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WGC - Bridgestone Invitational Preview: Time for Tiger Again

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.

From time to time, even I unplug from the professional golf world. So after 12 hours away from the game last weekend, I decided to pull up the RBC Canadian Open leaderboard on my phone. I was quite surprised to see Brandt Snedeker at the top. After all, he had started a bit slowly, and it didn't seem like he would make a huge run, but there he was. Still, something seemed off. I couldn't put my finger on it, but even though Snedeker shot a low round Saturday, I expected someone else to be at or near the top. Then it struck me, where is Mahan? I scrolled down the list farther and no Mahan. Surely something had gone awry. You don't just disappear from the top of the leaderboard, at least not a player of Mahan's stature. I was relieved to find out Mahan had withdrawn to be with his with as she gave birth. After hearing the news, I wondered how the public would react to such a move. It's not every week you find yourself atop the leaderboard after 36 holes. To my delight, I found that nearly everyone was on board with this decision. As someone who was critical of the Mickelson situation prior to the U.S. Open, you might expect this writer to have a differing opinion from the masses on this subject, but you'd be wrong. Professional golfers are ultimately responsible for themselves, there are no teams relying on them and their income is based on actual results, not on a contract they signed. That being the case, Mahan has decided to pull out of the Bridgestone Invitational this week, a move that will undoubtedly draw praise as well. After all, everyone needs to unplug from the golfing world from time to time.

This week:
WGC - Bridgestone Invitational

Last Year:
Keegan Bradley shot a final-round 64 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.

Players to Consider:

1. Tiger Woods

Woods is good on nearly every course, but he's ridiculous at Firestone. He's won here seven times, and as long as he's near the top of his game, like he appears to be, he's a lock to at least contend.

2. Adam Scott

Scott picked up a huge win here in 2011, and his game has improved since. Scott is quite simply one of the best players in the world and seems to be a factor at nearly every big event on the schedule.

3. Steve Stricker

Stricker has chosen his spots well this season and is well prepared for a run this week after taking the last two weeks off. Stricker has played well at his event the last few years, and a win isn't out of the question this week.

4. Brandt Snedeker

Not a great track record at this event, but as we've witnessed the last couple years, when Snedeker finds a groove, he's tough to beat - anywhere. If he's to take a leap to the next level, this would be a good place to start.

5. Matt Kuchar

Kuchar did everything he could last week to deny Snedeker entrance into the multiple-winners club but came up just short. Kuchar is one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour, and it matters not the competition or the venue, he's going to be in the mix.

Players to Avoid:

1. Rory McIlroy

I'm a little hesitant to put a player of McIlroy's caliber on the Avoid List - it was just around this time last year that he broke out of a mini-slump on his way to winning three of five events - but he seems further gone now than he was at any point last year. It might take an offseason to get straightened out.

2. Lee Westwood

Is he playing well coming into this event? Yes. Is golf all about your form? No. This will be the ultimate test for Westwood. He's coming off the most painful defeat of his career, and it will be difficult to concentrate on the task at hand this week. Perhaps he can get the job done, but it seems a little too much to ask.

3. Keegan Bradley

He's the defending champ, which in my eyes is rarely a good thing, but beyond that, Bradley has been missing that extra gear that he displayed so often the previous two seasons. Maybe this is the week he gets it back, but I'd rather see it first before putting him on my squad again.

4. Phil Mickelson

Mickelson has become efficient the last 10 years, in that he focuses on a certain event and does everything he can to attain his goal. His goal two weeks ago was the British Open, and he obviously met that goal. With the PGA Championship around the corner, I have a hard time imagining that he'll be geared up for this event.

5. Dustin Johnson

My hunch last week looked good ... for about one day. D.J. took off after round one, however, and was in contention late into the final round. But this is a different beast this week. D.J.'s track record at Firestone isn't horrible, but he's never cracked the top 10.


Group A

1. Brandt Snedeker
2. Tiger Woods

This event usually provides quite a challenge trying to pick just two players from this Group, but this time around it was pretty easy. Woods and Snedeker are in my top-5, and two of the big names missing are on my Avoid Lst. Nice and clean.

Group B

1. Steve Stricker
2. Matt Kuchar
3. Justin Rose
4. Zach Johnson

It sure would be nice to have Mahan on the team this week in the third slot, but it's not like we are going too far down the ladder with Zach and Rose. Stricker and Kuchar are in my top-5 and should be on just about every Yahoo! roster this week. Rose will bounce back off a tough British Open showing. That was almost to be expected as it was his first major since his career-altering U.S. Open victory. Johnson seems to be in a groove, and that should continue this week.

Group C

1. Adam Scott
2. Henrik Stenson

Tough call in Group C this week. The first choice was easy, in Adam Scott, but player two was a tough call. I normally side with the likes of Jason Day in events like this, but Stenson is just playing too well to ignore. Prior to this season, Stenson was primarily known for his prowess in match-play events, but he's flipped the script this season, and now seems ready to win a big stroke-play event.

Starters Round One

1. Tiger Woods
2. Matt Kuchar
3. Steve Stricker
4. Adam Scott

It took me all of about 10 seconds to set my first-round lineup this week. Some weeks it just seems that easy. Now, whether I'm correct, that remains to be seen, but it appears like the starters for round one are pretty clear cut, with the possible exception in Group C where Henrik Stenson is really coming on. That decision gave me pause as I'm down to only three starts left with Scott. But with a limited amount of events left, you have to start the best players and let the chips fall where they may.

Round Two and Going Forward:

It's a rarity when you have a player paired with Tiger in Group A who could potentially steal a start from him, but that's the case this week. In almost any other situation, Snedeker would be an easy choice to start round one, but Tiger's track record here is just too strong. I'll have to see how Snedeker starts and then consider him for Friday. Kuchar and Stricker appear to have a strong hold on the starting spots in Group B, but there's a lot of firepower behind them in Rose and Johnson. I'll have to be careful with Rose, however, as I'm down to two starts left. Group C could be a back-and-forth affair all week. I like Scott to start because of his history here, but if Stenson continues his fine play, he'll likely force my hand at some point.