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PGA Tour: Safeway Open field gains 3 more major champions
PGA Tour

PGA Tour: Safeway Open field gains 3 more major champions

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Phil Mickelson is in the field for the fifth year in a row.

Fellow major champions Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia and Shane Lowry will each be making their first appearances.

Twenty-three players who have won on the PGA Tour over the past two seasons are entered.

Three players from the winner’s circle at Silverado Resort and Spa will be here: Emiliano Grillo, Brendan Steele and Kevin Tway.

They will all be in town for the Safeway Open, the season-opening event on the PGA Tour’s 2020-21 schedule. It’s presented by Chevron. Taking place on the par-72, 7,166-yard Silverado North Course from Sept. 7-13, it’s also the first of 50 official FedExCup tournaments that lead directly to the FedExCup playoffs in the wrap-around schedule.

“The better the field is, the better the tournament is going to be. And this year we’ve got some stars,” said Jeff Sanders, the tournament’s executive director. “We’ve got a great field. We’re going to showcase our great product and our great venue at Silverado around the world.”

Mickelson, a 44-time winner on the PGA Tour with five major titles, added to his sparkling legacy as he won the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National at Ozarks National Golf Course in Ridgedale, Missouri in his PGA Tour Champions debut last month. He won in glittering wire-to-wire fashion – shooting 22-under par and posting a Tour record-tying 191 total for 54 holes. He also became the 31st World Golf Hall of Fame member to win on the PGA Tour Champions.

“I want to thank Phil Mickelson for playing five years in a row in the Safeway Open. We just can’t thank Phil enough,” said Sanders. “He’s obviously been our headliner for five years and he’s coming back. We know he could take that week to practice and get ready for the U.S. Open, but he’s coming to Silverado. He’s playing great golf. I know he loves Silverado. I think he could contend and I think Phil Mickelson could win.”

The date of the Safeway Open comes after the Tour Championship in Atlanta and the week before the U.S. Open, set for Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York.

“We have a tough week. There’s no question we have a tough date this year, the week between the Tour Championship and the U.S. Open,” said Sanders. “But on the other hand, some of the players like to play that week before so they can get ready for the U.S. Open. I know that Phil Mickelson is one of these guys that likes to play the week before and test out some shots he wants to play at Winged Foot. He’ll probably try some shots at Silverado that he visualizes, that he’s going to need to have at Winged Foot.

“I think Jordan Spieth, Shane Lowry, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson is one hell of a foursome.”

Mickelson has familiarity with Silverado, having placed at the Safeway Open three straight years – tying for eighth place in 2016 (14-under 274), tying for third place in 2017 (12-under 276), tying for 17th place in 2018 (8-under 280). He missed the cut last year.

Mickelson, No. 54 in the Official World Golf Ranking, will bring momentum to Napa.

“Being able to play and compete (at the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National) was very helpful for me rather than shutting it down for a couple weeks,” he said after his win on teescripts. “To compete against these legends and to come out on top and to play well and get a little bit of momentum, I’ll go over to Napa and play our Safeway event the week before the U.S. Open and see if I can get sharp then.

“But I’ll be working on my game the next week and a half, see if I can be really sharp for the U.S. Open. Obviously I have a lot of work to do and some redemption at Winged Foot, but it’s a great golf course and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Also headed to Napa are Spieth, an 11-time PGA Tour champion who has won Masters Tournament (2015), U.S. Open (2015), and Open Championship (2017) titles, and Garcia, the winner of 10 events, including the Masters (2017).

“To have Jordan Spieth and Sergio Garcia in the field is off the charts. Those two players are world-class players with fantastic records in the game of professional golf,” said Sanders, the President of Sportfive Golf Events, the company producing the Safeway Open. “I’m just thrilled to have the ability for us to have both of those players and Phil lead the headliners this year.”

Spieth, a resident of Dallas, Texas, has the experience of having played on three Presidents Cup teams (2013, 2015, 2017) and three Ryder Cup teams (2014, 2016, 2018).

