Although it’s the middle of the fall swing season, it is an interesting week this week in golf. Typical swing season events usually feature one or two decent golfers playing against a field of guys that struggle to keep their cards every year, and all the elite guys are gone on vacation until January. However, this week the Safeway Open field is full of good golfers (and the Euro Tour event is packed full of elite golfers as well). It’s also another week where past tournament history doesn’t show any obvious stat trends, so we have a nice field of golfers without a clear idea on what kind of player does well which makes this week challenging but should be entertaining too. At first glance at past leaderboards, it may seem easy to pick the long hitters on this course because of Cam Champ and Brendan Steele, but you’ll notice below those long-hitting guys are a handful of strong iron players. So, although a bomber has won it the last couple years, that doesn’t necessarily mean that bombers are filling up the top of the leaderboard. It’s definitely a mix of the two kinds of players, so my strategy this week is to target golfers that check BOTH the distance and iron play boxes, and there are a handful of players in the field this week that do both well. Here’s who I think fits the mold this week:
Hideki Matsuyama (10,500 DK / 11,500 FD)
The top of the player pool is filled with elite iron players, so I’m going to take a shot with Hideki who is the lowest price of the handful of elite ball strikers at the top. They are all obviously top players in the world and have just as good a shot as any other to win the tournament, so taking the cost savings will be helpful to fill out the rest of the lineups with better and more expensive players. Hideki was top five last year in Shots Gained – Approach and 31st in Driving Distance, averaging 303 yards, which is plenty long and up there with the longest in the field. He hasn’t played this event since 2016, but the last three times he played here he finished 17th, 3rd and 3rd, so he’s had some success here in the past and should find himself in contention again this year, assuming that he can make those shaky 3 footers on these poa annua greens.
Bryson DeChambeau (9,900 DK / 11,300 FD)
It appears Bryson’s calculations have been off recently, but he’s proven over his career so far that he’s one of the elites in the world, so when his price starts to dip is when it is a good time to get back on the wagon. As analytical as he is, there will come a time when it all clicks again and he will go on a tear, and that could very well start this week. Last year he finished 34th in Driving Distance and 54th in Shots Gained – Approach, but he obviously had a down year. The previous year he was top 25 in both categories, so when he’s on his game, he hits it long and far and has as good of irons as anyone in the field. This may be the last time we get a price like this on Bryson if he goes on a run of good tournaments so it’s time to jump on him now while he’s still affordable.
Collin Morikawa (9,400 DK / 10,600 FD)
While everyone is riding the hype train of new guys in the field like Sungjae Im, Doc Redman, Robby Shelton, it’s really Morikawa that fits this course well. He has just average to above-average distance off the tee but had he had enough rounds to make the PGA stats last year, he would fall as the sixth most accurate off the tee and fourth in Shots Gained – Approach on Tour. Any issues he may have with length will be offset by how accurate he is and his elite iron play will set him up to be a contender this weekend. He played extremely well to end last season and he should be able to take advantage of this course and keep that good play rolling this week.
Emiliano Grillo (8,800 DK / 10,100 FD)
Like most weeks, it’s hard to find a reason to dislike Grillo. He’s almost always underpriced compared to his skill level and consistency and this week is no different. Although the majority of the elite iron players are priced at the top of the field, Grillo as the third-ranked player on tour in Shots Gained – Approach, falls into a very affordable price. Like Morikawa, he’s not the longest off the tee but his iron play should more than make up for the lack of distance. He’s proven that to be true already on this course as well. He hasn’t missed a cut at this tournament in the last four years, and he also won this event in 2016.
Harold Varner III (7,800 DK / 9,500 FD)
Varner’s stats, especially the stats I’m focusing on this week won’t jump out at you as elite, but he’s just good enough in them and his record at this tournament speaks to his game fitting the course. As we start dipping into these prices, you don’t find a ton of tournament winners, so you want to focus in on guys that will make the cut with the potential to make a push at the top of the leaderboard. Varner hasn’t missed the cut in the last four years at this tournament, and he’s got a pair of top 15 finishes mixed in there. He’s also coming into the tournament playing pretty well, finishing 19th at the Greenbrier, including three out of four rounds in the 60’s. He’s not a flashy play, but with the cut down to 65th and ties, sometimes you need a rock like Varner you can rely on to get through the cut and try to do damage on the weekend.
Kevin Chappell (7,200 DK / 8,600 FD)
I wrote about Chappell at the Greenbrier and mentioned that he has the game to win golf tournaments which you don’t often see with guys priced this low. The sites are still pricing him as if he’s playing injured, but he flashed where his game can be with a 59 in the second round at the Greenbrier and the price is just way too low for the type of player he can be. With a week off to recover and work through the kinks from his last event, Chappell should be more than ready to go this week, and the course fits his style of play. In 2018 (the last season he played), he was 17th on tour in Driving Distance and 53rd in Shots Gained – Approach. If he can get back to even close to what he did before injury, he’ll be in contention on Sunday.
Talor Gooch (6,800 DK / 8,100 FD)
Gooch is one of the top iron players in the field this week (15th on Tour in Shots Gained – Approach last year), which makes him playable at his price anyways, but there are a few other reasons to like him as well that I think point to a really good weekend ahead. He was 65th in Driving Distance last year and that will put him above average in this field, plus is right around where other popular players this week like Corey Conners and Cameron Tringale are. He’s priced in the same range as a lot of other popular cheap golfers, so ownership should spread out amongst all of them and he’ll likely be a low owned golfer to help differentiate lineups that might be more popular elsewhere. He also played this event in 2018 finishing 54th, and he’s a much better golfer now than he was then, so he should be set up to have an even better showing than that this time around.