Champagne corks are about to pop, and the calendar is set to flip, signifying the start of the 2014 PGA Tour season. Of course, the 2013-14 season is well underway, and the Tour merely is gearing for a resumption in play.
From this week's Hyundai Tournament of Champions through the Tour Championship in mid-September, upward of 40 more events will be played. And while it was hard enough for fantasy gamers to determine how things would play out in past seasons, the new wraparound format creates some wrinkles, complicating how we all will draft.
The RotoWire League begins with the first full field event of '14, the Sony Open, played the week after the Hyundai, and goes all the way to the Tour Championship. So the FedEx Cup playoffs will have a real impact.
We enter our draft knowing that Jimmy Walker, a very nice golfer coming off his best year in 2013, leads the FedEx Cup standings after the six fall events. He has 684 points, already pretty close to the 823 needed last year to make the BMW Championship, the third of the four playoff fields. Now, that 823 won't cut it this year because there are more events and more total points; PGATour.com figured that 946 points is the new 823. Walker already has qualified for the Masters with his first Tour win, and is headed for more majors/WGCs. Likewise, Chris Kirk, winner of The McGladrey Classic, is off to Augusta for the first time.
We enter our draft also knowing that Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson, two top players to begin with, are off to fast starts, each winning a tournament. For Johnson, it was the biggest win of his career, the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.
The point is, Walker, Kirk, Simpson and Johnson should now cost more than they would have in prior drafts. Of course, if your draft began with the season-opening Fry's, you already have indications whether you've made some good picks. If your draft begins in January, um, well, who knows? It'll be a crap shoot. Heck, even the golfers likely were unsure how to proceed and could revisit their fall-season playing strategy next time around.
While the new format poses some vexing questions and draft possibilities, there are constants: You'll need a stud or two and, most likely, wins from unexpected sources (see: Streelman, Kevin) to compete. And maybe even an out-of-this-world pick. Some important stats to consider are strokes gained-putting, greens in regulation, total driving, cuts made and top-10 finishes. That led me last year to draft a little-known golfer, Roberto Castro, and for just $1. Castro went on to play in the Tour Championship. In 2012, Castro's first season on Tour, he was 18th in both GIR and total driving, making 19 of 27 cuts. With a league that went 140 golfers deep, that was enough to take a flier on a young guy who was 100th in the FedEx standings the year before.
But for all the surprises out there, you'll live and die with the big guns. Every golfer comes with questions and, generally speaking, the bigger the gun, the bigger the question. Here goes:
Another year, and "No. 15" is still in the conversation, not what Woods wanted as he continues to chase Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors. Woods had a career year - for most golfers - with five wins in 2013. But the loudest noise he made came when he clanged one off the flag stick in the second round at Augusta. One big penalty and one big controversy later, Woods had lost what annually is his best shot at adding to his majors total. Woods began using a new driver in recent weeks, and the early reviews were positive. If that continues, then No. 15 is not that hard to envision. But we won't find out what lies for a few weeks, until Woods makes his Tour season debut at Torrey Pines.
Mickelson will cut back even further on his schedule, vowing to concentrate on the bigger tournaments, in particular the U.S. Open. He was never one to play a lot to begin with, but he should accrue enough points to make it to Eastlake. One of the key storylines of the year will be Mickelson shooting for the career Grand Slam at the U.S. Open. Adding to the drama is the course, Pinehurst No. 2, where Mickelson suffered the first of six Open runner-up finishes, falling to Payne Stewart on the 72nd hole in 1999.
So many times when a young player breaks through, he then takes a step or two back. That's what happened with McIlroy, though more so because of his club changes and ball change and, as we later learned, upcoming changes with his management team. But he certainly did take some big steps backward. Late in the year, McIlroy may have turned a corner. He chased down red-hot Adam Scott to win the Australian Open, birdieing the final hole to deny the world No. 2 the Aussie Triple Crown. Woods will cost the most to own in virtually all draft auctions, but it's not inconceivable that McIlroy will be next in at least some.
Now that he finally has a major, now that he has climbed to second in the world, what lies ahead for Scott? He had a torrid fall season, winning twice in Australia, to move close enough to Woods that some think he can overtake him in the OWGR this year. That would require a lot of heavy lifting, along with Woods enduring another major-less campaign. The window may not be great for Scott as he tries to add to his legacy. Even before he faces the anchored putting ban in 2016, he may need to find another caddie. Stevie Williams, credited with helping to turn around Scott's meandering career, says this will be his final year as a full-time looper.
All Stenson did last year was win the FedEx Cup playoffs and the European PGA Tour's Race to Dubai with a remarkable three-month finishing kick. Still, the Swede, who has risen to No. 3 in the world, likely will face a chorus of "OK, let's see you do it again." Stenson was a top-10 player long before last year's fireworks, but he's still never won a major. He came close last year, with a third-place finish at The Open Championship followed by a second at the PGA Championship. But it's hard to imagine Stenson putting up the numbers that he did last year. Watch out for buying high on Stenson.
Perhaps no golfer other than Woods faces the pressure to perform in 2014 as does Spieth. After a rookie season not seen since Woods burst upon the scene in the mid-'90s, everyone is expecting great things from Spieth. But as mentioned, so many good young players take a step back after their first taste of greatness, it wouldn't be surprising to see Spieth cool off a bit - or, maybe more accurately, not be as hot. He still could win a time or two, but let's see him win a major or even a WGC event before adding him to the PGA Tour's Mount Rushmore.
If Spieth doesn't win a major this year, it would be understandable. If Johnson doesn't finally win one, well, it also may be understandable, though not in a good way. With so much power and athleticism, Johnson has been pegged for bigger things. But his work ethic and desire, not to mention his ability to close, have always been questioned. He answered one of those questions in November in China, where he scored the biggest win of his career in the WGC-HSBC Champions. He entered the final round with a big lead and promptly coughed it up before showing some moxie by fighting off Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell to regain the lead and pull away. Maybe his engagement to Paulina Gretzky is just what he needed. And thus Johnson enters 2014 with his best chance ever to win a Major. The question is, do you think he'll do it?
Snedeker is another golfer who, if he doesn't win a major sometime soon, will join the club nobody wants to be a part of: Best Golfers Without a Major. But Snedeker's big question now is his knee, the latest in a growing assortment of injuries. Snedeker hurt his left knee on a Segway after that WGC event in China, and he has not played since, withdrawing from three events. But he remains in the field for the Hyundai, beginning Friday, when we should learn just how healthy he is. If Snedeker is recovered, he's a top-10 fantasy golfer with the game to contend in any major.
The Roberto Castros of the Tour
As fondly as we become of our little-known discoveries, we can't get too attached. Castro will now cost way more than $1, but how high would you go? Trying to find this year's $1 guy may just be the key to winning your league.