Print and Go Back ESPN.com: 2007 [Print without images]

Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Updated: January 25, 4:38 PM ET
Fantasy Fore: Buick Invitational

By Shawn Peters
Special to ESPN.com

By Shawn Peters
Special to ESPN.com

I'll admit it. When I turned on The Golf Channel's Sunday coverage of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and saw some guy with long, stringy blond hair teeing it up, I thought Owen Wilson had packed on a few pounds and was playing in the Pro-Am.

Of course, the Pro-Am actually ended on Saturday, Owen Wilson probably has a personal trainer who keeps him from getting a beer gut and the beach bum I was looking at was actually Charley Hoffman, who went on to win the tournament with a birdie on the first hole of a playoff against John Rollins.

Would the result have been different had The Classic Course Club not been whipped by 40 mph winds that turned ProV1s into wiffle balls? Probably. But everyone faced the same conditions and Hoffman was one of only four golfers who managed to shoot below par for all five rounds, so give credit where credit is due. For the record, the others with five sub-par rounds were Harrison Frazar, Nick Watney and Will MacKenzie.

The win was Hoffman's first on the PGA Tour, and considering he'd never finished better than fifth in a Tour event, it's fair to say few people outside of the Hoffman family saw this coming. Put his win together with last week's reanimation of Paul Goydos' cryogenically frozen career and suddenly, the expression "on any given Sunday" may now apply to the NFL and the PGA Tour.

As someone who gets paid to prognosticate the winners of tournaments, I can tell you this trend has got me looking at everyone short of Happy Gilmore as a possible contender. However, normalcy is coming. Thursday, Tiger Woods tees it up for the first time in 2007, which should bring balance to the Force.

Speaking of this week's Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, let's see which players will be splitting fairways and which others will be splitting early. But first, a quick aside regarding strategy. In fantasy golf formats that let you start different golfers each round, there is a way to maximize your early returns this week. Over the first two days at Torrey Pines, golfers will play one round each on the North and South courses. The North Course is a fine test of golf stretching out to 7,568 yards from the back tees, but it's the 7,607-yard South Course that got a face lift in 2002 and is being prepped to host the U.S. Open in 2008. So needless to say, if you have a choice, you want to start your guys on the North Course.

GRIP AND RIP

Tiger Woods has won the Buick Invitational two years in a row, three of the last four, and four times since 2000. If it were anyone else, one might expect him to be rusty coming into the new season so late. But since it's Tiger, we'll all just be shocked if he doesn't win. Other than his national debt-sized price tag in salary cap leagues, the only reason not to start Tiger is the fact that everyone else in your league will be starting him and so everyone will get the same results for him, suddenly magnifying the impact of all your other players. Ironic, eh?

Even though Phil Mickelson didn't come close to winning last weekend, only 10 players hit more fairways than Lefty did, and he managed 25 birdies over the five-day tournament. In ESPN Best Ball, that's the kind of stuff that earns you a spot near the top. Also, Phil won this tournament in 2001, and has finished in the top 10 three of the last four years. He's a strong Woods substitute.

And since it doesn't get much more obvious than those first two names, I'll throw out the far-less-obvious Vaughn Taylor. Taylor is currently tied for eighth on Tour in terms of scoring before the cut, and since most fantasy formats punish you for having guys miss the weekend, that's a nice commodity. Only 11 golfers are averaging more birdies per round than Taylor, an especially important stat for ESPN Best Ball. Taylor is more than $2 million cheaper than guys like Tiger, Phil or Vijay Singh in ESPN's game, so he definitely represents value.

CHUNKED FLOPS

I know Steve Stricker is playing well coming off a top-10 finish at The Hope. But the man hasn't finished the Buick Invitational since 2000. In that time, he's skipped the tournament three times, missed the cut twice and withdrew once. If there's such a thing as "horses for courses" then Stricker has been saddled with a bad draw for this week.

Japan's Ryuji Imada has shot only one round over par out of eight so far this season and looks like a player who could take a step forward this year … but it won't happen this week. Torrey Pines' South Course has been his personal house of horrors. In 2006, Imada was tied for third after the first day of the Buick Invitational, but ended up tied for 39th after a third-round 76. A year earlier, he also started hot only to finish near the bottom of the leaderboard. That time, a final-round 80 was the culprit. Forget the rising sun … Imada is from the land of the rising score.

Finally, even though he's one of only three players on Tour who can claim to have won in 2007, Paul Goydos isn't built for this weekend. Only two players who made the cut in Palm Desert drove it shorter than Goydos' 265.9 yard average. Meanwhile, Torrey Pines' shorter course, the North, is 250 yards longer than the longest course the pros played last week. Besides, if we've learned anything from Goydos, it is that we shouldn't expect another win for at least a decade.

SAND SAVES

When you're making your second-tier picks, you want to minimize your risk and grab some upside. Enter Brett Quigley, who has finished in the top 20 at Torrey Pines three years in a row. Quigley is a guy who is going to break through and win at some point, and it wouldn't be shocking to see it happen at a tournament like the Buick Invitational, where he's clearly comfortable. He's not in the top 20 in terms of price on the ESPN Best Ball rankings, so he certainly has the pedigree to outperform his spot.

Unlike last week (and this week for that matter) when I told you not to be seduced by the previous week's winner, Paul Goydos, I'm reversing course this week and endorsing Charley Hoffman as a strong sleeper. In most formats I play, he's still rated low enough that grabbing him makes sense, especially since Torrey Pines is in Hoffman's home town of San Diego. He will likely have the largest crowds of anyone not named Phil, Tiger or John Daly. Hoffman notched a top-20 finish last year at the Buick, and I expect another this year.

I mentioned Will MacKenzie earlier as one of four golfers who shot below par in every round at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. He's already played 13 rounds of golf on Tour this year, and so far only one has been over par. With two top-20s already, this is the kind of fantasy bargain you ride.

Okay. Let's say you've blown your entire salary cap on a couple of big names and need someone at the bottom of the proverbial barrel. You need a name, and while you don't expect to recognize it, you still need it. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you George McNeill. The 31-year-old Florida State product was working behind the counter at a pro shop last year, although he did take a little time off to qualify for the U.S. Open. But at the 2006 Q-School, McNeill shot five consecutive rounds in the 60s on the PGA West course and finished first by five strokes. So what has he done for you lately? Well, he's made the cut in both tournaments he's played this year, finished 13th last week, and is ranked 25th on Tour in birdies per round. At $6.2 million in ESPN Best Ball, he's a steal.

So there you go. Some strong plays, some weak plays and some hope for a little stability on the PGA Tour now that Tiger's back. But just in case … keep an eye on that Happy Gilmore fella.

Shawn Peters is a fantasy golf expert for www.TalentedMrRoto.com