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Tournament of Champions Preview: Time to Tee it Up for 2011

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.

As I look out my living room window, icicles dangle from my roof and four-foot snow drifts line my driveway. This could mean only one thing - golf season. While most of us on the mainland are looking ahead a couple months to when we can put the tee in the ground, the fortunate folk on the PGA TOUR are only hours away from kicking off the 2011 season, and what a season it should be. Once again, the play on the course will dominate the headlines as opposed to what happens off the course. Did I just say that? Sorry, it's still hard to get used to the thought that there were actually headlines from outside the ropes last season. Anyhow, we have Tiger Woods back at 100 percent, physically and mentally, we think. We have a new No. 1, for now. We have loads of young talent ready to challenge the world's best. And we have several questions entering this season: Will Tiger regain his throne as the best in the world and top the money list? Will Rory McIlroy capture his first major? Will Phil Mickelson capture another major. And what of the three first-time major champions from last season? Will they ascend to new heights or suffer a major hangover? What more could you ask for? This is shaping up to be one of the best golf seasons in recent memory, now we just need the players to cooperate.

This week:
Hyundai Tournament of Champions

Last Year:
Geoff Ogilvy shot a final-round 67 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Rory Sabbatini.

Players to Consider:

1. Geoff Ogilvy

Ogilvy's 2010 season as a whole was a little disappointing. However, he got off to a great start, as he always does, with a win at this event. Ogilvy is the two-time defending champ this week, and by week's end we could be talking about a three-peat.

2. Anthony Kim

If Kim can stay healthy, he's in for a big season. He's healthy entering this week, so we should see a good performance from him. In his only start here, Kim finished runner-up to Ogilvy in 2009.

3. Dustin Johnson

I'm in the camp that thinks Johnson is going to take off this year. If so, we'll see a strong showing right out of the gate. His play on this course leaves a little to be desired, but Johnson is the type of golfer who can handle any course, and he should make a run this week.

4. Matt Kuchar

Kuchar enters the 2011 season coming off a career year in 2010. Can he sustain the momentum through this season? I think he can. He's a solid all-around golfer who doesn't rely on any one aspect of his game too much, so he should avoid prolonged slumps. He finished third here last year and should be in a similar spot again this year.

5. Stuart Appleby

Plenty of big names are available this week, but for those looking for someone a little under the radar, look at Appleby. He's won here three times, and though his game has dropped a bit since his most recent victory here in 2006, he's still got enough game to compete on this track.

Players to Avoid:

1. Ryan Palmer

Palmer's game enters 2011 in great shape, and his prospects for this season look good, but he's not fared well on this track. In two tries here, he's finished 31st and 26th.

2. Zach Johnson

Johnson enters this week with some concern about his wrist, and though I hate to bet against him, this might be a good spot to avoid him.

3. Heath Slocum

It's a credit to Slocum that he's made it here three times, but of those three, he's yet to crack the top-20, which in a 30-man field is pretty poor. Slocum obviously has some issues with this course.

4. Cameron Beckman

It's difficult to status any of the golfers in this field as having no chance this week, after all, every player in the field won on the PGA TOUR last season. But Beckman is just out of his league this week. His win last season came at the Mayakoba Classic in which the top-64 players in the world were absent.

5. Carl Pettersson

Pettersson, like Slocum, has played here three times with little success. His best showing came in 2009 when he finished T17, which was still in the bottom half of the field.


This week:
Hyundai Tournament of Champions

Group A

1. Geoff Ogilvy
2. Matt Kuchar

There are a handful of quality golfers in Group A this week, and with Ogilvy as a must there is only one spot for four to five good players. My decision came down to Kuchar or Johnson. I went with Kuchar because of his track record at this event.

Group B

1. Stuart Appleby
2. Steve Stricker
3. Hunter Mahan
4. Justin Rose

Plenty of talent in Group B this week, but few golfers with solid track records at this event. Appleby is the exception as he's won here three times. Stricker has a decent track record here, but he's on the roster for his overall talent. Speaking of talent, Rose and Mahan grab the final two spots in Group B. I am curious to see how Mahan starts this season after his melt down during the Ryder Cup. My gut tells me he'll be fine after a few solid rounds, and considering he's played well here before, those few solid rounds should come this week.

Group C

1. Anthony Kim
2. Adam Scott

A three-way race in Group C between Scott, Kim and Jason Day. Kim was the easiest choice to make as he finished runner-up here in his only appearance. The second spot was more difficult, but I sided with Scott who has some experience on this course. Scott has three top-10s here in four tries.

Starters Round One

1. Geoff Ogilvy
2. Stuart Appleby
3. Steve Stricker
4. Anthony Kim

Ogilvy is an easy start in round one. Kuchar is solid and he might start well also, but Ogilvy's track record at this event is too hard to ignore. Appleby received the first starting spot in Group B, but after that it got difficult. I decided against Mahan because of the possible lingering affects of the Ryder Cup. After that, it came down to reliability. Few golfers on the PGA TOUR have been more reliable than Stricker the last few years, so I took the safe route. Kim was a fairly easy start in Group C as he was the first man selected from that group. These first few weeks are a little difficult because the golfers' form is unknown.

Round Two and Going Forward:

It's possible Ogilvy plays well enough to hold the starting spot in Group A all week, but with Kuchar behind him, that seems unlikely. If Ogilvy gets off to a great start, I might give him the second-round start as well. Odds are, though, I'll get Kuchar in the line-up Friday. Appleby has a pretty strong hold on one starting spot in Group B, but that could change with a poor opening round. He has a solid track record here, but his form the last couple years leaves a lot to be desired. A poor start could mean the start of a really bad week. As of now, neither Mahan nor Rose is a lock to be the next player into the starting line-up. I'll have to see how each player starts Thursday and go from there. Group C should see a steady rotation between Kim and Scott. I'll try to get Scott's start out of the way Friday and make the Saturday call after round two.

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