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Arnold Palmer Invitational Preview: Return to the Top?

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.

It seems like just a week ago that everything was turning around on the PGA Tour. The big guns were starting to flex their muscles, Tiger Woods found a little more of his game and the Masters was right around the corner. And then, Gary Woodland. I don't want to take anything away from Woodland - by any measure he was masterful on the greens Sunday - but even NBC would admit that final-round coverage that is focused on Woodland, Webb Simpson and Scott Stallings is not ideal, especially when the likes of Nick Watney and Paul Casey were near the top of the leaderboard early on. So what happened in the span of one week? Where did all the big guns go? For starters, it's golf! Another reason is that it's golf! I've said it many times: golf is the great equalizer. Whether it's the professionals trying to carry momentum from one week to the next or the average duffer trying to carry momentum from one shot to the next, as soon as you've got it figured out, it's time to rethink everything. That said, Tiger Woods seems to be coming around, and last I checked, the Masters is still just a couple weeks away, so all is well ... I think.

What the Transitions Championship means:

Gary Woodland: By all accounts, Woodland has the potential to be must-see TV by season's end. His start as a professional on the PGA Tour was derailed two years back with a shoulder injury, but now healthy, Woodland appears to have the entire package. Now, let's see how he handles success.

Jim Furyk: Finally some signs of life from the defending FedEx Cup champion. Prior to last week's top-15 finish, Furyk did not resemble the man who beat the best that the PGA Tour had to offer last fall. Hopefully, his solid showing at the Transitions is a sign of things to come.

Sergio Garcia: Welcome back to professional golf, Sergio. While Furyk's game has been off for about three months, Garcia's has been off for more than a year now. A top-15 last week doesn't necessarily mean the old Sergio is back, but his opening rounds of 68-66 give us hope that he still has some magic in that bag.

This week:
Arnold Palmer Invitational

Last Year:
Ernie Els shot a final-round 71 on his way to a two-stroke victory over Edoardo Molinari and Kevin Na.

Players to Consider:

1. Tiger Woods

Woods will be one of two defending champs this week as his last visit to Bay Hill resulted in a victory in 2009. Woods isn't all the way back yet, but it would surprise if he weren't at least in the mix Sunday.

2. Vijay Singh

Singh seems to be losing some steam lately, but if any course will get him going again, it's Bay Hill. Singh had a stretch of four consecutive top-10s at this event from 2005-2008, including a win in 2007.

3. Stewart Cink

Cink's game is very slowly coming around. He's yet to crack the top-10 this season, but he's made four consecutive cuts, and his best finish of the year came just last week at the Transitions Championship.

4. Hunter Mahan

Mahan enters this week off back-to-back top-10s at WGC events. He also comes in with a streak of three consecutive top-25s at this event.

5. Chad Campbell

After a brutal stretch earlier this season when he missed four consecutive cuts, Campbell appears to have turned his game around with back-to-back top-30 finishes. His play at Bay Hill has been remarkably consistent with six consecutive top-25s entering this year's event.

Players to Avoid:

1. Henrik Stenson

What in the world happened to Henrik Stenson? Stenson was pegged as the next big Euro a few years back after his win at the WGC Match-Play event, but his play has fallen off dramatically the last 12 months. Stenson's game is not going to turn around anytime soon.

2. Phil Mickelson

It's always dangerous to put Mickelson on the Avoid list because he's liable to turn his game around at any point; see last year's Masters. But I feel pretty comfortable that Mickelson will not surprise us all this week. He hasn't played well at Bay Hill in quite a while.

3. Sean O'Hair

O'Hair has a very strong track record at this event, which includes consecutive top-three finishes in 2008 and 2009, but his game has been a little off all year, and I don't see a good showing this week. O'Hair is coming off a missed cut at the Transitions.

4. Dustin Johnson

The Avoid list is chalk full of talent this week; I could easily get burned, but I have to stick to my guns. Johnson has yet to figure out Bay Hill. In his two tries here, he's failed to crack the top-30. If ever there is a time to avoid Johnson, it's this week.

5. Bubba Watson

I dare say this is the most talented Avoid list that I've ever put together. Watson had missed the cut here in three of his last four tries. Sure, he's a better player now than he was during any of those missed cuts, but I can't just disregard the poor play at Bay Hill.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
Arnold Palmer Invitational

Group A

1. Tiger Woods
2. Jim Furyk

Plenty of big names in Group A this week, but not that many good options. Among the good options are Woods and Furyk. Woods has a great track record here, and if his most recent round is any indication, he might be ready to take his throne back this week. Furyk's track record here is OK, but this pick is based on his improving play from last week.

Group B

1. Hunter Mahan
2. Vijay Singh
3. Chad Campbell
4. Webb Simpson

Three of my top-five are in Group B this week. The only one not in my top-five is Webb Simpson. I liked what I saw from Simpson last week, his final-hole bogey not withstanding. Simpson was highly touted when he first arrived on the PGA Tour, and although he failed to live up to expectations thus far, there's still plenty of time. Look no further than another player on my roster, Hunter Mahan, for an example on how to thrive a few years after everyone expected it.

Group C

1. Stewart Cink
2. Gary Woodland

In years past, I would have stayed far clear of any player coming off his first PGA Tour victory, but Jhonattan Vegas taught me two things. First, it's OK to spell your name exactly how it sounds. Second, you can be successful immediately after your first PGA Tour win. It's not as if Woodland came out of the blue to win last week either - he entered the week with three top-10s this season. I'm expecting big things from "Gairy" this week.

Starters Round One

1. Tiger Woods
2. Vijay Singh
3. Hunter Mahan
4. Stewart Cink

One of these weeks, Tiger is going to wire to wire and burn everyone that left him off their rosters or out of their starting line-ups. Hopefully, this is the week. Am I confident this is the week? Not at all, but considering he almost put it all together the last time we saw him, I think it's a safe bet that he won't embarrass himself this week. Singh is coming off a disappointing performance at the Transitions, but he's got some good mojo at Bay Hill, and I expect his game to resurface Thursday. Mahan seems to have everything going for him this week. He's playing well coming in, he's got a good track record here and, maybe most important, he's a little under the radar entering the week. I like Woodland this week, but I'm not quite daring enough to start him in round one on his first visit to Bay Hill. Cink gets the start by default.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Yet another week that I put myself at the mercy of Mr. Woods. You know the drill: if Tiger plays well, then he determines the starters the rest of the way. If not, then it gets a little more complicated. Considering that I have a fairly decent player behind him, I might raise the bar on my expectations of Woods this week. In other words, Woods might have to be better than "good enough" this week. Mahan appears to have the strongest hold on any starting spot in Group B this week. It will take a couple poor rounds to pull him out. Not the same with Singh, though. His play has been shaky the last couple weeks and another slow start will result in a spot on the bench. First one in will be Simpson, if he starts well and it looks like he carried something over from last week. If not, the reliable, at least at Bay Hill, Chad Campbell will make his way into the line-up. Group C is in the hands of Woodland, oddly enough. He's already earned four top-10s this season and looks to have an enormous amount of potential, so any signs of another strong showing and he's making his way into the line-up.