In case you hadn't noticed, the 2009 PGA Tour season started in January, when Geoff Ogilvy won the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii.
For all but the die-hard golf fans, however, it really gets started Wednesday. That's when Tiger Woods will return from reconstructive knee surgery and make his 2009 debut at the Accenture Match Play Championship. Like any tournament he enters, Woods is a good bet at the Accenture, rusty or not. He's the defending champion, and his dominance in the event is legendary.
In nine years, he's compiled a 31-6 record and won three titles. His 8-and-7 win in 2008 over Stewart Cink is the most lopsided championship victory in tournament history.
No matter what type of fantasy league you're in, Woods' return this soon is like a 60-degree January day in Buffalo -- totally unexpected and welcomed. Even though in my league golfers can be used only 10 times in a season, I'm starting Woods at the Accenture, because as we've seen in the past, he's at his best with something to prove. He also plays a relatively small schedule, focusing most of his efforts on the majors, so it won't be hard to know when to start him.
Of course, Woods is just one of the four members of my starting fantasy squad, meaning there are three other positions to fill. That's where analyzing the Woods-less money list in 2009 comes into play.
Kenny Perry has banked the most money so far this season, while the rest of the best behind Woods, players like Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson, aren't in the top 50. Names like Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney and Pat Perez have made their way on championship trophies this season, meaning the tour's star power is down. That makes the job of owning a successful fantasy team more difficult.
Unlike NASCAR, which has a consistent field of about 40 drivers each week, the PGA Tour has dozens and dozens of good golfers, all of whom can catch fire and win a tournament. That makes it difficult to predict who will win a golf tournament in a given week, a job that becomes even harder when Woods is out.
Learning that is lesson No. 1 for those starting out with a fantasy golf team. Fielding a successful squad is more about getting a foursome (or however many players your league starts) together who can make the cut. Look for statistics like top-10 finishes and past performances at the course. As time goes on and you become more knowledgeable, your research can expand to analyzing the way certain courses set up for certain players.
If, for example, a course has narrow fairways, those at the top of the driving accuracy list should merit extra attention. Or, if a course is known for its lightning-quick greens, see who's atop the putting statistics.
D.J. Trahan and Jeff Klauk might be unfamiliar to even some of the bigger tour fans out there, but fantasy owners will be interested to know that they are the only two players this season to enter and make the cut at five tournaments. Trahan and Klauk are also cheap (in salary cap leagues) or available on lower-tier lists, which makes them doubly attractive for fantasy owners.
Each tier of players will have similar stories. Mike Weir has played in just three events this season, but he's made the top five in two of them. He'll be more in salary cap leagues, but has been worth the cost thus far.
Fantasy golf, like the game itself, requires a great attention to detail. And like one good shot on the course, a good fantasy pick will bring you back again.
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