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Weekly Preview: St. Jude Classic Preview

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.

Life on the PGA TOUR is challenging; even more so, success on the PGA TOUR is challenging. Proof of that thought was evident Sunday as Steve Stricker, one of the best golfers in the world, fought his swing all the way to the clubhouse and a one-stroke victory over Matt Kuchar and Brandt Jobe. That is what golf is, though - a struggle. It's not as easy as Tiger Woods made it look for more than a decade. This is what it's supposed to be like, a battle to the end. Not only a battle between players, but a battle between each player and his own mind. Woods was one of the few able to conquer his own mind, which made it easier to close during any given week. The mere mortals who play on the PGA TOUR, including the new Tiger Woods, fight that battle each time they take the lead on Sunday. We've witnessed some major collapses the last 18 months, and although it's our natural instinct to chalk it up to inexperience, fact is, few people on this Earth can fight the urge to sabotage their own success on the golf course. Steve Stricker was able to do just enough to fight off his self-destruct mode Sunday, and you can bet that two weeks from now, there will be someone else fighting the same battle come Sunday afternoon at the U.S. Open.

What The Memorial means:

Steve Stricker: Best player without a major? Certainly at or near the top of the list. The funny thing is, outside a U.S. Open run or two, Stricker doesn't seem to be in contention much at the majors, and that hasn't changed with his resurgence over the last six or seven years. In fact, Stricker hasn't made the top-five at any major since 1999.

Phil Mickelson: Mickelson looks primed for a run at the U.S. Open in two weeks. He hasn't shown his top form recently, but he's close. He closed with a 67 on Sunday, which is a great sign for those with Mickelson on their team.

Dustin Johnson: Johnson is peaking at the perfect time for the upcoming U.S. Open in two weeks. He hasn't won recently, but his play continues to improve and winning prior to the U.S. Open isn't exactly a harbinger of success anyhow.

This week:
St. Jude Classic

Last Year:
Lee Westwood shot a final-round 68 on his way to a playoff victory over Robert Garrigus and Robert Karlsson.

Players to Consider:

1. Zach Johnson

Johnson has really picked up his game the last couple months, and although his track record here is limited (only two starts), he's played well both times, finishing in the top-15 in 2005 and 2010.

2. David Toms

It's hard to ignore Toms this week after what he's done the last four weeks. Add to that a stellar record at this event and you have a very solid pick this week. Toms has won here twice and finished in the top-three in three of his last six starts in Memphis.

3. Heath Slocum

Slocum has been very steady at this event the last four years, finishing in the top-10 twice and in the top-25 all four times.

4. Brian Gay

Gay has been hard to figure the last couple seasons. At certain points he looks like a top-30 player, and at other times he looks like a guy headed for Q-school. The good news is he's usually the former at this event. He won here in 2009 and finished inside the top-16 in four of the last five years.

5. Bob Estes

Probably the only time all year that you'd consider Estes, but keep in mind that he's finished outside the top-30 only once since 2001. He may not have much left, but he finds a way to compete at this event.

Players to Avoid:

1. Scott Verplank

Verplank has a solid track record, but I can't get his performance at the Byron Nelson out of my head. If he can't succeed there, he doesn't stand much of a chance here.

2. Padraig Harrington

Harrington is one of a few big names in the field this week, but his game has been off all year, and his track record here is spotty. Outside a top-five in 2008, Harrington has really struggled at the St. Jude.

3. Jhonattan Vegas

Vegas started 2011 on fire and seemed a lock for rookie of the year honors, but somewhere near mid-March his season began to unravel. Vegas has only played the weekend once in his past seven starts.

4. Geoff Ogilvy

Ogilvy must either be fond of this cause or using this week as a tune-up because his track record here would lead most to skip this event. Ogilvy has played here four times and has yet to make it to the weekend.

5. Robert Karlsson

Karlsson was a surprise runner-up here last year, as part-time PGA TOUR players rarely have much success in the States. As such, I doubt he'll catch lighting in a bottle again this year.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
St. Jude Classic

Group A

1. Brian Gay
2. Heath Slocum

This pairing is akin to betting an underdog at +450 on the money line. If it works, you get paid big time. If not, well, you'd better make your money somewhere else. In this case, that's Group B and C. There's no doubt with Harrington, Ogilvy and Westwood in the mix that I am taking a huge risk, but I have to stick to my guns - these two have the track record here.

Group B

1. David Toms
2. Ben Crane
3. Spencer Levin
4. Webb Simpson

It may appear that I am covering my behind by taking the chalk in Group B this week, and in this case, what you see is what you get. There aren't exactly a lot of great picks in Group B, and as such, I am going with the golfers who have performed the best this season. As a bonus, though, both Crane and Toms have solid track records at this event.

Group C

1. Zach Johnson
2. Bob Estes

I won't deny that using Estes here is a big gamble, but I've alleviated some of the risk by choosing Johnson as the other player from Group C. Johnson is one of the top picks this week, so I am not too concerned about the Estes gamble. It might pay off, but if not, I'm not worried about being stuck without a player from Group C on the weekend.

Starters Round One

1. Brian Gay
2. David Toms
3. Webb Simpson
4. Zach Johnson

Some weeks the starting line-up almost picks itself; others, it's a struggle. Outside of David Toms in Group B, this week was a struggle. There's not much separating Slocum and Gay this week, but I have a better feeling about Gay out of the blocks. Outside of Toms, Crane has the most experience on this course of the Group B golfers, but his play lately hasn't been great, so I am going with Simpson, who's playing the best golf of his life. Group C was a little easier as Johnson is my top pick this week, and Estes is, well, he's Estes.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Group A will be decided the night before each round. I can't possibly foresee now which player is going to start which round. I only hope that I am not chasing the proper start all week as can easily happen when you have two players of similar caliber. Toms should have a starting spot all week, which leaves one spot for three players. Simpson has a chance to hold that spot all week if he starts well, but the more likely scenario is a decent start followed by some time on the bench only to return on the weekend. The player to fill that void Friday will be determined by his play Thursday. Johnson has a strong hold on the starting spot in Group C this week, but Estes can earn a spot in the line-up with a good start Friday. Actually, it will probably take a good start from Estes and a poor start from Johnson for Estes to fall into a Friday start.