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Thursday, 24 January, 2019

Patrick Rodgers set to sweep all before him in Safeway

Underachiever could be ready to rumble

Patrick Rodgers in action at the Valspar Championship
1 of 1

Tyrrell Hatton is not the only player chasing three consecutive victories in the same tournament this week – Brendan Steele is in the same boat across the Atlantic for the Safeway Open. Back-to-back Safeway champion Steele is gunning for a hat-trick at the Silverado Resort, California.

Steele blew a final-round lead in the 2015 Safeway, so he could easily be eyeing up four in a row if he had held his nerve then, and he clearly adores the track. Punters have to forgive a long spell of awful form, though, if they are to trust him at 40-1 this time. Six missed cuts from the Masters onwards, with a best finish of 30th place in 12 starts, is off-putting.

Phil Mickelson is the only participant from last week's Ryder Cup who is teeing up in the Safeway. Mickelson was destroyed in both his matches, finding water at the 16th hole on Sunday to end the contest.

Palmer's top tip
Patrick Rodgers 60-1
A new US Tour season starts this week and the fresh dawn can provide added impetus for the underachieving Patrick Rodgers to land some overdue silverware on the main circuit.

Ever since he matched the wins record of Tiger Woods at Stanford University, Rodgers has been earmarked for superstardom, but the former world number one amateur is yet to get off the mark on the US Tour. He won on the Tour in 2015, but two runner-up spots are his best efforts in the highest grade.

Rodgers was unlucky to run into two buzzing, top-class operators when he finished second – Rory McIlroy was too good in the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship and Bryson DeChambeau edged him in last year's John Deere Classic – and there is nobody in the Safeway field who will intimidate the headline selection.

A college career in California has meant he is understandably comfortable in the state. Three of his best US Tour performances have come in California – one at this venue. Rodgers' sixth place on this track in 2015 is the most significant piece of form, while fourth spot at Torrey Pines in the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open and eighth place in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am are also noteworthy spins in the Golden State.

It is not just at Pebble Beach where Rodgers has excelled in quality company this year – seventh place at Bay Hill and eighth at the Memorial were also hugely encouraging, and he signed off for the season with a 66 for 24th spot in the Wyndham Championship.

Rodgers qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs but turned down his place in the Northern Trust to attend a family wedding. The fresh and hungry powerhouse, still only 26, will almost certainly shed his maiden tag eventually – he is too talented to fail – and this seems an excellent opportunity.

Next best
Emiliano Grillo 25-1
Another 26-year-old underachiever can raise his game in a similar fashion at a course he loves. Emiliano Grillo has won only one main-tour event – a poor return for a player with a textbook swing – but it came at Silverado in 2015. A fortnight after winning the Tour Championship, Grillo beat Kevin Na in a playoff for a US Tour breakthrough.

It is a surprise that no further success has come Grillo's way – short-game issues have hampered progress – but he has putted better this year and threatened to win better events than the Safeway. Third place in the Houston Open in April restored confidence, followed by ninth at Quail Hollow, third at Colonial and seventh in the Dell Technologies Championship.

This could be the season when Grillo realises his great potential, starting at a track where his form figures read a rock-solid 1-26-28.

Other selections
Sang-Moon Bae 50-1
Michael Kim 175-1
Silverado is a course of contrasts – some holes are much different from others – and punters are advised to go for four players who have already shown the layout is to their liking. Sang-Moon Bae won the first edition of this tournament on this track and the Korean got back to winning ways on the Tour last time out.

Bae triumphed by two shots four years ago, becoming a two-time US Tour champion at the age of 28, but his bright career was soon to be suspended by two years of compulsory military service. After three wins on the Asian Tour, three on the Japan Tour, two in the States, a Tour Championship and Presidents Cup appearance, a dejected Bae was forced to become a rifleman at the end of 2015.

Shaking off two years of rust has been understandably difficult since his return, but sixth place in the DAP Championship on the Tour a month ago hinted his game was back, then a courageous one-shot victory in the Boise Open last time out meant he regained his US Tour card. Self-belief has flooded into Bae's system – he is back firing balls at flags rather than bullets at targets – and a glorious campaign could be about to start as he makes up for lost time.

