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PGA Championship Preview: Big Game Phil

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.

Believe it or not, I do try to find non-Tiger stories during the season, but sometimes, like last week, he does something that makes him impossible to ignore. Tiger Woods has played poorly before, he's shot consecutive rounds over par before, but he's never looked out of it before. I can't go as far as some others and say he looks disinterested, because, quite honestly, I don't think that's the case. The most obvious conclusion is that he's simply not focused, and for Tiger Woods, that's a big deal - that's never been the case before. It might be time to take a step back and remember that contrary to previous opinion, he is human. He's going through a divorce, something that he didn't want. This is a life-changing experience for Tiger, his life as he knew for the past six years is over. That's a lot to get your mind around, and perhaps he hasn't taken enough time to come to grips with that fact. Woods took a lot of time off before the start of the season, and when he finally came back, we all thought he was ready mentally. But there were still unresolved issues and until those issued are resolved and he's had time to deal with them, he's simply not going to be the Tiger that we all are used to.

What the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational means:

Hunter Mahan: Mahan has a good feel for the course at Firestone, and though he's one of the best this country has to offer, I wouldn't get too excited about his prospects this week at Whistling Straits.

Ryan Palmer: In a year of unexpected winners, Palmer at the WGC-Bridgestone would have been the most surprising. I'll give him credit, though; he really hung in there on Sunday when it would have been easy to fold.

Tiger Woods: I am one of the last ones to throw in the towel on Tiger, but how can you not after his performance last week? If he'd played like that somewhere else, I might have given him another pass, but not at Firestone. He's just been too good there over the years.

This week: PGA Championship

Last Year: Y.E. Yang shot a final-round 70 on his way to a three-stroke victory over Tiger Woods.

Players to Consider:

  1. Phil Mickelson

    Mickelson didn't look like a major contender last week at the WGC event, but same could have been said leading up to the Masters. Mickelson finished sixth here in 2004.

  2. K.J. Choi

    Choi finished tied with Mickelson here in 2004, and this seems like a spot where he'll show well. He's played well all year and could grab his first major this week.

  3. Justin Rose

    Rose did not play well here in 2004, but I dare say his game is a little better now than it was six years ago. Rose has fallen off the radar the past month, but a return to a course that feels like home, could be exactly what he needs.

  4. Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy loves the big stage as he proved at last year's PGA when he tied for third. You also might recall his opening round at the British Open a month ago. Most impressive, though, was the way he battled back after a horrendous second round. McIlroy is ready to win a major and it could happen this week.

  5. Ben Crane

    Crane is the perfect type of grinder to find his way around this difficult course. He did exactly that in 2004 when he tied for ninth, and much like Rose, he's a better player now that he was six years ago.

Players to Avoid:

  1. Tiger Woods

    As mentioned, Tiger has some issues that only time will solve, and one week is not enough time. It took almost an entire year, but I now believe, he won't win this year.

  2. Y.E. Yang

    He's the defending champ at a major, which is a new experience for Yang. Factor in that the course is nothing like it was last year, and I doubt Yang will be a factor this time around.

  3. Henrik Stenson

    Maybe he doesn't like Firestone and last week was a fluke, but for those who factor in momentum, or lack there of, Stenson was the only golfer to finish behind Tiger last week at Firestone.

  4. Bubba Watson

    I don't want to put too much stock into previous performances, because much like some players listed above, Watson is a better player now than he's been the past three years. But he's had trouble with the PGA setup, and until he proves he can maneuver through the setup, I'm going to stay away.

  5. Mark Brooks

    The former PGA Champion hasn't fared so well at this event the past 10 years. Brooks hasn't made the cut here in the 21st century.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week: PGA Championship

Group A

  1. Phil Mickelson
  2. Vijay Singh

I'm going with an old-school duo here in the hope that Singh and Mickelson will party like its 2004. Both players fared well on the Whistling Straits layout in 2004, and I see no reason why they can't repeat that effort this time around.

Group B

  1. Hunter Mahan
  2. Padraig Harrington
  3. K.J. Choi
  4. Rory McIlroy

Only one change from the line-up last week. I'm subbing K.J. Choi for the injured Lee Westwood. I'm not 100 percent sold on Mahan this week, but he's obviously in a groove and on the off chance he can play well on this course, I'd like to have him available. Harrington hasn't shown much this year, but he's always a threat during the majors.

Group C

  1. Justin Rose
  2. Ben Crane

There is plenty of talent in Group C this week, and the picks from this group will likely be the difference between a good or bad week. Rose has fallen off the radar after a great run earlier in the year, which is just how I like it coming into a major. Crane played well here in 2004 and is having a very good year. He's on the short list of players who could grab their first major this week.

Starters Round One

  1. Phil Mickelson
  2. Rory McIlroy
  3. K.J. Choi
  4. Ben Crane

My general rule of thumb is to avoid players who shot in the high-70s their previous round, but I have a feeling Mickelson will block that out and start quickly this week. This is a great opportunity for Choi to break through into the major champion category, and if he's to do so, he'll need to start well. I have complete trust in McIlroy this week. Now, let's just hope the wind is gusting in the 30-mph range Thursday. Crane has the positive experience on this course, so he'll get the opening-round nod.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Mickelson could very well start all four rounds this week - if he plays like I expect. If not, I'm confident Singh will show up and play well this week. The only way I pull Phil after round one is if he blows up on Thursday, otherwise, he'll start the first two rounds. I have no set plan for Group B heading into the week. Although all four players are solid, there are no safe picks because the nature of this event and the course itself. I would be most surprised by a poor outing from McIlroy or Choi, which is why they are starting Thursday. I'll watch Mahan closely on Thursday. If he plays anything like he did last Sunday, I'll likely start him Friday. Harrington can also play his way into a Friday spot with a good round Thursday. As always, weather will be a factor. If the morning draw looks more promising, I'll factor that in also. Group C will be up in the air just like Group B. Crane is the safe pick, which is why he's starting Thursday, but after that, it's on a day-by-day basis.
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