The state of American golf would seem to be somewhat in question after Team USA was annihilated in a Ryder Cup they were heavily favored in, but there is little time to agonize over that poignant defeat, as this week marks the beginning of the PGA Tour’s 2018-19 wrap-around season.
The season again starts at Silverado Country Club for the Safeway Open, and for the second straight year, Brendan Steele is the defending champion.
Steele undeniably has the tee-to-green game to make a charge at the PGA Tour’s first three-peat since Steve Stricker won his third straight John Deere Classic in 2011, but if he is going to win, he will need to play much, much better than he did late in this past season, which happened just a short time ago.
Steele is represented on PGW’s first Power Rankings for the new season, because… well, how could he not be? But his competition will be fierce and highly motivated. All 144 players in the Safeway field, from 19-year-old Joaquin Niemann to 58-year-old Fred Couples, are aspiring to get their seasons off to a great start.
15. Sangmoon Bae
The 2014-15 Safeway Champion Bae was on his way to becoming one of the better players on Tour, but was forced to take off the 2016 and 2017 seasons to fulfill a mandatory military service commitment in his native South Korea.
The 32-year-old was back in action this past season, but with so much rust to shake off, his Tour results were understandably very poor, outside of a T15 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. However, with two strong September results in the Web.com Tour finals, a T6 followed by a win, Bae appears to be feeling good again. He may be finally picking back up where he left off three years ago.
14. Ryan Moore
The super-accurate five-time Tour winner Moore, had a very good season statistically, finishing inside the top 30 in every strokes gained stat, except for putting, where he finished 164th. Most impressive among those stats are 4th in driving accuracy and 12th in strokes gained: tee-to-green. However, his results were not as special, with no victories and just five top 10s in 22 starts.
Moore has played the Safeway just twice since it moved permanently to Silverado, but he played well both times, finishing T10 in 2016, and T17 last year.
13. Sungjae Im
Just 20 years of age, Im was a Web.com Tour sensation last season, leading the season money list by a mile; finishing with over $500,000 when nobody else even reached $300,000. In the regular season, he earned more than double the money of all but three players.
Im had two wins and three runner-ups on the Web.com Tour season, and played well enough to sneak into the top 100 in the World Rankings (currently No. 97). This will be his first non-major PGA event, but the man we saw this past season does not appear to be capable of getting intimidated.
12. Chez Reavie
Chez Reavie seems to know a thing or two about starting a season strong. His T13 at last year’s Safeway, his third consecutive Silverado finish of T22 or better, started a string of eight top 25s in his first nine starts, including two runner-ups.
Reavie did not play as well over the second half of the season, but did post a T12 at the PGA Championship. After nearly a month of rest, the 36-year-old who finished third on Tour in driving accuracy and co-led the Silverado field in the same stat, should be feeling good as he tries to find that victory that has eluded him since 2008.
11. Harold Varner III
For the second straight season, Varner III got hot late, playing himself into the FedExCup playoffs with a T5-6-T17 stretch in July. The East Carolina product has not finished a tournament over par since the U.S. Open in June, a tournament where the winning score was +1.
He has played well in seven of his last eight rounds at Silverado, posting a T15 in 2016, and sitting on the periphery of the top 10 through three rounds last year, until a nightmare four hole stretch (including a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 5th) led to a final round 81.
Varner III appears ready to make that next leap in his career, and he will be exceptionally motivated to start this year off strong.
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