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Tournament of Champions Preview: The Season Tees Off

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.

With the start of the PGA TOUR season this week a certain phrase has been running through my mind: "like a glove." And it's not my voice saying these words, it's the immortal Ace Ventura, because with start of the PGA season coming just a week after the NFL regular-season finale, we do not have to wait for another fantasy sports season to start. In other words, the seasons fit together "like a glove." When I was a younger man, there was football season, then an excruciating eight-month wait until the next football season. But then something happened a little more than a decade ago, fantasy golf started to catch on, and with it there's really no down time at all during the year.

So, what will the 2012 PGA TOUR season look like? It will probably resemble the 2011 season that saw a bunch of young players stealing the spotlight at every turn, with one small exception. Tiger Woods may be back, for real this time. Oh, what a season this could be if Tiger is truly back. Tiger vs. Rory at the Masters, Tiger vs. D.J. at the U.S. Open, Tiger vs. Day at the PGA Championship. Oh, and I think that Mickelson guy still plays as well; he might have something to say about all this. Don't forget, he played his best golf when Tiger was Tiger. This season is shaping up to be the most exciting year on the PGA TOUR in quite a while, and we're just getting started.

This week:
Hyundai Tournament of Champions

Last Year:
Jonathan Byrd shot a final-round 67 on his way to a playoff victory over Robert Garrigus.

Players to Consider:

1. Webb Simpson

The first event of the year is always difficult, as you simply have no idea how these guys will play after a long layoff. That said, when we last saw Simpson, he was tearing up the PGA TOUR. Look for Simpson to pick up where he left off.

2. Nick Watney

I'm high on Watney this year, and if he's going to have another blockbuster season, it could start here. Watney has played here twice with mixed results, including a top-five in 2008.

3. Martin Laird

Laird finished fourth here in his only start in 2010, but this pick is based on his prospects for the future. Laird is on the rise - expect a good start out of him this week.

4. David Toms

Toms hasn't played the Plantation Course at Kapalua in quite a while, but he does have a lot of experience on this track, which could be a big advantage this year as most players in the field have spent little time on this course.

5. Jonathan Byrd

He's the defending champ. In fact, he's the only player in the field who has won here. That has to give him an edge, right?

Players to Avoid:

1. Sean O'Hair

Please realize, only 28 players are in the field, and I have to place five on the Avoid list. So, there are bound to be some good names here. I'm fine with O'Hair here, however, as he was a disaster outside his one win last year.

2. Michael Bradley

Bradley's win came at Puerto Rico last year, and he finish 25th here. He simply can't compete against top-tier players anymore.

3. Scott Piercy

Piercy played better in the second half of 2011 than he did in the first half, but he would have been battling for a spot in the top-125 if not for his win at the Reno-Tahoe Open.

4. Johnson Wagner

Wagner plays well about once per season. What are the odds that it's this week? About three percent actually. I think I'll pass.

5. Harrison Frazar

After a long and sometimes frustrating PGA TOUR career, Frazar finally broke through for his first win last year. One of the perks was a trip to Hawaii, but don't expect Frazar to parlay this perk into anything more than a nice vacation.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
Hyundai Tournament of Champions

Group A

1. Nick Watney
2. Webb Simpson

As is the case with all the groups this week, there isn't much from which to choose. Fortunately, there are enough good options to field a strong roster. Group A is no exception, as it fields two of the top choices.

Group B

1. David Toms
2. Bubba Watson
3. Bill Haas
4. Gary Woodland

Heck, there are even four good choices in Group B. OK, so maybe three. Toms is in my top-five, and Watson and Haas could have easily found a spot there, as well. Haas is the defending FedEx champ and started last season on fire. Watson could take it to the next level at any moment and is capable of going off at any venue. Woodland was the final choice, and it wasn't easy, but he showed some potential last season. If he continues to improve, he could be productive this season.

Group C

1. Martin Laird
2. Jonathan Byrd

Certainly the weakest of the three groups this week, but once again, I catch a break because two of my top-five players are in this group. I am uncertain about Byrd, but then again, I doubt many people had him atop their list last season, and look what he did.

Starters Round One

1. Nick Watney
2. David Toms
3. Bill Haas
4. Martin Laird

The first event of the season is pretty much a crap shoot, so picking the first round of the first event is even more difficult. I'm going with experience on this course over everything else in round one this week. Simpson is probably the better pick in Group A, but he's never played here, so I'll stick with Watney. I'm comfortable with the picks in Groups B and C as well, experience aside.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Unlike most weeks, I will stick with the hot players this week. I usually look for good bounce-back candidates during a given week, but considering some of these golfers haven't played in a while, a bounce-back might not be in the cards. Still, I'll try to implement the following strategy, with the emphasis on "try": I'll look to get a start for Simpson on Friday to free up the weekend in Group A. I'll keep a close eye on Watson, if he's looking sharp, I'll start him Friday. Woodland is the last man in; he'll likely have to play well Thursday and Friday to get a starting spot. If Byrd starts well from Group C, then I'll have to get him in the lineup. He's usually a hit-or-miss player, so I should know fairly early how he'll do.