For the second consecutive year American Brendan Steele made a Sunday charge to win the opening event of the PGA Tour’s 2018 wraparound season, the Safeway Open.
An up and down birdie at the par-5 18th hole secured a two-shot win for Steele over compatriot Tony Finau, with Phil Mickelson and Chesson Hadley a further stroke in arears.
“Feels pretty good, first on the FedEx Cup at least for a week,” Steele said after the win. “This place is so great for me, I feel so comfortable here and it's been a great run. This will definitely set up my season and hopefully springboard me into another really good year.”
Steele began the final day two shots behind Tour rookie Tyler Duncan, but quickly found himself in contention for a third PGA Tour title after Duncan opened his fourth round with three straight bogeys.
Steele, 34, made the turn in three under and on top of the leaderboard on his own at 15 under before Finau birdied the par-4 13th of the Silverado Resort’s North course to draw level. Steele made his first blemishes of the final day in quick succession in the form of bogies at the 12th and 14th holes.
Finau’s charge also ran into trouble at 14 with a double bogey 6 all but ending his chances of a second Tour victory.
While Mickelson, playing alongside fellow Californian Steele, had his home town crowd and even Steele believing he might finally end his win drought, which dates back to the 2013 Open Championship.
“I play a lot with Phil, obviously know everything that Phil's done and I've seen it firsthand,” he said. “He just does special things. Coming to the scoring holes to finish, I was thinking, God, Phil might go 3-3-3 or something, something crazy and just blow everybody out of the water.”
‘Lefty’ ultimately came up three shots shy after his final round 70, which included five birdies and three bogeys. Errant driving throughout the week perhaps cost the Hall of Famer his 43rd PGA Tour victory. Although Phil as always looked at the missed fairway stats in a positive light.
“This is a very skewed golf course to judge on fairways hit,” he said after the final round. “I hit three beautiful drives on 18, none of them found the fairway. The fairway's 13 yards wide. I paced it. So on a normal Tour course I would have hit 10, 11 fairways today, I drove it fairly well.”
Steele righted the ship after his struggles at the 12th and 14th converting short birdie putts at the par-5 16th and 18th holes to return to 15 under and add the 2017 Safeway Open to his 2016 victory in the same event and 2011 Valero Texas Open win.
Matt Jones was the lone Australian to make the weekend in Napa after securing his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour playoffs just a week ago, finishing in a tie for 43rd after a disappointing final round 77.