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Arnold Palmer Preview: Clearly the Favorite

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 goes without saying the past few years on the PGA Tour have been like none other in the Tiger Woods era. Since the emergence of Tiger in the late-90s, there have been two distinct tour events. The ones with Tiger and the ones without. That dynamic began to shift a couple years ago with the advent of the human version of Tiger, but it appears to be rearing its head once again. The last couple years we became accustomed to the PGA Tour being somewhat the same each week in that we didn't necessarily look forward to the next time Tiger played, we just accepted what was in front of us. With the reemergence of non-human Tiger, it feels like we are starting to slip back into our old ways. The focus again is on the next time Tiger will play as opposed to the event at hand. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing either, but I have to admit, I was getting used to how the PGA Tour felt the last couple years. Perhaps there's a balance that we can find, though. Maybe there is a world out there where Tiger can dominate when he plays and stay out of our minds when he doesn't. That world, of course, is only possible if we make it happen. We learned how to appreciate the PGA Tour without the "old-Tiger" the last few years, now we need to find the balance that's been absent since the late-90s.

This week:
Arnold Palmer Invitational

Last Year:
Tiger Woods shot a final-round 70 on his way to a five-stroke victory over Graeme McDowell.

Players to Consider:

1. Tiger Woods

Everything is aligned for Tiger this week. The track record, seven wins here, including last season, his current form and even the return of his mystique. OK, so the last part might not quite be true, but another win this week and it will be hard to deny that he's all the way back.

2. Graeme McDowell

Odds are they won't finish one and two again this year, but considering that McDowell was the only player to put a scare into Tiger two weeks ago, he might be best suited to chase down Woods again this week.

3. Jim Furyk

The odds of Furyk winning this week aren't very good, but considering his track record here and his recent form, a top-5 is certainly possible. Furyk has finished in the top-11 here the last three years, but never higher than ninth.

4. Phil Mickelson

Perhaps the return of the old Tiger will mean the return of the old Phil. It certainly looked that way a couple weeks back, and considering that Mickelson has had his share of success at Bay Hill, another show down could take place this week.

5. Sergio Garcia

Garcia appears to be getting close and another win is surely around the corner. It will be tough to top Tiger this week, but Garcia's form lately suggests a top-10 is in the cards again this week.

Players to Avoid:

1. Brandt Snedeker

When we last saw Snedeker, he was capping off yet another victory on the PGA Tour, but that was a while ago and we have no idea how the extended time off the course will affect his game. His track record here is mixed as well, so perhaps something middle of the pack this week.

2. Martin Laird

Laird won this event in 2011, but his game so far this season has in no way resembled that player. In six starts this season, Laird has missed three cuts, finishing no better than T47.

3. Ryo Ishikawa

Ishikawa was actually in position to make a cut last week. Then he had to play the back-nine on Thursday. Seriously, Ryo's in a huge funk, and considering his track record at Bay Hill, it's highly unlikely he'll break out of it this week.

4. Chad Campbell

Campbell is another former champion here with little chance of playing well this week. Like Laird, Campbell's game is nowhere near where it was when he won this event. Campbell has missed the cut in five of seven events this season.

5. Camilo Villegas

Even when he was at the top of his game, Villegas struggled at Bay Hill. Villegas has played here six times, but has yet to crack the top-40. It's probably the only spot in Florida where he hasn't had any success.


Group A

1. Graeme McDowell
2. Tiger Woods

First the bad news, four of my top 5 are in Group A this week. Now the good news, Odds are you can gain points on your competition this week, provided you choose your second player wisely. I'm going with McDowell for the reasons stated earlier, and the fact that Mickelson will probably be a more popular pick this week.

Group B

1. Jim Furyk
2. Ernie Els
3. K.J. Choi
4. Justin Rose

Interesting dilemma in Group B this week. There are some big names with limited success at Bay Hill, and some golfers who have a good track records here but little in the way of recent success. Furyk is the only player who qualifies as both, so he's an easy pick. Els has a good history, and his form has been decent lately. Choi is playing pretty well, and his track record at Bay Hill is good enough to merit consideration. Same case for Rose. Again, good form and good track records, but nothing great on both sides.

Group C

1. Ian Poulter
2. Vijay Singh

Quite the selection in Group C this week. Plenty of players look like decent picks, but none are musts. Poulter played really well here the last two years (a T12 in 2011 and a solo third last year), and this is one stroke-play event where he's worth a look. Singh has a good track record here (four consecutive top-10s from 2005-2008) and is showing the ability lately to play through distractions.

Starters Round One

1. Tiger Woods
2. Jim Furyk
3. Justin Rose
4. Ian Poulter

In honor of the NCAA tournament that tips off this week, I'm going with "the chalk" in round one. Perhaps I can make up some ground with Tiger out of the gate if some people choose to use the "wait and see" approach. Furyk is an easy call in Group B; the other starter is a tough call, though. I'm going with Rose, as he has the best combo of recent success and track record here of the players in Group B. Poulter seems like an easy call in Group C, as his play here the last two years has been solid, and Singh's situation could lead to a meltdown at any moment.

Round Two and Going Forward:

As is often the case when Tiger is in play, the group belongs to him. Considering his history here and his recent play, that is again true this week. No matter how he plays Thursday, he'll start Friday. McDowell's best chance to get in the mix will be Saturday, but he'll have to be at minimum in the top 10 after Friday. Furyk looks to be locked in all week, as well, in Group B, but the other spot will be up for grabs starting Friday. Rose has the opportunity to hold onto his spot all week, but the leash will not be as long with him. Due to his track record here, Els is probably the first off the bench, provided he starts well. Choi might get a look on the weekend if he continues to play well. Poulter has a pretty strong hold on the starting spot in Group C, but Singh could jump in there with a good start. I'll be hesitant to start Singh this week until he shows that his head is in the game.