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Humana Challenge Preview: What's Not to Like?

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.

If you are a professional golfer on the PGA TOUR, by definition, you are fortunate. If you are one of a handful of players who tapped into your full potential, then you are truly blessed. After his win last weekend at the Sony Open, Johnson Wagner is hoping that he is headed toward that "truly blessed" group. There's reason to be skeptical, however. You see, this isn't Wagner's first trip to the winner's circle. He's been here before, and not just once, but twice; yet each win was followed by a baffling stretch of inconsistency and sometimes, downright awful play. The question we are left with after his most recent victory is: what's different this time? It's a completely justifiable position. Rarely has a player shown such peaks and valleys in such a short time on the PGA TOUR, and it's up to Wagner to prove he's made the necessary adjustments to improve his consistency. Otherwise it's just another win, and the only thing certain is that we'll see him again next January at the Hyundai. It's not exactly the worst fate in the world, though; a huge check once a year followed by a trip to Hawaii in January. Come to think of it, maybe Wagner is already truly blessed.

What the Sony Open means:

Sean O'Hair: Perhaps O'Hair has put a terribly inconsistent 2011 season behind him already. O'Hair was fortunate to retain his card after a horrible start to 2011, but a win late in the year set him up for this season. It looks like he's ready to make amends and avoid a similar situation this year.

Harrison Frazar: Is it possible that Frazar simply flipped the switch last season and it's stuck in the "on" position? Frazar is the definition of a PGA TOUR journeyman, but if he keeps up his current level of play, we might see him in a couple majors this season.

Jeff Maggert: Maggert led the Sony after three rounds, but an awful final round put him well out of contention. Still, a top-15 finish from a guy who's merely looking to stay in the top-125 this season isn't a bad start. For those who drafted him at little more than $100K, this is certainly a promising start to the season.

This week:
Humana Challenge

Last Year:
Jhonattan Vegas shot a final-round 69 on his way to a playoff victory over Bill Haas and Gary Woodland.

Players to Consider:

1. Bill Haas

What's not to like? He's the reining FedEx Cup Champion, he's won here before (2010) and finished runner-up last year. The stars are truly aligned for Haas this week.

2. Matt Kuchar

Kuchar enters this season a bit under the radar, which is strange to say as he won the money title just two years ago. But with all the Tiger talk and the dearth of talent from overseas, that's how it stands - and surely he loves it. His track record here is solid (consecutive top-10s entering this year's event), so don't be surprised to see his name near the top Sunday.

3. Brian Gay

We've all witnessed how well Gay can play when he gets it going, and if his play last weekend is any indication, he might be ready to go on a tear. Gay has a strong track record here with three consecutive top-20s entering this year's event, so everything appears to be in place this week.

4. Bud Cauley

Not a bad start to his official PGA TOUR career last week as he captured a top-30 finish. It would have been better, but he faltered a bit on the weekend. This week should be different, however, as the cut isn't made until Saturday and the "pressure" doesn't come into play until Sunday.

5. Derek Lamely

Lamely captured his first PGA TOUR victory in 2010, which meant a top-125 finish wasn't necessary last season to retain his card. But it's now 2012, and he needs to get moving. His track record here is brief, but good - two starts and two top-20s.

Players to Avoid:

1. Chad Campbell

Campbell won here in 2006, but he hasn't accomplished much since. In his five starts since that victory, he's cracked the top-10 once. He's also coming off a less than impressive showing last week at the Sony.

2. Jhonattan Vegas

Vegas played well enough last week to make it to Sunday, but his game is nowhere near where it was at this time last year. Actually, we had no idea where his game was at this time last year. It was only after he played a few rounds a this event that we even knew who he was.

3. Charley Hoffman

Hoffman sure had these courses figured out early in his career. He won this event in 2007 and followed with top-20s the next two years. Since, however, he's failed to make a cut. Hoffman is one of those who jumps up out of nowhere quite often, but it doesn't look like he'll surprise anyone this week.

4. Jeff Overton

Overton hasn't been quite the same since his coming out party at the 2010 Ryder Cup. Although he made more than $1 million last season, it had to be considered a letdown after what he accomplished in 2010. He's not off to a great start this season, either, as he merely cashed $12K last week. His track record here isn't great, so it's probably best to wait on Overton.

5. Pat Perez

The Avoid list is littered with past winners, and Perez is no exception. Perez won here in 2009, and though he typically plays his best golf on the West Coast, we haven't seen his top form in quite a while. And he's coming off a tough weekend at the Sony where he shot 71-73.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
Humana Challenge

Group A

1. Matt Kuchar
2. Charles Howell III

Part of me wants to put Mickelson on the squad, just in case, but Howell III usually plays well early in the season. And he played well last week, so he's capable of winning this week. Kuchar is in my top five this week, so he's an obvious pick for my team.

Group B

1. Bill Haas
2. Ryan Moore
3. Anthony Kim
4. Harrison Frazar

Another week, another tough call in Group B. At least, for the final two spots. This time around there was plenty of talent, but those talented players lacked the kind of track record at this event that I like to see. I decided to go all-in on the talent this week, though, in the hopes that at least one can find their "A" game. The only outlier to the big-name method is Harrison Frazar, who's playing really well, so strangely enough, I feel more comfortable with him heading into this week than I do with Kim or Moore.

Group C

1. Bud Cauley
2. Brian Gay

I'm sticking with Cauley again this week, he did nothing last week to change my opinion on him, and he's the type who could really take advantage of the easy tracks this week. Gay is the one to watch this week, though, as it looks like he's ready to go off.

Starters Round One

1. Matt Kuchar
2. Bill Haas
3. Harrison Frazar
4. Brian Gay

The starters were fairly easy to select this week as most are already off to good starts this season or have a great track record here. Kuchar has a strong track record, but this was actually the toughest decision to make. Howell III is coming off a good start at the Sony, but Kuchar has played too well here the last two years to bench him early. Haas was an easy choice in Group B as he looks like the best pick this week, but the second spot came down to the big name vs. the momentum. I chose the momentum this week in Harrison Frazar. The choice in Group C was easy. Gay is the type you have to use while he's on, and it looks like he's on.

Round Two and Going Forward:

As opposed to previous years, this event has only three courses in play this year and only four rounds total. There isn't much separating the three courses, but La Quinta is considered the most difficult of the three, and I use the word "difficult" lightly. That said, feel free to use the course as a determining factor if you have a hard time deciding between two players during the first three rounds. The final round is at La Quinta, so you should definitely factor in the player's performance on that course earlier in the week when making Sunday moves. My plan for the week goes a little something like this: Kuchar in round one; he'll stay there until Howell III forces my hand. Haas is locked into a spot in Group B, but the second spot is up for grabs after round one. Frazar can keep the spot by playing well Thursday, but if he falters, then it's either Moore or Kim. I might use how they play in round one, or I might use which course they play, not sure yet. I hope that Brian Gay starts well this week, then I can save a start from Cauley. If not, then I have to assume that the hot streak is over, and Cauley gets another start.

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