tournament’s executive director, said there has been no announcement as to the future of the event.
“The discussions are going on starting the next couple of weeks between the PGA Tour and Safeway. Everyone is hopeful that it will all work out, but again those discussions are between the PGA Tour and Safeway and we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes,” Sanders said Sunday. “If we get the call and the opportunity, we’ll be ready to go.”
Sanders, the President of Sportfive Golf Events, the company producing the Safeway Open, has been involved in the tournament all five years.
The event did not have spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other than players, caddies, volunteers, tournament staff and media, there were very few people on the course. In previous years, the tournament has featured concerts, a food and wine pavilion, and other on-site areas for food and beverages.
“When we came into this week, the PGA Tour, Safeway, Silverado and Sportfive (Golf Events), my team, we all had the same goal in mind, and that was to put on a first-class event under very challenging conditions and keep everybody safe. And that’s what’s happened, so I’m just thrilled with that result,” said Sanders.
“We miss our fans greatly. We miss all of our sponsors. Those people are the foundation of this golf tournament and they weren’t able to be here this year. It’s been a sad week from that perspective. But at the end of the day, we made the best of it, all of us together again. Safeway, the PGA Tour, Silverado and Sportfive, we made the best of the situation and for that I’m very pleased.”
Mickelson wraps up week
Phil Mickelson, a World Golf Hall of Fame member, wrapped up his week at the Safeway Open, finishing at 10-under after a final-round 70.
“I enjoyed the week. I always enjoy it here,” said Mickelson, who has won five major titles and is a 44-time winner on the PGA Tour. “I enjoy the golf course and I thought it was a really nice setup because the greens are similar to what we’re going to have for the U.S. Open. I played better on the back and hit some better shots. I thought it was really a fun week and a good chance to kind of work on my game and prepare a little bit.”
Mickelson is in the field for the U.S. Open, Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York.
“I’ll head over to Winged Foot and see if I can put it together,” he said. “I’m not striking it the way I’ve been striking it the last few months. It’s not far off, but it’s got to click in the next few days. I’ve got a little bit of work to do, but again, it doesn’t feel far off.”
Courtesy of Marty James, Napa Valley Register
There is so much that Sahith Theegala has learned in the transition of playing golf from the amateur level to the bright lights of the professional game.
He missed the cut in his first three tournaments during the summer, but the big take-away for Theegala was that it benefited him as a learning experience.
“One of the things is just feeling comfortable,” he said Saturday at Silverado Resort and Spa. “I was just too excited, too nervous, like I was just ready to get it going. But everything’s a transition, everything’s a process, so keeping that in mind, and also not wearing myself out.”
Playing in this week’s Safeway Open in Napa on an unrestricted sponsor invitation, Theegala not only made the 36-hole cut on Friday, but is also now on the tournament leaderboard after shooting an 8-under-par 64 in the third round on the North Course. At 13-under through 54 holes of the tournament, he is very much in contention in the PGA Tour’s 2020-21 season opening event, which has a $6.6 million purse and is presented by Chevron. The winner receives $1,188,000.
“I was just a little bit nervous the first couple (of events), but I was just so excited like I’m out here with guys that I grew up watching. All of a sudden, I’m competing against them,” said the former Pepperdine University star, who made his professional debut during an Outlaw Tour event in June. “The last couple of weeks, Barracuda and here, I’ve felt so comfortable.
“I’m just out there playing golf as I know it and I think just having that mindset has definitely helped a lot.”
Theegala is tied for 12th place, just three shots off the lead, after the third round, a day when temperatures warmed up, soaring into the low 90s, thus firming up and drying out the course. The skies were smoky and hazy, and the air quality was listed at 168. For the first time all week, there was a light breeze.
As many as eight different players had the lead at one point.
Theegala, making just his seventh start on the PGA Tour, is very much in the mix and in the conversation going into Sunday’s final round in what is shaping up to be a super exciting day with such a jam-packed leaderboard that is filled with so many red numbers, adding to Silverado’s storied history in golf.
Brian Stuard, James Hahn and Cameron Percy share the 54-hole lead, each at 16-under-200. They are each so very close to the tournament scoring record, set by Brendan Steele at 18-under-par 270 when he won the title at Silverado in 2016.
Twenty-nine players are within five shots of the lead.
Stuard shot 66, Hahn had a 67 and Percy carded a 68.
