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Weekly Preview: U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

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.

Twelve months ago, 2010 looked to be the Year of Tiger - again. With the Augusta, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews on the schedule, it appeared that this would be Tiger's best chance at a slam since 2000. Fast forward nine months and many are wondering if Tiger will win another major at all, let alone this season. In fact, though Tiger still looms as the favorite of the bookmakers this week, the "long" odds of 5-1 have been placed on Woods with Mickelson close behind. To lend a bit of perspective, during Woods' heyday, he often entered majors at familiar venues at 2-1, a level previously unheard of. Those days are gone - for now. Although Woods has struggled since his return last April, it will take only one victory to turn everything around; and when I say everything, I mean everything. A Tiger Woods victory this week will set the golf world back on its axis. Remember, we've been through this before, a golf slump that is, and every time Tiger has fought his way out. This time will be no different. Pebble Beach is the perfect backdrop for the return of the King. Come Sunday afternoon a lot of questions will be answered, while one familiar query will re-emerge - the one concerning Mr. Nicklaus and the number 18.

What the St. Jude Classic means:

Lee Westwood: In a season where many winners have come from out of the blue, Westwood did his best to start a trend the other way last week. Westwood has played extremely well all year and his timing couldn't be better with the Open on the horizon.

Robert Garrigus: Garrigus missed a golden opportunity to capture his first PGA TOUR win on Sunday, but even though he stumbled down the stretch, the experience of making it to the playoff should help his confidence.

Robert Karlsson: Karlsson is a bit under the radar in the States, but across the pond, he's been very successful the last five years. He's also had his moments at the majors during that span, so keep an eye on him this week.

This week: U.S. Open

Last Year: Lucas Glover shot a final-round 73 on his way to a two-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson and David Duval.

Players to Consider:

1. Tiger Woods

Woods appears to be heading back to form as he enters this week, and anyone who witnessed him destroy the field here in 2000 realizes what he's capable of.

2. Phil Mickelson

Mickelson is very familiar with this venue, though the set-up is different. He's already got one major under his belt this year. A win this week and the slam talk will begin.

3. Lee Westwood

Westwood has really stepped up his game on this side of the pond and enters this week in top form. Add to that, he finished fifth in 2000 on this course.

4. Ernie Els

Although Els finished 14 strokes back of Woods in 2000, he played as well or better than everyone else in the field that year. Els should again be a factor at Pebble Beach this year.

5. Padraig Harrington

Harrington has not been on top of his game this year, but we know he's capable at any major, and he finished fifth here in 2000.

Players to Avoid:

1. Vijay Singh

Singh appears to be on his way back after bottoming out a couple weeks ago, but this is a major, and even though his game is better, it's not in proper shape to contend this week.

2. Stewart Cink

Cink is a major champion and has certainly had his moments at the U.S. Open, but he's shown little to no game this season, and I don't see a major turn around this week.

3. David Duval

Duval finished runner-up at the U.S. Open last year and played well here in 2000, but his game just doesn't hold up anymore. I would be shocked to see him in contention again this year.

4. K.J. Choi

Choi is having a great season, but he rarely fares well on U.S. Open layouts. His best finish at the U.S. Open was T-15 in 2005.

5. Brian Gay

Gay has shown he can play well in certain spots, but the U.S. Open is not one of them. Gay has never played the weekend at a U.S. Open.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

Group A

1. Tiger Woods
2. Phil Mickelson

This likely will be the most popular pair from Group A this week. Oddly enough, there weren't many tough decisions to make here. The only other player I considered this week is Els.

Group B

1. Lee Westwood
2. Retief Goosen
3. Padraig Harrington
4. Camilo Villegas

A couple major winners here in Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington along with the hottest player on the planet right now in Westwood and a player on the rise looking for his first major in Villegas. I left a lot of big names off the roster this week, but most of them have issues coming in (see Cink, Stewart).

Group C

1. Paul Casey
2. Ian Poulter

I spent a lot of time on this group and to be honest, I am not that pleased with the two players selected, but I believe it is the proper pair. I considered Tom Watson as he's performed well at the past two majors, but I fear the USGA setup will be too much to handle this week.

Starters Round One

1. Tiger Woods
2. Lee Westwood
3. Padraig Harrington
4. Ian Poulter

I'm starting with Woods for two reasons. First and foremost, I think he's ready to take his throne back. Second, I am low on Mickelson starts and even though we are pretty deep into the season, I still feel the need to conserve the starts when he's off his game. Westwood seems like a no-brainer after the way he played last week, but I am a little hesitant due to his lack of experience at Pebble Beach. Harrington played well on the USGA layout in 2000, and it looks like his game is coming around. Poulter gets the nod in Group C. As mentioned, I'm not ecstatic about the Group C selections, but Poulter finds a way to get up for big events, and this week should be no different. I'll see what he's got out of the gate.

Round Two and Going Forward:

I'm taking a wait-and-see approach with Mickelson this week. If it seems obvious that he'll contend this week, then I'll get him in the line-up Friday. Woods is capable of going the distance in Group A this week, but Mickelson is also capable of forcing my hand. I fully expect to get starts from all four players this week in Group B. Goosen is likely the first one off the bench as he's got a great track record on U.S. Open layouts. Villegas is the wild card this week. He's one of a few up-and-comers who will be seriously looking at winning their first major this week. Westwood comes in hot, but if he starts poorly, that might be the end of the week for him. I have a good feeling about Harrington this week, so he gets the start along with the benefit of doubt if there's a toss-up. Group C is a complete toss-up. I can only hope that I do not get stuck in a pattern where I am one day behind on my picks. You know what I am talking about, you start one guy, he plays poorly, switch the other guy and he plays poorly. Sometimes you have to throw logic out the window when you get stuck in a rut like that.
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