This doesn't happen in baseball or football or hockey - players usually don't hit their stride after 10 years as a professional - but it happens in golf. Jimmy Walker trudged along as a PGA Tour professional for a decade before finally breaking through and capturing his first victory late last year, and wouldn't you know it, the floodgates have opened as he captured his second victory this season with a win at the Sony Open last week. Anyone who watched Walker play last season had to wonder why he hadn't won on the PGA Tour, but such is life. A golfer can go lights-out for an entire year, but if he gets a couple bad breaks along the way, then a victory might remain out of his grasp. That's not to say that Walker had been lights-out his entire career; until last season, he'd been just an OK player. But something changed last year, and even before he picked up a win at this season's Frys.com Open, he was on his way to a career year. Stories like Walker's are great for the game of golf, they are part of what makes the game so interesting, but it's also what makes fantasy golf so difficult. If Walker can come to life after a decade, who's to say when or if we can ever give up on anyone in this sport.
This week: Humana Challenge - PGA West (Palmer), PGA West (Nicklaus), La Quinta CC, La Quinta, Calif.
Last Year: Brian Gay shot a final-round 63 on his way to a playoff victory over David Lingmerth and Charles Howell III.
Players to Consider:
Haas is perhaps the most underrated player on the PGA Tour, which doesn't necessarily matter this week, but it's just a statement to what he's done in his career vs. how people perceive him. This week, he's the top pick because of his track record here. He won this event in 2010 and finished runner-up the following year.
Johnson's run came to an end last week, but he didn't exactly fall off the cliff, so he's still an option this week. In three starts here, Johnson has never finished outside the Top 25. He has only one Top-10 here, but if he finds his top form again this week, he could cruise.
Not a lot of big names in the field this week, and this looks like a spot where someone like Simpson could take advantage. He missed the cut here last year, but he finished in the Top-15 in two of his previous three starts prior.
I may have been a week early on Gay as he played well last week, but he never quite got to the level I expected. This week could be a different story as he's the defending champ. Perhaps he finds that ultra-hot streak this week that he couldn't find last week.
Bradley isn't the first person to come to mind when you think of the birdie-fest that is the former Bob Hope event, but he's one of only a few big names in the field this week and he posted a Top-10 in his only start here.
Players to Avoid:
I'll be the first to admit that I fully expect Cauley to bounce back this season, but he got off to a troubling start last week when he posted rounds of 76 and 75. Hopefully Cauley will make strides to a comeback this week, but I don't see how he can pull out a high finish this week.
O'Hair is another player looking to make well after a poor 2013 season. And just like Cauley, he's off to a bad start. O'Hair also missed the cut last week at the Sony Open, and there doesn't appear to be any signs that he's coming around anytime soon.
You can't blame Gainey for trying; after all, who wouldn't want to play golf in California this time of year. But if this week is like any of his previous trips here, he'll need to find something else to do on the weekend.
Lingmerth nearly won here last year, which will undoubtedly put him on a lot of radars, but his play over the past four events is a little troubling. In three events during the fall season he made only one cut, and he missed the cut at the Sony Open last week.
Verplank's results at this event are a microcosm for his career. A decade ago, he was a very strong player and at the Hope, he was racking up Top-25s. Over the past five years, however, he's failed to play the weekend at this event. Expect more of the same this week.
ONE AND DONE GOLFER
Last week: Brian Gay (T22) - $30,986; Season - $110,986
This week: Bill Haas - Nice track record here, and he has not a player I'm worried about burning too early. Perhaps I'm underrating him a bit, as well.
Group A: Gay, Howell III
Group B: Zach, Haas, Bradley, Simpson
Group C: English, Goosen
Last week: Charles Howell III - made cut; Streak - 1.
This week: Brian Gay - Not the prototypical survivor pick, but his game is in pretty good form, and he hasn't missed a cut here in eight years.