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Mayakoba Golf Classic Preview: The Other Event

Greg Vara

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

This space is generally reserved for a recap of the previous week's action, but since nothing of note happened last week, we're better off looking ahead. Seriously, you saw what happened; it was an amazing finish with some big-time players. But since our space is limited and we have two events this week, one of which I won't have the chance to preview, I thought a look ahead to the WGC Match-play event would be more useful.

The top 64 in the world visit the desert this week in what's sure to be an exciting event. This year's will be like none other. Why? Well, Tiger is a 5 seed, Retief Goosen is a 12 seed, Jim Furyk is a 14 seed and Ernie Els is a 16 seed. This event always has its fare share of upsets, and this year should be no different. But before you get too carried away with the underdog, just remember that most often the cream rises to the top on the weekend. For those in Match-Play pools, go with upsets early if you'd like, but make sure you have some fire power saved for the weekend. The Snead bracket appears to be the most difficult with Westwood, Woods, Haas, Watney and Simpson, while the other three brackets look fairly evenly balanced. In other words, there is no easy path to the finals. My prediction - and due to the nature of this event, if even one of these golfers makes it to Sunday, I'll consider it a huge accomplishment - is a final between Steve Stricker and Charl Schwartzel with Stricker coming out on top.

What the Northern Trust Open means:

Phil Mickelson: Mickelson certainly didn't have the killer instinct this week like he did last week, but a birdie on the daunting 18th hole to force a playoff was mighty impressive. Let's see where Phil goes from here. He's on pace for a huge year, but we've seen his game fade after a great start before.

Keegan Bradley: Mickelson wasn't the only player who birdied the final hole Sunday. Bradley also did the unthinkable and played his way into the three-way playoff. This early stretch is important for Bradley. He needs to keep his confidence high after finishing the 2011 season in style. So far so good.

Bill Haas: Finally, the man who actually won the event. Is it just me, or does it seem like Haas gets overshadowed quite a bit? Anyhow, Haas played well Sunday and took down a couple major champions in the playoff. As far as his checklist goes, he has just about everything except a major.

This week:
Mayakoba Golf Classic

Last Year:
Johnson Wagner shot a final-round 67 on his way to a playoff victory over Spencer Levin.

Players to Consider:

1. Johnson Wagner

With two wins in the last 12 months, it's surprising that Wagner did not crack the top 64 and earn an invite to the match-play event, but that just goes to show you how poorly he played after his win last season. Anyhow, he's a different player now and a repeat is definitely possible.

2. Spencer Levin

Levin's close call in Phoenix a couple weeks ago wasn't his first. He also came close here last year. If in the same position again this year, the results might be different.

3. Brian Gay

Gay won this event in 2008 and finished in the top five last year. He's one of the bigger names in the field this week, and if he gets going early, he could be tough to catch.

4. Briny Baird

This likely will be the only time all season that Baird will make the top five, but there's certainly good reason for his inclusion this week. Baird has finished in the top six his last three trips here.

5. Rory Sabbatini

Sabbatini finished fifth here last year, which was a good sign considering it was his first time at this event. Sabbatini is in the upper class of players this week, and as long as he's focused, he's got a shot to win.

Players to Avoid:

1. Lee Janzen

Can you say "working vacation"? Evidently, Janzen just can't wait to hit the beaches in Mexico because he's yet to play on the weekend here.

2. Chad Campbell

Campbell has not fared well in two attempts here. He missed the cut last year and finished T49 in 2008. He's also coming off a missed cut last week at Riviera.

3. Robert Allenby

He couldn't get it done at Riviera last week, so it's safe to assume that Allenby's game is too far off to get it done anywhere else. First time for Allenby here, so he could be one of those hitting the beach Saturday.

4. Mike Weir

I saw his name on the field list and I thought, "maybe he can make a comeback here." Then reality set in. Weir needs events like this to re-build his game, but there's no quick fix, and he's not going to magically find his game in one week's time.

5. Fred Funk

If you recall, the big news from the inaugural Mayakoba Classic was 50-year-old Fred Funk winning on the PGA TOUR. Well, that was 2007 and it's five years later, which makes Funk 55. Enough said.

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This week:
Mayakoba Golf Classic

Group A

1. Rory Sabbatini
2. Spencer Levin

I would love this pairing - if there weren't only four players to choose from this week. In other words, don't expect to make up much ground with this pair as it will be pretty popular.

Group B

1. Harrison Frazar
2. Briny Baird
3. J.J. Henry
4. Chris Stroud

Plenty of options in Group B this week, but not many high-end players. Frazar and Baird will be popular picks; one because he's played well this year and the other because of his track record. The final two players could provide the opportunity to gain some points this week. Stroud played well here last year, finishing T4, and Henry was runner-up in 2009.

Group C

1. Johnson Wagner
2. Jarrod Lyle

Wagner is the defending champ and he's riding a confidence high right now and Lyle is coming in off a nice performance last week as well as a streak of three consecutive top-10s here.

Starters Round One

1. Spencer Levin
2. Briny Baird
3. Harrison Frazar
4. Jarrod Lyle

A tough call in Group A this week, but Levin has both the track record and current form on his side. Expect a quick start from him this week. In my mind, Group B is broken into two segments with Frazar and Baird in the top group. That said, I'll start with the two players I expect to perform well all week. I'm going against the grain a bit in Group C as I'm not starting the defending champ out of the gate. Lyle enters with some momentum from a top-10 last week, and considering his track record here, he should pick up right where he left off.

Round Two and Going Forward:

First things first, with the match-play event played opposite this event, it's easy to get distracted and forget to pay attention to the guys in Mexico. But this event counts just as much as any other on the schedule, so make sure that you give this event the proper attention. As for my plan this week, I am starting Levin in Group A, and he could end up in that spot for a while if he starts well. If Levin is in position to win Sunday, however, I might go with Sabbatini if he's also in the hunt. Frazar and Baird are locked into the starting spots until Stroud or Henry force my hand, but I'm not holding my breath. Henry hasn't played well in a while, but maybe a trip back here can help his game. I'll likely put Wagner into a starting spot Friday to free up the starts for the weekend in Group C. If I had to choose, I'd say the winner comes from this group.

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