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      Fantasy Insider: The Open Championship

    • Kevin Na is seventh on the PGA TOUR in the all-around ranking. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Kevin Na is seventh on the PGA TOUR in the all-around ranking. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

    If the U.S. Open is the major that identifies the best golfer, then The Open Championship reveals the man with the most moxie. Sure, there are examples of dominance such as when Tiger Woods emerged with the Claret Jug the last time that the tournament was contested at Royal Liverpool, but he's in his own category.

    The problem is that fantasy gamers can't rally around moxie. It's like holding water in your bare hands. But that's OK. We're all in the same boat anyway. While we prefer a sturdy foundation of fact and friction, at the end of the day you're simply better off embracing the nuance and enjoying whatever success comes your way. The weather will probably both help and harm, but as touring professionals are prone to say, it usually evens out over the course of a season.

    So, prepare normally, but do yourself a solid and don't cry when the leaderboard resembles random distribution, because that's the only certainty of the week.

    You can find my selections for PGATOUR.com's fantasy game in Expert Picks.

    Power Rankings Wild Card

    Tiger Woods ... When he returned at the Quicken Loans National, he landed in "Keep an Eye On" below. Diehard readers listened to the embedded SiriusXM audio segment for my outright dismissal for fantasy formats. We know what happened in the tournament. With that competitive rust shed and another three weeks of healing on the books, I'm climbing back into his corner, but I want to be convinced that he's all the way back from back surgery at 38½ years of age this quickly. He acknowledged that he didn't have any pain at Congressional, but he was probably pain-free nearly immediately after the surgical wound had healed, if not sooner. That was the point of the procedure. The kneejerk tendency is to dive back in and burn him across the board, but even if he was playing regularly upon arrival, The Open Championship is steered too much by weather and other vagaries to fuel unwavering confidence. Moreover, there are more than enough options at Hoylake to buy you another peek. (Woods has already committed to the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks, so that's probably going to be a must-start.)

    Draws

    Ian Poulter ... Believed to have injured his right wrist at the Scottish Open (where he missed the cut), but an MRI revealed that there is no structural damage, just sensitivity due to a cyst. With that bullet dodged, the Brit must feel invigorated to make yet another run at his first victory in the major in which he's experienced the most success. Three top 10s in his last six starts in The Open Championship, including the last two.

    Luke Donald ...  It's been nearly two months since he's finished inside the top 35 in a PGA TOUR event (solo second, RBC Heritage), so he's been out of sight and out of mind for U.S.-based gamers. However, the Englishman tied for third at Wentworth where he's had tremendous success. And he comes off the primer of a T16 at the Scottish Open. Don't sleep on him just because he's been quiet here.

    Lee Westwood ... With missed cuts in his last three starts worldwide, he's either the easiest among the elite to rule out or the most dangerous play on the board. Its within these extremes when a memorable fantasy decision is made. We know who he is, which means that he transcends form, especially in this tournament. Bottom line, he shows up for most majors.

    Jim Furyk ... One of his three career-best, fourth-place finishes in this major occurred at Royal Liverpool in 2006, but it hasn't been a tournament at which the grinder has fared well in recent years. Complicating matters is that he's flourished throughout 2014 and hasn't missed a cut anywhere since last year's Open at Muirfield. Ranks 10th in fairways hit, 49th in greens in regulation and first in scrambling, so you can count on a fighter's chance.

    Kevin Na ... Enters in arguably the best form of his career, so don't let the 1-for-3 slate with a T27 at St. Andrews in 2010 dissuade you. Since a playoff loss at the Memorial, he's added a T12 at the U.S. Open and a T13 at the John Deere Classic. Seventh on TOUR in the all-around and second in scrambling.

    Ryan Moore ... He was already eligible when he elected to play the John Deere Classic where he tied for seventh. That came on the heels of a T5 at the Travelers Championship where he held the 54-hole lead. They are among four top 20s in his last seven starts. Missed only one of four cuts in The Open.