Tied for fourth, at 15-under, are Kristoffer Ventura (66), Sam Burns (72), and Harry Higgs (70).
There is a group of five players tied at 14-under and in seventh: Emiliano Grillo (65), Stewart Cink (65), Doug Ghim (69), D.J. Trahan (70), Russell Knox (70).
Tied for 12th, along with Theegala, are Kevin Streelman (65), Ben Taylor (67), Xinjun Zhang (67), Tim Wilkinson (68) and Pat Perez (69).
“This is a course that fits my game,” said Stuard. “You’ve got to drive it straight. You’ve got to kind of shape the tee ball once in a while. It’s important to be on the right side of the fairway to some pins, I think. It reminds me a little bit of Hilton Head in that way.”
“You have to play good and shoot a really low one because this course is very gettable and the scores prove that,” said Ventura. “I think just obviously be aggressive and not be scared of getting too many under par and start trying to cozy it in or safe it. Just be aggressive and play like I did today and (Friday).”
The Safeway Open, in its fifth year, is the first of 50 official FedExCup tournaments.
Theegala birdied three of his last four holes, culminating a day when he made a significant move after starting out tied for 54th place, 10 shots off the lead.
“I was pretty proud of myself how I holed some good putts,” he said. “Today, I worked on a few things on the range and I just hit it really well. I think a big key out here is driving it well, and I drove it well. Even though I didn’t hit a lot of fairways, I was just off the fairways, a lot of intermediate cuts, so I left myself in a lot of good positions and I was able to hole some putts because the greens are so pure.
“I kind of just had the momentum going the whole day.”
One of the defenses of the par-72, 7,116-yard course, re-designed in 2011 by World Golf Hall of Fame member and 25-time PGA Tour champion Johnny Miller, is its narrow fairways, as it places a premium on accuracy off the tee. Striving to keep his rhythm in check is one of the swing thoughts that Theegala took with him from the driving range to the first tee.
“I was just getting way too quick and because of that I was just starting everything left of my target, which is not a usual miss for me at all,” he said.
He had a bogey-free round and birdied Nos. 1, 5, 6, 9, 12, 15, 16 and 18. He hit 6 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens. He was 3 of 3 on sand saves and had 26 putts.
His caddie for the week is Aaron Beverly, who also plays as a pro and works in the golf department at Silverado. Earlier this summer, Beverly was named to Sacramento State’s All-Decade Team (2010-2020) for men’s golf. He was named as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year two straight years.
“I actually came up here two weeks ago just to play a couple times and that’s when I met Aaron,” said Theegala, 23. “This is his home course, he lives pretty close by, so he knows the course really well and he’s just a really cool guy and he’s been great on the bag for me this week.”
Theegala made his Tour debut at The Genesis Invitational, tying for 49th place in 2017. The only other cut he has made was earlier this summer when he tied for 41st at the Barracuda Championship, played at Tahoe Mt. Club’s Old Greenwood Course in Truckee.
Theegala, is from Chino Hills, Calif., won the Fred Haskins Award, Ben Hogan Award and Jack Nicklaus Award this year. It’s only the fifth time in the last 30 years that one player has received all three honors.
Ventura had six birdies, an eagle and two bogeys during his round. His eagle came on the par-5, ninth hole, and the birdies were on Nos. 1, 3, 6, 8, 11 and 18. He had bogeys on Nos. 13 and 15.
“I started off really well. Everything was going in and kind of hit the brakes a little bit with a couple bogeys,” said Ventura. “It was unfortunate, but it was nice to finish with a birdie and overall pretty happy with the day.
“You’ve obviously got to hit the fairway and if you don’t, it’s going to be really tough.”
Stuard had six birdies on his card. He birdied Nos. 3, 4, 5, 12, 14 and 18.
“The golf course is soft, greens are pretty receptive. You’ve got to make a bunch of birdies, that’s the name of the game this week,” said Stuard. “If you drive it in the fairway, you’re going to give yourself a bunch of chances and I think that’s the No. 1 key for me.
“I feel like if I drive it well (Sunday) and get the putter rolling, then we’ll see. Looking forward to it.”
Hahn had five birdies during his round. He birdied Nos. 2, 3, 11, 15 and 16. He said the goal that he in mind was to have a clean scorecard.
“I just put myself out of position on the par 5s, something to work on (Sunday). Hopefully I can put it all together (Sunday),” he said. “The greens are definitely getting firmer, especially in the late afternoon.”
