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New season begins for PGA Tour at Safeway Open

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If you blinked, or slept a little late one morning last week, you might not have noticed that the PGA Tour ended its season and turned the page to its 2017-18 campaign.

The rolling machine that is the United States' premier professional golf tour opens its fifth season utilizing a wraparound schedule that bridges two years and 45 events with the Safeway Open. The tournament begins play on Thursday at the Silverado Resort & Spa's North Course, in Napa, Calif.

The Safeway Open is one of eight events that will be contested during the fall of 2017, all of which will award FedExCup points. After a seven-week break, the PGA Tour season will resume in January with the traditional swing through Hawaii before moving to the West Coast.

Phil Mickelson, who is fresh off his stint as part of the United States team at the Presidents Cup, will tee it up here this week as part of the field of 144 players. Defending champion Brendan Steele, two-time major winner Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Tony Finau, Adam Hadwin of Canada and 2011 FedExCup champion Bill Haas are also in the field.

They will all be chasing a total purse of $6 million, with $1.08 million and 500 FedExCup points going to winner after 72 holes of stroke play on the par 72, 7,166-yard, Johnny Miller-designed track.

It's foolish to consider the fall portion of the calendar as an afterthought. Three of the seven winners from the fall calendar of 2016 -- eventual FedExCup champion Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, and Pat Perez -- qualified for the Tour Championship. The other four winners (Steele, Cody Gribble, Rod Pampling of Australia, and Canada's Mackenzie Hughes) advanced through at least the second of the four playoff events.

Steele, a southern California native, birdied his last three holes in the rain and fashioned an 18-under-par 270 last October to claim a one-stroke victory over Patton Kizzire and earn his second career PGA Tour win.

"All wins are sweet and when you can win in your home state is really nice," Steele said. "The win set up a really good year for me, my best on Tour, and it's nice to come back and get some of the good vibes and get off to good start to the season."

Johnson finished 40th on the money list last season, didn't advance to the Tour Championship and was not on the Presidents Cup team.

Silverado's North Course, which requires accuracy as much as length off the tee, should fit his game well and help his season begin the right way.

"You could say some of the shot-making here is that of a Hilton Head or Colonial, where you've got to be in the right side of the fairway versus the left side of the fairway, that kind of thing," Johnson said. "I'm here to work -- I love playing the golf course and my game feels good.

"If I don't play here based on what I have in front of me, I would have had a minimum of seven weeks off and that's a bit too much for me to stay competitive. This tournament is a great way for me to get some work done and assess."

Mickelson, who had a 3-0-1 record for the victorious U.S. Team in the Presidents Cup last week, is in search of his first Tour win since the 2013 Open Championship. He had five top-10 finishes in 2016-17 season and is making third start at the Safeway Open, where he ties for seventh last year.

This tournament also features the return to the Tour by 2014 Safeway Open champion Sangmoon Bae following two years of mandatory military service in native South Korea. He has not played on Tour since the 2015 Presidents Cup.

Previous Safeway Open champions Jonas Blixt of Sweden (who won here in 2012) and Argentina's Emiliano Grillo (2015) will be looking to recapture some of that magic here in California wine country.

Former World No. 1 amateur Maverick McNealy is making his first start as a professional at the Safeway Open and is playing on a sponsor invitation.

The FedExCup Playoffs once again features four events and concludes in September with the TOUR Championship and the crowning of the FedExCup champion.

Updated October 4, 2017

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