    Ernie Els ... One rule in fantasy golf is that you should never rule out The Big Easy in this tournament where he's a two-time winner and three-time runner-up. While he's on the downside of his career arc, it's a gradual slope and he knows how to play links golf. His touch alone is worth our respect.

    Bill Haas ... A mild endorsement. Continues to make cuts. Aside from a withdrawal during the RBC Heritage where he was suffering from a wrist injury, he hasn't officially missed a cut since the Deutsche Bank Championship over 10 months ago. Probably too expensive in DFS, but his consistency has value.

    Thomas Björn ... Last man snipped from the Power Rankings. The Dane probably has a love-hate relationship what with his heartbreaking close call in 2003, but it doesn't erase the fortune of five top 10s. What's more, he whizzing under the radar at 24th in the Official World Golf Ranking and top 25s in his last four starts.

    Stephen Gallacher ... The 39-year-old Scot is a sporty selection for many what with three top fives and a top 20 in his last six starts. Top 25s in two of his last three Opens.

    Rafael Cabrera-Bello ... Nine consecutive cuts made, three of which for a top 10 including a playoff loss at the BMW International Open just three weeks ago. Tied for 21st at Muirfield last year. The Spaniard has been a fixture on the European Tour for several years, but he finally turned 30 in May.

    Francesco Molinari ... His career-best finish in a major occurred at Muirfield last year (T9), he makes tons of cuts and he's a top-25 machine. What's not to like in DFS?

    Miguel Angel Jiménez ... Cooled a bit of late, but go ahead and toss him onto your DFS lineup if it makes sense financially. He's finished inside the top 25 in each of the last three Open Championships and has a pair of wins in the last three months (Champions Tour and European Tour).

    Fades

    Brian Harman ... Making his just second appearance in a major (MC, 2012 U.S. Open). Thoroughly thrilled to have broken through at the John Deere Classic, but this week's experience is going to be a 180-type of departure.

    Webb Simpson ... This is relative. Pretty much all or nothing of late with a pair of third-place finishes in his last four starts (St. Jude, Greenbrier) but zero top 25s in the other eight starts of his last 10. A nice fit on paper, but the chronic inability to score often enough is of mild concern.

    Jason Dufner ... Putting is too inconsistent to expect anything valuable in the short-term. Still a legend otherwise.

    Hunter Mahan ... Still saddled with a reputation (and statistics) of a guy that struggles around greens, so it may surprise you that he has three top 20s in this event, including in each of the last two years. However, a T24 at the Quicken Loans National is his only top 25 in his last 11 starts. Only the truly devoted will cite his record in The Open and the T24 -- because it's his most recent competition -- as the basis of an investment this week. Say this about the road less traveled, it often offers greater opportunity to make a difference.

    Victor Dubuisson ... The curious case of the Frenchman remains open. If there's an identity onto which we can hang our hats, it's that he's fearless as a front-runner. A crisp iron game will lay the foundation for that intangible. But he's struggled in three starts in Europe since a T28 at the U.S. Open.

    Brendon de Jonge ... Survived 10 consecutive cuts, but this is his Open Championship debut. Since his how-did-he-do-that T6 at Quail Hollow he has just one top 25 (T8, Quicken Loans).

    Keep an Eye On

    Jason Day ... He's declared himself fit and gamers don't want to lose faith, but he's given us no choice with the on-again, off-again issues with his left thumb. It prevented him from playing The Greenbrier Classic. When he has teed it up, the results have been primarily favorable. So, he can serve as the classic high-risk, high-reward option if you need to make up some ground because the likelihood of your league's front-runner being on board is minimal.

    Erik Compton ... At some point in his career, baseball fans overlooked the fact that Jim Abbott didn't have a right hand. We're probably on the precipice of taking that leap with Compton and the unending references to the fact that he's on his third heart. People live and excel with physical challenges to which the rest of us can't relate. That he's making his debut in this tournament is the only reason for caution from a fantasy standpoint. Furthermore, he'll probably need the greens to run fast to at least connect him with a comfort zone. He's done his greatest damage on slick surfaces, which makes sense since putting is his strongest weapon.

