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Tampa Bay Championship Preview: A Man Possessed

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's a phenomenon perhaps never seen in the history of sports. Nearly everyone involved in the game of golf likes when Tiger Woods is at his best. Tiger Woods is good for business, and even his fellow competitors know it. Heck, every player on the PGA Tour today has an extra house, car or some luxury item because of Woods, which is why when he wins, usually everyone seems happy. Tiger in contention on Sunday means higher television ratings, which means good things for everyone - TV networks, sponsors, the Tour, players. Even though there was little doubt in anyone's mind late last week that Woods would indeed cap off another WGC title, television ratings Saturday were solid and even better on Sunday. This doesn't routinely happen in other sports, which makes golf an island unto itself. And in what other sport would a player voluntarily offer help to a better player like Steve Stricker did for Tiger Woods last week? On the practice green Wednesday, Stricker noticed a hiccup with Tiger's putting, offered a tip and Woods went on to win with a career-low 100 putts in the 72-hole tournament. Stricker finished second by two strokes. Perhaps Stricker is just a really good guy, or perhaps he knows where his bread is buttered, but I think the main reason Stricker decided to help Woods last week was as simple as this: golfers want everyone to bring their best. If you can't beat the other guy at his best, then so be it. It's not that the other players are rooting for Tiger to beat them, but they know that when Tiger is on, he's the best. And when he's at his best, attention is drawn, and we all know what follows. Tiger might not be the icon he was five years ago, but he's still a once-in-a-lifetime athlete, and the guys on the PGA Tour are smart enough to know it.

This week:
Tampa Bay Championship

Last Year:
Luke Donald shot a final-round 66 on his way to a playoff victory over three players.

Players to Consider:

1. Adam Scott

Scott was a man possessed during the final round of the Cadillac Championship last week, and if he carries that form into this week's event, he could steamroll the competition. Scott hasn't had much success here, but that could easily change this week.

2. Luke Donald

Donald won here last year and finished T6 in 2010. He's not off to a great start this season, but this looks like a spot where he can get his season going. Expect Donald to, at minimum, be in the mix Sunday.

3. Geoff Ogilvy

Ogilvy was unable to carry the momentum of a nice start at the Honda to the Cadillac Championship last week, but he should get back on track this week in Tampa where he's played pretty well the last few years even though his game has been way off.

4. Webb Simpson

Simpson certainly likes this venue. He's finished in the top-15 three consecutive years, which includes a runner-up finish in 2011. Simpson also comes in playing well with three consecutive top-20s heading into this week.

5. John Senden

A lot of big names in the field this week, but if you're looking for a sleeper, Senden's your man. He's coming off a top-20 last week at the Cadillac and has a nice track record here, which includes back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2007-2008.

Players to Avoid:

1. Casey Wittenberg

Wittenberg came into this season at the top of the 2013 rookie class, but as is often the case, the most heralded rookie fails to live up to the hype, at least early on. Wittenberg is really struggling out of the gate, and there's no reason to think he'll turn it around this week.

2. Ryo Ishikawa

Speaking of struggling, Ishikawa has flat-out lost his game. Ishikawa couldn't even take advantage of a weak field in Puerto Rico last week. To make matters worse this week, his track record on this course is brutal. Looks like another missed cut.

3. Aaron Baddeley

Baddeley just can't figure out this track. In five starts here, he's missed two cuts and has never cracked the top 30. His best result here came in 2003 when he finished T40.

4. Sean O'Hair

You won't find a more bizarre track record anywhere than what O'Hair has in Tampa. O'Hair won this event in 2008, a victory that came after missing the cut here in his two previous starts. Since that win, he's missed the cut here four consecutive years.

5. Andres Romero

Romero played well in Puerto Rico last week, but a couple things to remember. One, he wasn't exactly going against the best players in the world last week, and two, his history here leaves a lot to be desired. He's failed to crack the top 50 in any of his three starts here.


Group A

1. Sergio Garcia
2. Geoff Ogilvy

I can already tell this is going to be a fun week. Ogilvy is in my top 5, and Garcia finished just outside my top 5 this week. There are a lot of solid options this week, and it looks like there are spread out pretty well among the three groups.

Group B

1. Jim Furyk
2. Webb Simpson
3. Luke Donald
4. John Senden

From my perspective, there are five worthy options in Group B this week. Putting Senden in that mix made things difficult as I had to leave off Kuchar, but I think it's the right thing to do. Donald and Simpson are also in my top-5 this week, which made them easy selections and Furyk, like Sergio just missed the cut on my top-5 this week. Furyk won here in 2010 and finished runner-up last year.

Group C

1. Retief Goosen
2. Adam Scott

Scott is likely to be on nearly every team this week, so the only decision to be made is the second player in Group C. For me, it came down to Jason Day, who's playing well this year, or Retief Goosen, who has an outstanding track record here. Since Scott is such a solid play this week, I decided to take a chance on Goosen, who's not playing all that well this year, in the hopes that he'll get it turned around at a place where he's won twice.

Starters Round One

1. Geoff Ogilvy
2. Luke Donald
3. Webb Simpson
4. Adam Scott

I fully expect Ogilvy to get back on track this week, and as such, I'll start with him out of the gate Thursday. Group B came down to three players, and Furyk was the one left on the bench. Simpson is the only one of the bunch playing at a high-level, which made him an easy pick, but the second starter was much more difficult to choose. Even as I write this, I'm still wavering between Furyk and Donald. For some reason I'm leaning Donald, even though Furyk has an extremely strong history here. Scott is the easy choice to start in Group C. He was on fire when we last saw him, and if he carries that form over, he will collect a bunch of points Thursday.

Round Two and Going Forward:

While Ogilvy will start Thursday, he's by no means locked into the lineup this week. I'd like to see him start well this week, but even with that, he's no guarantee to start Friday. Garcia looks primed for another good showing this week, so if he starts well, I'll have to consider a switch Friday, no matter how Ogilvy starts. The starting spots for Group B on Friday and going forward likely will be as difficult to make as they were for Thursday. I'll have the benefit of seeing how each of the four players fares Thursday, however, which is what I'll use to determine my starters in the final three rounds. Follow me on Twitter to find out which way I go. My guess is that Furyk starts well, in which case I'll have to find a spot for him Friday. Senden is probably the last one into the line-up, which could happen Saturday if he plays well early. Scott has control of Group C as long as he continues to play well. If he starts well, he could start all four rounds this week.