The Honda Classic has experienced a steady boost in profile on the PGA Tour since its inauguration, and the 2014 edition of the tournament features perhaps its deepest field of golfers ever.
As Hank Gola of the New York Daily News alludes to, the rescheduling of the Players Championship in 2007 made this week's event more appealing to players passing through the tour's Florida swing. Now most near the world rankings are teeing it up this week at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Shane Bacon of Yahoo! Sports is enthused about the slew of world-class players hitting the links:
So, ahem, how about that Honda Classic field?!— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) February 25, 2014
A three-hole stretch known as "The Bear Trap" on hole Nos. 15 through 17 is named after golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, who's one of just three golfers to win this event multiple times and he redesigned the course.
Between the general rise in parity the game is seeing in the modern era and how hard it is to win the Honda Classic more than once, this is a severe test and has all the elements of a major. In fact, the par-70 Champion Course was the hardest non-major course in terms of stroke average (71.318) last season, per PGATour.com's Bill Cooney.
Be sure to read on and find out what compelling individual storylines there are ahead of Thursday's start to the event, along with the TV schedule and further information.
When: Thursday, Feb. 27 through Sunday, March 2
Where: PGA National Golf Club (Champions Course) in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATOUR.com.
FedExCup Points: 500
|Thursday, Feb. 27||2-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Friday, Feb. 28||2-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, March 1||1-3 p.m.; 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel; NBC|
|Sunday, March 2||1-3 p.m.; 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel; NBC|
Storylines to Watch
World Elites Return to Action
If not for Henrik Stenson's extraordinary run at the end of 2013 and Jason Day's triumph at last week's WGC-Accenture Match Play event, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson would still likely be the top three ranked golfers in the world in that order.
Woods is still No. 1, and Scott—despite a rather long layoff—is second, but a nagging back issue has dropped Mickelson down to fifth. None of them played in last week's match play. All are seeking to seize some momentum after slow respective starts to 2014.
There isn't much history of past prowess for Woods to draw on here, since he's played the event just three times. However, he did put up an incredible final-round 62 in 2012, creating the maiden theatrics down the stretch between him and Rory McIlroy, the eventual champion who held off the legend's charge.
This tournament isn't far from Woods' Florida home and even though he missed the secondary cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in his only start of the calendar year, he's unconcerned about his game, per ESPN.com's Bob Harig:
Once the Florida swing starts, we're all just building toward that one week in April. We're all about building toward that. Don't finish dead last. And if you win, great...It's not the way I'm used to starting," he said. "But also I didn't have the practice time I'm used to. I knew eventually it would kick in. Unfortunately it took me six rounds before it kicked in. I was very pleased with it on Sunday at Dubai and then India on Tuesday. It was merely a continuation of that. I put it together.
As for Scott, Woods' former caddie Steve Williams is on the bag, which should only continue to help him. Martin Blake of Golf.org.au points out how this will be the first tournament action for Scott in six weeks—the same competitive gap Woods has experienced:
Adam Scott's return from a 6-wk break is this week at Honda. Ditto for Tiger Woods. Jason Day not playing but this will be a fun year.— Martin Blake (@martinj_blake) February 24, 2014
The reigning Masters champion explained that, like Woods, he's gearing up for his defense at Augusta National in April and feels he's in good shape, per the AP's Doug Ferguson (via PGA.com):
There's heaps of work to do, but there's got to be a break somewhere. I could keep playing. I feel like I'm playing well. But you can't continue to perform at the level you want if you play all the time. I'm forcing myself to take a break, and I can see it's coming. My brain didn't completely switch on these two weeks.
Who will fare better at the 2014 Honda Classic?
All that retooling, rest and recovery and reemergence on the world stage this week will hopefully culminate in another solid performance from Scott, who's finished in the top 10 in his four tour appearances in the 2013-14 season.
The 43-year-old Mickelson had to withdraw from the Farmers Insurance Open earlier in the season and had to grind it out just to make it to his beloved Phoenix Waste Management Open, where he finished tied for 42nd. But that was followed by a joint 19th finish at Pebble Beach, so perhaps Mickelson is turning a corner health-wise.
It's a shame that his back is betraying him a bit, because Mickelson won the Open Championship in 2013 and was playing as well as ever at that time. The career Grand Slam could be had at the elusive U.S. Open this season, so Lefty has a great shot to compete in that type of an atmosphere in Florida this week.
Is Rory Ready to Reascend?
A changing of the guard in the game of golf appeared imminent that Sunday at the 2012 Honda Classic, when McIlroy won and earned the No. 1 ranking on the planet for the first time in his career.
That notion seemed to be confirmed when the Northern Irish sensation ran away with that year's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. He then capped off the calendar year with a triumph at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Last season was the most trying for McIlroy to date, as he struggled to live up to the massive expectations set before him. Signing a brand-new endorsement deal with Nike and switching representation also didn't help. McIlroy was a basket case compared to the greatness he displayed the previous year.
Proof of that came when McIlroy stormed off the course in the second round at the 2013 Honda Classic, withdrawing after a nightmarish round saw him start seven over par through eight holes.
Wisdom tooth pain was cited as the reason for the abrupt exit. However sketchy that sounds, McIlroy was in no place to compete as it was from a mental standpoint or, consequently, a physical one.
Although it's still early in 2014, the 24-year-old already looks like a different player. He lost in the unpredictable match play event as No. 1 seed to Harris English in his last appearance but not before making a furious charge to take a late lead. McIlroy could still see the silver lining:
Disappointing not to advance today but @Harris_English was very solid. Positives to take from the last 2 days. Looking forward to the Honda!— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) February 21, 2014
Now is a chance at redemption for McIlroy in Florida at the site of perhaps the lowest point in his professional career. It was at least the most drastic juxtaposition—from holding the trophy and reigning atop the golfing world in 2012 to melting down from all-around anguish just a year later.
Battling through a slump after dominating two majors at such a young age is something that perhaps can't be appreciated by anyone but Woods or other prodigies-turned-superstars. McIlroy is well for the weather and better for it, and the Honda Classic will yet again test his reserve of resolve with its difficulty.
Fowler Finding Consistent Form?
Other than a major championship, there is arguably no better examination of golf to prove whether or not Fowler's third-place finish at the match play was an aberration or a sign of the brilliance to come.
Fowler, for all the fanfare he deservedly garners with exemplary temperament, professionalism and a well-rounded game, has just one PGA Tour win to his name in the midst of his fifth season on the big circuit.
Despite being a fixture amongst golf's elite, the results haven't quite matched up with Fowler's talent level.
Now that he's working with swing instructor Butch Harmon, though, the free-flowing swing and aggressive style are still present, but where Fowler has tightened up is in his takeaway and return to impact. That's led to a more consistent strike and better iron play.
Taking golf one hole and one shot at a time is often all it takes for even the best players to recalibrate and avoid being daunted by the big picture. That may have helped Fowler turn things around after he suffered through growing pains in adjusting to what Harmon has taught him.
There is no doubting Fowler wants to win and that he's a gritty competitor, as evidenced by defeating five higher seeds in the match play. Until he starts winning more, he won't quite earn the respect, but this week could be where all those perceptions change based on his recent form.