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Travelers Championship Preview: The 'Out of Nowhere' Season

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.

"Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears."
- Bobby Jones

No more true than each June when the best players in the world tee it up at the U.S. Open. The U.S. Open, more than any other golf event, is a test of the mind. It's a constant battle, against the elements and, more important, against oneself. Of the 150-plus qualifiers last week, only one man passed that test, Graeme McDowell. Among those who failed, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods. Each had a chance to take command of this event, and each failed, which is surprising considering that all three have demonstrated a great mental capacity over the years. As for Dustin Johnson, I am not sure how to grade his Sunday performance, I think an "F" is too kind. I am not sure what happened to the young man on Sunday, but the calm and confident exterior he displayed Saturday must have been for show as he folded within the blink of an eye Sunday. I'm not sure I've ever witnessed a player dissolve that quickly. To be fair, I think he had all of us fooled. After his performance Saturday, it appeared as though he would not only win his first major, but do so in impressive fashion. It appeared as though Johnson had everything under control. Then he hit his first tee shot Sunday, which reminded me of another quote from Jones: "No one will ever have golf under his thumb. No round ever will be so good it could not have been better. Perhaps this is why golf is the greatest of games. You are not playing a human adversary; you are playing a game. You are playing old man par."

What the U.S. Open means:

Graeme McDowell: The "out of nowhere" season continues. Unless you had McDowell pegged like Chris Berman. McDowell has played well in the States before, but nothing near this level. Unlike one-and-done wonders Micheel and Hamilton, expect continued success from McDowell.

Tiger Woods: I thought Woods was ready to win, and it certainly looked possible after a stellar third round. But from the outset of the final round, it was clear that Woods did not have his game Sunday. Say what you will, but this is nothing new; Tiger has never come from behind to win a major, so nothing new happened Sunday.

Phil Mickelson: Perhaps more disappointing than Woods' performance Sunday was Mickelson's performance the entire weekend. Mickelson was in prime position after a great round Friday, but he seemed out of sorts all weekend. Again, nothing new, we've seen this before. With Phil, however, it seems to happen when we raise our expectations of him.

This week: Travelers Championship

Last Year: Kenny Perry shot a final-round 63 on his way to a three-stroke victory over David Toms and Paul Goydos.

Players to Consider:

  1. Hunter Mahan

    Mahan's been off his game recently, but you can't argue with his success here. Four consecutive finishes in the top-4, including a win in 2007.

  2. Ben Curtis

    Curtis finished very well at the U.S. Open last week and while that's not always the best indicator of things to come, coupled with his solid track record here, he certainly looks like a good pick this week.

  3. Stewart Cink

    Cink fits the "out of nowhere" profile this week as he's not played well this year, but his track record at this event is very strong. He's won this event twice and carded three additional top-10s here.

  4. Vijay Singh

    Less than stellar field, plus signs of a recovery in his game, plus solid track record here make Singh a reasonable pick this week. He's nowhere near his previous form, but he might not have to be this week.

  5. Kenny Perry

    Sure, you can't find him with a spotlight this year, but let's face it, Perry can turn it on at anytime. And even though his two-month runs are a thing of the past, he can surely get it going for a week or two.

Players to Avoid:

  1. Aaron Baddeley

    Baddeley has played this event five times and has yet to crack the top-60. Add to that his struggles the last month, and he's one to avoid this week.

  2. Padraig Harrington

    It's strange to have such a big name on the Avoid List when the field is thin, but there's no reason other than his name to take Paddy this week. In his only start here, he finished T54.

  3. Adam Scott

    First time here, and he's trailed off a bit since his win last month. With plenty of good choices this week, it should be easy to pass on Scott.

  4. Retief Goosen

    Same situation as Scott. First time here, and I haven't seen anything over the past month that makes me think he'll contend this week.

  5. Woody Austin

    Once upon a time, Austin dominated here. The last two years, however, Austin has failed to make the cut.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week: Travelers Championship

Group A

  1. Vijay Singh
  2. Kenny Perry

In years past, this combo would be as reliable as it gets, but that's not the case this year. That said, one of these two will show up this week and make a run at a victory.

Group B

  1. Hunter Mahan
  2. Bo Van Pelt
  3. Stewart Cink
  4. Ben Curtis

I am very confident in my Group B picks this week. Cink and Mahan have excellent track records here, including victories. And while neither Curtis nor Van Pelt have won here, they've come close, which is all I need them to do this week. David Toms would also be a good pick this week, but I could not find room for him on my squad.

Group C

  1. Rickie Fowler
  2. Brandt Snedeker

I don't care that he missed the cut here last year, the kid with the goofy orange outfit is going to break through at some point, and it'll likely be sooner than later. If last week is any indication, Snedeker might be ready to go on a little run again soon. Hopefully, that run starts this week.

Starters Round One

  1. Kenny Perry
  2. Hunter Mahan
  3. Bo Van Pelt
  4. Rickie Fowler

I'm really not sure who to start with in Group A this week, but I'll go with my gut and start Perry. He's the defending champ, and the familiar surroundings might kick-start his season. Mahan is an easy choice to start in Group B, his track record is unmatched here. Van Pelt gets the other start, quite simply because he's played well all year, and I see no reason for him to slow down here. Going with my Fowler hunch in Group C also. He's competing nearly every week, and he's loaded with talent. It won't be long before he's in the winner's circle.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Singh will start Friday if he plays well in the opening round. I'm not going to over think it, I'm just going to stick with that rotation. The weekend is up for grabs, however. As mentioned, I think one of these two will make a run this week. Mahan has a strong hold on one of the spots in Group B, he'll need to play poorly during the opening two rounds to be replaced. The other slot is up for grabs. Van Pelt takes the Thursday spot, but anything could happen come Friday. Curtis will be the first one in as I won't be able to trust Cink until he puts two good rounds together. Group C is also wide open. I'm hoping Fowler comes out strong so I can ride him all week. If he starts slowly however, I'll replace him with Snedeker and see how he recovers.