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The Players Preview: Battle for the 'Fifth Major'

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's been referred to as the "fifth major," and while most PGA TOUR pros balk at that title, The Players serves a major purpose on the schedule each year. It wasn't this way a few years back as its spot in mid-March was merely a prelude to the Masters, which followed a few weeks later. But in its new spot in mid-May, The Players fills a major void, both figuratively and literally. The gap between the Masters and the U.S. Open is by far the longest between majors all season. Luckily for us, we've got the "fifth major" to help fill that void. Sure, The Players isn't an actual major, but it has a major feel, if for nothing else, the golfers in the field really want to win this event. Maybe it's the prestige of winning the "next best thing" to a major or perhaps it's the enormous check that awaits the winner. Whatever the case, there won't be any players on the course going through the motions this week; no sir, this week it's all about winning a major, err ... winning the event that bridges the gap between the Masters and the U.S. Open that everybody cares about, but not enough to consider it the "fifth major."

What the Wells Fargo Championship means:

Lucas Glover: Remember this guy? He's the one who won the U.S. Open a couple years back and looked like the best golfer on the planet over a three-month span in 2009. It's been a while since we've seen that player, but after his win last week, we might get another glimpse the next couple months.

Jonathan Byrd: Don't look now, but the player known for his inconsistency suddenly resembles a consistent player. Byrd has made a habit of showing up every couple months over his career, but this year appears to be different. He's found some consistency in his game.

Zach Johnson: It's been a while since we've seen Johnson in the top-10, specifically it was last season, but with his finish last week perhaps he's ready to contend on a weekly basis again.

This week:
The Players Championship

Last Year:
Tim Clark shot a final-round 67 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Robert Allenby.

Players to Consider:

1. Luke Donald

Nobody has played better the last few months than Donald. He enters this week on a streak of six consecutive top-10s, including one win and one runner-up finish. His track record at Sawgrass is not spectacular, but it's good enough to warrant his spot on this list.

2. Lucas Glover

Glover broke a string of four consecutive missed cuts here last year when he finished tied for third. Considering his track record, this might be the perfect time to hop aboard.

3. Ben Crane

Crane is the only golfer in the field this week to finish in the top-10 the last three years at this event. He's also having a fairly decent year with seven of eight starts resulting in a top-25.

4. J.B. Holmes

Holmes is primed to take the next step in his PGA TOUR career, and a victory this week could be the catalyst. Holmes has finished in the top 16 in three of his last four starts here.

5. Bill Haas

Remember the last time Haas went on a little run? It was only a couple months ago, and if last week is an indication that he's about to start another run, you might as well get in right away.

Players to Avoid:

1. Henrik Stenson

Stenson has a very nice track record here, including a win in 2009, but he's nowhere near that form now, and he's not close enough to find it this week.

2. Padraig Harrington

Harrington showed some game last week, but he's yet to show any consistency this year. To expect a good showing again this week might be asking too much. Harrington has a good track record here, but he hasn't accomplished much at Sawgrass since 2004.

3. Trevor Immelman

Immelman is getting close to finding his form of old, but even his best was no match for Sawgrass. Immelman has yet to make a cut here in five tries at this event.

4. J.J. Henry

Henry is playing well this season, but he's never had any luck on this course. In nine tries, Henry has never cracked the top 40 here.

5. Charles Howell III

Nine tries here and five missed cuts. Of the four times he played the weekend, he cracked the top 50 once, and that was a T32 in 2003.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
The Players Championship

Group A

1. Luke Donald
2. Matt Kuchar

Judging by track record, this duo is a little risky considering there is only one top-10 between them. That said, there might not be a more reliable duo on the course.

Group B

1. Bubba Watson
2. Ben Crane
3. Charl Schwartzel
4. Bill Haas

In years past, Watson would have no place on my roster this week. His track record here is awful. But he's managed to overcome poor track records all season, so why not here? Crane, on the other hand, has been outstanding on this course the last three years. Neither Schwartzel nor Haas has a long history on this course, but both have played well for the majority of the 2011 season. Haas specifically went on a crazy run earlier this year, and I'm hoping that last week's finish was the start of another run.

Group C

1. Adam Scott
2. J.B. Holmes

Holmes is primed for a breakthrough win, and although this isn't a major, it certainly qualifies as a breakthrough. Scott had his breakthrough win here in 2004. The problem is it didn't lead to bigger and better things. Hopefully, his strong showing at the Masters is a sign that he's ready for the next step.

Starters Round One

1. Luke Donald
2. Ben Crane
3. Bill Haas
4. J.B. Holmes

The best golfer in the world, right now, gets the opening-round start in Group A this week. Donald has been more reliable than any golfer on the PGA TOUR this season, and there's no reason to think that will change this week. Crane gets a start in Group B based solely on his track record. He's found a groove at Sawgrass, and he'll be in the mix all week. Haas gets the other start in Group B, mostly by default. As mentioned, the track records of Watson and Schwartzel are not strong here, so I'll give them a round to get acclimated. Holmes is the pick in Group C based on his play coming in and his overall reliability this season.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Donald has a strong hold on the starting spot in Group A this week, if for no other reason than I didn't really see another player that I liked from that group. I am not sure I've ever said that about Group A during a big event, but that seems to be the case this week. Crane has a pretty strong hold on one starting spot in Group B this week, but the other spot is up for grabs starting Friday. Watson will be the first one in if he shows the ability to get around this course, something he's yet to do by the way. Schwartzel is the second option if he shows his Masters form. Haas can hold the spot if he continues his play from last week. Group C is up in the air starting Friday. I expect Holmes to play well all week, but I am not sure what to expect from Scott. If he shows his Masters form, then I'll try to get him a start Friday. If not, it's Holmes all the way, and I am OK with that.

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