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Weekly Preview: Byron Nelson Championship

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.

As yet another Tiger Woods controversy unfolded last week at the Players Championship, I was left to wonder what it is exactly about him that the masses like. I'll start by noting that I am part of the masses; I do root for Tiger to win most weeks, but after yet another display of his lack of tact when dealing with his fellow competitor, I am left to figure out exactly what I like about him. His personality leaves a lot to be desired, at least the one he offers to the public, as Woods is often very guarded when responding to questions. It's hard to blame him for this tactic as Woods has been burned in the past by offering up too much, but you'd think after this long in the spotlight, he could find a middle ground that would satisfy more people. If it's not his personality, it must be his game. But what is it about his game that draws so many into the fold? Sure, he's more talented than anyone on the PGA Tour, but there must be something more to reach the levels of popularity that he has. The answer might be the public's yearning for greatness. Greatness is in short supply in professional sports these days. You'll see it from time to time, but I'm talking about legendary greatness, the kind that a lot of us grew up on in the 80s with Gretzky and the 90s with Jordan. That level of greatness is something you see once a decade, and perhaps Tiger's absence the last few years has given us a better perspective on just how special it was to watch him play in the early 2000s. Perhaps we are hopeful he can again get back to those levels and give us what we've been missing for quite a while now. We don't have to like what goes on outside the ropes to appreciate what goes on inside the ropes, and right now, there's greatness inside the ropes.

This week:
Byron Nelson Championship

Last Year:
Jason Dufner shot a final-round 67 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Dicky Pride.

Players to Consider:

1. Jason Day

Three trips here and three top-10s, including a win in 2010. Perhaps more impressive was his T9 last year in the midst of what was a bad season. He's played well here when on top of his game and when his game was in poor shape. That's an indication that he has a feel for this course no matter the situation.

2. Jordan Spieth

Spieth has slowed a bit lately, but unlike most weeks, he's playing this week on a course where he has some experience as he hails from Dallas. Two starts here and two made cuts. Not exactly a lengthy track record, but consider that he made those cuts at age 16 and 17 and you start to see that he has a feel for this course. Now a professional, expect Spieth to play very well this week.

3. Jason Dufner

Dufner has played below expectations this season, but if he's going to kickstart his season, it will likely begin here. Dufner won this event last year, and while it's generally wise to avoid the defending champion, I'll make an exception this week.

4. Keegan Bradley

Bradley doesn't have a long history at this event, but in his short time here, he's left his mark. Two starts and two top-25s, including a win in 2011. Bradley has played pretty well this season, but I'm still waiting for a surge. That surge might come this week.

5. Marc Leishman

Leishman has a solid track record at this event. In four starts, he's finished with a top-12 or better three times. His best finish here came last year when he finished T3.

Players to Avoid:

1. Steve Marino

Marino has a decent track record here, and this looks like a spot where he might snap out of his funk. But his play has been well off this year, and he's simply not worth the risk this week.

2. Scott Verplank

Verplank is a former champion here, and if you've followed him at all over his career, you know how much this event means to him. But he's simply not the player he was when he won here in 2007.

3. Rory Sabbatini

Sabbatini won this event in 2009, but his track record outside that win has been spotty at best. Sabbatini has actually missed the cut here three of his last five starts. He's a reach in most formats this week.

4. Jeff Maggert

Maggert might be on some radars after his performance at the Players last week, but if history is any indication, he'll have trouble backing up that performance this week. Maggert has really struggled here over the years; he's made the weekend just once in his last eight starts.

5. Charles Howell III

Howell III has his spots on the PGA Tour where he always plays well, but this isn't one of them. Howell III usually makes the cut here but does little on the weekend. He has failed to crack the top 10 here in nine starts.


Group A

1. Jason Dufner
2. Boo Weekley

Not a lot to choose from in Group A this week, but there are a couple good options. Dufner is going to be on most teams, and rightly so. Weekley might also be a popular pick with his play the last couple months. Weekley's track record here isn't great, just one start and a T63, but he's rediscovered his game and should play well this week.

Group B

1. Matt Kuchar
2. Marc Leishman
3. Keegan Bradley
4. Jimmy Walker

Unlike Group A, there's plenty to choose from in Group B this week. Leishman and Bradley are in the my top-5 this week and should be popular choices. Kuchar has only one top-10 in five starts here, but he's never missed the cut at the Nelson and has posted consecutive top-20s here. Walker's track record here is nothing special, but the way he's playing this season, you might as well just throw out his track records. He's simply a different player this year having played the weekend in all of his 13 starts.

Group C

1. Jason Day
2. Jordan Spieth

A large list of players in Group C this week, but you need not look beyond these two golfers. Day is the top pick this week and should be on just about every team. Spieth might still be a bit under the radar, but that should change after this week. I'll be surprised if Spieth finishes outside the top 10 this week.

Starters Round One

1. Jason Dufner
2. Matt Kuchar
3. Marc Leishman
4. Jason Day

Dufner gets the call in Group A this week because of his track record here. Weekley has played better over the past couple months, but his limited history here could be a problem. A strategic move in Group B to start the week. I'm down to four starts left with Bradley, so even though I'd like to start him Thursday, I'll hold off. Kuchar and Leishman are both solid picks this week, so I'm not missing out on much in the first round. Day will get the nod in Group C because he's the top pick, but that decision wasn't as easy as you'd think. Spieth would be a good pick to start round one if paired with anyone other than Day.

Round Two and Going Forward:

This should be an interesting week as there's plenty of firepower on the bench initially. Group A could be the exception if Weekley struggles again on this track, but I expect him to figure this course out early in the week. That said, Dufner will have a pretty strong hold on the starting spot in Group A this week. Group B could depend on how Bradley starts this week. If he starts well, I'll get him in the lineup Friday and likely the remainder of the week. If not, I'll likely tuck him away for the week. Outside Bradley, the starting two will be reevaluated after every round, no one player has a strong hold on a starting spot. Group C is going to be a tough one this week. It will be tough to pull Day at any point, but I have a feeling that Spieth is going to force my hand early. If they both play like I expect, I'll have to get their starts in early to make sure I'm eligible for bonus points.