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AT&T National Preview: Back to Congressional

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.

Why is golf, and particularly professional golf, so difficult? After all, there is no defender trying to prevent the golfer from getting the ball in the hole. The golf ball is perfectly still as it lies on the ground or the tee and the player has all the time in the world to figure out what he or she wants to do with the shot. But that's where the difficulty comes into play. The time a golfer has to make decisions is part of what makes golf so difficult. In no other sport does a player have minutes to figure out what comes next, only seconds. You'd think the extra time would be an advantage, but as anyone who's witnessed a basketball player choke at the free-throw line can attest, often too much time to think is, well, too much time period. Marc Leishman captured his first PGA TOUR victory last Sunday in what can only be described as "ideal conditions." The conditions I speak of have nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with timing. Leishman teed off a couple hours prior to the leaders, with no pressure and. more important, no expectations on his final round. The result was a fantastic 62, just enough as it turned out to pull off the win. It was a 62 that could not have come much later in the day, however, as with more time to think about what he was doing and where he was in relation to the leaders, Leishman might have surely succumbed to his and every golfer's worst enemy, his mind.

This week:
AT&T National

Last Year:
Nick Watney shot a final-round 66 on his way to a two-stroke victory over K.J. Choi.

Players to Consider:

1. Hunter Mahan

More was expected of Mahan last week at the Travelers Championship - after a slow start, even a final-round 61 didn't result in a top-10. However, he did shoot a 61, and his track record at Congressional is solid with three top-15s in three tries, including a runner-up finish in 2009.

2. Tiger Woods

Woods hasn't been at his best at the majors this season, but he has two wins outside the majors. And guess what? This isn't a major. Oh, and let's not forget that he won this event when it was last held at Congressional in 2009.

3. Jim Furyk

Furyk didn't take to the venue change very well the last two years as he missed the cut last year and finished T33 in 2010. However, his results at Congressional have been much better with three top-10s in three tries.

4. Rod Pampling

Reaching deep into the sleeper pool this week with Pampling, but he has quite a nifty track record at Congressional. In three starts here, he has three top-20 finishes. He's not going to win this week, but a top-20 from a golfer like Pampling can go a long way.

5. Patrick Cantlay

Cantlay struggled in his first round as a professional last week, but he showed some grit and turned it around the following day. With the spotlight elsewhere this week, expect Cantlay to show his true form.

Players to Avoid:

1. Nick Watney

If Watney had his way, he'd have kept this event on the grounds of Aronimink Golf Club where he won this event last year and finished in the top-10 in 2010. As it is, he returns to Congressional where his track record is less than stellar.

2. Charles Howell III

Howell III finished T3 at this event last year, but his course history is not impressive. In three tries at the current venue, Howell III has missed the cut twice.

3. Charlie Wi

Wi finished fourth at this event in 2010, which might place him on some radars, but again, that was at Aronimink. His track record at Congressional is brutal. Two tries and two missed cuts.

4. Michael Thompson

Thompson showed last week that one's play entering the week sometimes means little. After a strong showing at the U.S. Open, he opened with a 78 last week. Thompson probably hopes a similar reversal of fortune is at hand this week, but it's doubtful he'll turn it around toward the positive this week.

5. Sang Moon-Bae

Moon-Bae started the season pretty well, but he's struggled since the beginning of April. Moon-Bae has made only one cut in his last five tries, and even that only resulted in a 77th-place showing.


This week:
AT&T National

Group A

1. Jim Furyk
2. J.B. Holmes

With only a handful of decent picks in Group A this week, it's likely that Furyk will be on nearly all teams, but that's OK. There's no need to get fancy and pick someone else. The second pick is where you can gain some ground this week, and I'm going with Holmes who's played recently and should benefit from the longer layout this week.

Group B

1. Hunter Mahan
2. Tiger Woods
3. Bo Van Pelt
4. Dustin Johnson

Woods and Mahan will be on a lot of teams this week, but that might not be the case for DJ and Van Pelt. Johnson has virtually no track record at this event, so he's a bit of a risk, but he's also in great form, which makes him worth the risk. Van Pelt's best performances at this event have come at Aronimink, but he's also fared well on the current course.

Group C

1. Patrick Cantlay
2. Rod Pampling

I'm taking a big risk in Group C this week with this pair, but I'm confident that at least one will come up big. Pampling has a very consistent track record at this event on this course, and Cantlay is a player on the rise, so it's a great time to buy low.

Starters Round One

1. Jim Furyk
2. Tiger Woods
3. Hunter Mahan
4. Rod Pampling

I'm leaning heavily on course history in the opening round this week with Furyk, Woods, Mahan and Pampling. There is one potential problem, however, in that the course this week will play a little differently than is past years because of the changes made prior to the 2011 U.S. Open. That said, I expect any player who maneuvered the course successfully in the past to figure out the changes and adapt accordingly. The changes, though, could help those like DJ who've struggled here.

Round Two and Going Forward:

This is a bit of a strange week in that most of the starters in round one are fairly well locked into the starting spots. The exception is Rod Pampling in Group C, and that's mainly because I expect Cantlay to force my hand at some point, hopefully after round one. Furyk has a strong hold on the starting spot in Group A because of his outstanding track record here and his strong showing at the U.S. Open a couple weeks back. Mahan and Woods also have strong holds on the starting spots, but there is some firepower waiting to move into the line-up in DJ and Bo Van Pelt. DJ is probably the first one off the bench with a good start, but a poor start by DJ and he might be shelved for the week because of his lack of history here.