Spieth did not advance in the FedExCup playoffs as he missed the cut at The Northern Trust at TPC Boston in Norton, Massachusetts last month. He is 107th in the FedExCup rankings and 69th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“Jordan Spieth knows how to win. He’s not afraid to take it on down through that final nine holes on Sunday,” Sanders said.

During the 2019-20 season, Spieth has three Top-10 finishes, four Top-25 finishes, and 14 made cuts.

He tied for eighth at The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges at Jeju Island, Korea last October. He finished tied for ninth in February at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He tied for 10th at the Charles Schwab Challenge in June at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

“He just lacks maybe a little bit of confidence right now. But you know, all it takes is a couple of good rounds and he’s off to the races,” Sanders said. “I feel like Jordan is on the brink of having a great week. And I know his game, when it’s on, it’s as good as anybody’s in the world. I think he can win the Safeway Open. I think the golf course will remind him a lot of golf courses in Texas that he plays, that have great big trees, especially great big oak trees in that part of the world. I think that Jordan Spieth is going to have a great week.”

More recently, Spieth finished tied for 30th at the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee; tied for 71st at the PGA Championship, played at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco; and tied for 72nd at the Wyndham Championship, played at Sedgefield CC in Greensboro, North Carolina.

“I’ve got a lot of years in front of me and hopefully the best years in front of me,” Spieth said on www.asapsports.com at the PGA Championship. “I just stay the course. I keep my head down, focus on what our team is trying to accomplish and work each day really, really hard. I’ve worked my butt off over the last year mentally, physically and mechanically. Things will start to come together. I believe it.”

Lowry and Garcia are top players.

Garcia, from Castellon, Spain, won The Masters in 2017 and is a 10-time winner on the PGA Tour. He is 44th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Lowry won The Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim, Northern Ireland last year. Lowry, No. 28 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is from Clara, County Offaly, Ireland.

“Sergio and Shane are world-class European players and they have had a ton of success playing golf around the world,” said Sanders. “Lowry’s victory at the Open Championship was amazing. He’s a proven world-class Tour player. Having him in the field, as a past Open champion, is huge for us.”

Also in the field are Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker, Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley, Maverick McNealy and Harold Varner III. The field will consist of 156 players.

The North Course, re-designed in 2011 by Johnny Miller, a 25-time PGA Tour champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member, presents a challenge with narrow fairways, deep rough and green complexes that have slope and undulations.

“It’s a classic layout with big trees, winding fairways and elevation. It’s always in superb condition,” said Sanders. “It’s not a long course. One of the reasons why the guys don’t go real low here is because the greens are very, very difficult to putt and they’re very difficult to read. If you don’t understand those greens, it’s hard to make a lot of putts.

“You’ve got to hit your ball from the fairways and you’ve got to hit them the right distance. You’ve got to be a great iron player to score at Silverado. You’ve got to put the ball in the right spots on those greens because those greens are fast and they’re tricky.”

No spectators

The Safeway Open announced in mid-July that that the event will not have spectators in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In past years, the event has featured concerts, a food and wine pavilion, and other on-site venues for food and beverages.

“First and foremost, we have an obligation to our unbelievably fantastic fans to keep them safe,” said Sanders. “We are sad to not be able to host and entertain our fantastic fans and our sponsors this year.”

In previous years, tournament organizers have had a golf festival model at the Safeway Open in place, marketing the event around food, wine, music and golf.

“While it’s disappointing, we’re just happy to be playing and be able to showcase the tournament, the pros and the resort, around the world,” said Sanders. “There’s no question, it’s going to feel very different. That is something we are going to greatly miss this year because we love getting to entertain our fans from the time they get on the golf course until the time they leave the concerts at night after golf.”

Charities

In the last four years, the Safeway Open has generated over $8 million for charities. Officials expect to contribute $2 million this year to charities.

“We’re proud of that,” said Sanders. “We’re going to have a nice year for the charities and the local charities.”

Fifth year of Safeway Open

This is the fifth year of the tournament with Safeway as the title sponsor. The five-year agreement with Safeway as the title sponsor runs through 2020.