Percy’s round consisted of six birdies and two bogeys. His birdies came on Nos. 3, 5, 9, 10, 16 and 17.
“With the way the weather’s been this week, you’re going to have to go low,” said Percy. “A few holes I’m playing pretty conservatively and the rest of the time just go straight at it. I’ve had a lot of good numbers this week, so I’m able to attack a lot of holes.
“I expect (Sunday) by the time we tee it up, it will be quite firm again.”
Sunday’s starting times are from 8:15 a.m. to 2:10 p.m., with the leaders going out last.
The Tour’s weather forecast for Sunday: “Low-level clouds, patchy fog or mist will be possible through 9 a.m. Sunday, otherwise expect dry conditions under hazy, filtered sunshine. Afternoon high temperatures are expected to top out in the upper 70s. Light southwesterly winds are forecast for the afternoon hours.”
Courtesy of Napa Valley Register, Marty James
The tournament scoring record for the Safeway Open, a PGA Tour event, could be in jeopardy with two rounds still to go in Napa.
Brendan Steele set the record at 18-under-par 270 on his way to winning the title on the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa in 2016. Sam Burns is just three shots off that mark at the halfway point, as he heads into the weekend.
As far as Johnny Miller, the tournament host, is concerned, that’s A-OK, as he applauded the low scores that are being shot on the par-72, 7,166-yard championship course that he re-designed in 2011.
“The guys hit the ball a long ways now and they’re really good,” said Miller, a World Golf Hall of Fame member and 25-time champion on the PGA Tour.
Burns did it again on Friday, going very low, as he shot a second-round 65 in the event, presented by Chevron, that kicks off the Tour’s 2020-21 season. It’s the first of 50 official FedExCup tournaments.
Burns was tied for second place after shooting a 64 in the first round on Thursday. He’s now at 15-under-129 and in the lead through 36 holes, with rounds on Saturday and Sunday coming up. Burns, a resident of Tyler, Texas, is seeking his first win on Tour.
“I’m just going to try to keep improving, keep getting better, trying to go off of my stats from last year and see where I can get better, so just going to see if I can continue to do that and see what happens,” Burns said, following his round Friday.
“I think for me, I’m just going to go out tomorrow and focus on what I can control. For me, that’s picking good targets and hitting shots.”
Once again, players took advantage of favorable scoring conditions – no wind, soft greens, not much rough to contend with.
“Usually there’s some breeze, but this week so far, no wind whatsoever and the rough is not too tough,” said Miller, a two-time major champion, who also works as a golf course designer. “You cannot get any better conditions for low scoring than these, which is fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t mind the guys shooting well.”
On Thursday, 115 players shot even-par or lower – one of the greatest scoring days in the five-year history of the Safeway Open. Due to darkness, the first round was suspended for the day at 7:11 p.m., with 13 players still on the course and not able to complete their rounds. They returned on Friday at 7:28 a.m. and were in position to resume play. The round was completed at 8:08 a.m.
With no spectators allowed on the course due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a completely different feel and look to the tournament, as it’s very quiet with the players and caddies going about their business, with no grandstands, no sky boxes, no applause or cheers. There are ropes along the fairways. The introduction of players on the tee before their rounds is followed by silence.
Temperatures were in the 60s and 70s, with low clouds, patchy fog and hazy, smoky skies, with partial sun on Friday. The air quality in Napa was listed at 156 as of 1:30 p.m.
“We’ve always had wind here since we came to Silverado, a pretty decent amount of wind off the Bay and stuff,” said Miller, who won Kaiser International Open Invitational titles here in 1974 and 1975. “Sometimes we had more wind that was coming from the north, but this year no wind whatsoever. It’s like a shooting gallery for the guys. Even a little bit of wind can make a difference.
“The 63 (by Russell Knox) in the first round is a great round,” said Miller, who shot a 63 himself in the first round of the Kaiser at Silverado on the North Course on his way to tying for second place in 1976.
The greens have continued to once again be receptive to shots, as the ball is holding on the greens.
“I think they’ve watered pretty good after all that heat that we had several days ago,” said Miller, the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 1974, who retired in 2019 after 29 years with NBC Sports as the lead golf analyst. “I’ve noticed the ball taking a small first hop and then not backing up much. The course is playing well.”
Burns started his second round on No. 10. He began the round with a double-bogey 5 on the par-3 11th hole. But he came right back, with birdies on Nos. 12, 13, 14, 16 and 18, followed by birdies on Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 9. He hit 8 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens. He had 26 putts.
