SAN FRANCISCO: With eight Presidents Cup qualifiers and a dozen potential captain’s picks in the field for this week’s Safeway Open, plenty of players will be trying to make strong impressions.
US captain Tiger Woods, the reigning Masters champion who hasn’t ruled out making himself a captain’s pick, and Internationals captain Ernie Els of South Africa will be keeping an eye on the scores when play starts Thursday in the US PGA Tour event at Silverado in Napa, California.
Each of them will make four captain’s picks in early November to complete his 12-man squad for the biennial team golf showdown in December at Australia’s famed Royal Melbourne layout.
“I’m going to lean heavily on the opinions of my assistants and the guys who have already earned a spot,” Woods said. “My plan is to keep an open line of communication to ensure we find the four guys who best fit.”
So having 59-year-old US assistant captain Fred Couples in the Silverado field as well as US Presidents Cup team qualifiers Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay should provide Woods some valuable insight.
Among the Americans at Napa who could be in the hunt for a Presidents Cup berth are Chez Reavie, Charles Howell, Brandt Snedeker and Phil Mickelson, who is trying to extend his record run of 12 consecutive Presidents Cup appearances. The 49-year-old left-hander, a five-time major winner, has also played on 12 straight Ryder Cup squads.
“I hope he plays well and plays his way on and gets picked,” DeChambeau said. “But if he doesn’t, I think he’d be great for the team camaraderie (as an assistant captain).
“What he brought to the table last year (at the Ryder Cup) was great, just an expectation that allowed us to be more comfortable. He brought a lot of experience, knowing when to say things and when not to say things. He could be a valuable asset.”
Mickelson will play alongside Cantlay and Collin Morikawa in the first two rounds while Thomas is paired with Snedeker and Jim Furyk over the first two days.
DeChambeau, who plays alongside 2018 Europe Ryder Cup hero Francesco Molinari of Italy and defending Safeway champion Kevin Tway in the first two rounds, defends his Shriners Hospitals Open title next week in Las Vegas.
He’s not really looking to see who might make a good Cup partner, seeing himself as an everyman who could give Woods some pairing options in foursomes and four-ball matches.
“I’m kind of I would say an average player in every facet, so you can really somewhat fit everybody to me,” DeChambeau said.
‘We’re going to want it more’
On the Internationals side, Australia’s Adam Scott and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama — both set to play in Melbourne already — will play alongside Colombia’s Sebastian Munoz, last week’s PGA winner in Jackson, Mississippi.
Other Internationals players in the field include Aussie Marc Leishman, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Taiwan’s C.T. Pan.
Other possible Els captain’s picks in the lineup include South Koreans Im Sung-jae, Kim Si-woo, Kang Sung and An Byeong-hun, Canada’s Corey Conners and Adam Hadwin and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo.
The Americans own a 10-1-1 advantage in the all-time rivalry with the Internationals taking their lone win at Royal Melbourne in 1998.
“No matter how much they’re going to want it, we’re going to want it more — I know that,” DeChambeau declared.
Part of the US inspiration will be playing for Woods, an idol since his 1997 Masters win who inspired many of today’s top young players.
“What he brings to the table, the intensity, the passion, the competitiveness, the drive to do the best he possibly can… it’s going to be a lot of fun to be a part of,” DeChambeau said.