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Travelers Championship Preview: Not a Bomber, Not a Problem

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 of this writing, we are less than 24 hours removed from Rory McIlroy's historic win at the 2011 U.S. Open - and we all need to take a deep breath. McIlroy's victory last weekend was incredible, outstanding, historic, phenomenal, all of those and more, but let's relax a bit on all the Tiger comparisons. Is Rory McIlroy one of the best players in the world right now? Yes. Could he become one of the game's greats if he continues on this path? Sure. Is he anywhere near the "Tiger" realm right now? No. Not even close. I think we are forgetting what Tiger did to the game of golf. At his best, Tiger played on a completely different level than everyone else on the planet. He turned a golf event into a one-against-the-field proposition. McIlroy will be the favorite at the British Open next month, but he sure as heck won't be a 2-1 favorite like Tiger was back in his day. And why exactly are we so eager to find Tiger's replacement when by all accounts he's still alive? What's the rush? When did Tiger Woods become Barry Bonds? Have you seen all the love toward McIlroy since his win? Whether anyone wants to admit it, some of that love is derived from a loathing of Woods, but why? His personal indiscretions? Come on, if we start bringing the personal lives of all these sporting heroes into play, we'll have only a handful left to cheer. Woods, to our knowledge, never cheated the game; his record on the course should be respected. Have we already forgotten what he did to the game? The affect his mere presence had on the competition? Rory McIlroy has all the tools to become a great player, if not the best in the world, but Tiger comparisons should be reserved for those who have played at a level all their own for several years - not several days.

What the U.S. Open means:

Rory McIlroy: McIlroy is certainly on his way to the top of the game. He started a few years back with loads of potential, and he's starting to live up to it. The only question that remains is - how high is his ceiling?

Jason Day: Day is doing a great Ernie Els circa 2000 impression this season. Two runner-up finishes at the majors already. Day will get his, though, and very soon. Don't be surprised to see his first major come later this season.

Lee Westwood: Lee Westwood is traveling down the Monty path and it might be difficult to get off anytime soon. Don't get me wrong, it's not a horrible path to be on, but for someone in his shoes, it's probably a little frustrating that the majors continue to elude him.

This week:
Travelers Championship

Last Year:
Bubba Watson shot a final-round 66 on his way to a playoff victory over Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin.

Players to Consider:

1. Bubba Watson

I admit, I have faith in Watson. He's going through a bit of a tough time, but he has too much game to remain in a funk. Watson knows how to get around this course, and I'd be surprised if he weren't in contention again this week.

2. Hunter Mahan

After years of failing to live up to expectations, Mahan captured a breakthrough win here in 2007. He followed that up with a runner-up finish here in 2008, and expectations again rose. It's been a while since we've seen Mahan at his peak and now would be a good time to show that form once again.

3. Zach Johnson

One look at the list of past champions here and you can see that bombers make up only a small fraction of the list. Johnson's game is really starting to come around, and this venue is the perfect place for another win on the PGA TOUR.

4. David Toms

OK, I'll give Toms one more try. If this course played to the big hitters I wouldn't do this, but since it has a long track record of short-hitters contending, I'll put Toms in the top-five.

5. Brandt Snedeker

Snedeker is in the middle of one of his rolls - three consecutive top-20s - and when he's on, he's worth a look. Hopefully, he can turn it up a notch this week and get back into the winner's circle.

Players to Avoid:

1. Anthony Kim

Whether it's lingering injuries or a serious mental block, Kim just isn't the same player he was a couple years ago. It's good to see him playing each week, trying to work out the kinks, but you don't want a player on your team who's working on his game.

2. Scott Verplank

This is the perfect venue for Verplank to succeed, but I've said that a couple times the last few months and it hasn't worked out for him, so why would it this week?

3. Kenny Perry

At the beginning of the season I was hesitant to put Perry on the Avoid List, but after seeing what he has left, I am no longer worried.

4. Jim Furyk

Paging Jim Furyk, paging Jim Furyk. Seriously, what the heck happened to this guy? This is the same player who won the FedEx Cup last year, right?

5. Geoff Ogilvy

The calendar has turned to June, which means Ogilvy is looking forward to next February. It's strange that a player with so much talent fails to show up during the second half of the season, but that's been Ogilvy's m.o. for years now.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
Travelers Championship

Group A

1. Nick Watney
2. Brian Gay

I really hand-cuffed myself by excluding Ogilvy and Furyk this week. That doesn't leave me a lot to choose from in Group A. Watney is a solid choice, though. He's having a nice year and has a decent track record here. Gay is simply a hunch because of the short track this week. That, and I didn't like anyone else on the list.

Group B

1. David Toms
2. Hunter Mahan
3. Webb Simpson
4. Bubba Watson

Selecting my Group B roster was much easier than Group A. Three of my players are in my top-five this week, including previous champions Mahan and Watson. Toms hasn't won here, but he's been close. He finished runner-up to Kenny Perry in 2009. The only player who doesn't have a strong track record here is Simpson, but that doesn't matter much when you are playing as well as he's played this season. Simpson has 10 top-25 finishes this year.

Group C

1. Brandt Snedeker
2. Zach Johnson

Selecting the two players from Group C this week was easy, but I realize there are some good options outside of these two. Still, these two are very solid picks this week, and both should be around for the weekend with at least one in contention to win.

Starters Round One

1. Nick Watney
2. Bubba Watson
3. Webb Simpson
4. Zach Johnson

I'll start with Watney in Group A, mainly because I am not 100 percent sold on Gay. As mentioned, I didn't have an easy time making my selections in Group A, so I have to go with the best of a tough situation. That isn't the case in Group B, as I'd feel comfortable starting any of the four players from this group but settled on Simpson and Watson. Watson is the defending champ, and though he hasn't played his best golf lately, he's bound to turn it around this week. Simpson has been very steady this year, and, quite honestly, he's not going to put you in a hole, which the other two could conceivably do. Much like Peter Hanson was last week, Johnson is my hunch this week. I have a good feeling about him, so he'll start Thursday.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Watney certainly has the reins in Group A, but Gay is very streaky and if he shows anything early on, I'll likely ride him through Saturday. Group B is full of talent this week, but my guess is Watson or Mahan have the best chance to pull out a win. It looks like Toms' run is over, but considering the length of this course, I don't want to give up on him just yet. Johnson is the man in Group C this week, but Snedeker is no slouch, either. If Snedeker continues his run this week, I'll be forced with a tough decision: go with my hunch in Johnson or with the guy who's proven he's one of the better player's on the PGA Tour when he finds him game? Tough call. I'll have to make that decision as it arises. Until then, I'm fine with Johnson as my starter.

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