7 big-name PGA Tour pros who are making their belated season-debuts at the Safeway Open
Just two tournaments into the PGA Tour’s 2019-’20 campaign, plenty of interesting stories already have unfolded. In the second round of the first event, Kevin Chappell shot an 11-under 59 at the Old White TPC. Two days afterward Joaquin Niemann went on to win by six strokes at The Greenbrier, becoming the first Chilean to win a tour event.
A week after that, Sebastián Muñoz birdied his final hole to force a playoff at the Sanderson Farms Championship and eventually beat Sungjae Im.
While not lacking drama, what the tour has been missing thus far in the new season has been top-ranked players, many of whom have taken an extended break to recharge after the FedEx Cup Playoffs only ended four weeks ago. But that’s something that will be remedied (somewhat) at this week’s Safeway Open. Four of the top 15 players in the Official World Golf Ranking will be competing in Napa, Calif., as will 14 of the top 50.
Here’s a look at seven marquee golfer making their belated starts to the new season.
Kevin C. Cox
Although winless in 2018-’19, Scott finished the season with nine top-10s, including two second-place finishes, and ranked sixth in the final FedEx Cup standings. It’s unusual to see Scott playing in such an early tournament with his outspoken views on the tour’s wrap-around schedule. Earlier this year, Scott admitted how difficult the balancing act has become with all of the tournaments and how he will only play events that fall on “the right weeks.” Apparently, Napa is one of those.
He’s one of the most popular golfers of all time, but Mickelson’s first tournament of the new season includes a Wednesday pro-am in which he might not even be the most famous athlete in his group. Paired with Steph Curry, Mickelson and the two-time NBA MVP will be teeing off at 2:40 p.m. ET.
Along with conquering his calf workouts, Mickelson will be looking to repeat his first-round output at Safeway from a year ago when he shot a seven-under 65.
Thomas is just a month removed from winning the BMW Championship and being the FedEx Cup leader entering the Tour Championship—and trying to figure out how to handle holding a two-stroke lead before even hitting a shot at East Lake. His dream of winning a second FedEx Cup title ended disappointingly with a T-3, but his otherwise solid end to a season that saw him miss nearly two months due to a wrist injury has the 26-year-old thinking big for 2019-’20. Thomas is one of seven golfers playing in Napa, California that will be participating in the Presidents Cup in December, the most in Safeway Open history.
Safeway will be Molinari’s first PGA Tour appearance since East Lake, but the Italian has kept busy during the “offseason” The Italian finished T-14 at last week’s BMW PGA Championship and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Due to obligations for the PGA and his European Tour schedule, Molinari still has a third of his schedule to play before the end of the year. He will be making trips to Italy, China, Turkey, Dubai, Hong Kong and wanted to fit in one or two U.S. events before 2020.
Cantlay improved from No. 18 to No. 7 in the Official World Golf Ranking this past season, highlighted by his victory at the Memorial. He was also in a good position to claim the FedEx Cup title at the Tour Championship before seeing his chances spoiled by a three-over 73 in the final round. It was a tough conclusion to a whirlwind season but isn’t any real cause for concern for those looking for even better things out of the former UCLA star.
Cantlay has many expecting big things in 2019-’20, after posting 17 top-25 finishes in 21 starts a year ago.
Considering all his talent, it’s hard to believe that the Japanese sensation hasn’t won a PGA Tour event since August 2017 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. It’s reasonable to believe that winless streak will come to an end at some point in the new season. The trip to Napa is the start of Matsuyama’s preparation for his participation in “The Challenge: Japan Skins” ahead of the Zozo Championship next month, along with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.
Kevin C. Cox
Furyk found a way to get over the disappointment of losing as U.S. Ryder Cup captain in France by refocusing on his game in 2019. It resulted in an unexpectedly impressive season that included a second-place finish at the Players and seven other top-25 showings. Furyk started the year ranked No. 217 in the world and jumped up to his current spot at No. 50. Not bad for a guy who’ll turn 50 next May and will have a decision to make as to whether he’ll try playing some PGA Tour Champions events or stay focused on the PGA Tour.