The PGA Tour heads to Akron this week for the third WGC event of 2012, with many of the world's best players looking for a high finish leading into the season's final major next week. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; RotoWorld.com's Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams; staff writer Ryan Lavner; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.
Group 1: Tiger Woods: 'Red Shirt' has done pretty good this season going back to places where he has had success in the past (Bay Hill, Muirfield Village, Congressional) and he has now gone nine events without an injury-induced withdrawal, which may be one of the best signs of progress to date.
Group 2: Jason Day: The Australian is rested after missing the Open Championship for the birth of his first child, has played solid at Firestone in the past (T-4 last year) and is still searching for his first 'W' of 2012.
Group 3: David Toms: Former PGA champion plays his best golf in the late summer and at 28th on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list he will need a solid fortnight to make his fourth team.
Group 4: Yoshinori Fujimoto: Quick history lesson, Fujimoto has finished inside the top 20 in six of his seven starts on the Japan Golf Tour this season and was on the leaderboard early in his first major at Lytham. Nothing lost in translation here: sneaky good.
Group 1: Tiger Woods: Seven-time winner here. Auto-pick.
Group 2: Jason Day: Was T-8 in his last start at the AT&T National, likely beaming as a new dad.
Group 3: Scott Piercy: Riding the hot hand here. He said he likes to hit driver; he can do that this week.
Group 4: Retief Goosen: Finished T-10 at the Canadian Open. Most seasoned in the group.
Group 1: Tiger Woods: While I'm aware that Tiger has had his worst finishes in this event in each of the last two years, I'm also aware that he's won here seven times in his career. The odds of him winning are much better than repeating his performance of the last two years.
Group 2: Rickie Fowler: Finished runner-up here last year and returns very motivated because he is outside of the top 8 on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list. If he plays well the next two weeks, he'll earn a spot on his second Ryder Cup team, something he has called important on many occasions.
Group 3: John Senden: Senden has five top-10s on Tour this year, including T-10 at the U.S. Open and fourth at the John Deere Classic three weeks ago. He is making just his second appearance at Firestone but I think this Australian could surprise a lot of people this week.
Group 4: Ryo Ishikawa: Finished T-4 here last year and returns still looking for a win in 2012. While it has been a quiet year, Ryo can change all of that with a win this week on a course where he has played well.
Group 1: Tiger Woods: The seven-time winner of this event is ready to return to dominance here after a couple years out of the picture. With three wins this year he's not 'on his way back,' he is back.
Group 2: Rickie Fowler: He shared runner-up honors here last year and boasts five top-10s on Tour this year. He ranks 11th in total driving, something that is a valuable asset to have at Firestone.
Group 3: Fredrik Jacobson: He's finished inside the top-20 in three of his last six starts this year. A year ago he finished T-11 thanks to having the flat stick going: T-5 in putting and 22 total birdies (a shared-best for the week).
Group 4: Ryo Ishikawa: He tied for fourth a year ago and is playing alongside fellow young gun Rory McIlroy, so expect dueling displays of youthful showmanship that should work to Ryo's advantage. While he's been streaky this year, he does have four top-25 finishes.
Group 1: Tiger Woods: Got burned taking passes at the AT&T National and the British Open. Not happening this week. Gunning for No. 8 at Firestone.
Group 2: Steve Stricker: Wish he was rolling the rock a tad better but I'll take his level of consistent success here as often as possible.
Group 3: Nick Watney: Coming around of late. No cut this week also allows him to freewheel it a bit more than usual. It also increases the chances for one of his patented birdie binges. Top-25s at Firestone in each of the last two editions.
Group 4: Retief Goosen: Posted T-10s at the U.S. and Canadian Opens. Last week's effort included a bogey-free 63 in the third round. Also posted top-fives in two of his last four appearances at Firestone.