There's no denying that Brendan Steele enjoys his time in wine country.
Two of Steele's three career PGA Tour victories have come at the Safeway Open, in back-to-back fashion in 2016 and 2017. Steele had top-25 finishes the two years prior at Silverado Resort & Spa and hasn't missed a cut in Napa since 2014. He's unlikely to make an early exit this time around after opening his 2020-21 season with a 7-under 65 that moved him within two shots of the lead and extended his affinity with the North Course.
"People have been asking me that for years. I think there's a lot of factors," Steele said. "I don't think it's one thing, but I really have a good sense of where you can be aggressive out here, where you need to be conservative, where you can miss it to different pins. I just kind of understood it right away, which is nice. And being from California, I'm comfortable on the greens."
Steele was bogey-free in his opening round, carding three birdies over his final five holes. Often slowed by a balky putter, he picked up nearly a shot against the field on the fickle poa annua greens while rolling in four birdie putts outside 7 feet.
Steele has not won on Tour since his successful Safeway title defense three years ago, but he came close earlier this year with a playoff loss to Cameron Smith at the Sony Open. Steele was outside the top 300 in the world rankings a year ago, but a resurgent campaign got him back inside the top 100 last month.
Steele is not in the field for next week's U.S. Open, and he won't punch a ticket to Winged Foot even with a third victory at Silverado. But the veteran is enjoying a return to one of his favorite Tour venues and an opportunity to begin a new campaign on the right foot.
"I always like the clean slate, too. Getting back to zero," Steele said. "It just feels like there's less pressure. It's a little more freedom because everybody's just getting their feet wet on a new season, even even though we just ended a few days ago. I think it's just a bunch of things, but nothing I can really put my finger on."