“I just kind of stuck with it and the golf course opened up for me the rest of the day,” said Burns, who joined the PGA Tour in 2019 and qualified for the FedExCup Playoffs this past season with five Top-25 finishes and 11 cuts made in 19 starts.
Harry Higgs had the shot of day on the way to shooting 10-under 62, which is one stroke off the tournament course record of 61 that is shared by seven players.
Higgs’ round was highlighted by his double-eagle 2 on the par-5, 564-yard ninth hole. His 4-iron shot from the fairway, from 231 yards, went into the hole. It was the final hole of the day for Higgs, who started his round on No. 10 and is at 13-under for the tournament.
“I hit my 4-iron solid. It drew a little bit, landed short, rolled in the hole,” he said. “What a wonderful way to end the day. I finally hit one like on the button solid. At least it was a great shot that ended up with a great result. I couldn’t see it disappear, but the volunteer kind of screamed and yelled. The volunteer off the left just started screaming and then he said, ‘It’s in the hole. It’s in the hole.’
“What a great way to finish. I hope that I can calm down in an hour or so, so I can take a nap. I was looking forward to a nap all day long and I might be too jacked up now to actually fall asleep.”
Higgs played super golf, as he made birdies on Nos. 11, 12, 15, 16, 17 and 18, and also birdied No. 3.
“It was really a great day. It was just one of those days where good numbers, good feel, was really exact, didn’t ever push it too far where you could short-side yourself if you mis-hit it. I holed plenty of putts and they were often pretty close. There are a few more that I would like to have. I left a couple short throughout the day. But you can’t complain, I just shot 62. If I complain, no one’s going to listen.”
Higgs made a big jump, surging up the leaderboard after opening with a 3-under 69 on Thursday.
“Yeah, these guys are good,” he said. “I’ve got to keep doing it. It’s not like 13-under is going to win. It’s just a little shot in the arm really to jump even closer. It gives me a nice little boost going into the weekend.”
Higgs said it’s the first double-eagle of his career. He hit 9 of 14 fairways, 14 of 18 greens and was 4 of 4 scrambling with 24 putts.
Cameron Percy, who was tied for second after a 64 in the first round, had six birdies and two bogeys as he shot 68. He’s at 12-under.
James Hahn got it to 11-under after a second-round 65, as he had eight birdies and a bogey.
“I was kind of waiting for this moment for everything to reset,” Hahn said of the season opener. “To start off fresh, I feel like I can create my own momentum beginning of the year and kind of ride it out through the fall and hopefully throughout the rest of next year.”
The 36-hole projected cut was at 4-under, with the low 65 players and ties advancing.
The event features some of the biggest names in golf: Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry, Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker.
After shooting 66 in the second round to get it to 6-under, Furyk was asked about the North Course.
“I do like the golf course. I probably should have played this one a little more often in my career. I came here last year for the first time and enjoyed the course. Last year was a little different. It was a little firmer, a little more baked out, tougher to hit fairways, tougher to hit greens. Last year, from morning to afternoon, there was big swings in scoring just from it had moisture on it in the morning. But the dry, hot air here would get it baked out in the afternoon. Now with kind of the cloud cover and such, it’s holding that moisture in the afternoon – still able to shoot some good numbers.”
Saturday’s starting times are from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the leaders going out last.
The extended forecast, according to the PGA Tour: “Low-level clouds, patchy fog or mist will be possible through 8-9 a.m. Saturday, otherwise expect dry conditions under hazy, filtered sunshine. Expecting a slow, gradual improvement to air quality and visibility this weekend, but hazy skies are likely to remain in place due on ongoing wildfires. Saturday’s air quality is forecast to be ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups’, while Sunday should see ‘Moderate’ air quality. Expect afternoon high temperatures in the low to mid 70s this weekend, with overnight lows in the mid-50s.”
Courtesy of Napa Valley Register, Marty James
The leaderboard during Thursday’s first round of the Safeway Open was awash in red numbers throughout the day, reflecting the low scoring turned in by so many players on the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa.
There is Russell Knox, who fashioned a 9-under-par 63 to take the lead. His bogey-free round featured an eagle and seven birdies.
There is Brendan Steele, a two-time champion of the event, who is two shots off the lead following a 7-under 65.
There are four players at 66.
There are five players at 67.
There are six players at 68.