    Mikko Ilonen ... There are going to be gamers that will curse me for his inclusion because they want him to themselves. He's still Finland's only winner on the European Tour and picked up his fourth title at the Irish Open four weeks ago. The 34-year-old also owns the distinction of being the most recent British Amateur champion at Royal Liverpool when he took the 2000 crown.

    Patrick Reed ... Still swinging through his first starts in the majors. Failed to convert on the 54-hole lead at Congressional three weeks ago and settled for a T11. Added a T26 at Greenbrier the following week. The swagger is back, but chalk this week up as a scouting opportunity.

    Marc Leishman ... I'd love to see the wind howl while he navigates any links course. He's just 1-for-3 in the tournament with a T60 in 2010 and four of his last five rounds in Great Britain have gone for 75 or higher. Surged in May and June, so he's trending toward a career-best finish.

    Jamie Donaldson ... Has a bit of a cult following among gamers that love to think that no one else is ever on every potential sleeper that they are. Make no mistake, the Welshman is but a relative sleeper since he's a European Tour member that dabbles in the U.S., but until then he makes sense only in DFS formats. Above-average putter and a bona fide scorer.

    Shane Lowry ... No loss for confidence and readiness to break through, but he's unlikely to land in the middle of the spectrum. Makes for a tasty tryout in DFS. Lean on five top 25s in his last seven starts, including a T4 at Royal Aberdeen on Sunday.

    Cameron Tringale ... First appearance in The Open. Withdrew early from the John Deere Classic after he qualified for this week. While gamers appreciate the consistency and occasional noisemaker, we're still unclear as to how hungry he is. Strides with a coolness that epitomizes his Southern California roots, but he's in his fifth season on the PGA TOUR and has seemed to stall out in a comfort zone short of greatness. Now, he's not yet 27 years of age, so the future remains exciting. Just use this week as a chance to observe how he responds to preparing for links golf.

    Returning to Competition

    David Duval ... Couldn't begin the second round of last week's John Deere Classic due to a back injury. His victory at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2001 remains his most recent PGA TOUR title.

    Notable WDs

    Steve Stricker ... Ultimately decided against making the trip.

    Charles Howell III ... Hasn't played the event since 2012 and has never had any measurable success. Continues to lead the PGA TOUR with 55 rounds under par.

    Tom Lehman, Mark Calcavecchia and Mark O'Meara ... All former Open champions electing not to compete. Calc's decision was outside his control as he experienced trouble with getting a flight over the Atlantic.

    One-and-Done

    Reiterating my point above about Tiger Woods, the factors that go into how this tournament plays out are reason enough to holster him. Circle the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and we'll revisit in two weeks. Yes, he's still available to me.

    Now, I'm in a bit of a corner as it relates to honoring my Power Rankings. The highest-ranked golfer who I could burn is Graeme McDowell at No. 9. If everyone were available, my pick would be Adam Scott (No. 2). The only reason I take a pass on Henrik Stenson (No. 1) is because he's paired with Woods in the first two rounds. I don't care who's in the same group with Woods, it's a real variable that we must respect. Scott is so poised for redemption in this tournament. I never have any regrets, but I'm honestly disappointed that he's off my board. I started him at Kapalua where he tied for sixth.

    Dustin Johnson is an option, but I'm eyeing him in the FedExCup Playoffs, so I'll go with G-Mac. He's a recent winner in Paris and fulfills the train of thought to stick with a Euro in this event. We know he's smart, gritty, tough in the wind and has already competed at Royal Liverpool in The Open, finishing T61 in 2006.

    My advice for two-man teams is to complement your lead with whichever European you fancy. There's hardly a shortage and it would make for great fun.

    SUMMARY

    John Deere Classic: Steve Stricker; T11; $112,800.00; 67.500 FedExCup points

    Overall Record: 28-for-35

    Earnings: $2,491,666.38

    FedExCup points: 1,359.569

    Wins: 0

    Top 5s: 3

    Top 10s: 8

    Top 25s: 15

    Missed Cuts: 7

    Withdrawals: 0

    Disqualifications: 0

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