One of golf's paradoxes is that Tiger Woods adheres to one of the most predictable schedules year after year, but it's still headline-grabbing news when he commits to any event. It's a dynamic caters to the casual golf fan. I've long told gamers that it's newsworthy only when he doesn't fulfill one of his annual stops.
Well, with his early withdrawal from the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard following a final-round withdrawal at The Honda Classic on March 2, both due to persistent back pain, all bets are off on just how many customary starts will come to fruition.
While we won't be collecting points or earnings this week, the silver lining comes twofold. For games such as PGATOUR.COM pick-four format that caps starts at 10 per golfer, Woods may be an automatic investment every time he plays the rest of the season. Certainly, concern about his back remains prevalent, but there's never a shortage of news and, therefore, confidence in our decision making.
The other valuable element to his DNP shapes up as a reminder that while Woods is the face of golf for many of the aforementioned fringe fans, he's but one weapon for fantasy gamers. While anyone can burn chalk, millions have flocked to fantasy sports for decades in search of diamonds in the rough and complements to the elite. I've been playing fantasy golf for 21 years, easily long enough to experience the disappointment of losing with Woods and winning without him. It's that latter achievement that makes a league championship taste even sweeter.
You can find my selections for PGATOUR.COM's fantasy game in Expert Picks.
Power Rankings Wild Card
Chris Kirk ... Probably priced too high to serve as the sturdy compliment he was prior to the season, but he's missed only one cut in his last 18 starts, none in his last 12. Also placed T16 at Bay Hill last year during a similarly impressive run.
Robert Garrigus ... If you ever wondered if golfers keep track of things such as top fives, he answered that question following his T4 at Copperhead on Sunday, stating that it was his first top five since last year's Match Play. Indeed it was (and it was his first in a stroke-play event since the season-ending stop at Disney in 2012), but his effort also extended a concerning trend. After three red numbers and leading after 36 and 54 holes last week, he carded a 4-over 75 in the finale. It's his fifth consecutive round of par or higher in a final round. Keep this in mind if you invest and can swap him out before then at Bay Hill.
Charles Howell III ... He's just about as automatic as ever this season with five top 10s before a T14 at Copperhead. Survived the cut in the last five editions of the API and picked off three top 25s. Sits 12th in greens hit, first in scrambling, seventh in adjusted scoring and inside the top 10 in both par-4 and par-5 scoring.
George McNeill ... Hasn't finished outside the top 20 in his last four starts and hasn't missed the cut in four tries at Bay Hill. Ranks 36th in strokes gained-putting and 21st in adjusted scoring.
Chris Stroud ... Just keeps on keepin' on. Back-doored a T9 in Puerto Rico with a Sunday 65. All six of his cuts made this season are top 20s. Survived the cut in the last two editions of the API. Currently 11th in adjusted scoring and inside the top 20 in one-putt percentage, three-putt avoidance and par-3, par-4 and par-5 scoring.
Rickie Fowler ... Shown enough flashes in the last month to warrant this endorsement. Since going 5-1 at the Match Play, tied for 24th at PGA National and posted a T44 at Doral. He's 3-for-3 at Bay Hill with a T3 last year.
Pat Perez ... If you pull the trigger, play him in the opening round. He's scored in the 60s in his last nine first rounds and rode five of them to top 20s. Bay Hill has been a challenge for him since the last set of significant modifications were in play for the 2010 edition, but he's enjoying this season with renewed focus and strategy.
Cameron Tringale ... After surviving the 36-hole cut on the number at Copperhead, turned in a pair of 70s on the weekend to land at T25 and secure his fourth top 25 in his last five starts. Tied for 27th at Bay Hill last year. You can hear him knocking.
Ian Poulter ... It's not often that he'll land here for a non-major, but his track record at Bay Hill demands it what with a T12 in 2011, a solo third in 2012 and a T21 last year. It's a case example for why we rally around the Englishman when par is a good goal.
Francesco Molinari ... Potentially cheap in weekly salary games and worth the investment since he arrived at Bay Hill having survived 11 consecutive cuts worldwide. T34 in his debut last year, so he's logged a few reps on its greens.
Retief Goosen ... A closing 79 at Copperhead thwarted would should have been a day during which he met the terms of his Major Medical Extension, but he's still $88,212 or 67.92 FedExCup points short of fulfilling its terms. Bay Hill has been good to the South African as he's finished as high as T4 as recently as 2010.
Jamie Donaldson ... The cynical among you are already here, but my stance against an endorsement speaks only to his inexperience at Bay Hill where he's making his debut. The 38-year-old Welshman is a late bloomer, and he's accepted Special Temporary Membership since sharing second place at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, meaning he makes for an intriguing hired gun in full-season formats, but Doral catered to a spray chart of a leaderboard given it was essentially the first time played in competition. In short, let's see him do it again.
Brandt Snedeker ... At some point, patient owners will be rewarded, but we're now four months into his post-knee injury and he's yet to make headlines. He's also unlikely to find his game at Bay Hill where his best finish is but a T45 in 2012.
Ryo Ishikawa ... Gutted out a T25 at Copperhead where he survived the 36-hole cut on the number. He placed T19 in Puerto Rico the previous week. While a forgettable record in five previous tries at Bay Hill can be overlooked since he's elevated his game overall in the U.S. this season, that he ranks 135th in strokes gained-putting is worthy of enough concern on greens that have given him trouble.
