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I will spare you the unoriginal offseason joke as the PGA Tour is set to begin its 2021-22 season this week in Napa, California. The North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa has the duty of hosting some of the world’s best for the inaugural event of the fall swing.
Playing to just about 7,166 yards, depending on the course setup, the North Course has long rewarded those players who thrive off-the-tee. However, that isn’t to say a certain aspect of the driver is more beneficial than the other.
While in recent years long-drivers of the golf ball, such as Stewart Cink, Cameron Champ, and Kevin Tway, have found success, that has not always been the case in Northern California. As Chez Reavie, Harold Varner III, and Kevin Na have also put together good showings in Wine Country.
Regardless, getting off-the-tee is only part of the equation as players will face a relatively short course by PGA Tour’s standards. Despite the lack of length, the North Course has yielded winning scores in the mid-teens four of the last five years, with Cink being the outlier as he got to 21-under last season.
With most of its yardage buried in its four par-3's and four par-5's being present on the property, players will need to hone in on their long-irons. With seven of the holes requiring such club usage, the remaining 11 present wedge opportunities given the length of the average PGA Tour professional.
Last year, it was Russell Knox who was up to the Thursday challenge, carding a 9-under 63. Getting the better of three players by a single-stroke, the Scotsman was able to catch a hot putter and take advantage of his strong ball-striking.
The odds makers at PointsBet Sportsbook have priced the first-round leader market ahead of the Fortinet Championship. World No. 1, Jon Rahm leads the way at +1000. It’s a scary prospect to wager on anyone not named Rahm, given not only his form, but his form in the first-round alone. With his last three first-round scores reading 63-64-65, we hope the week off and the Ryder Cup looming are enough to throw him off just a touch on Thursday.
Odds to Lead After the First-Round (Odds Via PointsBet):
+1000: Jon Rahm
+2200: Hideki Matsuyama
+2500: Webb Simpson
+4000: Harold Varner III
To Lead After the First-Round (Odds Via PointsBet):
Dylan Frittelli (+10000):
First-rounds have been the twilight zone for Frittelli over the last month or so. Typically, extremely reliable from off-the-tee, the South African has struggled from the tee box on recent Thursdays. Instead, his iron-play, which is spotty at times, has taken over, allowing him to get off to decent enough starts. With his last four first-rounds reading 68-69-69-70, the big stick will need to come around for Frittelli to shoot something in the low-60's.
Making his third appearance at the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa, the 2019 John Deere Classic victor has carved out a nice level of comfort in Napa. A top-25 finish in his first outing in 2018 was followed up with a top-10 finish in 2019 as he decided to forgo the 2020 edition of the tournament.
Gaining strokes in every tee-to-green metric in both of those outings, Frittelli has garnered a scoring average of 68.63. Given his strength has inexplicably become his weakness in the first-round, it is worth a stab to say his long-term off-the-tee figures will regress to the mean this Thursday. If that proves to be the case, the rest of his bag appears to be in form and should give him a good opportunity to post a low one in Round 1.
Bo Hoag (+10000):
Hoag’s ball-striking numbers to end last season are hard to ignore as I hope he can carry the momentum into California. Gaining strokes in said category (Off-the-Tee + Approach) in his last five outings, Hoag has not only made a habit of playing well, but more importantly getting off to fast starts.
With rounds of 70-66-67-67 to begin his last four tournaments, Hoag now returns to Silverado Resort and Spa where has held his own in two appearances. While the T-44 and T-29 finishes were not anything to write home about, Hoag shot out of the gates in last year’s tournament.
Falling one-stroke shy of Knox's first-round lead, Hoag put together a round of 8-under 64 to open last year’s Safeway Open. Arriving in arguably better form this time around, if Hoag is able to effectively get off-the-tee, the Ohioan should fare well in Round 1 given his recent iron-play and uptick in putting.
Mark Hubbard (+10000):
The man who began 2021 sporting “The Snail” putting-stroke capped his season off by making four consecutive cuts. Capturing top-20 finishes at the Barbasol Championship and the 3M Open, the 32-year-old put together performances of +5.8 and +6.5 Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. Having played his collegiate golf just south at San Jose State, Homeless Hubbs should be acclimated to the potentially, bumpy poa aunna greens.
While he doesn’t have the greatest history at Silverado Resort and Spa having made the cut only three times in five attempts, I still fancy his Thursday prospects. First round scores of 68-66-68-67 have led Hubbard to his recent success. If the tee-to-green prowess from late last season continues into the new season, he can roll the rock with the best of them and should threaten the first-round lead.
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Cameron Percy (+10000):
There are plenty of similarities between Hoag and Percy this week at the Fortinet Championship. Both opened last year’s tournament with an 8-under 64 and both have been striking the ball beautifully. While it appears Percy’s off-the-tee numbers are slowing, it is more so a byproduct of his lack of length and not necessarily his lack of accuracy.
Posting +6.4, +4.4, +9.3, and +4.5 SG: Tee-to-Green in his last four outings, many are optimistic of his chances in Napa. Having appeared at Silverado Resort and Spa three-times prior, the 47-year-old has captured finishes of T-26, T-7, and T-23. If not for a final round of 2-over 74 in last year’s championship, he likely would have found himself with another top-10 finish.
An accurate driver of the golf ball and one of the best iron players in this field, the Australian’s Thursday chances will fall on the shoulders of his short-game. Gaining strokes around-the-green in his last three first-rounds leaves the putter as the club to focus on. Long-term, he has done his best work on poa annua and did gain a combined +7.7 strokes on these greens the last two years, giving me enough confidence to pull the first-round leader trigger.
Sam Ryder (+10000):
A classic case of current form versus course form is on our hands with Ryder. Having played in the Fortinet Championship the last four years, the 31-year-old has three missed cuts to go along with a top-five finish. Averaging 70.80 in his 10 rounds at the North Course at the Silverado Resort and Spa, he’s hardly been lights out in Napa, but I have reason to believe that will change on Thursday.
Sixth in greens in regulation in the first-round over the last month, Ryder’s irons have made up for some poor around-the-green play. As one would suspect, the irons have been so good in part to his play from off-the-tee. Hardly flashy, the Stetson alum was able to find fairways with regularity to end his 2020-21 season.
A strong par-4 player and a great striker of the golf ball, he does have the makeup of one of our standard first-round selections. With Round 1 scores of 66-69-68-72 in his last four outings, if Ryder is able to replicate his 2018 putting performance in this tournament, then the rest of his game should hold steady.
Kevin Tway (+10000):
Since his 2018 victory, Tway has had a rough go of things at the North Course, but maybe this is the year he finally turns it around. Missing the cut in 2019 and then again in 2020, the 33-year-old arrives this year off a strong back-half to last season. Making five of six cuts, Tway’s ball-striking which abandoned him for the majority of the year appears to have resurfaced.
Gaining strokes off-the-tee in his final five events, the irons rounded into form as well, posting solid performances at the Barbasol Championship and the Wyndham Championship. Reliable on and around-the-greens, his statistical profile has slowly turned into the short-game specialist variety, one we typically do not turn to.
Yet it is because of that very skillset he has been able to get off to strong starts. Avoiding mistakes, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy has carded rounds of 66-69-69-66 on his last four Thursdays. Coming close to the first-round pay dirt, perhaps a return to Napa can finally push him over the Round 1 edge.
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