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Second verse same as the first

11 OCT 2017

By Dave Kaplan

We have a new FedEx Cup points leader and his name isn’t Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth!

Brendan Steele took home 500 FedEx Cup points, a cheque for $1.1 million and a three-year PGA Tour exemption after successfully defending his title at the Safeway Open last weekend in Napa.

Steele’s victory followed a pretty similar script to his win last year when he came back from a four-shot deficit in the final round of the Safeway Open to claim his second PGA Tour title.

This year Steele only needed to make up two strokes on Sunday and he took care of that early with a pair of birdies on the 4th and 5th holes that vaulted him into the lead. Steele increased his lead to two shots when he made a miraculous birdie on the 9th hole, but then curtailed his own momentum with bogeys on the 12th and 14th holes. Those bogeys opened the door momentarily for Tony Finau and Phil Mickelson, who both managed to get to within one stroke of Steele’s lead at various points on their back nines. To his credit, however, Steele slammed that door shut promptly with a pair of birdies on the 16th and 18th holes to get into the clubhouse at 15-under par. And that score proved to be enough for the Californian to claim his third career PGA Tour title.

 

It might only be one week into the season, but we are already starting to see a couple of interesting storylines emerge on the PGA Tour.

For starters, Phil Mickelson appears to be on the verge of a career resurgence at the age of 47.

The five-time major champion, who finished the Safeway Open in a tie for third place, has now reeled off 12 consecutive under-par rounds since the Dell Technologies Open in September. During this streak, the southpaw has carded 10 rounds in the 60s, accumulated a total score of 33-under par, and converted birdies at an impressive 24% clip. He has also racked up two Top 10s over his last three starts and looks determined to notch his 43rd career PGA Tour victory before the end of the calendar year.

“The game has just come back,” Mickelson told reporters after his final round. “My focus is much better. I’m staying in the present and hitting the shots. I’ll get a few things ironed out before I go to China on a course that I’ve won at twice, and hopefully see if I can get a win there.”

The other interesting takeaway from this past weekend in Napa was the abundance of Canadian players in the tournament. Seven Canucks teed off at the Safeway Open and five of them played well enough to make the cut.

Graham DeLaet played the best golf of that Canadian quintet, opening with scores of 69, 67, and 69 before eventually cooling off with an even par 72 on Sunday. It was certainly not an ideal final round for the Saskatchewan native, but he did still manage to finish the week in a tie for fifth place — his best result since the Valspar Championship in 2016. Incredibly, despite earning more than $11 million over the course of his career on the PGA Tour, DeLaet is still searching for his first victory. And I think that this is the year that the 35-year-old finally gets it done!

Winnipeg’s Nick Taylor also started his 2017-18 season with a Top 10, finishing close behind DeLaet in a four-way tie for 9th place at 9-under par. Taylor has not won on the PGA Tour since his breakthrough victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship in 2014 and did not have a particularly strong season last year, when he only racked up four Top 10s in 29 total starts. However, the 29-year-old did advance to the second round of the FedEx Cup playoffs for the first time in his career last season and appears to be carrying over some of that momentum into the new season.

Ontario rookies Corey Conners (Listowel) and Ben Silverman (Thornhill) were also quite impressive in their PGA Tour debuts last weekend. Conners, 25, who qualified for the PGA Tour by finishing inside the Top 25 in the Web.com Tour Finals, made 13 birdies over the course of the week and finished the tournament in a tie for 30th place at 5-under par. Silverman made a total of 17 birdies in his debut, but unfortunately offset that strong play with a few too many bogeys and mental mistakes. Nonetheless, the 29-year-old did manage to advance to the weekend and ultimately tied for 43rd with a score of 3-under for the week.

Brantford, Ont.’s David Hearn rounded out the group of Canadians who made the cut at the Safeway Open. He finished the week in a tie for 54th at 1-under par.

Now, I’m not saying that we are at a point yet where the Canadians are dominating the PGA Tour on a weekly basis. However, we are certainly starting to see more of a consistent Canadian presence on the leaderboard from week to week and that is a very exciting prospect! After all, Adam Hadwin and Mackenzie Hughes already broke through for their first wins last season. Who is to say that list of first-time Canadian victors won’t grow by at least another two names by the end of this season alone?

The PGA Tour ventures across the Pacific Ocean to Asia for its next three events, beginning with the CIMB Classic this week in Kuala Lumpur.

Stay tuned …

Dave Kaplan is a Toronto-based freelance writer and golf fanatic who is sneaky long off the tee. He’s on a crusade to inject a youthful perspective into golf media, especially the broadcast booth. Follow him on Twitter @davykap