RotoWire Partners

Bridgestone Invitational Preview: Call It a Hunch

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.

Is it possible to feel bad for someone who just won his first event on the PGA TOUR? In case you didn't hear, Scott Stallings outlasted Bob Estes and Bill Haas last weekend to capture his first PGA TOUR win. As expected, though, all attention was focused on Tiger Woods' return to the PGA TOUR this week at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. It should be an interesting week ahead with Woods back in the mix. The next stage of his journey starts this week as long-time caddie Steve Williams will be toting another man's bag this week. This also marks the beginning of the "Tiger as the underdog" era, and with it, a new group of fans who will root for Tiger because he is now the underdog. Until recently golf fans had only two options regarding Tiger Woods: root for him despite his off-course transgressions or root against him because of those same transgressions. Both camps were put on hold earlier this year, though, when Tiger suffered another injury and the emergence of Rory McIlroy as the next big thing created a sense that Tiger's days as "the man" were about finished. Enter a new camp, one which roots for Tiger, the underdog, to regain his throne against all odds. You have to admit, it makes for a more interesting story line - possibly the best player ever, as an underdog. Back to my original thought, though, who were we talking about again?

What the Greenbrier Classic means:

Scott Stallings: All joking aside, Stallings picked up a huge win last week as a PGA TOUR rookie. This win allows him to relax a bit as Q-School is no longer on his schedule later this year. Stallings has a knack for coming through in the clutch, he earned his spot on the PGA TOUR earlier this year at Q-School where he birdied the final two holes to earn his card for 2011.

Bob Estes: Apparently Estes still has a bit left in his tank, but I wouldn't get too excited. Estes still has a knack for popping up once or twice a year, the problem is, you never know when it's going to happen.

Bill Haas: Haas appears to be back near his top form as we enter a very important stretch of big events the next couple weeks. He's definitely someone to keep an eye on this week and next.

This week:
Bridgestone Invitational

Last Year:
Hunter Mahan shot a final-round 64 on his way to a two-stroke victory over Ryan Palmer.

Players to Consider:

1. Dustin Johnson

Call it a hunch. Johnson might not be ready to win a major just yet, but he's ready to win a big event like the one this week. His record here isn't great, but I have a feeling he makes a statement this week.

2. Hunter Mahan

Mahan's win here last year was no fluke. Entering last year's event, Mahan has two top-10s in three tries at Firestone. Repeating here will be a difficult task, but not impossible.

3. Steve Stricker

It seems as though Stricker is never going to win a major, but that doesn't mean he can't win a WGC event. He's finished in the top-10 the last two years here.

4. Rory McIlroy

While I won't admit that he's the next Tiger, I will say that he's the best player going right now and seems to be in the mix at all the big events, and this one certainly qualifies.

5. Sean O'Hair

O'Hair turned around a miserable season a couple weeks ago with a win at the RBC Canadian Open, and he's always been a streaky player, so let's just hope that this is still the beginning of his run.

Players to Avoid:

1. Jim Furyk

Furyk's record at this event, pretty solid. Furyk's record this season, not so much. Furyk is certainly capable of snapping out of this funk before the end of the season, but it's not likely to happen this week.

2. Phil Mickelson

Consider yourself warned. Whenever I put Mickelson on this list, he usually finds his game. That said, his track record on this course over the last 10 years or so has been awful, and he's coming off a missed-cut last week.

3. Luke Donald

Donald has really struggled on this course the last two years, and his game is not quite where it needs to be to win against a field like this.

4. Paul Casey

Similar to Furyk, Casey has a nice track record at Firestone, but his game is way off. Firestone is not a good place to find your game.

5. Padraig Harrington

And to cap off the list of players who have a good track record here but are struggling with their game, I give you Paddy Harrington.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
Bridgestone Invitational

Group A

1. Dustin Johnson
2. Tiger Woods

I know, I know, it's not the same Tiger. I agree, but considering there is no cut this week, why not take a flyer on him? If he bombs, I've got Johnson there for all four rounds, who just happens to be my top pick this week.

Group B

1. Hunter Mahan
2. Steve Stricker
3. Bill Haas
4. Sean O'Hair

A very solid group of players in Group B this week, and somehow I managed to pick four American players. I am not sure how to feel about that. I guess since it's not a major and it is on American soil, I'm OK with it. Mahan is the defending champ, O'Hair won his last time out, Stricker won his most recent start on American soil and Haas lost in a playoff last week. I guess you could say that this group has a little momentum heading into this week.

Group C

1. Rory McIlroy
2. Jason Day

Now that we are back on a non-links-style course, I feel very confident in this pair once again. McIlroy and Day have saved their best for the biggest events this year, and that should hold true again this week.

Starters Round One

1. Dustin Johnson
2. Hunter Mahan
3. Steve Stricker
4. Rory McIlroy

Johnson gets the nod over Woods on Thursday because, quite honestly, I don't trust Woods yet. I may be taking a leap of faith putting him on my team, but I'm not so delusional as to hand him a start before I see him play. Taking the safe route in Group B as well with Stricker and Mahan. Stricker is usually considered the safe route during any given week, and considering Mahan's track record at Firestone, he also qualifies as a safe pick to start this week. McIlroy will look to rebound from a subpar effort at the Open Championship last month and will likely start the week well.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Johnson has a strong hold on the starting spot in Group A, but Woods could take the starting spot from him with a good start. This isn't one of those weeks, though, that I'm going to start Woods on a hunch that he'll play well. I'll have to see it first and then make the call each day. I'm not going to start Woods with the hope that he'll bounce back from a poor round, Johnson is simply too good to leave on the bench because of a hunch. Group B is in the air starting Friday. I took the safe route with Stricker and Mahan early, but if O'Hair shows his form from a couple weeks ago, or if Haas plays like he did last week, I'll have to find a spot for them. McIlroy has the edge in Group C to start the week, but if I see any signs that he's peaking ahead to the PGA Championship next week, I'll get Day into the line-up.