For the second straight year the PGA Tour season begins with the Frys.com Open in northern California. This week’s event, to be contested at Silverado Resort & Spa’s North Course for the first time, hosts 12 tournament winners from the just-completed 2013-14 season. The dozen includes three U.S. Ryder Cuppers – Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker (shown). Walker won the Frys a year ago, jumpstarting a career year that saw him win three times and finish seventh on the FedEx Cup standings for the 2013-14 season.
Also playing this week is European Ryder Cupper Lee Westwood and several players new to the PGA Tour, including Web.com regular season money leader Carlos Ortiz and Finals Series priority list co-leader Adam Hadwin.
Wild Walker way-lays CordeValle
When Jimmy Walker won last year’s Frys at CordeValle, he did so despite hitting just 22 fairways for the week. According to PGATour.com it was tied for the third-fewest fairways hit by a PGA Tour winner since the Tour began keeping track in 1983. Walker hit only five fairways during his third-round 62. It was the fewest number of fairways hit by any player who shot 62 or lower on the PGA Tour last year.
Fewest fairways hit by a tournament winner: 1983-2014
|Tom Sieckmann||1988 Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic||19||33.9|
|Greg Twiggs||1989 Shearson Lehman Hutton Open||21||37.5|
|Jimmy Walker||2013 Frys.com Open||22||39.3|
|Tiger Woods||2005 WGC/American Express||22||39.3|
|Johnson Wagner||2012 Sony Open in Hawaii||23||41.1|
Who’s this year’s Jimmy Walker?
Walker’s win a year ago was the first of his PGA Tour career. He used the victory as a springboard to two more victories, top-10 finishes in three majors and a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. But his career-year began with the work he did during 2013, when he finished 36th on the FedEx Cup standings after making the cut in his first 15 tournaments of the year. Here’s a list of non-winners who were high in last season’s FedEx Cup standings, who are playing at Silverado and might be ready to follow Walker’s path with a breakthrough win at this year’s season opener.
Winless players ready to move up at Silverado
|Player||2014 FedEx Cup||Career best||Years on Tour||Note|
|55||Yes||4||Just one top 10 (T-10 Colonial) in 28 starts|
|37||No||4||Former Presidents Cupper had two seconds in 2014|
|Russell Knox||40||Yes||3||T-2 at Honda was one of two top 10s|
|Chris Stroud||47||No||8||10 top-20 finishes in 2014|
|Brian Stuard||51||Yes||3||Opened last year with 3 top 10s in first 6 starts|
|57||No||4||Made the cut in 11 of his last 12 starts|
|20||Yes||5||Barclays runner-up in 2014|
Of that group, Stroud is the closest comp for Walker. In his ninth year on the PGA Tour, Stroud has played 217 tournaments without a win (Walker won in his 188th start), but his solid play a year ago included third-place finishes in Malaysia and Mayakoba and a T-4 at Greenbrier. His strong play actually goes back two years, as he was a career-best 43rd on the 2013 FedEx Cup standings.
A flying start
Jimmy Walker wasn’t the only player to maintain his momentum from a strong finish at the Frys.com Open. Two other top-eight finishers won for the first time later in 2014 – Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman – and every player in the top eight qualified for the PGA Tour playoffs except for nonmember Brooks Koepka, who nevertheless parlayed his T-3 finish into enough FedEx Cup points to gain full status on the PGA Tour for this year.
How the top finishers at the 2014 Frys.com Open fared during the season
|Player||FedEx rank||Wins in 2014|
|1. Jimmy Walker||7||3|
|2. Vijay Singh||87||0|
|T-3. Scott Brown||85||0|
|T-3. Brooks Koepka||N/A||0|
|T-3. Hideki Matsuyama||28||1|
|T-3. Kevin Na||24||0|
|T-7. Brian Harman||36||1|
|T-7. George McNeill||46||0|
Now on the tee…
The latest Web.com Tour graduates will have a chance to test themselves on the PGA Tour for the next few weeks, and there will be plenty of room for good finishes as most of the Tour’s top players aren’t expected to start their seasons until the Asian Swing next month. Because Silverado hasn’t hosted a Tour event since 1980, this week’s rookies and veterans will be unfamiliar with the course that was lengthened by 250 yards in 2010. Still, there are a few players who will have a special brand of nervousness on the first tee Thursday. Of the Tour’s 24 rookies, 16 are playing the Frys, including Whee Kim, who is making his PGA Tour debut.
PGA Tour rookies with the fewest starts on Tour
|Player||Starts||In Frys?||Previous starts||World Rank||Priority Rank|
|Sung Joon Park||0||No||None||176||45|
|Carlos Sainz, Jr.||0||No||None||512||49|
|Daniel Berger||1||Yes||T-28 2014 U.S. Open||286||28|
|Zac Blair||1||Yes||T-40 2014 U.S. Open||259||11|
|Tom Hoge||1||Yes||MC 2011 Canadian||463||19|
|Carlos Ortiz||1||Yes||T-65 2014 Memorial||130||3|
|Zack Sucher||1||Yes||MC 2009 John Deere||190||14|
Have game, will travel
Having only been held since 2007, the Frys.com Open doesn’t have a long and storied history, but some players have shown an ability to play well in the NorCal event, whether it was contested at Grayhawk (until 2009) or CordeValle. Among the list below, Molder and Clark were in the top 10 at both of the tournament’s previous stops. Can they make it three in 2014?
Most top-10 finishes in Frys.com Open history (among players in this year’s field)
|Player||Top 10s||Best finishes|
|Mike Weir||3||Won in 2007, T-4 in 2008, T-6 in 2009|
|Alex Cejka||2||T-6 in 2007, T-8 in 2009|
|Bryce Molder||2||T-6 in 2009, Won in 2011|
|Jimmy Walker||2||T-4 in 2012, Won in 2013|
|Pat Perez||2||T-6 in 2007, T-7 in 2008|
|Tim Clark||2||T-4 in 2009, T-6 in 2010|
|Vijay Singh||2||T-4 in 2010, 2nd in 2013|
One final thought: Matt Kuchar, ninth on the Official World Golf Ranking, is the only top-10 player in the field. He’s making his tournament debut at the Frys, but you might expect a good performance. He has been in the top 10 in his season-opening event in each of the past two years (T-9 Hyundai in 2013, T-7 McGladrey last season).
If you haven't already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc