The Fortinet Championship was established in 2007 but took a little bit of time to really find its feet as a PGA Tour event. After initially being held as the Fry’s Electronics Open in Scottsdale, Arizona it was moved to San Jose, California. A further move to Silverado Country Club came in 2014 and a few years later it was renamed the Safeway Open in a long term deal with the sponsors and the PGA Tour.
Most golf fans knew the Safeway Open for being the first event of the PGA Tour season. While it suffers a little from a lack of star names as those involved in the recent FedEx Cup playoffs tend to take a well-deserved break, that does open the Fortinet Championship up a bit to hungry players desperate for a good season and it is little surprise that so many renewals feature tight finishes and plenty of drama.
2022: Max Homa
Max Homa’s work rate has not gone unnoticed by other PGA Tour players. One fellow pro told a new outlet that Homa works in the manner of a world number one and on the evidence of his play at Silverado Country Club he could reach the pinnacle of golf sooner rather than later. Homa successfully defended his Fortinet Championship title but had to rely on more than a little bit of help from his playing partner, Danny Willett.
Willett, who has not won in America since capitalising on Jordan Spieth’s late meltdown in the 2016 Masters, found that the shoe was on the other foot in California. He held all the aces approaching the 72nd green but after watching Homa chip in from off the green, the Englishman took three putts to get down from just under four feet and let the title slip from his grasp.
The nature of the win will quickly be forgotten as it goes down in history as Homa’s fifth on the PGA Tour. Reaching that number of wins in a little under three and a half years is a great achievement for a player who struggled just to keep his card when he earned his place on tour. Doing so by applying severe pressure to a major champion while the defending champion and bookies’ favourite, sets Homa out as a big fish on the PGA Tour.
2021: Max Homa
Max Homa is very much a California boy. He grew up in the Golden State and learned to play golf alongside friends to whom he remains close currently. One of those friends is his caddie, Joe Greiner. As much as they enjoy themselves on the course, they are a formidable duo when in contention to win as they proved again at the Fortinet Championship.
Homa was already applying the pressure on overnight leader Maverick McNealy during the final round at Silverado Resort and Spa when Greiner gave him the perfect number on the par-four 12th hole. Homa carried out his caddie’s instructions to the letter with an incredible shot from 95 yards that went in for eagle and really turned the tournament on its head.
A moment such as that is often a turning point, providing a sense of momentum. However, Homa was already riding a big wave of momentum by that point as he had already hauled himself into the tournament with a round of 65 on Saturday. The same score on Sunday – the best of the day alongside Marc Leishman – saw Homa beat McNealy to the trophy by a single shot for his third PGA Tour win.
2020: Stewart Cink
Cameron Champ showed in 2019 that the key to unlocking a winning score at Silverado is relentless excellence from tee to green. Stewart Cink doesn’t need any lessons from up and coming starlets about how to win tournaments but he did need to put a whole lot of work into the physical side of his game in order to play well enough from tee to green to lay down a serious challenge at the Safeway Open at the age of 47. He did exactly that though, taking advantage of his added length off the tee, his typically high-class ball striking and his dependable short game thanks to a very good week on the greens which all added up to his first win since the 2009 Open Championship.
Cink’s week started well enough but he really came alive at the weekend. After making the cut on a score of -7, Cink went round in that many shots under par on both Saturday and Sunday to finish on a fantastic score of -21. Harry Higgs was the nearest challenger on -19 with Chez Reavie, Doc Redman, Kevin Streelman and Brian Stuard all joint on -18 in a tie for third place.
As delighted as Cink understandably was to see his hard work of the past few years bear fruit, the win was all the more special as he could share with his son, Reagan, who caddied for him. Indeed, Cink Senior was at pains to point out that Reagan is a quality caddie and a very important piece of the puzzle.
2019: Cameron Champ
Sports fans usually only know a fraction of the context in which the great feats we enjoy in the various arenas exist. It was different during Cameron Champ’s win at the 2019 Safeway Open. He spoke candidly about the mixed emotions he was feeling after earning his second PGA Tour win. His grandfather, who had taught Champ the game as a child, was seriously ill and could only watch on from home. Still, it felt very much as though Champ was sharing this victory with the man who started his golfing journey.
That journey has a long way still to go judging by the quality of Champ’s golf in Napa and the fact that he is a multiple PGA Tour winner at the age of just 24. His play from tee to green was astonishingly good and much better than anybody else in the field. He has sometimes been pigeonholed as simply a big hitter but all aspects of his game had to be in good working order to see off the challenge of Adam Hadwin and Marc Leishman who were second and third respectively.
The future remains very bright for Champ but he obviously had more than just golf on his mind after his win. “No matter what,” he said in his post-tournament media duties, “even if I never win another tournament again or I win however many, this will definitely be the greatest moment of my golfing career.”
2018: Kevin Tway
The first goal for any player on the PGA Tour is to claim their first win of the season. For some, that comes sooner, for others later. For Kevin Tway, it was both. His win at the 2018 Safeway Open came in the very first event of the new season, however, it was the first PGA Tour title after years of trying to do what his father, Bob, did eight times.
Hard work is the backbone of the success of any professional golfer and that was certainly the case for Tway’s breakthrough win. He coped as well as anybody else in the field with the incredibly windy conditions in Napa but still had to rely on extra holes before he could secure the win. Birdies on his last two holes got Tway into a playoff with Brandt Snedeker and Ryan Moore and it took three further trips down the 18th before he could finally shake off the challenge of the latter.
Such is the nature of professional golf that for every winner there are a large number of losers (155 in the case of the 2018 Safeway Open), but it was Snedeker who left Silverado feeling the most dejected. He usually comes alive in windy conditions but saw a four-shot lead making the turn blown away and admitted afterwards, “I’m going to look at that one in a few years and know I gave that one away.”
2017: Brendan Steele
Defending a title on the PGA Tour is tricky business. Not only is there an incredible depth of talent all giving their best to win but mounting a defence comes with an extra level of expectation on top of the attention and media duties. There are always exceptions though and Brendan Steele made light work of his title defence right from the start when he returned to Silverado Resort to defend the Safeway Open. Nobody went lower than Steele in the first round of the 2017 edition and he was never out of the top three en route to a successful defence.
Just like last year, this was the perfect way for Steele to kick off the PGA Tour season. After making such a strong start to the event, Steele finished equally strongly with birdies on the 70th and 72nd holes of his tournament for the second-lowest round of the final day. That strong finish was enough to see off the challenge of Tony Finau who ended up two shots behind Steele on -13. Phil Mickelson and Chesson Hadley were a further shot behind in the first PGA Tour event of the new season.