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PGA Championship Preview: For Tiger, it's Majors or Bust

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.

Not an hour removed from victory at the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational, Tiger Woods already faced questions about his inability to win a major. Don't feel bad for Tiger. though. After all, he created this monster. This isn't about expectations anymore; it's been years since we expected Tiger to win multiple majors each year. This is about the importance he and everyone else places on majors. From the moment Tiger turned pro, he made it clear what his main goal was - to win majors. Everything he's done in his 15-plus years as a pro has been geared toward breaking the only record that matters in his mind, Jack Nicklaus' major record. Majors were important prior to Tiger's arrival, but after the unprecedented start to his career and insane trajectory he was on through the early 2000s, the major events took on a whole new meaning. They were no longer just the four most important events each year, they were potentially stepping stones to the most hallowed of all golfing records. This wasn't some media creation, though. Woods has made no secret about his goal to break Jack's record, and everything he does is geared about the majors, so it's no wonder that even after his fifth win of 2013, the only thing people seem to care about is whether he can pick up his first major win of 2013. With five wins this season, Woods is likely the player of the year, but unless he slays the beast this week at the PGA Championship, nobody, including himself, will consider this season a success.

This week:
PGA Championship

Last Year:
Rory McIlroy shot a final-round 66 on his way to an eight-stroke victory over David Lynn.

Players to Consider:

1. Tiger Woods

The only thing holding Tiger back now is Tiger. That's something you never would have seen 10 years ago, but it's obvious at this point that part of his problem is mental. His game is exactly where it needs to be, he simply needs to regain his mental edge during a major. Something tells me he's capable of figuring this one out.

2. Phil Mickelson

Two outstanding major showings in a row and there's no reason to think this won't be a third. Mickelson stumbled a bit last week, but that showing probably wasn't a true indicator of the state of his game as he rarely plays well at Firestone. Besides, knowing Mickelson, he was probably looking ahead to the PGA Championship.

3. Keegan Bradley

Bradley's had an up-and-down season, but he appears to be on the up-swing. Bradley finished T15 at the Open Championship and T2 last week at Firestone. He picked up his first major at the PGA Championship a couple years ago, so he knows what it takes to win this specific major.

4. Henrik Stenson

Stenson has accomplished just about everything he could have hoped for this season, with the exception of winning. Stenson has three runner-ups, including one at a major - the Open Championship - and one at a WGC event - last week at Firestone. The only thing left, of course, is that elusive victory. Considering he's finished runner-up in consecutive starts, there's reason to believe he'll be in the mix again this week.

5. Jason Dufner

Dufner is an extremely streaky player and just might be getting hot at the right time. Dufner finished T4 last week and has shown an affinity for this event. Dufner has two top-5s in four tries at the PGA Championship.

Players to Avoid:

1. Rory McIlroy

Quite simply, McIlroy is just not that close. He didn't appear to be at the top of his game last year prior to the PGA Championship and we all know what happened, but this feels different. I'll stick with my assertion from last week that he needs the offseason to fix his game.

2. Lee Westwood

Westwood did not perform well last week at Firestone, but that was to be expected. I'm still worried that he's in the midst of an Open Championship hangover, and this one is going to take more than just a month to get over. Westwood's had some good runs at the PGA over the last decade, but he's also been just as likely to miss the cut at this event.

3. Sergio Garcia

I had Garcia pegged as a sleeper for the Open Championship and while he played well, he only managed a T21. Now back in the unfriendly confines of the U.S. and under major pressure, expect Garcia to struggle once again.

4. Charley Hoffman

The PGA Championship is played on a different course each year, but there are some similarities in the PGA setup from course to course. With that knowledge, it is possible to make some assumptions, such as, Hoffman is 0-4 in cuts made at the PGA. Therefore, his chances this week aren't great.

5. Angel Cabrera

Cabrera is well known as a guy who can turn it on during the Masters and the U.S. Open, no matter the state of his game entering those events, but for some reason, he's never found that switch at the PGA Championship. Cabrera has missed the cut at this event the last three years.


Group A

1. Phil Mickelson
2. Jason Dufner

Time for some strategy. You might have noticed there is a fairly big name missing from my lineup this week. I have only two starts left with Tiger, and with the FedEx Cup playoffs looming, I'm going to pass on him this week. I obviously like his chances this week, but considering his record in non-major events this year, it's probably wise to save my two starts for the FedEx.

Group B

1. Keegan Bradley
2. Hunter Mahan
3. Luke Donald
4. Zach Johnson

The lack of starts remaining for certain players made the selections this week very difficult. In a perfect world I would have found a spot for Justin Rose, but with only two starts remaining, I decided to hold off. I'm left with a pretty good group, though, as Bradley's in my top-5, Johnson is on a roll, Mahan played well when he last saw him and Donald appears to be rounding into form.

Group C

1. Adam Scott
2. Henrik Stenson

I'm hedging my bet this week in Group C. While I'm holding out Rose because of the limited amount of starts remaining, I am using Scott, even though I have just two starts left. I'm OK with this because there are a few guys in Group C who look like good options all the way through the playoffs, so if I run out of starts with Scott, I should be OK. No worries about starts with Stenson, and considering how he's playing, he's a must-have in this group.

Starters Round One

1. Phil Mickelson
2. Keegan Bradley
3. Hunter Mahan
4. Henrik Stenson

To expand on my reasoning for leaving Tiger off the roster this week, I have a lot of faith in Mickelson. He seems locked in, at least for the majors, and there's no reason to think he'll stumble out of the gate this week. Bradley was an easy call to start round one this week, but the other starter was more difficult to select. I'm going with Mahan, who when we last saw him, was playing pretty darn well. The two weeks off could definitely affect his game, as well as looking after a newborn during that time, but I think he'll be fine. A couple reasons to go with Stenson on Thursday: One, he's on fire, and, two, if Stenson does happen to shoot out of the gate, I might be able to save a start from Scott.

Round Two and Going Forward:

If all goes well, Mickelson will come out on fire and start all four rounds this week. If not, I'll need Dufner to step up at some point. A tough decision could be looming if both players start well as Dufner is really streaky. Bradley looks to have a pretty strong hold on one of the starting spots in Group B, but the other is up for grabs Friday. If Mahan starts poorly, I'll likely ditch him the rest of the way, figuring that he's lost his form. If Mahan does get the boot, I should have a couple strong options in Johnson and Donald. Johnson is in better form, but I'll have to see which player gets off to a better start. Stenson could go all the way this week if he starts well. I hope that's the case and I can save a start from Scott, but if Stenson struggles early, I won't hesitate to pull him, regardless of the number of starts left for Scott.