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The Masters Preview: Tiger Time at Augusta

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 Masters is on deck and as is customary in these parts, we look ahead when a major is on the horizon instead of behind, so we'll throw out the obligatory congratulations to Hunter Mahan on his win in Texas and look forward to Augusta. The major storyline, pardon the pun, will be Tiger Woods and his attempt to get one win closer to Jack Nicklaus' major record. With all the focus on Tiger, Rory McIlroy actually comes in a bit under the radar, if that's possible. As you'll recall, McIlroy was well on his way to his first major at Augusta a year ago when he crumbled on the back nine. McIlroy has since atoned for his errors during the Masters last year, but this will be his first crack at the course that depantsed him. Last but not least, there's Phil Mickelson, who, in case you weren't keeping track, is actually playing pretty well and could make some noise this week. With everything going on this week, it's easy to see why I've yet to mention the defending champ, what's his name. With all the hype surrounding the Masters this week, we are primed for a major letdown, pardon ... never mind. Let's just hope that this one time, the actual event lives up to the hype.

What the Shell Houston Open means:

Hunter Mahan: Mahan likely will be a popular pick this week at Augusta, but it's rare to see a player finish off back-to-back victories at the Masters. A win this week, however, would push Mahan into the upper crust of the PGA TOUR. That said, I don't see it happening.

Keegan Bradley: Bradley's consistency this season is unmatched, but he's in for his toughest challenge this week. Don't count him out just because it's his first time at Augusta.

Phil Mickelson: Mickelson opened with a solid 65 last week in Houston, but he failed to go low after his opening round. His game is exactly where it needs to be, however, and anything less than a strong showing this week will be disappointing.

This week:
The Masters

Last Year:
Charl Schwartzel shot a final-round 66 on his way to a two-stroke victory over Jason Day and Adam Scott.

Players to Consider:

1. Tiger Woods

He has the best track record of anyone in the field this week at Augusta and won two weeks ago at Bay Hill. The stars seemed to be aligned this week for Tiger. Now it's time to see if he's made it all the way back.

2. Rory McIlroy

As is usually the case at Augusta, the most obvious choices are the best ones. McIlroy had one arm inside the green jacket last year until it all unraveled late on Sunday. His win at the U.S. Open changed him, however, and he won't fall apart if he's in the same position again this year.

3. Phil Mickelson

With most of the attention surrounding Woods and McIlroy this week, perhaps it's Mickelson who will swoop in and steal this major. He has the track record here, he's a major champion and he comes in playing well. What's not to like?

4. Justin Rose

Rose is not a name often heard at Augusta, but his track record is pretty solid. His best finish came in 2007 when he finished T5. He also finished T11 last year and won the biggest event to date on the PGA TOUR, the WGC Cadillac Championship.

5. Angel Cabrera

Cabrera's track record at Augusta takes a backseat to only a handful of players in the field this week. Cabrera backed up his win in 2009 with a top-20 in 2010 and a top-10 last year.

Players to Avoid:

1. Vijay Singh

Once upon a time Singh was a serious contender at Augusta nearly every time out, but those days are long gone. Singh last made the cut here in 2009, and he's not exactly playing well this season.

2. Mike Weir

Weir is a former Masters champ, which is the only reason he's in the field this week. Weir is so far off his game that anything other than a missed cut would be shocking.

3. Paul Casey

Casey has a fairly solid track record at Augusta, which includes three top-20s in his last five tries, but he's way off his game and is not about to get it back this week.

4. Zach Johnson

Johnson was spot-on when he won here in 2007, but he's come nowhere near that level of play at Augusta since. He finished in the top-20 in 2008, but he's had no such success here the last three years.

5. Martin Kaymer

Kaymer is certainly one of the better players in the field this week, but his history at Augusta is brutal. Kaymer has played the Masters four times and has yet to make it to the weekend.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
The Masters

Group A

1. Phil Mickelson
2. Luke Donald

A lot of big names in Group A this week, but, surprisingly, not a lot of great options. Mickelson is the obvious choice, but beyond that, little separates the players in the group. Donald stands out a bit because he's won recently and finished in the top-5 here last year.

Group B

1. Tiger Woods
2. Rory McIlroy
3. Justin Rose
4. Jason Day

Group B is essentially a two-man group this week as nearly everyone will, and should, have Woods and McIlroy on their squad. Rose is an easy choice in the third spot as well, but the fourth spot is wide open. I'm going with Jason Day because of how he played here last year. He's not at the top of this game, but this could be the spot where he turns his season around.

Group C

1. Charl Schwartzel
2. Angel Cabrera

With all the attention on the likes of Woods and McIlroy, the usual heat that comes with defending a major championship will be non-existent this week for Schwartzel, which should help his prospects. Cabrera is extremely consistent here and should not be underestimated at Augusta.

Starters Round One

1. Phil Mickelson
2. Tiger Woods
3. Rory McIlroy
4. Angel Cabrera

I'm playing it pretty straightforward this week with the Thursday starters. Mickelson in Group A; he's coming off a good showing last week in Houston and has a better track record here than Donald. Woods and McIlroy are the easy choices to start in Group B. They are just heads above the rest, so there's no reason to over think the first-round starters. A somewhat tough choice in Group C, but I'll go with the consistent experience of Cabrera.

Round Two and Going Forward:

It should be an interesting week as it looks like there is a clear cut group of players above the rest. Mickelson, Woods and McIlroy are firmly entrenched in the starting line-up this week, and it will take something special from those on the bench to get a start. The problem with switching out any of the three players mentioned is their ability to bounce back, especially here. That said, I'll likely wait until Saturday to make a switch in Groups A and B. Group C is a different story, however, as Schwartzel is the defending champ, and if he happens to start well, I'll likely make a move after round one.

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