|ESPN.com: 2007||[Print without images]|
Man, everyone in Los Angeles wants to be someone famous.
Every bartender could be the next Brad Pitt.
Every waitress looks like Jessica Alba.
And according to Phil Mickelson, The Riviera Country Club does a mean impersonation of Winged Foot.
There's no doubt that the real world implications of Lefty throwing away a sure win at the Nissan Open are far more drastic than the fantasy impact. After all, in formats like ESPN Best Ball, overall finish doesn't matter as much as total birdies. That means that since Phil and eventual winner Charles Howell III managed 20 and 21 birdies, respectively, plus an eagle apiece, they were, for all intents and purposes, on equal footing after Sunday.
But in the Tour's landscape, Howell beating out Mickelson on the third playoff hole isn't even on the same continent as if the results have been replaced. On one front, Howell broke through after posting 10 runner-up finishes since 2001, two of which had come earlier this season. With this win under his belt, he's off the metaphorical "Gilligan's Island" and seems like a solid bet to win again this season.
On the flip side, Phil's inability to protect a lead down the stretch or capitalize on Howell's miscues when he botched his first two shots on the second playoff hole shows that Lefty's game still has the ability to disappear quicker than Britney Spears' hair (and positive public image for that matter). Expect more tweaking and fine-tuning, even though his win at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and near-win at the Nissan technically still might make him the hottest golfer on the planet right now.
But who is the happiest golfer in the world? Well, for a few moments on Saturday, there was no argument. It was Rich Beem, who dunked an ace on Riviera's 14th hole, earning a free Nissan. He immediately began buffing his new ride to a high, glossy shine -- with his entire body. With over $7 million in career winnings, Beemer could afford a new Nissan to match the color of his shirt on any given day, so you know his classic reaction wasn't about the free car. It was about Beem being the kind of guy who knows he's got just about the best gig on the face of the planet, and letting us all see how he feels about it.
Speaking of feelings, how are you feeling about the fact that 64 of the world's best golfers will all be playing the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, Ariz., this week? If you're an ESPN Best Ball player, you're probably feeling like doing a little research, since we don't use that tournament. Instead, you'll be picking players in the field at the Tour's inaugural Mayakoba Classic at Riviera Maya, Mexico.
No need to break out into a sweat or play high-stakes eenie-meenie-miny-moe, though. Believe it or not, tournaments like these, when the top stars are not in play, can be the weeks when you really move up in your group. You can just go out and get the guys with the biggest games instead of worrying about who's got the biggest names.
El Camelon Golf Club, the course that will host the Mayakoba Classic, is just a hair over 7,000 yards and covers various types of terrain, from ocean-front holes to holes that cut through the jungle. There are massive cross-bunkers that run right into lagoons and devious pot bunkers that seem to sit in limestone craters. For years, any college student could've told you how easy it is to get a little wild and find yourself in deep trouble in Mexico. Now, that axiom is being applied to the PGA Tour.
Since it's the first time the event has been held, there are no previous finishes to take into consideration or specific players who have a history of success on the course. Instead, it's time to look at the field and see who's hot, who's not and who's got an outside shot.
GRIP AND RIP
When looking for best bets in a week like this, I try to keep things simple. There have been six full-field events this season, and Ted Purdy has made the cut in all six of them. He's even managed to slide into the top 25 in four of them, including a top-10 at Pebble Beach. Purdy won the Byron Nelson in 2005, so he's already shown what he can do against a world-class field. Now he's 15th in scoring average on Tour, and there isn't a single player above him who's in the field down at El Cameleon. He only costs $12 million in Best Ball, meaning you could theoretically field four Purdys and still have a couple million to tip your caddie.
I don't know how you stay away from a guy like J.B. Holmes this week. Sure, he's missed three cuts in five tournaments this year, but he's also averaging more birdies-per-round than anyone else on Tour. In a watered down field, he can miss a few fairways and lose a few balls, yet still play on the weekend. Holmes is hitting almost 73 percent of the greens in regulation, so if you're looking for some part of his game that's playing the role of Fredo Corleone, it's his putter. But Holmes was able to finish in the top 10 in terms of total putts at his most recent tournament, the AT&T, so if he's still rolling it's okay, he should be near the top of the leader board down in Mexico.
