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Farmers Insurance Open Preview: Tiger Tees Off

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.

Did you hear that Tiger and Phil are back on the PGA TOUR this week? It's been a slow start for the top players on the PGA TOUR to this point in the season, but that's likely to change this week when two of the world's best tee it up on familiar soil. Perhaps the mere presence of the top two American golfers will bring out the best in the other top players on TOUR. Last week proved the top golfers in the field cannot afford to bring anything less than their best game, otherwise, there are plenty of young players ready to seize the day. Two virtually unknown players, Jhonattan Vegas and Gary Woodland, and defending champ Bill Haas that took advantage of the opening last week. This week, it could be any number of golfers, but something inside me thinks a big name will finally come out on top. If not, the chatter about the lack of quality play from the "big guns" will only intensify.

What the Bob Hope Classic means:

Jhonattan Vegas: Vegas can now do something that few rookies get to do - relax. Vegas has secured his card for this season and next, and now he'll go one of two ways. He'll either grab this momentum and parlay it into more success, or become a victim to complacency now that the urgency is gone.

Gary Woodland: Woodland's first go-round on the PGA TOUR did not go so well. His rookie season was cut short in 2009 due to injury, and last season, playing on a medical extension, he failed to earn enough to retain his card for the remainder of the 2010 season. He returned to Q-School at season's end and earned another try on the PGA TOUR. His runner-up finish at the Hope will go a long way to securing his card for next season, but he still had a little work remaining.

Bill Haas: Credit Haas, who was defending for the first time on the PGA TOUR. Many players in a similar spot fail to even make a good showing, let alone a great showing like Haas did last week. This bodes well for Haas as he's starting to show the ability to take his game to the next level.

This week:
Farmers Insurance Open

Last Year:
Ben Crane shot a final-round 70 on his way to a one-stroke victory over three players.

Players to Consider:

1. Tiger Woods

Woods flat-out owns this event. He hasn't played here the last two years, but prior to that he won four in a row. Sure, it's his first start on the PGA TOUR this year, but that is not unusual. Woods usually starts his PGA TOUR season at Torrey Pines, and it's never bothered him before.

2. Nick Watney

Watney won this event in 2009 and finished in the top 10 here last year. He also carded a top-10 in 2007, which makes three top-10s in his last four appearances here.

3. Charles Howell III

Howell played well last week at the Hope, but to win at the Hope, you have to score well every round. Howell could only manage three really solid rounds last week and as such, he tied for 13th. His track record at this event is strong, though, and he's got a good shot at putting four rounds together this week.

4. Ryuji Imada

Much like Howell, Imada played well in three of five rounds last week at the Hope, and he also has a solid track record at this event. His upside might be limited here, but he's a pretty safe bet to finish in the top 20 this week.

5. Rickie Fowler

Fowler had an amazing rookie season last year, and it all started at Torrey Pines. After missing the cut in his first two PGA TOUR events last year, Fowler jump-started his rookie campaign with a top-5 at this event. Look for Fowler to start his sophomore season in style with another good finish at the Farmers this season.

Players to Avoid:

1. Jhonattan Vegas

Nothing against Vegas, who was lights out last week, but the courses at the Hope are nothing like what he'll see this week at Torrey Pines, especially the North Course. Add to that the upgrade in the field and it could be an early exit for Vegas this week.

2. Greg Chalmers

Chalmers made a run last week at the Hope, and if that event were only four rounds, he might have had a shot at the victory. But don't expect any carry over this week as he's been downright awful at this event over the years.

3. Kenny Perry

Perry doesn't usually stop here, so I am not sure why he is playing this week. Perhaps he's trying to gauge where his game is before jumping to the Champions Tour. Whatever the case, he didn't play all that well last week, and there's no reason to think he turns it around this week.

4. Kevin Na

Na is known for playing well on the West Coast, but that reputation was not built upon his results at Torrey Pines. Na has missed the cut in three of five starts here and has never finished better than T45.

5. Billy Mayfair

Mayfair will make his 20th start at this event Thursday, and if he cracks the top 10 this week, it will be his second top-10 here. I'll let you do the math.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
Farmers Insurance Open

Group A

1. Tiger Woods
2. Nick Watney

The headliners this week are Woods and Mickelson, and while I can fault anyone for choosing that pair from Group A, I think Woods/Watney is better. Mickelson has a good track record at this event, but he has only two top-10s in his last six tries here.

Group B

1. Ryuji Imada
2. Rickie Fowler
3. Davis Love III
4. Ben Crane

Imada and Fowler are in my top-5 this week, and anything less than a top-20 from either would be a disappointment. Love III has a solid track record here, though most of his success came more than a decade ago. That said, he's always shown an ability to get around the courses at Torrey Pines, and that should not change this week. Crane is the defending champ, and while I don't usually like defending champs, Crane is more than capable of handling the non-Tiger/Phil spotlight this week.

Group C

1. Anthony Kim
2. Charles Howell III

Kim does not have the track record here, but he's played twice this year and finished in the top-20 both times. Sooner or later he'll figure out Torrey Pines. Howell usually plays well here, and he's coming off a pretty good outing last week.

Starters Round One

1. Tiger Woods
2. Rickie Fowler
3. Ryuji Imada
4. Charles Howell III

Another course rotation this week, but unlike last week when there wasn't much of a difference in how the courses played, this week you'll definitely want your players on the North Course. There are exceptions, of course. Tiger Woods might be the proper start no matter which course he is on, but for the most part if you have to decide between player A on the South Course and player B on the North Course, choose player B. In a perfect world, your lineup will consist of players on the North course on Thursday and Friday. That said, I am not going to change my roster to make sure I have all my players on the North Course both days as the rotation ends on Friday, and the South Course is used all weekend.

Round Two and Going Forward:

As mentioned above, lean toward the North course on Friday, but after that, it's all about who plays well on the South Course. Use the player's performance from earlier in the week to help determine your starters on Saturday and Sunday. By the time Sunday rolls around, however, you'll probably be better off treating this like a normal event in that the majority of the rounds will have been played on one course. My assumption is that Woods will be in the hunt come Sunday; if that's the case, it might be hard to find a start for Watney, unless of course he's on the North Course on Friday and Tiger is on the South Course. The other groups are up in the air. The courses will help determine the starters the first two days, and I'll have to check how each player finished on the South Course to determine my weekend line-ups.