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Ernie Els and the 10 Golfers To Watch at Bay Hill

Immer ChriswellCorrespondent IMarch 24, 2011

Ernie Els and the 10 Golfers To Watch at Bay Hill

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    We are back to Arnie's place—Bay Hill. Such a wonderful course, it has provided so many incredible moments, especially when one Eldrick Woods was winning it. 

    This year, there is a slew of new talent that seems to be enjoying winning tournaments. So does the trend hold true for this week's tournament?

    Let's take a closer look at the defending champ and the other golfers who should be factors on Sunday.

Defending Champion: Ernie Els

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Last year, Ernie Els won this tournament. Well, he posted a score and the guy he was tied with, some guy named Kevin Na, bogeyed to give him the win.

    Unfortunately, this is not going to be the same week Els hoped for.

    Els has three top 25s out of five cuts made. However, he is still yet to break into the top 10. That is what makes him so hard to name as a serious contender this week. Like most defending champions, Els won't be defending the title, just guarding it for the next person.

Hunter Mahan

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    For a while, I wrote Hunter Mahan off. However, he has proven all doubters wrong.

    He has four top 10s in seven tournaments, including a second-place finish at Pebble Beach. He has made the cut in every tournament he has entered. Overall, Mahan is having a strong year.

    Expect it to continue this week, with a strong finish.

Justin Rose

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    A few weeks ago, he was referred to as Sean Foley's "most complete" student, by Foley himself. While not necessarily a great comment if you're teaching Tiger Woods, Foley has a point. Justin Rose is the most complete player he has as of this moment. 

    Of course, we all know that could change.

    Rose is an interesting case.

    He has two top 10s, one from the Transitions Championship last week and four more top-25 finishes. His play has been superb, but unfortunately, it hasn't been enough to put it together. 

    While I don't see Rose quite winning yet, I think he reaches a crucial stepping stone for his career.

Bill Haas

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    After such a great start to the year, Bill Haas looks more human than super hero. He missed the cut last week. Granted, it was his first, but he still did not play over the weekend.

    Haas still has incredible consistency. He played well for the first four tournaments of the year, but he has not found his game yet.

    Unfortunately, it is golf. That's why Haas missed the cut last week. 

    Advantage of golf: You don't have to be the best to have the best odds.

Ryan Moore

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    So far, in five out of six cuts made, Ryan Moore has yet to accomplish his signature victory—the win that would cap everything off and start the road to the Masters.

    Moore can do some damage, especially with his precision in hitting the ball despite the lack of a "conventional" golf swing.

    While picking Moore may no longer jump out at you, he is still someone to consider every time he is on the course, because he is that dangerous.

Dustin Johnson

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Bay Hill is a course that is often susceptible to birdies.

    Advantage: Dustin Johnson.

    Even Tiger had to tweet today, predicting he would be the first one to hit from the fairway, since he is playing with Woodland and Johnson.

    Even with the length, it's going to take some birdies to win this tournament, and Dustin Johnson gives himself plenty of looks.

Jeff Overton

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Last year Overton was a surprisingly great pick for the Ryder Cup, as he showed extremely well for a rookie in the tournament. He was one of America's most valuable players.

    He hasn't performed well to this date in 2011, but it is only temporary. He proved the game he has can carry him to the top of the leaderboard, and that is where he will be this week.

    Keep in mind, Overton had three second-place finishes last year. Expect to see him gunning hard for the win, but he will fall short this week.

Steve Marino

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    Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    Bay Hill is a course for birdies. Sound familiar? If there's anyone on tour who knows something about birdies, it's Steve Marino.

    He has lead the tour in birdies and he has been in the upper half nearly every year he has played. This year he has played relatively well. Despite missing two cuts, he has a second-place finish and a top 10 in his four cuts made.

    The thing about Marino is it can be all or nothing. He can go out and torch the course, or struggle just to make it through the round. With Bay Hill this week, I am going to go with something lukewarm.

Sergio Garcia

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Last week, people questioned how much Sergio's hiatus helped. I think it truly did make him focus on the game and how much he appreciates everything done for him.

    Unfortunately, Sergio fell short this past weekend. He couldn't break par, mainly due to the fact that he was still toying with his putting. For someone who changes the most important aspect of his game every two weeks, you have to give him credit for staying competitive. His ball striking really is that good.

    Expect Sergio to better his15th-place finish with a top 10 finish at this week's tournament.

Contender: Gary Woodland

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    If you have momentum coming into a golf tournament, there's a good chance it will translate well for you.

    Gary Woodland is on fire.

    He averaged 319 off the tee last Sunday, bringing his four-round average to 296.5, seventh in the field. His putting? Twenty-seven putts per round, with a low of 23 on Sunday. That's how you win golf tournaments.

    If Gary Woodland can keep making putts, there's no reason he won't be in heavy contention this week.

Winner: Tiger Woods

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    I'm not even close to positive on this one. It's probably a ridiculous pick to win, but who would have seen Gary Woodland coming?

    It's like I have said before, you don't have to play well in the weeks leading up to the tournament in order to win it. It sure does give a confidence boost, but look at Luke Donald. He missed the cut the week prior to the Accenture Match Play, and I would say that turned out alright.

    I'm picking Tiger because of any week on tour, this is one of the few where he really should be in his zone. He has owned this course for so long, just like Torrey Pines (I'm aware how that worked out at Torrey this year).

    He's probably more of a dark horse, but this week I am going with Tiger as my victor.

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