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John Deere Classic Preview: Back in the Hunt

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 made perfect sense that on July 4th weekend one of the few American golfers with a chance to ascend to the top of the golfing world would pick up an impressive victory at the AT&T National. As impressive as that win was, however, it was likely met with a collective yawn on the other side of the Atlantic where all four major titles are currently held. Call it the "Rory" effect if you will, but the bar has been raised. As nice as these wins are between majors, American golfers need to step up when the spotlight is at its brightest. Players such as Watney, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Anthony Kim are capable of winning a major, but until it actually happens, the pressure will only get worse. Perhaps the question that should he asked is this: how bad do these American players want it? Seems like a silly question, I know, but hear me out.

Tiger Woods made it well known that the four majors each year were, for all intents and purposes, all he truly cared about. Some in golf took exception with this method as there are other worthy tournaments throughout the year that deserve attention, but Tiger didn't care. He had a goal and was going to do what was necessary to reach that goal. The younger crop of American players could learn something from Tiger's way of thinking. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to see these guys go from playing 20-plus events a year to little more than 15, but there is something to be said for honing in on a certain few events each year. Considering the competition from outside the United States, it may be the only way for Americans to become a major player again.

What the AT&T National means:

Nick Watney: With his win last week, Watney took over the lead in the FedEx standings, which is nice, of course, but there are two majors left, and something tells me those two weeks will tell the tale of his season.

K.J. Choi: I guess the venue doesn't matter, at least it doesn't matter to Choi. Choi won this event when it was held at Congressional, and the change in venue had little affect on him this year. We'll have to see if this recent success carries over to one of the final two majors this season. If history prevails, it won't.

Jeff Overton: Maybe it was the length of the course or maybe Overton is starting to get on a roll. If it's the latter, then you might want to get on board. Overton showed last season that when he's on, he's very effective.

This week:
John Deere Classic

Last Year:
Steve Stricker shot a final-round 70 on his way to a two-stroke victory over Paul Goydos.

Players to Consider:

1. Steve Stricker

Big names are at a premium this week. Big names with a solid track record here are at more of a premium. Stricker is one of the few that meet both criteria as he's the two-time defending champion.

2. Jason Day

Surprisingly, Day has played this event four times over the past five years. He enters this year's event on a streak of top-15s at Deere Run. Day will certainly have one eye on the British Open next week, but he's demonstrated that he cares about this event as well.

3. David Toms

Toms isn't a regular at this event by any means, but that could be due to his health issues the last few years. After a couple of off-weeks around the U.S. Open, Toms has found his game once again and should be in the mix this week.

4. Charles Howell III

Howell III doesn't have a great track record at this event, but he's made the cut the last two years and is coming off an impressive performance at the AT&T National where he tied for third.

5. Jonathan Byrd

Byrd won here in 2007 and has played some good golf lately. He may not be the big name that Stricker is, but he's got both the game and the resume to contend this week.

Players to Avoid:

1. Kenny Perry

If ever there is a week for Perry to break out of his funk, it's this week, but I don't see it. Perry has been more than slightly off his game all year, and he'll need to completely turn that around to contend this week.

2. Michael Sim

There was a time, not too long ago, when Sim and Jason Day were nearly equals on the golf course. The two have gone in vastly different directions since. While Day is competing at the majors, Sim is missing an astounding number of cuts, 11 of 14 this year.

3. Mike Weir

In a true sign of desperation, Weir has chosen to play this event for the first time since 1998. I say that because a lot of players skip this event in preparation for the British Open. Weir presumably has done that for more than a decade, but considering his current form, he no longer has that luxury.

4. D.A. Points

Points is a decent player by PGA TOUR standards, so how he's missed the cut in all five of his appearances here is beyond me. Whatever the reason, there's no need to consider him this week.

5. David Duval

Playing Deere Run certainly hasn't helped David Duval's comeback effort. In five tries here, Duval has made only one cut, and he managed only a T75 that week.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
John Deere Classic

Group A

1. Louis Oosthuizen
2. Jonathan Byrd

Considering the lack of strength in Group A this week, Byrd will likely be on most teams. The second pick, however, should yield some variety. I am going with the defending British Open Champion. Might he be distracted by the upcoming Open Championship? Sure, but there has to be a good reason he chose to play the week prior, right?

Group B

1. David Toms
2. Bryce Molder
3. Steve Stricker
4. Matt Jones

Toms, as mentioned, is playing really well this year, and I could see him taking advantage of the weak field this week. Molder is coming off of consecutive top-10s, which somewhat negates his limited resume at Deere Run. Stricker is the player to beat this week, and he should be on every roster. Jones is a bit of a sleeper because he hasn't played that well this year. He has played well on this course, though. Jones has finished in the top-five here the last two years.

Group C

1. Jason Day
2. Charles Howell III

Similar to last week, I am forced to leave a very good option off the roster this week in Group C. The notable omission is Zach Johnson, who is from an area not too far from the quad cities, and you can bet that no one in the field wants this one more than him. That said, Johnson has only played really well here just once, in 2009 when he finished runner-up. He's not going to embarrass himself this week - he always plays well here - but for whatever reason, he's rarely in the hunt come late Sunday at the John Deere.

Starters Round One

1. Jonathan Byrd
2. Steve Stricker
3. Bryce Molder
4. Jason Day

With Oosthuizen's motivation to play this week still unclear, I am going to start Byrd on Thursday. I'd have started him in most cases, but the decision was solidified when I added Oosthuizen. As the two-time defending champion, Stricker is an obvious choice to start the opening round this week in Group B. Molder gets the other starting spot based on his play the last two weeks. Molder has only one round in the 70s in his past two starts. Day gets the nod in Group C. I usually worry about the big-name players at events such as this, but Day likes this course and seems committed to it, so that's good enough for me.

Round Two and Going Forward:

A couple factors will determine which direction I go in Group A this week. First is how Byrd plays from the start. Byrd has a solid track record here, and if he starts well, he could put a stranglehold on the starting spot. The other factor is Oosthuizen's desire this week. Is he simply using this as a tuneup for next week, or is he interested in playing all four rounds and contending? Stricker owns one of the two starting spots in Group B this week, and it's doubtful he'll see the bench at all. The other spot will be up for grabs after Thursday, though. Molder can hold the spot with a strong start, but Toms can force my hand early if he plays well. Jones is the last one in this week, and he'll likely have to wait until Saturday to find a spot. Group C should be a nice battle this week with Day, who's becoming one of the better players in the world, and Howell III, who's coming off a nice showing last week. My guess is that Howell III will find a starting spot either Friday or Saturday this week.

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