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Crowne Plaza Preview: Z Man at Colonial

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.

The "next level." It's an undefined, mythical place for which professional golfers strive. No matter who the golfer, there is always a "next level." For Tiger Woods, it's becoming the greatest of all-time. For Rory McIlroy, it's becoming the next Tiger. For many on the PGA Tour, it's becoming a major winner. Keegan Bradley has already reach that level, though. He took care of his major victory early in his career, so where's his next level? After witnessing his play in the final round at the Byron Nelson last weekend, it's obvious that his next level is closing out when he's expected to. It's not an easy thing to do, though. Many have won majors, but many of those same players never could be relied upon to close when everyone expected them to. Brandt Snedeker reached that level earlier in the year at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am when he cruised to victory after taking an early lead. Snedeker has had his issues when leading in majors, but that's not what I'm talking about here; I'm talking about the pressure to win under what should be the easiest of circumstances. It's funny how the mind can turn easy tasks into tough ones. For most golfers, the mind is the biggest obstacle between to the "next level."

This week:
Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial

Last Year:
Zach Johnson shot a final-round 72 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Jason Dufner.

Players to Consider:

1. Zach Johnson

Johnson has struggled this season, but his track record here is tough to ignore this week. Johnson won this event twice in the last three years and finished T4 the year he didn't win. This looks like the spot where Johnson turns his season around.

2. Martin Laird

Laird has been all over the map this season, making the cut in just 50 percent of his starts, but he has top-5s in two of his last four starts, including a win at the Valero Texas Open. Laird has a strong history here with top-10s in his only two starts at Colonial.

3. Rickie Fowler

The field is a little thin up top this week, and as such, it might be wise to look at a big name to come out on top. Fowler fits that bill and has a decent track record here, which includes a top-5 last year.

4. Bo Van Pelt

Van Pelt is struggling a bit this year with only one top-10 in 12 starts, but that lone top-10 came just two starts ago, and if he's going to turn his season around, it likely will start at Colonial where he's carded three consecutive top-20s.

5. Charl Schwartzel

This will be Schwartzel's first trip to Colonial, but that shouldn't matter if he played like he did last week. Schwartzel looks like he has his early season form back. If that's the case, he should be in the mix again this week.

Players to Avoid:

1. John Rollins

Considering his track record at Colonial, you have to wonder why Rollins keeps coming back. Rollins has only one top-25 here in 10 starts and has missed the cut a whopping seven times.

2. Y.E. Yang

Yang is really struggling. He's missed four consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour, and it doesn't look like that will turn around anytime soon as his history here is weak. Only one made cut in four tries for Yang at Colonial.

3. Sang Moon-Bae

Nothing against Moon-Bae, but it's always a risky proposition taking a golfer the week after his first win on the PGA TOUR. Moon-Bae struggled in his only trip to Colonial last year. He did make the cut, but he struggled mightily on the weekend and ended up in 77th place.

4. Jason Dufner

By most standards, Dufner is doing just fine this year, but after winning twice in 2012 and earning more than $4 million, expectations are higher. Dufner played well here last year, but he was a different player a year ago this time. The stars were aligned for a good showing last week at the Byron Nelson, but he only managed a T33.

5. Ben Kohles

After a decent start to his rookie season on the PGA Tour, Kohles' pace has slowed considerably. He's missed the cut in his last four events and has never played at Colonial. He'll have to fight his way through this stretch if he's to make the top-125 this year.

This week:
Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial

Group A

1. Martin Laird
2. Tim Clark

Not a lot of high-end picks in Group A this week, and the one name that sticks out, Dufner, if probably not a good pick this week. Laird looks like one of the top picks this week, regardless of the Group, so he should be a popular pick. The second pick was tough, but I decided on Clark, who has a decent track record at this event.

Group B

1. Zach Johnson
2. Bo Van Pelt
3. Jim Furyk
4. Ryo Ishikawa

Group B has the bulk of the firepower this week. Johnson leads the way, and he should be on just about every team this week. Van Pelt will also be a popular pick this week and with good cause. The teams will differ after those first two picks, however. I'm going with Furyk, who played well here last year, and Ishikawa who appears to be hitting his stride. Ishikawa really struggled early and may have been written off by some, but he's starting to show his talent and a win could be in the near future.

Group C

1. Rickie Fowler
2. Charl Schwartzel

Group C also has plenty of talent and no matter which way you go, you'll be leaving off some good players. In my case, I've left Streelman and Stenson off my roster this week. There are good arguments for those two along with the players on my team, but Fowler and Schwartzel appear to be the best picks in this group.

Starters Round One

1. Martin Laird
2. Zach Johnson
3. Bo Van Pelt
4. Rickie Fowler

The starters in the first two groups are pretty clear this week, but not so much for Group C. Laird has a solid track record here and has played well the last couple months. He's been a little erratic, but if he's on, you'll want to have him in your line-up from the start. Johnson is a no-brainer in Group B, regardless of his recent play. His track record here is too good to pass up. Van Pelt gets the other start, also based on his history here. Group C was a tough call because Fowler has the history, while Schwartzel has the current form. Since Colonial is a little unique, I decided to go with the track record over recent form, at least for the first round.

Round Two and Going Forward:

I mentioned that Colonial is unique, and what I meant by that was, it's not a bomber's course like so many on the PGA Tour are now. That's one reason why Zach Johnson has thrived here, but it's also a reason why other big names struggle here. Players can't muscle their way through this course, and once they understand that, they can get around here, but it takes a while to sink in for some players. That, in a nutshell, is why I like track history. That said, I'll tend to stick with my starters this week - the ones with a strong history here - a little longer than normal. Laird, Johnson, Van Pelt and Fowler already have the edge for the round-two starts, and it will take something special from the backups to force my hand.