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New PGA Tour season begins at Safeway Open

Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey and defending champion Emiliano Grillo will be among the 144-player field on Thursday when the PGA Tour opens its 2016-17 schedule with the Safeway Open at the Silverado Resort & Spa's North course in Napa, Calif.

But much of the talk for the past few weeks surrounding the Safeway Open centered on Tiger Woods, who committed to playing in the event last week before withdrawing Monday.

Not even four days in the California wine country and a $6 million purse could entice Woods back from his 14-month injury sabbatical.

"My health is good, and I feel strong, but my game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be," Woods wrote on his website Monday. "When I announced last week I was going to Safeway, I had every intention of playing or I wouldn't have committed. I practiced the last several days in California, but after a lot of soul searching and honest reflection, I know that I am not yet ready to play on the PGA Tour."

Just the notion of having Woods play the first two days, and his Thursday and Friday pairing with Mickelson, doubled ticket sales. Those that will tee it up for 72 holes of stroke play through Sunday will give those golf fans plenty to enjoy.

Mickelson said he was still on an emotional high from being part of the winning United States team in the Ryder Cup two weeks ago.

"The tournament here is so well run and the course is such fun that I can't wait to get the season started," Mickelson said.

Grillo won here last season in his first PGA Tour event, becoming the first player to do so since Russell Henley at the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii.

On Wednesday, Grillo was named the tour rookie of the year based on that victory and two additional top-10 finishes the rest of the season (a tie for second at The Barclays and a tie for 10th at the season-ending Tour Championship during the FedExCup playoffs). He also finished tied for eighth in the men's Olympic golf competition in Rio.

This is the fourth year for the PGA Tour's wraparound schedule that bridges two years with 47 events. Seven events will be played during the fall of 2016, all of which will award FedExCup points. After a seven-week break, the season will resume in January with the traditional swing through Hawaii before moving to the West Coast.

Four of the seven winners from the fall portion of the 2015-16 season (Grillo, Justin Thomas, Russell Knox and Kevin Kisner) qualified for the Tour Championship and two others (Smylie Kaufman and Graeme McDowell) finished inside the top 50.