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PGA Championship Preview: Now is the 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.

Nerves have been getting a bad rap lately. It seems as though every time an athlete fails in the clutch, it's because of nerves. But I think we are overlooking something else altogether; something we wouldn't normally consider a factor when talking about a major champion and a golfer who is generally considered one of the best in the world - self-doubt. Maybe it's similar to nerves or maybe it's the result of nerves, but I think what we have witnessed lately on the PGA TOUR is a lack of confidence down the stretch, and just like a nasty virus, it spreads quickly. It started early in the year when Kyle Stanley blew a late lead, and the trend has continued with astonishing regularity throughout season. Amazingly, Jim Furyk has become the face of this new trend after faltering late at both the U.S. Open and the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational last week. It may be a bit hard to believe that a player as accomplished as Furyk could have any doubt about his ability, but once a golfer opens the door to self-doubt, it's hard to close. The good news is it only takes one win to cure this ailment, the question, though, is with so many standing in line at the pharmacy, who'll be the first to get his prescription filled?

This week:
PGA Championship

Last Year:
Keegan Bradley shot a final-round 68 on his way to a playoff victory over Jason Dufner.

Players to Consider:

1. Jason Dufner

Dufner may have not been quite ready for the big stage last year, but with two wins under his belt since last year's disappointing defeat, he is certainly ready to take the next step this year.

2. Luke Donald

Donald will get a major at some point, and this looks like as good an opportunity as any. With no dominant player in sight, Donald should take advantage and finally put his best game on display during a major.

3. Graeme McDowell

McDowell has managed to find his best form during majors this season, and there's no reason to think that trend will change this week. The question is whether the former major champion finally put four rounds together.

4. Bubba Watson

Watson seemed to lose his way after his Masters victory earlier this year, but he's slowly rounding back into form and has got some unfinished business with the PGA Championship after coming so close a couple years back.

5. Dustin Johnson

Speaking of coming so close a couple years ago, if not for a stealthily placed bunker, it may have been Johnson not Martin Kaymer who picked up his first major win at the 2010 PGA Championship. Johnson started the season slowly, but he's improved the last few months and might be ready to peak this week.

Players to Avoid:

1. Keegan Bradley

It makes no sense whatsoever, but the Bradley pick looks too easy this week. And history tells us, the easy pick heading into the major rarely pays off.

2. Ernie Els

This pick doesn't seem to make any sense either, but it's been that kind of year. Heck, it's been like that at nearly every major the last four years. Els had his moment at the Open Championship so the odds are against him this week.

3. Adam Scott

Scott had a great chance to put the disappointing Open Championship finish behind him last week at Firestone, but he was unable to get anything going. The pressure will only get worse this week - don't expect Scott to respond well.

4. Martin Kaymer

Kaymer has been off his game state-side most of this season. His most recent major attempt resulted in a missed cut at the Open Championship, and he's only carded one top-20 in three majors this season.

5. Rickie Fowler

Fowler is coming off a poor showing last week at Firestone, and his track record on PGA layouts is not good. Perhaps with everything lining up against him this week, he'll surprise everyone, but I think he'll have to wait until next season to grab his first major victory.


This week:
PGA Championship

Group A

1. Luke Donald
2. Steve Stricker

As expected, plenty of good options in Group A this week, which means plenty of tough decisions to make. Donald was an easy choice, but Stricker was a little more difficult. He's not exactly the first name you think of at majors, but I like the way he closed last week at Firestone.

Group B

1. Dustin Johnson
2. Brandt Snedeker
3. Rory McIlroy
4. Bubba Watson

A number of different ways to go in Group B this week. You could go the safe route and take players like Ernie Els and Tiger Woods, or you can choose a less predictable route and go with players like Snedeker and McIlroy. I have my reasons for taking these two players, some of which I can't quite convey; let's call it a couples of hunches. As for Johnson and Watson, they should be popular choices this week with good reason.

Group C

1. Graeme McDowell
2. Jason Dufner

A surprising lack of high-end talent in Group C this week. What we are left with is a bunch of players with potential, but who also are highly unstable. The pair I've chosen, however, are generally reliable with plenty of potential. Dufner nearly won the PGA Championship last year, and McDowell has come close at a couple majors this season.

Starters Round One

1. Luke Donald
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Bubba Watson
4. Jason Dufner

I'm going with the firepower across the board in round one this week. Then again, with the roster I've put together it's hard to avoid a big-time line-up. Donald gets the nod over Stricker in round one. I really could go either way with these two, but I have a better feeling about Donald this week, so I'll go with him in round one. I'll use the same reasoning for the starters in Group B as well. Johnson and Watson are both primed for solid showings this week, and I foresee quick starts for each. Dufner looks like a great pick this week, so I'll start him out of the gate.

Round Two and Going Forward:

As is the case during the majors, it's tough to make predictions past the first round. Unlike most weeks, you really have to see how each player starts before setting your plan for the week. That said, I'll lay out what I expect to see this week. Donald should be good to go from the start, if that's the case, I'll have a hard time pulling him from the line-up. Group B should be owned by Johnson and Watson, but, again, if they falter early, there's no sense in hoping for a bounce back. McIlroy needs to get off to a good start to even be considered, but it looks like he's coming around, so that might be in the cards this week. Snedeker is probably the last one in, but if he starts like he did at the Open Championship, I'll have to find a spot for him. Dufner could go all four rounds this week, but that will depend on his start.

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