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It's an interesting mix this week as the PGA Tour sets sail on another marathon season in the cozy confines of wine country.
The field for the Fortinet Championship contains some undeniable star power: three of the four reigning major champs in Jon Rahm, a massive betting favorite, along with Hideki Matsuyama and Phil Mickelson. But the rest of the combatants are largely split into two groups: newly-minted rookies chomping at the bit to get started, and more seasoned veterans who know that an 11-month slog begins with a single shot this week at Silverado Resort & Spa.
The Napa layout certainly has some quirks: narrow fairways, reachable par-5s and a hankering for crowning less-than-stellar putters. It's a place where what you do off the tee usually matters more than what you do on and around the greens, as demonstrated with recent winners like Brendan Steele (twice) and Cameron Champ.
With most players in the field only a couple weeks removed from their most recent start, it's a handicapping approach I plan to employ for the season-opener. It led me to some notable names, as well as a couple of rising prospects from the aforementioned rookie class:
To Win (odds via PointsBet Sportsbook)
Charley Hoffman (+5000): The fact that Hoffman teed off last month's BMW Championship around the top-30 cutoff seems, in hindsight, pretty wild. The veteran had fallen well off the radar in recent years, having peaked with a 2017 season that saw him make the Presidents Cup squad. But he picked up a lot of ground this past spring, with a pair of top-3 finishes in Texas to go alongside a string of top-25s elsewhere.
Hoffman usually does most of his damage in the Lone Star State (and in Augusta on Thursdays), but this week could be a fit given his solid form to end last season and his particular skill set. Over the last 40 rounds he is third in this week's field in SG: Tee-to-Green, typically giving back some of those gains on the putting surfaces. But Silverado is a place where he has putted decently, albeit not great, en route to some middling finishes. Those recent results, though, came off a tee-to-green game that is a fraction of what he's been operating with since the spring. At age 44, Hoffman may be wondering if his last PGA Tour win has already come. But as Stewart Cink showed last year, this is a place where veteran savvy can pay off - especially from a player who has a history of pouncing at some mid-tier events.
Taylor Pendrith (+10000): If we are talking about brute strength off the tee plays well and putting sins can be forgiven, Pendrith's name immediately pops off the page. The Canadian has been one of the longest hitters on the Korn Ferry Tour, but now he has graduated to the big leagues and will give the likes of Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Champ a run for their money off the tee. He typically struggles when things turn into a putting contest, but the makeup of Silverado's par-5 collection is such that his advantage off the tee should be a pretty substantial one.
Pendrith comes in with some solid form, having finished T-34 or better in all eight starts since the U.S. Open (albeit against Korn Ferry competition). He'll now be looking to follow in the footsteps of Emiliano Grillo (2015) by winning in Napa in his first start as a fully-fledged Tour member.
Luke List (+12500): Another guy cut from the same mold as Pendrith. List was 13th on Tour last season in SG: Off the Tee, 60th in SG: Approach and a woeful 189th in SG: Putting. It's a big reason why he is still waiting for his first Tour win in his 198th career start, but this week's setup should be particularly conducive for a guy who notched a pair of top-5 finishes in July.
List has made four of five cuts at Silverado, highlighted by a T-4 showing in 2018 when he missed a three-man playoff by a shot. Last year he was in solid position before tumbling with a final-round 74. It's a place where he can find (and has found) some success when things are clicking, and given he usually has a healthy mix of top-10s and missed cuts there's reason to back him for more of the former this time around - and perhaps a watershed win.
Top-10 Finish (odds via PointsBet)
Mito Pereira (+525): The Chilean earned an immediate promotion last year with a trio of Korn Ferry wins, and now he begins his first full season with PGA Tour status. Pereira had himself quite the summer, including a spot in the massive bronze medal playoff at the Tokyo Olympics, and he had a pair of top-6 finishes at the Barbasol and 3M. He appears poised to make a quick transition to the big stage, and he should be especially rested after sitting out both the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry postseason. But he should be particularly well-suited for Silverado off the tee, and his last 10 starts include six top-10s highlighted by back-to-back wins in June.
Brandt Snedeker (+600): I'll take my chances with a streaky putter on poa annua. Snedeker putts the fickle West Coast surface like few others, as evidenced by his showing three years ago when he let a late lead slip away in blustery conditions en route to a playoff loss. Snedeker was prepping for the Ryder Cup the last time the matches were held in the U.S., but he's nowhere near that level these days after dropping outside the top 15 in the world. A strong showing this week could go a long way toward turning around that decline, and six-fold return is enticing on a guy who also finished T-17 in two of his last four starts here.
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Brendan Steele (+800): There's no bigger course horse in the field. Steele went back-to-back at this event in 2016-17, despite winning just one time elsewhere in a decade-long career, and three other top-25 results. Last year he opened with a 65 but faded to a respectable T-29 finish. Steele simply likes the look of the North Course and his play backs it up. He fits the profile of a player who thrives at this event, given his tee-to-green strength and under-reliance on making putts, and it's worth a speculative investment despite the fact that he has just one top-40 finish since a T-3 at the Honda in March.
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