Billy Horschel ... Whether he has an axe to grind from last year's 85 on Sunday (to finish 75th), he's really struggled in recent weeks, going 1-for-3 in stroke-play events with one subpar round. It's a curious trend (read: trough) for a guy that embraces difficult golf courses.
Angel Cabrera ... Ever since he revealed that his left shoulder was bothering him in November and a report in a newspaper in his homeland of Argentina stated that he might have surgery following the Masters, he's an automatic no-go in all formats that reward success. Just 1-for-4 in 2014 with a T52 at Riviera.
Padraig Harrington ... First appearance since 2009, which is a relatively long time ago. In his last six starts worldwide, he's survived just two cuts, only one of which going for a top 60 (T27, Pebble Beach). Not yet exempt into the Masters, so he's on the verge of missing his first major since the 2005 Open Championship (due to the death of his father). Has competed in every other major since the 2000 Masters.
D.A. Points ... Zero top 50s in his last seven starts. Has missed the cut the last two years at Bay Hill and hasn't scored lower than 73 in his last five rounds on the course.
Lucas Glover ... Since the PGA TOUR season resumed after the holiday break, he's missed the cut in all seven starts.
Keep an Eye On
Harris English ... Like many, he's finding it tough to score on the Florida Swing during which five of his eight rounds have been over par. In six rounds at Bay Hill, he's yet to beat par, so there's no quantifiable reason to endorse him when focusing on the blend recent form and course history. Formats with capped starts don't mind the break.
Chesson Hadley ... Five days after converting on his PGA TOUR breakthrough in Puerto Rico, the rookie survived the 36-hole cut on the number at Copperhead with a long-range birdie on his 36th hole. He parlayed that opportunity into a T14 for his fourth top 25 in five starts. It's not often that we see touring pros navigating the Florida Swing with such success the first time through, but Bay Hill has a documented history of rewarding experience.
K.J. Choi ... He was a popular pick last week as the all-time earnings leader at Copperhead, but he settled for a T44. He's enjoyed four top 20s in seven starts this season to sit 46th in FedExCup points. And it was just three years ago that he clocked a T6 at Bay Hill. So, there's much more potential than reason to rule him out, but confidence was higher last week, too.
Lee Westwood ... This is more of just a reminder that he's in play. The Brit is 5-for-6 in the U.S. this year but has just one top 30 (T20, Northern Trust). Putting remains his bane.
Jason Kokrak ... With his power off the tee and current rank of 12th in adjusted scoring, he sets up as a Sleeper, but this is just his second appearance since missing the cut in 2012. I'm compelled to play it conservatively, but if you're the risky sort, he's sensible in weekly salary games at Bay Hill.
Returning to Competition
Mark Calcavecchia ... Scheduled to compete at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic on the Champions Tour. It would be welcome news after requiring medical attention at Copperhead on Sunday due to an illness. He withdrew during his final round.
Tiger Woods ... Back spasms strike again, but he'll get a full four weeks off from competition before gearing up for the Masters.
Jason Day ... Tried to give it a go on Monday, but his left thumb wouldn't cooperate. Hopes for a return at the Masters.
Charl Schwartzel ... His wife is due to deliver their first child any day.
John Huh ... Surprising decision given he sat near the top of the leaderboard after each of the first three rounds last year before closing with an 80 to finish T27. However, he's mired in a 1-for-5 slump now (T35, Northern Trust).
Roberto Castro ... Nine events in and he's still scuffling. Sits 110th in FedExCup points with three top 25s, but nothing better than a pair of T19s.
James Driscoll ... On pace for his best season. Hasn't finished inside the top 100 in FedExCup points; currently 68th. Has never competed at Bay Hill.
Spencer Levin ... After opening the season with six consecutive cuts made (and seven of eight), he's missed his last four.
Bubba Watson sits atop my Power Rankings, but I'm saving him for the Travelers Championship. Enter my No. 2, Justin Rose.
The Englishman acknowledged that he turned a corner physically at Copperhead, going as far as to proclaim himself "fit" and saying so with an air of confidence. I liken his reduced playing time in 2014 to that of a Major League baseball player reemerging in the bigs after extended spring training.Rose is arguably fresher if not hungrier than usual at this point of the season. And in the absence of two-time defending champion Tiger Woods, the reigning U.S. Open champ also serves as the de facto man to beat after last year's outright runner-up finish at Bay Hill.
Henrik Stenson isn't all the way back, but that's what makes him a dangerous play in all formats. Gamers love if not demand being ahead of the curve to invest in a world-beater. Well, one-and-doners, your time is now.
Graeme McDowell and Ryan Moore round out the most obvious plays this week. No argument here.
Two-man games that didn't pounce on Kevin Na at Copperhead get another chance at Bay Hill. If Will MacKenzie is still on your board, give him a go.
Valspar Championship: Luke Donald; T4; $235,600.00; 115.000 FedExCup points
Overall Record: 16-for-18
FedExCup points: 845.129
Top 5s: 2
Top 10s: 3
Top 25s: 10
Missed Cuts: 2