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Sony Open Preview: Zach Attack

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.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. A familiar face captured the first event of 2012 last weekend. Steve Stricker took advantage of the void left by many of the top players' absence and is once again atop the FedEx standings. OK, way too early to talk FedEx standings, but there probably won't be much impact to this win beyond the points earned. It was well chronicled last week that many of the top players eligible for this event chose to pass, and with that the field was much less potent than usual. There was still a handful of strong players in the field, and Stricker actually had to fight those same players off toward the end of the event. Small field to be sure, but still a nice victory for Stricker, who enters this season with some questions, due only to his age, of course. Stricker has given his detractors little ammo the last few years; the only reason anyone thinks he might slow down soon is his age, but he's still years away from the Champions Tour as he'll turn 45 in February. It seems as though Steve Stricker is determined to hold onto his spot atop the PGA TOUR, and with a win last week in Hawaii, he's well on his way.

What the Hyundai Tournament of Championship means:

Webb Simpson: If his first outing is any indication, Simpson has no plans of slowing down this season. Simpson came on strong during the second half of 2011 and the momentum has carried over to the start of 2012. He'll have to play out of his mind to top his numbers from last season, but he's already off to a good start, so it's certainly possible.

Martin Laird: Laird is quietly becoming one of the best players on the PGA TOUR. I say quietly because his name rarely comes up in conversations about the best in the game, but he comes into 2012 off consecutive $2 million-plus seasons, and it looks like he'll make that three seasons in a row after collecting $650K last week.

Jonathan Byrd: No reason to get too excited about Byrd's T3 last week. Remember, this is what he does. He shows up every couple months and does little in between. He won this event last year and failed to do much afterward.

This week:
Sony Open

Last Year:
Mark Wilson shot a final-round 67 on his way to a two-stroke victory over Tim Clark and Steve Marino.

Players to Consider:

1. Zach Johnson

Johnson won here in 2009, so he knows his way around this course, but this pick is based more on his prospects for 2012, which look really strong.

2. Steve Stricker

Might as well strike while the iron is hot. Stricker generally fares well in Hawaii, and it looks like this year will be no exception as he already picked up a win in the Aloha state. His track record at Waialae is solid also with three Top-5s in his last five tries.

3. Webb Simpson

Not exactly a strong track record, but then again, he's a much better golfer now than at anytime in his career. It might be time to throw out anything prior to 2011.

4. Steve Marino

Marino has collected three consecutive Top-10s here, including a runner-up finish last year. Marino will win sometime soon, and this could be the place.

5. K.J. Choi

Choi missed the cut here last year, but that's not indicative of how he's performed at Waialae over the years. He won here in 2008 and has four Top-15 finishes in his last six tries here.

Players to Avoid:

1. Sean O'Hair

O'Hair spent most of the 2011 season underperforming and picked up right where he left off last season with a finish in the lower-half of the field last week. Look for something much the same this week.

2. Jhonattan Vegas

Vegas really hasn't been the same since his absurdly hot start in 2011. He faded down the stretch in 2011 and is off to a poor start this season already. Waialae was actually one place he didn't play well early last year, so it's doubtful he can figure it out this time around.

3. Johnson Wagner

Wagner generally plays well once or twice a season and has never had any luck here. Wagner has missed the cut three consecutive years heading into this year's event.

4. David Toms

Toms has a good track record with a win in 2006 and a runner-up in 2009, but he was way off last week at the Hyundai. It's unlikely a change of venue can fix his game.

5. Jeff Maggert

Maggert has some new life via his finish at Q-School last month, but his journey to the Top 125 may have to wait another week as he's struggled mightily here the last three years.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
Sony Open

Group A

1. Zach Johnson
2. Steve Sticker

This one hurts. Four of my Top 5 come from Group A this week, so I was forced to leave two off. The one who really scares me is Webb Simpson. On the bright side, most players will have the Stricker/Simpson combo, so if Johnson plays well, I could gain some on the field.

Group B

1. Chad Campbell
2. Steve Marino
3. Tommy Gainey
4. Harrison Frazar

Take a close look at this group; other than the event in Puerto Rico, this is as bad as it will get all year. Beyond Marino and Campbell, this was truly a struggle. I went with Frazar because he played well last week and really played well on the weekend. The Gainey pick was just a hunch. This seems like an event where he can make some noise. It's not much, but when the pickings are slim, you have to make do.

Group C

1. Bud Cauley
2. Davis Love III

Get used to the name Bud Cauley. For those who don't know, Cauley earned his card for this season by playing lights out with sponsors' exemptions last year. That's a rare feat. If he can carry some of that magic to this season, he could find himself near the Top 30. Love III has a decent track record here and should prove a good security blanket in case Cauley blows up.

Starters Round One

1. Steve Stricker
2. Chad Campbell
3. Steve Marino
4. Bud Cauley

A pretty straightforward approach for round one this week with the exception of Group C. Stricker is coming off a great week, and even though I like Johnson's prospects this week, I can't justify starting him in round one over Stricker. The Group B starters consist of the only players I trust this week in Chad Campbell and Steve Marino. I went off the beaten path in Group C, however, because I have a good feeling about Cauley. He's already proven himself on the PGA TOUR, now we need to see if he can take his game to the next level.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Depending on how Stricker starts, I might actually have to keep my No. 1 player on the bench until the weekend. That's just how it goes when dealing with a player like Stricker who gets hot for weeks at a time. The starters in Group B are fairly well entrenched at the moment. I'll need to see something strong from Gainey or Frazar to change that. A decent start, though, from Frazar could be enough to pull the trigger because he played so well last weekend. I'll have to see how it plays out Thursday, but I'm inclined to stick with my round-one starters until someone forces my hand. Group C could go in a variety of directions after day one. Cauley could come out on fire, in which case I would keep him in the lineup until he showed signs of slowing down. Or he could come out with a thud, in which case I'll put Love III in the lineup Friday. It's only if Cauley plays just OK that I have a quandary. I'll probably stick with Cauley in that scenario, as well.