And in a week when the most reliable players are elsewhere, Vaughn Taylor being available to you, even at the top of the salary list, is still a beautiful thing. He's third in birdie average and 15th in the overall ranking, despite only having only one top-25 finish to show for it. More importantly, Taylor's two career victories on Tour, both at the Reno-Tahoe Open, came on weeks when many of the top players were playing a WGC event elsewhere. Clearly, Vaughn's a guy who knows how to take advantage of a less-than-stellar field. Even on a new course in a new tournament, he's still in his element.CHUNKED FLOPS
There's a temptation, when a field lacks star power, to pick a few guys who have won prestigious tournaments in the past, figuring they might still have what it takes against a bunch of guys who haven't tasted victory on the big stage. Jeff Sluman fits that mold, with six PGA Tour victories including a Major, the 1988 PGA Championship. Don't be seduced by the resume. In the "what have you done for me lately" category, Sluman has made only one cut all year (the Sony, more than a month ago), and right now he ranks in the top 100 in only one of the important Tour statistics, a 97th place ranking in driving accuracy. You can do better this weekend with guys who have done less in their careers.
The Mayakoba Classic was very proud to announce last week that two-time Tour winner Jerry Kelly was added to the field. What I'm sure they didn't mention in their press release is that the fiery Kelly has made only one cut all year (also at the Sony, which is becoming a theme) and that his PGA Tour rankings look like an MIT grad's IQ: 121st in GIR, 141st in putting average and 155th in par breakers. Advertising the fact Jerry Kelly is coming to your tournament right now is like trying to market a new 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner with Bruce Willis as your spokesman. Kelly owns the 10th highest salary in ESPN Best Ball this week, and while money won't be an issue for this event, you can do much better.
Tim Herron has won four times on the PGA Tour, including less than a year ago when he brought home the hardware at the Colonial with four consecutive rounds in the 60s. This year, he has only managed two rounds under 70 all season. Only four players are hitting more greens in regulation, but 141 pros are notching more birdies. If you made me choose between starting Lumpy this week or eating salmonella-tainted Peter Pan Peanut Butter while sitting on a grounded JetBlue airplane for nine hours, I'd start Herron happily. Under any other circumstances, I wouldn't feel as good about it. You should expect more from the 14th highest salary on the board in ESPN Best Ball.SAND SAVES
How is it that Harrison Frazar is in the top 100 on the all-time Money List and yet he has never won a PGA Tour Event? I don't have that answer, because if I did, I'd sell it to Frazar for 10 percent of the $7.5 million he's earned without ever lifting a trophy over his head. But I will say this week could end the streak. He's a truly long hitter who could overpower a course hosting a Tour stop for the first time, and he should feel pretty confident coming off a tie for 13th at the Nissan. Just outside the top 10 in terms of cost at ESPN.com, he's a good bet to finish in the top 10 at El Cameleon.
I've used this space before to laud George McNeil, the medalist at Q-school in 2006. He hasn't made me look bad yet, with four cuts made in five events. He's in the top 25 in driving distance, birdie average and scoring average, and he's only shot two rounds over par on the season. Costing a measly $6.8 milllion in ESPN Best Ball, he's not only a steal for this week, but a great guy to grab and stash since he could be a $9-million player by season's end.
And in case you really need some bargain basement help, Anthony Kim (editor's note: Anthony Kim backed out of the Mayakoba Classic after the posting of the Fantasy Fore) may be the hottest player coming into the week after a truly stunning 64 on Sunday at the Nissan Open. The guy is a bomber without remorse, driving his average tee ball more than 300 yards. He's converting the ones that find the fairway into birdies, but he needs to find a bit more control. With a price tag of only $5.9 million, this is a great week to see if he can reclaim the form that allowed him to finish tied for 2nd at the Valero Texas Open in 2006, his first start ever on the PGA Tour.
So there you have it. There may be a thin field in Mexico this week, but you got a full-length Fantasy Fore. After all, unlike the FedEx Cup, which offers only half points for the Mayakoba Classic, ESPN Best Ball and most other fantasy formats treat this week like any other.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy golf expert for www.TalentedMrRoto.com