Complete your attack with Michael Kim, who finished third in the 2016 Safeway, despite arriving in poor form and opening with a 73. Kim was raised in California and spent his university career there, earning Player of the Year honours on the college circuit in 2013, as well as finishing 17th as an amateur in the US Open that year.

It has taken Kim a while to make the expected impression in the paid ranks but an eight-shot runaway victory in the John Deere Classic less than three months ago showcased the game which was so productive in college. He has played in four top-class events since – two Majors and two in the FedEx playoffs – and understandably struggled. A considerable downgrade to a course he knows he could easily revive fortunes.

Others to note
Patrick Cantlay
The Californian should be dangerous in his home state this week, despite making his Silverado debut. Bookmakers are giving nothing away though – no value at the price.

Beau Hossler
The Californian-born 23-year-old looks almost certain to become a US Tour champion eventually. Has been knocking at the door and this is another great chance.

Denny McCarthy
The 25-year-old won the Tour Championship by four shots last time out to propel himself on to the main circuit.

Luke List
The Californian-based slugger lost a playoff for the Honda Classic last year, then finished third in the Heritage. One of the best maidens on the US Tour.

Cameron Champ
The powerhouse is on the hunt for US Tour glory after impressing on the Tour. Bursting with potential.

Joaquin Niemann
The Chilean teenager has quickly shown he is capable of contending for US Tour titles. His breakthrough victory is likely to come sooner rather than later.

Staking plan
P Rodgers
2pts each-way 60-1 Paddy Power
E Grillo
2pts each-way 25-1 Paddy Power
S-M Bae
1pt each-way 50-1 bet365
M Kim
0.5pt each-way 175-1 Paddy Power

The lowdown

Course Silverado Resort and Spa (North Course), Napa, California

Prize money $6.2m ($1.16m to the winner)

Length 7,166 yards Par 72 Field 144

Course records – 72 holes 269 Billy Casper (1971) 18 holes 61 Chesson Hadley (2017)

Course winners taking part Sang-moon Bae, Emiliano Grillo, Brendan Steele (twice)

When to bet By 4pm Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports Golf from 10.30pm Thursday

Time difference California is eight hours behind the UK and Ireland

Course overview The Silverado Resort returned to the US Tour schedule in 2014 for the first time since 1980. The Kaiser International was staged there from 1968 to 1976, before the Anheuser-Busch Classic from 1977 to 1980.

Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw were among the champions. This property was converted into a resort in the 1960s when Robert Trent Jones Junior was tasked with building two 18-hole courses. Miller and two partners bought Silverado in 2010, with Miller, who once lived beside the 11th hole, overhauling both tracks.

The North was deemed good enough to host the Open, which became the Safeway Open for the first time in 2016. Silverado took over from CordeValle Golf Club, San Martin, another Trent Jones Junior layout which was the Frys venue from 2010 to 2013.

This is a resort course and most of the fairways are generous, but the rough is thick at Silverado and tall trees line the cut and prepared, while the greens are fast and undulating. All the dancefloors are guarded by heavy bunkering or water.

The first two par-fives (the fifth and ninth) are tricky – the fifth is a double-dogleg, while the ninth is a dogleg which demands a drawn drive and has a huge bunker right in front of the green – but the final two fives (the 16th and 18th) are more straightforward. The uphill 240-yard par-three second is a brute.

Story of last year Brendan Steele successfully defended his title with a final-round 69 on a breezy Sunday, with Tony Finau taking runner-up honours.

Weather forecast Clear and pleasant conditions throughout, with light breezes for the first three rounds and winds peaking on Sunday

Type of player suited to challenge US Tour newcomers, many of whom have just graduated from the Tour, face a course of contrasts in the season opener. There is room off the tee on most holes, but some are tight, while undulating fairways provide extra problems. Competent all-rounders should succeed.

Key attribute Accuracy

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A college career in California has led to understandable comfort in the state
E.W. Terms
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