Zurich Classic 2013: Hottest and Coldest Golfers Heading into Tournament

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IApril 24, 2013

Zurich Classic 2013: Hottest and Coldest Golfers Heading into Tournament

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    For golf's biggest stars, this is a fairly inactive time. We are two weeks removed from the Masters and the U.S. Open isn't until June 13. 

    However, we do have some quality players and nine major champions on tap for the 2013 Zurich Classic. There are also two groups of three players that are trending in polar opposite directions, and they will be discussed in this slideshow. 

    This all sets up for what should be a great tournament, and they almost always are at the TPC Louisiana. This event has been decided by one stroke or in a playoff in eight of the past 10 years. 

    Jason Dufner beat Ernie Els in a playoff last year. Both of them will be back to compete this year, and both happen to be on this list. 

    *All stats via PGATour.com.

Cold No. 3: Ernie Els

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    Ernie Els has always been an up-and-down golfer, and I've never really understood why.

    His gorgeous and smooth swing seems built for consistency. However, it has been letting him down this year. 

    Els came in 13th at the Northern Trust Open in his first Tour event of the year. Other than that and his 13th at the Masters, he hasn't come close to the top 10 in his Tour season

    In fact, he missed the cut in two of his last three events. In his last four events, he has only broken 70 twice, and those came with 69s. 

    During this stretch, Els has lost control of his accuracy on his approach shots; he is just 183rd in greens in regulation. Given that he is not a great putter, Els won't find more success until he starts hitting a lot more greens. 

Hot No. 3: Tianlang Guan

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    Sure, Tianlang Guan has only one event under his belt, but this 14-year-old has people gushing.

    The great Gary Player, via Nola.com's Peter Finney, had this to say after Guan made the cut at the Masters: 

    It’s the second best thing I’ve ever seen in golf. The only thing better was Tiger Woods winning a Grand Slam at 24. What Guan did at 14, on a monster golf course, was beyond belief.

    The second-best thing Player has ever seen?

    Beginning with Player going toe-to-toe with Jack Nicklaus as the Golden Bear chased history, Player has seen it all. 

    It's hard to argue with him, though. Guan was the youngest participant in the history of the tournament, and he understandably did not have Tour-quality length as he headed into the biggest tournament in the world on a course that puts a premium on distance.

    And he made the cut while finishing 58th. Nothing rattled him. Not the epic stage, the towering legends who were suddenly his competitors, or even his one-stroke penalty for taking too long to play his shot. 

    I wouldn't think a 14-year-old could follow up that kind of performance with another solid outing, but Guan shouldn't have made the cut at the Masters in the first place.

    I can't wait to watch his encore. 

Cold No. 2: Jason Dufner

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    I thought Jason Dufner was headed toward a big year.

    Last year, he picked up his innaguarral Tour win. He won two events in all, and those came in a stretch where he had eight top 10s in 16 events to close out his year.

    Dufner emerged in that stretch as one of the game's most consistent ball strikers. He seemed to never miss a hit and never get in trouble.  

    He finished 19th in driving accuracy and seventh in greens in regulation. This year, he is 16th in driving accuracy and 34th in greens in regulation. Factor in a drop to 133rd in strokes gained-putting, and his results this year are not surprising. 

    His best finish in 2013 is a 12th at the Cadillac Championship, and he's missed two cuts in the events he's played this Tour season.

    Dufner is an average putter. When he was on last year, he made up for that with tremendous ball striking and accuracy, and he hasn't been able to do so this year.

    This is a big week for Dufner. After all, this is the tournament where he claimed his first title and went on to his great finish last year.

Hot No.2: Justin Rose

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    Justin Rose should consider himself lucky I put him on this list. After all, I spent the lead-up to the Masters telling anyone who would listen, "Watch out for Rose. He's ready for his breakthrough."

    He was not ready for his breakthrough.

    Rose was at three-under after the first two rounds. That's when he started his charge...in the wrong direction.

    Rose went five-over on the weekend, and he limped to the finish line in 25th.

    Despite the fact I've taken this disappointment a little personally, I still can't deny Rose has been playing excellent golf. 

    Rose has been strong off the tee this year, and leading up to the Masters his last three finishes were, in order, second, eighth and fourth. 

    With a 10th-place finish here last year, Rose must bounce back from his poor Masters weekend and regain some momentum.  

Cold No. 1: Hunter Mahan

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    To me, Hunter Mahan is not unlike Ernie Els. He has the gorgeous swing, and he'll get hot and drill green after green.

    He does it all so effortlessly, and I'll think he is ready to dominate as a result.

    However, he can never keep his hot hand rolling. Mahan got off to a decent start to the year that culminated with a second at the Accenture Match Play Championship. 

    He's been terrible his last three times out. Mahan missed the cut in Houston leading up to the Masters. He then was cut at Augusta after rounds of 76 and 82. 

    He then got off to a solid start at the Heritage as he fired a first-round 68, but followed that up with a 76 and 78 to finish last in the group of players who were cut after three rounds, and in 91st place. 

    Mahan continues to be solid off the tee, but his approach game has gone wayward. Also, his putting has been on a steady decline.

Hot No. 1: Graeme McDowell

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    Graeme McDowell battled the high winds in the final round of the Heritage to make a surge up the leaderboard and claim his second PGA Tour victory.

    It shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone; McDowell has been in fine form this year. 

    He did miss the cut at the Masters, but he had three top 10s in his four events leading up to the Masters. 

    The 2010 U.S. Open winner doesn't have much distance off the tee. In fact, at 277.4 yards per drive, he is shrinking, but he is putting his drives in the fairway. 

    However, his best asset is his short game. McDowell has wonderful touch and he is amazing with the flat iron. 

    He is currently ninth in strokes gained-putting. 

    If McDowell can keep this accuracy and putting going, he should be considered one of the favorites heading into the U.S. Open. And while his game is not a great fit for TPC Louisiana, it is safe to expect him to be on the leaderboard.