Balls in the Air: THE PLAYERS Championship [*Update]
By Stephanie Wei under Balls in the Air

Welcome to Balls in the Air, where I size up my Fantasy Golf picks of the week, featuring guys to watch (or not) and interesting story lines. Disclaimer: Don’t yell at my if my picks suck. There’s no mathematical formula to my attempt at predicting something as random as golf scores.

Have you heard?! Phil Mickelson could supplant Tiger Woods as number one in the world rankings — but he has to win and Tiger has to finish out of the top five, which actually is fairly possible if Quail Hollow was any indication for how The Players will play out.

After my disastrous Tiger pick last week, I took him off my roster. There have been numerous reports he’s plunking balls in the drink and spraying the ball off the tee like a guy who needs to get laid. He also has a lot of crap going on in his personal life, which is proving to interfere with the mental side of things. But other than that, his game is looking fantastic.

Seriously, though, I’m a Tiger supporter (on the golf course) — I really would prefer to watch him when he’s playing like, well, Tiger than that dude we saw at Quail Hollow. I hope he proves me wrong, but it just might happen again. Historically, he’s never played well at TPC Sawgrass (yes, I know he won it in 2001, but it’s 2010 post-Scandal), so it’s hard to bet on a guy whose game doesn’t suit the course (precision is key) and missed drives are flying into unknown territory. But one thing I’ve learned is, never underestimate him. Still, benched! And will someone please take the driver out of his bag? Better yet, just break it.

Anyway, TPC Sawgrass is one the toughest Tour stops. Precision is key. So is putting. If the wind is blowing (which apparently it has been), it only gets trickier. Basically, mistakes aren’t easily forgiven at Sawgrass. I actually think some random player will win, but trying to predict that person is a disaster (Brian Gay, FTW!). In recent years The Players has produced eclectic champions — in the words of Alan Shipnuck, “Fred Funk (yikes!), Stephen Ames (who?), Henrik Stenson (yawn), Sergio Garcia (isn’t he retired?) and Phil.”

Here we go. Hopefully my picks have better luck this week.


Phil Mickelson: As much as it pains me, tough not to go with Hefty. Even though he doesn’t have the best track record at this event (I’m aware he won in ‘07), he’s gotta be feeling pretty darn good. In his last two starts, he’s won and finished second. But you never know which Phil will show up — he won’t get away with too many stray shots. The guy sure can score, though. By the way, yes, he was channeling Rickie Fowler on Wednesday and dared to wear orange pants (pictured above). Mid-life crisis?


Bill Haas: With his dad, Jay Haas, in the field, the two become the first father-son duo to compete at The Players. He’s won once this year, ranked 35th in driving and 35th in putting on Tour. Oh, and I almost forgot — 9th in FedEx Cup points. YES!


Lee Westwood: I like him for the majors and you know, The Players is the fifth major. Well, not if you ask Westwood, who earlier this week said he ranks the WGCs as bigger events. He’s a safe bet, and the past two Players champs have been Europeans, so why not make it a Euro-three-peat?

Jim Furyk: Because it’s his home course, which he says gives him absolutely no advantage. Okay, seriously, his precision has always been his strength, so if he can just get that bloody putter going…


Rory McIlroy: He just won the fifth major, firing a 62 on Sunday, no less. Why not win the 6th major with a 61 this week? And just because he’s Rory McIlroy and he’s leading up the youth movement in case you haven’t heard 623 times. /rolling eyes

Hunter Mahan: This last spot was a tough call. I had Watney at first. Then I had Alvaro Quiros. Next was Camilo Villegas. And finally JB Holmes. But Mahan seems like a relatively safe guy to have on the bench. Quietly he’s having a solid year and been hitting the ball well. But he’s a streaky putter — let’s hope they’re rolling in this week.


Ian Poulter: I’m going against my better judgment and taking a bit of a gamble with Poults. After finishing T10 at The Masters, he withdrew from the last few events because of a bum knee he endured while playing basketball for a whole hour. But he finished second last year and more important, he’s a solid putter — ranks 26th on Tour.


Rickie Fowler: Because he’s fearless, which should help on those menacing final holes. He notched his second consecutive top ten at Quail Hollow and fourth of the year. Say what you want about him dressing like a safety cone on Sundays and his pretty boy hair, but he sure is good, like really, really good. Rickie, please make me regret not starting you.

Why do I have a bad feeling about my picks? Maybe because I just realized that with the lone exception of Phil, the rest are all playing in the afternoon when conditions are generally more demanding. Other guys I like this week? Ernie. Moore. Luke Donald. Dustin Johnson. P.F. Chang — excuse me, I mean, Y.E. Yang. Angel. Quiros. Basically, half the field.

Okay, your turn!

*Update May 6, 10:29AM: Checking out the early leaderboard. Hmm…Alex Prugh is leading at five-under. Interesting. AIM chat with Intern Kevin:

Me: You know who might play well? Alex Prugh.

IK: Oh god.

Me: What?

IK: On that note I’m going to bed. I’ll be dreaming of Alex Prugh winning.

I know it’s early, but just saying. If you’re interested, here’s a Q&A with Prugh I did in February. Also, I made a last-minute switch in my lineup and replaced Mahan for Alvaro Quiros, who’s two-under through 11. Too bad I didn’t start him.