There has been no announcement as to the future of the event.

“There will be discussions during tournament week, this year, between the PGA Tour and Safeway,” said Sanders. “I really don’t have any other insight other than that there will be discussions about the future starting during tournament week this year and probably right after. I don’t really know more than that right now. We’ll see what happens.”

Champ not in field

The Safeway Open will be missing its defending champion, Cameron Champ, who is from Sacramento.

Champ is currently playing in the Tour Championship, his third FedExCup playoff event in a row, and is also entered in the U.S. Open, Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York.

He informed Safeway Open officials that he will not play in the event.

Champ had rounds of 67, 68, 67 and 69 for a 17-under 271 total and won by one shot, edging out Adam Hadwin, last year at Silverado. There was a field of 144 players.

“That was definitely, again, a win that will probably be one of my most memorable golfing tournaments of my life,” Champ said on www.asapsports.com on Sept. 2 from East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, site of the Tour Championship. “And then throughout the rest of the year I played definitely more consistent than I did my first year. Obviously there was room for improvements, but I definitely saw the growth in just myself personally, then obviously my game.”

Champ led the field last year at Safeway in driving distance (337.1) and scrambling (84.2 percent).

His 369-yard drive at No. 18 in the final round was the longest drive hit on that hole by any player in the field. It led to a birdie, as he got up and down from a collection area, just off the green and made the putt from just over three feet to secure the first-place $1.188 million check.

“This is kind of my home event. To have so many family and friends here, it’s just been awesome,” he said.

It was his second victory on the PGA Tour, in his 33rd start as a professional.

“Everything fell into place,” said Champ. “You know, I was hitting it well off the tee, which for me I feel like I really feed off that. When I’m hitting it well off the tee, it just flows into every other aspect of my game. My misses are better. I didn’t miss short-side pretty much all week, I kept it in places where I can get it up and down. So I think it was just the flow.”

Safeway Open qualifiers

Zack Sims and Aaron Beverly, who work in the golf department at Silverado, each failed to advance in Safeway Open pre-qualifiers.

Sims, a Napa High graduate who played on golf teams at Santa Rosa Junior College and Holy Names University of Oakland, shot even-par 72 and did not make the cut in a pre-qualifier on Sept. 2 at El Macero Country Club in Yolo County.

Nine players, led by Joe Highsmith, the medalist with a 7-under 65, advanced.

Beverly, named to the Sacramento State All-Decade Team (2010-2020) for men’s golf, missed the cut after shooting a 1-over 73 in a pre-qualifier on Sept. 3 at Yolo Fliers Club in Woodland.

Jack Ireland, Alex Lee, Justin De Los Santos and Donald Kay tied for medalist honors at 5-under 67.

Twenty players advanced.

The final Safeway Open qualifier is Monday, Sept. 7 at Chardonnay Golf Club & Vineyards in American Canyon. The course will be set up as a par-71, 6,800-yard layout. Starting times run from 7:30 to 9:54 a.m.

There are 49 players in the field. Only four players will qualify and advance to play in the Safeway Open.

Jack Ireland and Corey Pereira, who are in the final qualifier, have had success in the past in Napa.

Ireland won his first pro event at the Napa Open last year at Silverado. Ireland, who played college golf at UCLA, beat Alex Lee on the first hole of a sudden death playoff. He birdied the par-5 18th hole of the North Course to take the title of the Golden State Tour event. It’s a mini-tour event.

Ireland, who is from Mission Viejo, had rounds of 75, 67 and 71.

Pereira won the inaugural Napa Open in 2019. Pereira, a resident of Cameron Park who played at the University of Washington, had rounds of 66, 68 and 68 for a 14-under-par 202 total.

TV coverage

Golf Channel will carry all four rounds.

Coverage on Thursday, Sept. 10 and Friday, Sept. 11 is from 1-4 p.m., each day.

Weekend coverage on Saturday, Sept. 12 and Sunday, Sept. 13 goes from 3-6 p.m., each day.

More information

For more information about the tournament, go to safewayopen.com or pgatour.com.

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