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John Deere Classic Preview: Zach's Back for More

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.

A lot can happen to a PGA TOUR golfer in the span of 12 months. A life can change forever, just ask Justin Rose. A career can become complete, just ask Ken Duke. It's not all good, though, just ask Jonas Blixt. Blixt burst upon the scene last year when he captured three consecutive top-10s in May, but that wasn't quite enough. Blixt picked up his first PGA TOUR victory in October at the Open and everything appeared to be looking up, but that's when his game went south. He managed to make the cut in his final two starts of 2012, but when 2013 came it was a different story. Blixt's slow start to the 2013 season could easily have been attributed to his career-altering win, but slow starts generally turn around after the first couple months of the season. That wasn't the case for Blixt as his funk continued past January and February. It wasn't until the end of May that Blixt showed any signs of his former self when he nearly captured a top-10 Crowne Plaza Invitational. Even though his game appeared to be coming around with that top-10, a performance like he displayed last week at the Greenbrier came out of nowhere, as it what only three months ago that Blixt ended a run of six missed cuts in eight events. That is life of the PGA TOUR, though - a lot can happen in the span of 12 weeks.

This week:
John Deere Classic

Last Year:
Zach Johnson shot a final-round 65 on his way to a playoff victory over Troy Matteson.

Players to Consider:

1. Steve Stricker

Stricker might be onto something with his new slim-downed schedule. It goes to show how much he likes playing here as well, as the John Deere Classic made his short list of events this year. Stricker has an outstanding track record here, and it would be shocking if he weren't in contention this week.

2. Zach Johnson

I usually shy away from defending champs, but Johnson likes playing in front of the home crowd, and he finally broke through with a win here last year, which is bound to take some of the pressure of him this year.

3. Jordan Spieth

When was the last time that Spieth wasn't in the mix on the weekend? Sure, he hasn't quite figured out how to close yet, but one of these weeks it's going to fall into place and he'll pick up a win. Considering the thin field at the John Deere, Spieth could break through this week.

4. D.H. Lee

Lee has seemingly come out of nowhere the last couple weeks, riding a streak of two top-10s entering this week. His course history is obviously lacking, but this track isn't exactly tricky. If you are playing well someplace else, it will translate.

5. John Senden

One of the more consistent players at the John Deere Classic over the years, Senden won here in 2006 and has a handful of good showings outside that win as well. Senden has struggled this season, but it looks like he might be turning it around with four consecutive cuts made, including a top-15 at the U.S. Open and a top-30 last week.

Players to Avoid:

1. Keegan Bradley

Weaker field plus big name equals good showing, right? Not so fast. For some reason, that equation rarely works out, and considering Bradley has no history on this course and has been all over the place this year, it's probably wise to pass on him this week.

2. Aaron Baddeley

Got to hand it to "Badds," he's giving it all he's got. Problem is, he's got very little. For the record, that's nine consecutive missed cuts entering this week. Hopefully he'll turn it around soon, but for fantasy purposes, he's completely irrelevant.

3. Scott Stallings

This isn't so much a pick against Stallings this week, rather the perfect spot to point out that when average players go on a run, there's no reason to expect them to bounce back once that run is over. What makes average players quality players is when they do bounce back after rough stretches. The jury is still out on Stallings.

4. Troy Matteson

Runner-up here last year, Matteson has built his career largely on a couple really good runs the last eight years. Unfortunately, Matteson doesn't appear to be nearing one of those runs right now as he hasn't cracked the top-25 since early February.

5. Jonathan Byrd

Byrd is a past champion at this event, who, like Matteson has made the most of getting hot at the right time. Also like Matteson, Byrd doesn't appear to be on the verge of starting one of those hot streaks as he's missed six of his last seven cuts.


Group A

1. Jonas Blixt
2. Gary Woodland

Rarely have I struggled this much with my Group A selections, but that's what happens when none of my top-5 come from this group. In the end, I sided with Blixt, who last year went on a mini-tear, leading me to believe he can do the same this year and Woodland, who's quietly getting his game back. He struggled during the final round last week at the Greenbrier, otherwise he'd be entering this week on a run of four top-20s in his last five events.

Group B

1. Steve Stricker
2. Zach Johnson
3. John Senden
4. Jimmy Walker

Group B might as well be a two-man group this week because everyone will have Stricker and Johnson. My final two picks came down to three players, the two I chose and Charley Hoffman. Actually, it came down to Hoffman or Walker because Senden is in my top-5. Anyhow, I went with Walker because I like the way he bounced back last week. If you recall, I had him on my Avoid List, fully expecting him to continue his recent slide, but he pulled out of it and contended almost until the end.

Group C

1. D.H. Lee
2. Jordan Spieth

Group B has the high-end prospects this week, but Group C has plenty of firepower as well. Lee and Spieth likely will be a popular pairing this week, but that's all the more reason to take them. Spieth is no longer a sleeper pick as his name is up on the leaderboard every week, but Lee is still a bit of an unknown. This may be the last week we can say that.

Starters Round One

1. Jonas Blixt
2. Zach Johnson
3. Steve Stricker
4. D.H. Lee

Not an easy call in Group A this week as often young players struggle after picking up a win, but considering that Blixt is now a two-time winner, he should be able to adjust just fine. The starters in Group B are pretty obvious. Johnson and Stricker are the favorites coming in, and there's no reason to think either will stumble early. Group C was a tough call. I decided to go with my gut and start Lee over Spieth. There's really nothing in the numbers that would suggest either player deserves the start, so I'm going with Lee, who seems to be playing just a bit better.

Round Two and Going Forward:

It could be a very quiet week if things play out like I expect. Group A could have some movement if Blixt shows any sign of a hangover, but if not, he could settle into the starting spot all week. Group B could see two four-round starters this week in Stricker and Johnson. If either player starts slowly, Walker likely will be the first one in off the bench. Senden is probably on the outside looking in, though he did win here before, and if he shows that form, I'll obviously have to find a spot for him on the weekend. Group C should be up in the air all week, which is usually the case when the first-round starter is selected on instinct instead of numbers.

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