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Tournament of Champions Preview: Aloha to the 2013 PGA Season

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.

Snow might be on your lawn and the temperature might be in the single digits, but it's time to play some golf. Fantasy football is now a memory and the transition to fantasy golf couldn't come at a better time. The PGA TOUR creeps back into our consciousness this week at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in lovely Hawaii. Although the season doesn't really pick up steam until next week at the Sony Open, plenty of intrigue awaits for the season's opening event. Perhaps of most interest is how first-time winners from last season respond in their first outing of the new year. It's really easy to get fat off your first win and go into cruise mode knowing that your 2014 card is already secure. It's in these moments that top players of tomorrow will shine. As for the rest of the field, it's a great opportunity to put a big number up - on the money list. With the limited field this week, every player will cash, and it doesn't take much to get into the top-10 and have a nice payday, not to mention a nice chunk of FedEx points. So sit back, relax and watch the best golfers in the world do what we wish we could - hang out in Hawaii and golf.

This week:
Hyundai Tournament of Champions

Last Year:
Steve Stricker shot a final-round 69 on his way to a three-stroke victory over Martin Laird.

Players to Consider:

1. Matt Kuchar

This is always one of the toughest events to predict as there is no recent history in play. There is course history to consider, though, and Kuchar has played well here with T6 in 2011 and a solo third in 2010.

2. Webb Simpson

About 10 players in the field this week stand above the rest, and Simpson is part of that group. Simpson earned a top-3 here last year in his first start at Kapalua.

3. Steve Stricker

He's not the flashiest player, and he's getting up there in years, but you can never bet against Steve Stricker in Hawaii. He's the defending champ and usually plays well in Hawaii.

4. Keegan Bradley

Bradley didn't play very well here last year, but he now has four rounds on this course under his belt, and the guy is a bulldog. There's no need to worry about his focus, no matter the venue.

5. Jonas Blixt

Nine first-timers in the field this week, and each is capable of going low, but I'll go with Blixt who showed a strong consistent game for most of 2012.

Players to Avoid:

1. Charlie Beljan

Beljan's story is well known now, but what's forgotten is how poorly he played before that incredible weekend late last year that bought him a ticket to this week's event.

2. Bubba Watson

Watson doesn't seem like he's ready to play every week. He certainly hasn't been ready to play in his two previous visits here, failing to crack the top-15 at the Hyundai. Let's not forget, this is Hawaii, and for some it's easy to be distracted.

3. Ben Curtis

Maybe he's not focused when he plays here, maybe this course doesn't suit his eye. Whatever the case, Curtis has really struggled here in his two previous tries, finishing T33 and T30.

4. J.J. Henry

No, there are no sponsor's exemptions this week; J.J. Henry did win on the PGA TOUR last year. That doesn't mean you should expect a good performance this week, however. Henry is what he is - a golfer who will pop up every now and then and play well, but certainly not someone you can trust every week.

5. Ted Potter Jr.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the field this week, Potter Jr. accomplished next to nothing before and after his win last year. If he plans to have a card for 2015, though, he'd better start focusing now.


Group A

1. Jonas Blixt
2. Jason Dufner

Not exactly what I expected in Group A this week, but a lot of the big names in this group are absent. Still, a pretty good duo here in Dufner and Blixt. Both are first-timers, so obviously I hope at least one of the two take a liking to the course.

Group B

1. Steve Stricker
2. Matt Kuchar
3. Webb Simpson
4. Keegan Bradley

Group B is full of talent this week and you really can't go wrong with any of the players you select - just with the ones you don't. That is, there are many good options this week, but only four spots, so you have to leave a handful of quality options on the bench. The four players I selected are all in my top 5 this week, so it was pretty easy, but leaving D.J. and Zach off the roster could prove costly.

Group C

1. Rickie Fowler
2. Ryan Moore

With so much talent lumped in Group B this week, I expected slim pickings in Group C, but that's not the case at all. I even had a tough decision to make on the second player chosen. Fowler was the first pick; I think he's in for a great season. The second pick came down to Moore and Poulter. I chose Moore on a hunch. Besides, "Poulter" and "Hawaii" don't seem like a great match.

Starters Round One

1. Jason Dufner
2. Steve Stricker
3. Matt Kuchar
4. Ryan Moore

Tough call in Group A as both Dufner and Blixt are first-timers, but I'll go with Dufner who's generally been a reliable player the last couple years. Stricker was an easy pick to start in Group B. He has so much experience on this course and is consistent. Kuchar gets the other spot as he's also fared well here, especially in his last two starts. Group C was also a tough call as I think Fowler will have a good week, but I decided on Moore to start because of his experience on this course.

Round Two and Going Forward:

No cut this week, so no worries about holes in the lineup. That said, it's important to keep a close eye on your team in case you get a lemon. There's nothing worse than sticking with a player who's just not there mentally, and considering the locale, you could have at least one stinker on your team. As for my team, I'll stick with the hot hand in almost all groups, but I'll give Stricker and Kuchar a longer leash in Group B. If any of my starters in Group A or Group C show signs that this isn't their week, I'll remove them immediately. No need to stick it out with anyone not named Stricker or Kuchar this week.

Follow @gregvara on Twitter.