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Travelers Championship Preview: Watson, We Need You

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.

In what was one of the most wide open U.S. Opens entering the week, the resulting winner was somewhat predictable. Not the winner himself, but the fact that the eventual winner came from a group that hadn't won a major in the last three years. After his win Sunday, Webb Simpson joined a group of 15 players that has won the last 15 majors. This group is quite accomplished, even without its most recent major wins, which makes it even more unexpected that none of the players have been able to pull off a second major victory in the last four years. That, however, is the state of the game today. Like it or not, every major, and particularly every other event on the PGA TOUR, is open to just about any golfer. It's quite the departure from where we were just five or 10 years ago, but the days of a single player winning several majors within a short span are likely over for the foreseeable future. There's simply too much talent on the PGA TOUR and abroad to expect one player to grab two majors in a season or even to defend a major championship successfully. And if you think this trend is going to end anytime soon I'll simply remind you that the most unpredictable major is upcoming, the British Open.

This week:
Travelers Championship

Last Year:
Fredrik Jacobson shot a final-round 66 on his way to a one-stroke victory over John Rollins and Ryan Moore.

Players to Consider:

1. Bubba Watson

This week should be a good indicator of just how much Bubba wants to succeed on the PGA TOUR. He seems a little too complacent since his win at the Masters, but he can turn it around this week at the Travelers where he won just two years ago.

2. Hunter Mahan

Mahan has struggled here the last two years, but that doesn't erase the memory of a solid four-year stretch where he finished no worse than fourth. That stretch includes a win in 2007 and two runner-up finishes.

3. Webb Simpson

I'm not generally fond of taking players fresh of major victories, but we all remember what Simpson accomplished late last season when he was on his game. If his win last week is the start of another run, then it's best that we hop on the bandwagon early.

4. Michael Thompson

Likely the only time this season you'll consider Thompson, but there's good reason to look at him this week. Not only is he coming off a strong showing at the U.S. Open, but he also finished in the top-5 here last year.

5. Ryan Moore

Moore has quietly had a pretty strong 2012 campaign thus far with five top-25s and three top-10s, and now he's returning to a spot where he's had plenty of success. Moore has three top-5s here, including two runner-up finishes in just six starts.

Players to Avoid:

1. Tim Clark

Clark hasn't played this event since 2005, probably for good reason. He's never made the cut here, and considering the state of his game, it's doubtful that streak ends this week.

2. John Rollins

Rollins' runner-up finish last year appears to be an aberration. Prior to his second-place finish last year, Rollins had missed the cut in five of seven tries here. Rollins also comes into this week off of consecutive missed cuts.

3. Steve Marino

Marino finished an awful 22-over par last week at the U.S. Open, but his placement on this list is based more on his play all season, which has been either non-existent or just plain poor. Marino is still recovering from an injury that sidelined him for much of this season. If last week is any indication, he's not healthy enough to compete yet.

4. Kevin Stadler

Stadler's game appears headed in the right direction, but he's got a big hurdle to overcome this week. Stadler has teed it up here six times and made the weekend just once. That one weekend trip resulted in a T54.

5. Zach Johnson

Johnson has a decent history here, which will put him on the radar of some, but his game appears to be way off, as evidence by his last two starts. He could turn it around this week, but anything better than a top-20 is unlikely.


This Week:
Travelers Championship

Group A

1. Matt Kuchar
2. Webb Simpson

Only a few good picks in Group A this week, and this pair seems to be the way to go. While neither as a great track record at this event, each has won a big event in the last month or so, and both are top-20 players.

Group B

1. Hunter Mahan
2. Bubba Watson
3. Michael Thompson
4. Ryan Moore

Group B has the bulk of the talent this week, or better put, it has the bulk of players with strong histories at this event. Moore has a pair of runner-up finishes, Mahan and Watson have victories and Thompson has a top-5 here last year as well as a runner-up finish last week at the U.S. Open.

Group C

1. Bud Cauley
2. Padraig Harrington

There isn't much to choose from in Group C this week, and, as is often the case when the selection is thin, you have to go with your gut. This week I am taking Harrington, who showed some flashes last week at the U.S. Open, and Cauley, who played well here last year and has also shown some flashes this season.

Starters Round One

1. Matt Kuchar
2. Michael Thompson
3. Hunter Mahan
4. Padraig Harrington

I really wanted to start Simpson out of the gate this week, but I thought it wise to give him at least one round to adjust to life as a major champion, so I'm going with Kuchar on Thursday. I'm going with Thompson and Mahan in Group B. Thompson because of his play last week, and Mahan because of his track record here. Thompson should be able to carry over his play from last week, and Mahan usually plays well here, so I'm definitely comfortable with this pair Thursday. Group C is a different story, however, as I'm not really comfortable with either player, so I chose the safer pick in Harrington.

Round Two and Going Forward:

I'll watch Simpson closely in round one this week to see if he's focused on the task at hand. If he starts well, or even if he manages to get through the opening round without too much trouble, I'll likely get him in the starting line-up Friday. A couple things to watch for in Group B: Will Watson break out of his funk? If so, I'll find a spot for him prior to the weekend. Also, can Thompson carry some momentum over from his performance last week? I'll likely keep Thompson in the starting line-up as long as he shows the same form from last week. Then there's Ryan Moore, who's also played well here. I might need to wait until Saturday to get Moore into the line-up. Group C is going to be tough all week. I'm hoping for a strong start from one of the two players early, then I can ride that player through the week.

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