After the long, exhausting 248-hour off season, golf is back! I know, I know — I’ve missed it, too.
In all seriousness, the ink may just be drying on Justin Thomas’ big cardboard check from the FedExCup a whopping two weeks ago, but the 2017-18′ PGA Tour season is ready to get underway.
Sure, most sports fans don’t care and most won’t be watching, but the degenerates like you and I will be — and because of that, we will have the upper hand when things really get going in January.
Normally, the first event of the PGA Tour’s wrap around schedule is filled with a mix of young guns, has-beens, never-were’s and journeyman pros, this year’s Safeway Classic actually has some big names teeing it up this week in Napa Valley.
Here’s a look at those with a chance to get their season started off on the right foot — and those who will be grateful that there are 48 more stops on the schedule:
Phil Mickelson — Easily the biggest name in the field this week – or any week — Phil Mickelson comes to Silverado looking to get pick up a win in the first event of the 2017-18 season. For Lefty, a win would mean the world — he hasn’t finished first since winning the Open Championship in 2013. On the heels of his performance at the Presidents Cup, Mickelson should be grooving on some good vibes heading into wine country.
Tony Finau — If you haven’t made yourself familiar with Tony Finau by now, it’s high time you do. While Finau has been a top prospect so-to-speak on the PGA Tour for the better part of two years now, he’s still yet to turn into that bonafide super star he is certainly poised to become. It may be high praise, but don’t be shocked if Finau turns in a multiple win campaign in 2018 — and it could all start this week in California.
Zach Johnson — While Zach Johnson has never played this event or at this track before, that doesn’t mean he’s not worth giving a starting nod to this week. Again, Johnson is one of the marquee names in the field and one of the few with a major championship pedigree. Despite his lack of experience here, Johnson is a shoe-in to play well this week. He’s been playing great golf as of late, salvaging what was certainly a disappointing season over all for him last year.
Sam Saunders — If you’re one of these people who believes in momentum — like me — than Sam Saunders is an obvious choice this week at Silverado. Saunders, who opened last week’s Web.com Tour event with a 59 and finished in second place, has plenty of PGA Tour experience — which more than you’ll be able to say for most of the field this week at the Safeway.
Martin Laird — And if you’re a horses for courses type player, then the guy you need to keep an eye on is Martin Laird. (If some of these names are surprise to you, get used to it — the next few weeks are going to be slim pickings) The Scot was down-right terrible for most of the summer, but found some form before inevitably being bounced from the playoffs. He’s also made the cut in all three trips to wine country, including T-3 and T-8 finishes in his last two appearances.
Maverick McNealy — The son of a software tycoon and one of the mostly highly-touted prospects in recent memory, Maverick McNealy will make his professional debut at the Safeway this week. While many would love to see — and will be taking the action on — a solid finish or even a win from McNealy, I am not one of them. Sure, there have been guys who have won in their first Tour start, but the Russell Henley’s of the world are few and far between.
Peter Uihlein — The son of Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, Peter has spent much of his pro career creeping up leader boards on the European Tour and making starts on sponsor’s exemptions in the states. This year, Uihlein makes his mark on the PGA Tour as a full-time, card-carrying member. While he’s shown flashes of brilliance during what has been a small sample size this side of the pond, he still is very much a rookie — and should be treated as such from a fantasy standpoint until those flashes become more like sustained bursts.
Sangmoon Bae — Returning to action for his fist full season since having to fulfill military service in Korea, Sangmoon Bae will more than likely return to his past form as a PGA Tour star. That said, you’re going to have to expect a little rust.
Graham DeLaet — Is this the year Graham DeLaet finally gets the monkey off his back and wins on the PGA Tour? I mean, I have to say yes, I think. I still believe he’s too good not to win eventually, and he’s certainly racking up the experience and the runner-ups. He’s lost enough to know how to win ’em going forward, so, surely, his 2017-18 campaign will be better than his 2016-17 was. That said, I’m still very weary about giving him a start in any fantasy format until he does something to warrant it.