The PGA Tour’s 2018-2019 wrap-around season kicks off this week in Napa, California with the Safeway Open presented by Chevron. Safeway is in its third year as title sponsor for this $6.2 million event, and the par-72, 7,203-yard North Course at the Silverado Resort and Spa plays host for the fifth consecutive year. The North Course is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that was renovated in 2010 by Johnny Miller and will challenge the field of 144 players from tee to green. Here are five things you need to know about the 12th playing of the Safeway Open.

Silverado Resort North Course Hole 17
Silverado Resort North Course Hole 17

Inside the Field

Brendan Steele became the first repeat winner of the Safeway Open last year, and will be the fourth player this year attempting to win a tournament three years in a row (Hideki Matsuyama at the Phoenix Open, Daniel Berger at the St. Jude Classic, and Jhonattan Vegas at the RBC Canadian Open all tried and failed). Phil Mickelson returns to wine country for the third consecutive year but comes in shaky after a career-worst Ryder Cup performance in France. Fred Couples makes his first start at this event. Brandt Snedeker makes his first appearance here since 2015. Former World No. 1 amateur Joaquin Niemann begins his first full season on Tour after picking up four top-10 finishes in 13 starts last season.

My Rookie Year

This week marks the first official start for members of the PGA Tour’s 21-player rookie class, and Sungjae Im is an intriguing rookie you’ll want to pay extra attention to. The 20-year-old Im is the youngest rookie in the class, but has the poise of a veteran and everything it takes to compete on this level. Im led the 2018 Tour regular season money list wire-to-wire, making him the only in history to accomplish that feat. The rising star from Korea actually lived in hotels week-to-week as he chased down his dream of making it to the Tour. The rookie should have plenty of opportunities this year to take up residence in the winner’s circle.

Silverado Resort North Course Hole 11
Silverado Resort North Course Hole 11

Why Fall Golf is Must See TV

The fall portion of the wrap-around schedule is often used by many big names as de-facto downtime. However, the eight fall events that kick off this week and end with the RSM Classic in November have been decisive in shaping the FedExCup Playoffs. Four of the eight winners in 2017 qualified for the season-ending TOUR Championship (Patrick Cantlay, Patton Kizzire, Justin Rose, and Justin Thomas). While the four other winners advanced through the first three playoff events (Ryan Armour, Austin Cook, Pat Perez, and Brendan Steele). With the playoffs being reduced from four events to three this season, sprinting out of the gates will be more important than ever.

It’s Miller Time

When Johnny Miller renovated the North Course in 2010, he had Augusta National in mind. Miller added length, removed trees and bunkers, and routed the layout to include additional movement and improved angles into the par-4 holes. The result is a better test of strategic decision-making and shot-shaping, and the 407-yard, par-4, 4th hole is a great illustration.

Silverado Resort North Course Hole 4
Silverado Resort North Course Hole 4

Although No. 4 is short, there aren’t any easy options off the tee. The hole doglegs left but the fairway slopes right – creating a risk of hitting your tee shot through the fairway if you hit driver. Hitting less than driver off the tee brings trees on the left side into play, and makes your approach into the shallow and dramatically sloped green even more challenging. The green is kidney-shaped with a bulge in the middle that makes it crucial to hit the correct side.

Keys to Victory

With fairways that are largely tree-lined, firm, and fast, driving accuracy is more important than driving distance on the North Course. You also need to hit good iron shots to score, as the greens are small, narrow, and often with significant undulation. Three of the last four Safeway champions led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, suggesting winning here is more about ball-striking than a putting contest. With only a couple big boy par-4s and all four par-5s gettable my most players in the field, Birdie or Better Conversion Percentage will be crucial in deciding who’s in contention on Sunday.

Winner Prediction

Can you believe Ollie Schniederjans had a better birdie conversion percentage last year than Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, and Tiger Woods? Seriously, he did. The problem for Schniederjans was he didn’t hit enough greens to translate his 12th ranked birdie conversion percentage into wins or top-10s for that matter. It all starts with the driver for Ollie. If he can straighten out his accuracy off the tee, Schniederjans will start hitting more greens. And if that happens, watch out. Ollie will be a force to be reckoned with – not only this week in wine country, but all season long.