Bizarrely it’s the first week of the new US PGA Tour at the Safeway Open but with the field not confirmed at the time of writing it’s difficult to identify potential contenders. Ryan Moore has had a poor season but he excels on courses that put a premium on accuracy over distance so he has a chance at the Silverado Resort in California that hosts this week’s event. There are better betting opportunities in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour.
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The Safeway Open is the first of the 49 tournaments that contribute to the FedEx Cup standings. It all leads to the Tour Championship in 50 weeks in September 2018. There is a delay in announcing the confirmed field because the Web.com Tour Championship finished on Monday and the end-of-season standings will determine who qualifies for the main Tour and is thus eligible for the Safeway Open.
There is an intriguing tournament in Europe. The Links Championship will be Rory McIlroy’s last outing of the season before he takes an extended break. He is a player in form after finishing with a 63 in the British Masters last Sunday which left him in second place three shots adrift of Paul Dunne. McIlroy is an Open champion so can handle links golf. However he could be demob happy and have his mind elsewhere so other players with decent skill’s profiles are preferred.
The Links Championship as the name suggests is played on three links courses in east Scotland. Golfers play St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie in rotation over the first three days and the final round is played at St Andrews on Sunday. It’s also a pro-am event so 60 players and 20 teams qualify for the final round at the Home of Golf. Rounds can take up to six hours so players must have the temperament to cope.
The three host courses are links in nature but vary in design. However, the main skills for good scoring are driving distance, greens in regulation and average putts per round. The weather can be quite nasty on the east coast of Scotland at this time of the year so the week can be a mental and physical struggle and patience is needed to get through and contend over the weekend.
Tommy Fleetwood has an excellent profile and can win this season in Europe for the third time. He is miles ahead of Sergio Garcia in the Race to Dubai after the best season of his career. He has won at world championship level and was fancied to win the British Open at Royal Birkdale. As the local player the pressure was too much in his first round be he recovered to post a top 20 finish on a course near his home.
Branden Grace is a links specialist and former champion. In fact he won the event in 2012 and is two-times winner of the Qatar Masters on a course where wind can be a factor. The South African has not won anywhere this year but his skills and course experience suggest he can get in the mix. Grace combines distance off the tee with accurate iron play and is a good putter so he can contend this week.
Byeong Hun An won the BMW PGA Championship in 2015 and that is excellent form. His form has dipped since then but at his best An is a quality player with the skills to contend. He is tall of stature and hits the ball a relatively long way. An controls his approach shots and putts well and that gives him a good chance of winning the 2017 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.