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Northern Trust Open Preview: Phabulous Phil

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.

I have to admit, I am starting to feel bad for golf fans who don't really care much for Tiger Woods. I am not in that group, but if I were, I'd be little perturbed at all the Tiger talk last weekend. Sure, he entered the final round within reach of the lead on the PGA Tour for the first time in about two years, but the guy who happened to take the reins Sunday is no slouch himself. Sure, even after his most recent slump, Tiger's still by far the biggest name in the game, but the golfer who won Sunday has also made a name for himself the last 15 years. Sure, crowds love Tiger (for the most part) and flock in droves to get a glimpse of him on the course, but the player who shot a final-round 64 on Sunday has quite a following himself. Well, no one "moves the needle" like Tiger, true, but that other guy can draw some ratings also, without the benefit of a scandal. It took a while, but I've finally seen the light. I can finally see where the anti-Tiger anger comes from. Maybe it's time to treat Tiger like just another player who's struggling and can't find his game. Maybe we'd be better off if we didn't over-analyze every facet of his game. Maybe, if we just let things play out, Tiger will get back on track. In the meantime, we can turn our focus to other deserving players; you know, like the guy who won last week.

What the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am means:

Phil Mickelson: Maybe there's something to the theory I proposed earlier in the year about Phil playing his best when Tiger is relevant. It sure looked like Phil had a renewed fire in his belly Sunday when paired with Tiger. Perhaps an epic battle at Augusta awaits.

Tiger Woods: Interesting stat on Tiger's winless streak - it's only 27 events. Sure, that's a long time for Tiger to go winless, but it's only about one year's worth of events. He's rounding into form, it's taken a while, but he's not done yet.

Dustin Johnson: Perhaps the most disappointing performance of the week belonged to Johnson. He opened with a 63 and looked to be on his way to another win at Pebble, but he failed to get anything going the final three days. Considering his track record at Pebble, much more was expected after a great start.

This week:
Northern Trust Open

Last Year:
Aaron Baddeley shot a final-round 69 on his way to a two-stroke victory over Vijay Singh.

Players to Consider:

1. Phil Mickelson

Time to test the Tiger theory. Woods is not in the field this week, which shouldn't matter, but let's see what happens. The numbers say Mickelson will thrive this week as he's done three of the last five years, but we'll have to see how Mick performs off the high from last week.

2. Aaron Baddeley

Baddeley is the defending champ and is coming off a very nice effort last week at Pebble Beach where he finished fourth. It looks like the stars are aligned for another solid week at Riviera for "Badds."

3. Adam Scott

Scott hasn't fared well at Riviera the last few years, but when he was on his game, he owned this track. He won here in 2005 and finished runner-up in 2006. Now that his game appears back to its previous form, he should once again fare well on this course.

4. Kevin Na

I'll just go ahead and keep Na in the fourth spot again this week. He's coming off another top-five at Pebble, and prior to last week he didn't even have a good track record there. That's not the case this week as he's played well at Riviera, including a solo third last year.

5. J.B. Holmes

Holmes is not the player he was pre-brain surgery, but he's shown some signs that his game is getting better. A return to Riviera should speed up the recovery process as he's made the top-15 each of his last four trips here.

Players to Avoid:

1. Tim Clark

Clark kept his rehab status close to the vest this offseason, so we really have no idea how healthy he is. Let's give him a couple weeks before we put him on the team.

2. Charles Howell III

Howell III won this event in 2007 but hasn't fared well here since that win. In his four tries since 2007 he's finished no better than T55. In fact, in his eight most recent attempts here, he's finished in the top-50 just once, in 2007.

3. Kevin Streelman

Streelman played well last week at Pebble, earning a top-10, but his track record here is too awful to ignore. In four tries, Streelman has made only two cuts and never finished in the top-60.

4. Padraig Harrington

I'm going back to the well here one more time. It proved costly last week as Harrington played well, but this week is a different story as Padraig has struggled at Riviera the last three years.

5. Bryce Molder

Molder struggled last week at an event where he had a good track record, now he comes back to Riviera where his track record is not good. In three tries here, he's made the cut only once. Expect another tough week for Molder.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
Northern Trust Open

Group A

1. Phil Mickelson
2. J.B. Holmes

Group A is absolutely loaded this week. So much so, that I was forced to leave several big names on the bench and one of my top five. Mickelson is the obvious choice in Group A, but the second pick is where the separation could occur. I am going with Holmes, who has a great track record here, in the hopes that his game will continue to get better.

Group B

1. Dustin Johnson
2. Bubba Watson
3. Robert Allenby
4. Justin Rose

Usually when I scroll through the names in Group B a few jump out as obvious picks. That wasn't the case this week as I had to dive in a little deeper to find the proper foursome. In the end, I'm not overly enthused with the four that I ended up with, but they certainly have potential. Rose played well here last year as did former winner Robert Allenby. D.J. is, well, he's D.J. and is capable of winning at any time. Watson is a gut selection. There's not much to go on with Watson this week, his history at Riviera is just OK, but I have a good feeling about him this week.

Group C

1. Aaron Baddeley
2. Ricky Barnes

I like this pairing out of Group C this week. Baddeley has had success here and is coming off a nice showing last week at Pebble. Barnes is also coming off a nice showing last week as he finished third. Barnes' track record here is spotty, but he did crack the top 10 in 2010.

Starters Round One

1. Phil Mickelson
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Robert Allenby
4. Aaron Baddeley

I have to stick with Mickelson out of the gate this week, he has the history here and the momentum. That will be five consecutive rounds for me with Mick going back to last week. I could have gone with any of the four players in Group B as there isn't much separating them this week, but I chose D.J., who started well last week, and Allenby. who played well here last year. I almost chose Barnes in Group C as he's known to be quite streaky, but Baddeley also played well last week and has the better track record here.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Mickelson could once again start all four days this week, and, to be honest, I'd be fine with that, which would mean that he's playing well again. If he slows down, however, I'll have no problem putting Holmes in there. Of course, Holmes has to show some game early on as well, which is no guarantee. Group B was up for grabs Thursday, and that will also be the case Friday. I have the four players on an even plain, and I'll have to see which ones emerge after round one. I might have to be a little cautious with D.J., however, as he hasn't shown staying power yet this season. Allenby and Rose are probably the best options on the weekend. If Barnes starts well Thursday, I'll put him in the line-up Friday, regardless of how Baddeley plays. I don't want to wait too long on Barnes if he shows the form he had last week.