Monday Finish: Deja vu at Safeway Open
October 09, 2017
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Brendan Steele interview after winning Safeway
Welcome to the Monday Finish where Justin Thomas is already 500 points behind in the new FedExCup race after Brendan Steele reaffirmed his love affair with California wine country. Steele reclaimed the Safeway Open with a solid Sunday to set up his season once more.
1. The old “horses for courses” saying certainly rings true for Brendan Steele at Silverado. While he’s now made it back-to-back wins in the Napa Valley some of you may forget he held the 54-hole lead the year before as well before fading in the final round. His redemption last year clearly gave him some next-level confidence. As such he calmly overtook Tyler Duncan on Sunday and then, after some back nine bogeys gave others like Phil Mickelson life, he parried off the challengers with two late birdies. His maturity talking of his win was also noteworthy. Steele acknowledged he felt he stopped playing to win in the back half of last season and played to just make the TOUR Championship. Instead he drifted to 33rd in the FedExCup. This year he plans to keep the foot down and that should ensure he contends a fair bit more before the TOUR stops in Atlanta again.
2. Tony Finau is too good to have just one PGA TOUR victory. Finau was threatening on Sunday, without his best stuff, before a wayward drive finally caught up with him on the 14th hole. He’d just come off a birdie on the 13th and you figured, with the two late par-5s to come, the big-hitter was primed to add to his 2016 Puerto Rico Open. But his drive on 14 ended up behind a tree forcing a punch out – something that shouldn’t have been the death of him. The subsequent poor approach and missed short putt that turned it into a double bogey however were not his best moments. His approach game and putting throughout the rest of the round had been on point. I reckon the experience will steel him next time around.
3. Phil Mickelson surely is going to break his drought soon … right? I mean it is utterly ridiculous to think the veteran finished T3 having hit just 15 of 56 fairways for the week at Silverado. In rounds 1 and 3 he hit just two fairways each day. On Sunday, he found just three fairways. Yet, he hung around the top of the leaderboard all week. Phil did say the stats were a little misleading. “This is a very skewed golf course to judge fairways hit,” Mickelson said. “I hit three beautiful drives on 18; none of them found the fairway. The fairway’s 13 yards wide. I paced it. So on a normal TOUR course, I would have hit 10, 11 fairways today. I drove it fairly well. But out here, I think, is a way to kind of protect that, they move the fairways in so that they’re about half what they normally are.” His next chance to break the drought that now stretches back to The Open Championship in 2013, will be in China in a few weeks’ time at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions. Mickelson has won twice before at Sheshan Golf Club, so maybe …
4. A new season means a new bunch of rookies and we got to see some talent shine early. Tyler Duncan held the 36- and 54-hole lead at Silverado before perhaps the occasion got the better of him. His final round 75 saw him drop to a T5 finish that should be as pleasing as it is disappointing to the young man. Opening Sunday with three straight bogeys is a pretty quick education in final round pressure on the main TOUR. Duncan can look to champion Brendan Steele as inspiration if he so desires. In 2015 Steele similarly let the 54-hole lead slip and now he’s gone back-to-back. Fellow rookie Brandon Harkins also marked the start of his season with a top-10, closing with a tidy 68 to be T9. Then, there was the flash of brilliance early in the tournament from Maverick McNealy. He threatened the top of the leaderboard in Round 2 before a triple bogey, and while his over-par weekend saw him fade to T52, you saw a glimpse of why some pundits are expecting very big things.
5. I really enjoyed seeing Graham DeLaet (T5) and Hunter Mahan (T13) near the top of the leaderboard this week. Both had been at the forefront of my mind recently as I watched replays of previous Presidents Cups in preparation for this year’s biennial event at Liberty National. When Canadian DeLaet was part of the International Team in 2013, a year he was 8th in the FedExCup, I figured it was just a matter of how soon a win on TOUR would come. But things haven’t gone that way. While he’s maintained enough form to keep his card each year, he also went through a period of chipping and bunker yips. Those times appear behind him as he continues from some late form last season and hopefully the drought-breaking win is coming soon. As for Mahan, well, he played in four Presidents Cups. He’s won six times on TOUR. But now he finds himself playing from the past champion category. Somewhere inside is the magic and perhaps this week is the early stages of finding the combination.
1. Steele collects his third PGA TOUR victory (2011 Valero Texas Open, 2016 and 2017 Safeway Open) in his 178th start at the age of 34 years, six months and three days. At the Safeway Open his results now show: (T7-2011, MC-2012, MC-2013, T21-2014, T17-2015, 1-2016, 1-2017). But since moving to the Silverado Resort and Spa in 2015, Steele is the most under par of any player at 50-under par.
2. Steele ranked 1st in the field in driving distance (327.8 yards) and T3 in driving accuracy (67.86 percent). Coupled with finding 79.17 percent of greens (4th) at an average proximity of 29’10” (6th) and you can see how he was able to repeat.
3. Chesson Hadley’s course record 61 on Friday showed why the top finisher on the web.com TOUR last season is probably destined to stay up top for some time to come. While Sunday failed to bring similar heroics and he ultimately finished T3 his 23 birdies in the tournament was tied for the most on the week.
4. Xinjun Zhang finished T37, becoming the first-ever full PGA TOUR member from China to play all four rounds in a TOUR event.
5. Graham DeLaet (T5) now owns 16 of 18 rounds of par-or-better at this event (75/R2/2017, 77/R4/2016). Prior to this week’s fifth-place effort, his previous-best result at the Safeway Open was T6 in his debut in 2010.
TOP 3 VIDEOS
1. Phil Mickelson had trouble hitting fairways at Silverado but when he found one … he made sure to admire it.
Phil Mickelson admires his own drive at Safeway
2. John Daly to the weekend!
3. Jason Day’s 5-year-old son Dash is probably a better bunker player than you.