They are all chasing Knox, who joined the PGA Tour in 2012.
“I played good today, obviously,” said Knox, who is originally from Inverness, Scotland. “It was a day where a lot of good things happened and definitely nice to get off to a good start. You know, I’ve struggled in first rounds for so long I feel like, so one of my main goals this season was to get off to a better start. I didn’t quite expect this, but nice to shoot a good score.”
How about a great score and a great start by Knox to begin the Safeway Open, the season-opening event during the PGA Tour’s 2020-21 schedule. It’s a $6.6 million tournament, presented by Chevron, and continues through Sunday. It’s the first of 50 official FedExCup tournaments bridging two years in the wrap-around schedule.
Knox’s score on the par-72, 7,166-yard Silverado North Course – re-designed in 2011 by Johnny Miller, a World Golf Hall of Fame member and 25-time PGA Tour champion – is just two shots off the tournament course record of 61 that is held by seven players; the most recent being Ricky Barnes in the second round in 2019. The course presents difficulties with its deep rough, narrow fairways, and greens that have undulations and slope.
Knox went to work on his game after missing the FedExCup Playoffs. He worked with his coach, Mark McCann, preparing for the Napa stop on the Tour.
“Missing the FedExCup Playoffs was extremely disappointing for me,” he said. “I mean, I deserved to not make it. I’ve worked as hard as I ever have the last two weeks before this event. So it’s really nice to see something good happen immediately. I definitely feel like my game is heading in the right direction.”
Knox, who has two career wins, turned in some very impressive numbers during his round: an average of 284 yards for driving distance, 11 of 14 fairways hit in regulation, 14 of 18 greens hit in regulation, 24 putts, 4-for-4 in scrambling.
“I got away from kind of my DNA, I guess, of what’s made me be able to play on the PGA Tour,” said Knox. “I’ve just tried to tighten it up and get back to hitting it straight, hitting on the fairways and then allowing my iron game to take over, which has fortunately always been kind of there for me. Then if I make a few putts, then I can have a good round. Like I said, I’ve got to get back to playing my type of golf.
“For me, I’ve just got to get it in play and take it from there. So I feel like I’ve done a very good job practicing at home and then also obviously today. Like I said, when I’ve ever played my best golf, I get the ball in play off the tee and unfortunately for a while I was hitting too many foul balls. It’s much better now.
“After three weeks off, you never quite know how you’re going to come out of the gates. Obviously, whatever happens the rest of the week, I managed to shoot a great first round, which is nice. You feel like you’re in the tournament.”
Knox is in his ninth year on the Tour and has two wins, both coming in 2016 – World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, Travelers Championship.
The only other time he had the lead in the first round was back in 2013 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, when he was the co-leader and finished 28th.
Last season, he had five Top-25 finishes in 22 starts with 11 made cuts, and was No. 127 in the FedExCup standings. He failed to advance to the FedExCup Playoffs after six straight appearances.
“I don’t see myself as a golfer who should be missing the Playoffs, but I just had a weird year, a weird couple years, and got into a little funk,” said Knox. “It’s hard. You’ve got to fight out of it and hopefully we’re going in the right direction.”
Knox had it going on in Round 1, as he eagled the par-5, 550-yard fifth hole when he hit driver and 3-hybrid, leading to the one-putt from 14 feet, 1 inch.
He had birdies on Nos. 4, 6 and 9 on the front nine. He had birdies on Nos. 10, 12, 16 and 18 on the back nine.
One of his best shots of the day came on the par-4, 454-yard 13th hole. After missing the fairway right, he hit a laser-like shot from the rough, under a Redwood tree, just short of the green. He got up and down to save par.
“I definitely got a couple of good breaks today, but it’s nice to hole putts,” said Knox. “There’s a lot of moisture in the air today compared to the last couple days, which obviously made it a little bit easier in attacking the course. I’m glad we got to play. After (Wednesday), we were just hoping not to be like that again.”
There were very smoky and hazy skies on Wednesday, causing an unusual darkness in the middle of the day, along with cooler temperatures after a brutal heat wave that continued into Monday. The lights at the driving range were turned on.
Thursday’s first round was delayed one hour due to fog and instead of starting at 7 a.m., began at 8 a.m. But conditions were far better than the day before. The temperature at 11 a.m. was at 63, and it went up to 72 in the 3 p.m. hour.
