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WGC-Bridgestone Preview: Tiger's Time

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.

A win is a win is a win, right? Ask a player on the PGA TOUR, and the answer almost always will be yes. Privately, I'm sure they'd tell you a different story. Of course a major win is bigger than any other, and certain non-majors are held in high esteem, but what about events with little fan fair? Well, believe it or not, there's a big difference. Scott Piercy entered last week's RBC Canadian Open with one win on his resume, but that win came at last year's Reno-Tahoe Open, which is usually held opposite the WGC - Bridgestone event. In other words, the world's best golfers are nowhere near Reno-Tahoe when that event takes place. A win at any official PGA TOUR event has its privileges - the money, the exemptions and so on - and Scott Piercy was technically a PGA TOUR champion prior to last week, but now he has a "real" win. And contrary to what PGA TOUR players might tell you, there is a difference.

This week:
WGC - Bridgestone Invitational

Last Year:
Adam Scott shot a final-round 65 on his way to a four-stroke victory over Rickie Fowler and Luke Donald.

Players to Consider:

1. Tiger Woods

When Tiger was at his best, he absolutely owned this event. Although he's not quite at his best now, he does have three wins this year. If he's anywhere near his best this week, he'll pick up his fourth.

2. Rickie Fowler

Fowler picked up his first win earlier this season and might be ready to pick up his first "big" win this week. Fowler finished runner-up last year at this event, but with a win under his belt this time around, perhaps he'll close better this year.

3. Hunter Mahan

Prior to last year's event, Mahan's track record at Firestone was second to only Tiger Woods. One poor performance shouldn't scare you off Mahan. He knows how to get around this course, and another good showing is in store this week.

4. Adam Scott

If this were a major, I might be concerned about Scott's state of mind entering this week, but it's not, and it just so happens that Scott had no trouble closing out here last year. Expect another good showing from Scott, who after all, did play pretty darn well two weeks ago at the Open Championship.

5. Zach Johnson

Johnson's track record here is a little spotty, but he posted his best showing here last year with a T6 and is coming off a top-10 at the Open Championship.

Players to Avoid:

1. Ernie Els

Sure, Els is coming off a great win at the Open Championship, but the difference between the Open and the Bridgestone is night and day. Els hasn't cracked the top-20 here in his past six tries.

2. Graeme McDowell

McDowell also played well two weeks ago at the Open Championship, but this course simply does not suit his eye. In six starts here, McDowell has never cracked the top-20 and has only made the top-40 once.

3. Charl Schwartzel

Unlike the first two players on this list, Schwartzel is not coming off a good showing at the Open Championship. He's coming off a missed cut. He does, however, have a poor track record here, just like Els and McDowell.

4. Sang-Moon Bae

Bae started the 2012 season quite well, which is how he gained entrance into the field this week, but he's really struggled the last few months and is a bit out of his league this week with the best in the world.

5. Scott Piercy

Last year at this time, Piercy was with the B-squad at the Reno-Tahoe Open picking up his first PGA TOUR win. This year, he's at the much more prestigious Bridgestone Invitational, which is exactly where he wants to be, even if he struggles this week.


This week:
WGC - Bridgestone Invitational

Group A

1. Zach Johnson
2. Adam Scott

Plenty of good options in Group A this week, and I'm definitely nervous about leaving both Donald and Kuchar off my team, but I think Johnson and Scott have the most upside of the group.

Group B

1. Tiger Woods
2. Hunter Mahan
3. Rickie Fowler
4. Bubba Watson

Group B looks very strong this week, so much so that I struggled to find a spot for Bubba Watson. Speaking of Watson, he doesn't have a great track record here, but he started to show some signs of life at the Open Championship two weeks ago and could really take advantage of the long layout this week.

Group C

1. Peter Hanson
2. Jason Dufner

At first glance, Group C looks pretty thin this week, but I have a good feeling about this pairing. Hansen has played pretty well here the past two years, and Dufner is quickly becoming one of the most formidable players in the world.

Starters Round One

1. Zach Johnson
2. Tiger Woods
3. ickie Fowler
4. Peter Hansen

Although I'm confident Scott will bounce back this week, there's no reason to take a chance on him in round one. Johnson is a steady force and is more than just a safety net in round one this week. I made the mistake of benching Woods early at the Open Championship and paid the price by missing out on his best rounds. I won't make the same mistake this week. Fowler gets the other start in Group B because of fine play here last year. I'm going with Hansen in Group C because of his track record and the fact that this is Dufner's first start at Firestone.

Round Two and Going Forward:

There is no cut this week, so all players will be available for the week. That said, if a player starts poorly during the first two rounds, you probably want to avoid them on the weekend. If Adam Scott starts poorly in round one, you might want to avoid him Friday, but I don't expect that to happen. I expect a good start from Scott and a place in the starting line-up on Friday. Woods has a strong hold on one spot in Group B, but the other spot will be up for grabs Friday. Mahan looks to be the first one in because of his track record here, but Watson could grab that spot with a good start. Whatever the case, the plan is to get a start from each player in by the end of Saturday. Group C likely will depend on how Dufner plays in his first start here. If he plays well early, he'll have the advantage over Hansen.

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