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Phoenix Open Preview: Where's the Mickleson Magic?

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.

It is amazing. The public's undying belief in Tiger Woods the golfer. I must include myself in that mix also as I, just like everyone else on the planet, handed Tiger the victory last week after just 36 holes. It wasn't as if he had an insurmountable lead, either. He was only ahead by a couple strokes, yet the result seemed inevitable. Quite frankly, it's a feeling we haven't had in quite a while. Sure, Tiger has won multiple events the last few years, but he's also blown leads, something he never did back in his day. So when that feeling came along last weekend, it brought us all back to a time when, yes, you could declare Tiger the winner if he had the lead after 36 holes. As much as we'd like to believe those days could come back, though, they won't. Lost in all the rigmarole the last few years is the fact that Tiger Woods got older. Older not old. He's not knocking on the Champions Tour door anytime soon, but to deny he's past his physical prime is delusional. There was a time when we wondered what it would be like when this legend's skills started to erode. Would it be quick? Would it be gradual? Would we even notice? It turns out we didn't notice, but no one could have foreseen the reason why it went undetected. I realize the timing of this seems a little strange, after all he did just breeze to another victory. Perhaps it's my attempt to appreciate Tiger for what he is, one of the two best golfers on the planet, instead of what he was, one of the two best golfers of all-time.

This week:
Waste Management Phoenix Open

Last Year:
Kyle Stanley shot a final-round 65 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Ben Crane.

Players to Consider:

1. Rickie Fowler

Fowler outplayed everyone over the final three rounds last week. If not for a horrible first round, there might have been some drama Monday. Fowler has fared well here, his best showing coming in 2010 when he finished runner-up. Fowler seems to enjoy the raucous crowds in Phoenix, something that really helps at this event.

2. Kevin Na

Na is not off to a great start this season - he's hasn't made a cut in two tries - but it's not like he's playing horribly. In fact, only one of his rounds has been over par this season, so he's not that far off. His track record here is fantastic with three top-5s in his last five tries.

3. Hunter Mahan

Mahan was unimpressive in his first outing this season, but he came back with a nice showing at the Farmers last week. His history here is a little spotty, but he won this event in 2010, which has to count for something.

4. J.B. Holmes

Holmes has struggled out of the gate this season, but you simply can never discount him in Phoenix. He's won this event twice and threw in a top-5 two years back for good measure. A trip to Phoenix is just what he needs to get back on track.

5. Nick Watney

Watney doesn't have the high-end finishes here that you'd like to see out of a top-notch player, but he's awfully reliable. In his five most recent starts he's finished no worse than T34, and he's coming off a nice showing at the Farmers last week.

Players to Avoid:

1. Kyle Stanley

A year ago at this time, Stanley was lamenting a blown opportunity to win at the Farmers. He made up for that loss with a win here, but as witnessed last week, his game now in no way resembles that of 12 months ago.

2. Stewart Cink

Cink showed signs of life two weeks ago when he finished in the top 10 at the Humana Challenge, but his game quickly eroded last week at the Farmers where he posted rounds of 71-75. His track record here is nothing to brag about either; only one made cut in his four most recent tries.

3. Sean O'Hair

O'Hair is off to a rough start this year with two missed cuts in two tries. His history here leads us to believe it will be 3-for-3 after this week. O'Hair has only one top-25 in seven starts in Phoenix.

4. Chad Campbell

Campbell struggled so mightily two weeks ago at the Humana Challenge that he actually shot over par in two of three rounds. It won't get any better this week as he's missed the cut here in four of his last six attempts.

5. Phil Mickelson

Mickelson is not playing well, and his results at this event have been just OK recently. He finished runner-up five years ago, but he's only cracked the top 25 once in his four most recent tries. He won't blow up this week, but I doubt he'll be in the mix Sunday.


Group A

1. Bubba Watson
2. Jason Dufner

A strange mix in Group A this week; a smattering of big names and a few sleepers, but nothing really to get excited about. Dufner has played well here the last two years, and Watson has a pretty good track record here as well. Can you sense my excitement?

Group B

1. Nick Watney
2. J.B. Holmes
3. Kevin Na
4. Hunter Mahan

Now this is what I'm talking about. Group B has more than enough talent as four of my top-5 are in Group B this week, and I even had to omit a pretty solid pick in former champ Aaron Baddeley. As for the players I've selected, Holmes and Mahan are former champions, while Watney and Na have solid overall records here.

Group C

1. Rickie Fowler
2. Jason Day

Fowler is clearly the top option in Group C this week, but filling the second spot was somewhat tricky. I'm going with Day who's coming off a top-10 last week at the Farmers. Day is primed for a bounceback season, and if last week is any indication, he's not going to waste any time getting back to the top of the PGA TOUR.

Starters Round One

1. Jason Dufner
2. Nick Watney
3. Hunter Mahan
4. Rickie Fowler

Dufner gets the nod in Group A because Watson withdrew last week. To be honest, I'm a little hesitant to even put a player on my roster who withdrew the week before, but there are no indications that Watson will have any problems this week. Tough call in Group B as I'd hate to miss a spectacular round from Holmes. But since he's coming off a missed cut, I'll wait on him. Watney comes in off a nice start at the Farmers, and Mahan's best rounds have come early in the week this season. Never a question about the starter in Group C this week, it's Fowler.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Group A is up for grabs after round one this week. If Watson starts well, he'll get the nod Friday. If not, I'll likely stick with Dufner. The focus in Group B will be on Holmes as he has the ability to go really low. If he shows any signs early that this might be one of those weeks, I'll get him in there immediately. Entering the week, Watney has a slight edge over Na and Mahan, so I'll stick with him unless one of the other two forces my hand. Group C is all Fowler's; good start or poor start, I'll likely stick with him for at least the first two rounds. Day's best chance to get a start will be Saturday.

Follow @gregvara on Twitter.

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