Steele has familiarity with Silverado’s North Course, having won Safeway Open titles here in 2016 and 2017. Steele has the 72-hole tournament scoring record of 18-under 270, set in 2016.
“I really have a good sense of where you can be aggressive out here, where you need to be conservative, where you can miss it to different pins,” he said. “I just kind of understood it right away, which is nice. And being from California, I’m comfortable on the greens.
“I always like the clean slate, too, getting back to zero. It just feels like there’s less pressure. It’s a little more freedom because everybody’s just getting their feet wet on a new season even though we just ended a few days ago.”
Steele started his round from the 10th tee and made seven birdies. He birdied Nos. 10, 14, 16, 18, 5, 6 and 9.
“There was very little stress out there today, which is always good,” said Steele, who hit 11 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens, with 26 putts. He was 3 of 3 in scrambling, 2 of 2 on sand saves, and averaged 288.8 yards in driving distance.
Steele finished the 2019-20 season at No. 47 in the FedExCup standings. He had three Top-10 finishes.
The extended weather forecast, according to the Tour: “Low-level clouds, patchy fog or mist will be possible through 9-10 a.m. Friday, otherwise expect dry conditions with a canopy of smoke aloft bringing hazy, filtered sunshine. Friday’s air quality is forecast to become unhealthy for sensitive groups, while the weekend is forecast to have ‘moderate’ air quality. Expecting a slow, gradual improvement to air quality and visibility this weekend, but smoky, hazy skies are likely to remain in place due on ongoing wildfires. Expect afternoon high temperatures in the mid to upper 70s Friday through the weekend, with overnight lows in the mid-50s.
The Safeway Open features some of the biggest names in golf, including Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth and Shane Lowry. The 156-player field also has Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker, Matt Kuchar, Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker, Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley, Maverick McNealy and Harold Varner III.
Miller is the tournament host.
Mickelson, a World Golf Hall of Fame member who has won five majors and is a 44-time winner on the Tour, opened with a 71.
“I let a lot of shots go today, which was disappointing,” he said. “I didn’t drive it well on the front nine, for sure. For me to shoot under par, it’s actually a mini victory in that I didn’t shoot myself out of the tournament. I’ve got to go shoot 7-, 8-under par tomorrow to get in it for the weekend, but it’s very doable. I’ve actually have been playing well enough to do it, but not today. The putter feels good even though I didn’t make some that I could have, but I felt like it was a day that I fought to stay in it when I didn’t have it. I’ll put a little work in and see if I can go shoot a low one tomorrow and get right back in it.”
Lowry, who won The Open Championship last year at Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, opened with a 68.
“I got off to a bit of a slow start as well, but it was nice to finish like that,” said Lowry, who is from Clara, County Offaly, Ireland. “I grinded out well. I didn’t feel like I played my best.”
The Safeway Open presented by Chevron will be the first event of the 2020-2021 PGA TOUR Season, played September 10-13 at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, CA.
Napa, CA (September 4, 2020) – With the first round of the Safeway Open presented by Chevron just under one week away, the player field is set including a number of Major Champions and great players like Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, and Sergio Garcia.
Along with Mickelson, Spieth, and Garcia, the Safeway Open field will include other former Major Champions and tournament winner’s including defending British Open Champion Shane Lowry, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Jason Dufner, Brandt Snedeker, Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley and two-time Safeway Open winner Brendan Steele. In total, the field will include 23 PGA TOUR winners from the past two seasons.
“It’s always great to have top players and fan favorites like Mickelson, Spieth, and Garcia” said Jeff Sanders, President, Sportfive Golf Events, the company producing the Safeway Open. “It has been a very interesting year with how the schedule ended up and we are happy that a number of great players are coming out to play in Napa this year before heading to New York for the U.S. Open.”
The Safeway Open presented by Chevron announced back in June that this year’s event, which typically combines concerts and other fan favorite activities with the golf tournament, would not have fans in attendance due to keeping all safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the adjustments of the PGA TOUR schedule and canceling of a few PGA TOUR tournaments, the Safeway Open presented by Chevron was moved up to be the first event of the 2020-2021 season between the TOUR Championship and U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
The Safeway Open presented by Chevron will be broadcast live on Golf channel on Thursday and Friday from 1:00-4:00PM PT and on Saturday and Sunday from 3:00-6:00PM PT.
For tournament information, player field updates, and more please visit www.safewayopen.com.
Facebook: facebook.com/safewayopen – Twitter: @safewayopen - Instagram: @safewayopen