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The Players Championship Preview: The Fifth Major

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.

Every sport has its own unique personality, yet all sports have things in common. Golf, like every sport on the planet, is, stay with me while I whip this cliche out, a "game of inches." And of course, like every sport, there are winners and losers. Where golf differs, however, is the time it allows its players to blossom. Rickie Fowler burst onto the scene late in 2009 when he just missed his first PGA TOUR victory at the Open. Much was expected of Fowler the following season, and though he failed to win in 2010, his two runner-up finishes only furthered the perception that Fowler was the next big thing. The following season was a disappointment, though, and four months into 2012 doubt started to creep in. Not self-doubt mind you, but doubt from those who follow the game. The kind of outside doubt that can burden young men in other sports. But this is professional golf where you earn your keep on a weekly basis. No contracts to live up to, no team to let down, just each man for himself. The great thing about this game is, as long as a golfer can keep up a certain level of play, he gets a chance every week to reach his maximum potential. With his win at the Wells Fargo Championship last week, Fowler took a big step toward reaching that potential. Expectations are on the rise, but there's plenty of time to meet those expectations now. This is golf, there's no rush.

This week:
The Players Championship

Last Year:
K.J. Choi shot a final-round 70 on his way to a playoff victory over David Toms.

Players to Consider:

1. Jason Day

Entering last week, said one RotoWire scribe, there were "no signs that his game was turning around." But four solid rounds later, Day is suddenly starting to resemble the player who finished runner-up at two majors last season. Day tied for sixth here last year.

2. J.B. Holmes

It took Holmes a few weeks to find his form this season, but it looks like he's ready to resume where he left off pre-brain surgery. TPC Sawgrass is a perfect spot for Holmes to take his game up another notch as he's finished inside the top-25 in four of his last five trips here.

3. Ben Crane

Crane has fallen off the torrid pace from early this season, but he's playing well enough to think that he can make a run this week. His track record here is the main reason to take him this week, though. Prior to last year's event Crane had a run of three consecutive top-6 finishes at Sawgrass.

4. Jason Dufner

Is Dufner ready to take the next step? He's coming off his first PGA TOUR victory, which should help in the confidence department, and he tied for sixth here last year, which should improve his comfort this week.

5. Nick Watney

Watney was close last week at the Wells Fargo Championship and was also close here last year when he tied for fourth. Watney has a knack for stringing solid performances together, so it would not surprise to see another top-5 this week.

Players to Avoid:

1. Tiger Woods

For a majority of the season, his putter was the issue, but that's not the case entering this week. Judging by his performance last week, every part of his game is off, and this isn't a course where you work out the kinks.

2. Jim Furyk

Furyk's history here is decent, but he lacks high-end finishes. Much like his game this season, he's been close, but he's still searching for the firepower that helped him win the 2011 FedEx Cup Championship.

3. Padraig Harrington

Harrington had a nice run here in the early 2000s, but he's really struggled the last seven years. During that span he's missed the cut four times and only once cracked the top-50.

4. Tim Clark

Clark won here just two years ago, but he's obviously not the same player now. It's not his fault, of course, he's still recovering from an injury, but it appears as though he's still months away from being all the way back.

5. Ben Curtis

Curtis has been on a roll the last few weeks, but the TPC Sawgrass just isn't his course. Curtis has teed it up eight times at The Players and just once cracked the top-25.


This week:
The Players Championship

Group A

1. Nick Watney
2. J.B. Holmes

If this works, I'll make a major move this week. With all the big names in action this week, Group A is loaded. Yet this pair is not likely to be very popular. That's OK because, as mentioned in the top-5, there are very good reasons to select both of these players.

Group B

1. Rory McIlroy
2. Lee Westwood
3. Ernie Els
4. Jason Day

I may have passed on a lot of big names in Group A, but that's not the case in Group B. Although my team is stacked with big names, only Jason Day appears in my top-5 this week. Els and Westwood received consideration for the top-5, but they just missed out. Both Els and Westwood have had their moments here, but their track records weren't quite as solid as the other players who made the top-5. McIlroy's history here is awful, but as he proved last week, he's a threat to win any given week, so it's a good idea to have him on your squad.

Group C

1. Ben Crane
2. Jason Dufner

Some weeks it's tough to put all the pieces together; this is not one of those weeks as the final two players from my top-5 are in Group C. There are bigger names in the field (even in this group), but these two have a lot going for them this week.

Starters Round One

1. Nick Watney
2. Jason Day
3. Lee Westwood
4. Ben Crane

Watney gets the nod over Holmes in Group A. He played well for the most part last week and has a knack for playing well in bunches. Day is the easy start in Group B; he has the track record and is coming off a good showing last week. The other spot was a little more difficult, but I went with Westwood, because, well, I just have a Westwood feeling this week. Much like the Fowler feeling last week and the Dufner feeling the week prior. Speaking of Dufner, I decided to wait on him because you just never know how a player will respond to his first win. Crane would probably have the edge anyway because of his history here.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Watney has the first-round edge in Group A, but if Holmes continues his fine play at Sawgrass, he could see a start as early as Friday. In Group B, I'll be watching McIlroy closely. Of the four players from that group, he has the worst track record, but he's capable of winning anywhere. If he starts well, I'll find a spot for him Friday. Day has the strongest hold on a starting spot and if he finishes middle of the pack or higher Thursday, he'll likely keep his starting spot Friday. I'm also waiting to see how Dufner comes out Thursday, but it will take a good effort from him and a poor effort from Crane to change the line-up for Group C on Friday.

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