Buckle up, folks. This week's Honda Classic at PGA National's Champion Course could very well be the most anticipated tournament played so far on the 2013-14 schedule.
Why you ask? Well, not every big name will be in Palm Beach Gardens, but here are a few who will be: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald... the list goes on.
Couple this star-studded field with a demanding course like the Champion and we're pretty sure the cream will rise to the top.
With that, here are the five players I think you'll want to keep a close eye on this week:
5. Adam Scott
Best finish in 2013-14 season: T6 at Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Reason to watch: Scott's mantra this year is to play less in order to contend more. With that, this week's start at the Honda Classic marks Scott's first on Tour since the Sony Open in Hawaii where he tied for eighth. It's also only the second time since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007 that Scott, who missed the cut there in 2011, is teeing it up. What makes this week different? PGA National has a major-championship feel. Scott got over the hump to win his first major in the 2013 Masters. He's a different player. Just about all the big names are accounted for this week and Scott is one of them.
4. Rickie Fowler
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Third in WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
Reason to watch: Until finishing third last week at the Match Play Championship, this new season had been a rather forgetful one for Fowler, whose previous best finish was T19 at the CIMB Classic. He entered last week coming off three consecutive missed cuts, but gained tremendous confidence in Tucson. Here are the names of the players he took down: Ian Poulter, Jimmy Walker, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk and Ernie Els (he lost to Jason Day in the semifinals). That's pretty stout. I'm interested in seeing how -- if at all -- that carries over to this week in stroke play.
3. Graeme McDowell
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Third WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: Four PGA Tour starts this year and McDowell's worst finish is a tie for seventh. Oh, and he finished no worse than tied for ninth in his last three Honda Classic starts. I always like McDowell on a difficult set up and that's precisely what he gets this week at PGA National.
2. Tiger Woods
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Tie for 80th at the Farmers Insurance Open
Reason to watch: Hard to fathom, but we're already one-third of the way through the new PGA Tour season (maybe we shouldn't be calling it "new" anymore) and Tiger Woods has made just one start. It resulted in that tie for 80th in the Farmers Insurance Open, where he didn't even record four rounds as a victim of the MDF -- Made Cut, Did Not Finish -- provision. Is Tiger slumping? It's far too early to tell, isn't it? He tied for second at the Honda Classic in 2012 and tied for 37th a year ago. So why should we watch for him this week? The only reason I can come up with is because he's Tiger Woods. That seems reason enough to watch.
1. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Tie for sixth at WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: This is simple. As the defending Honda champ a year ago, McIlroy stunned the golf world with his very un-Rory-like actions. Struggling mightily, McIlroy withdrew from the tournament halfway through his second round, citing wisdom tooth discomfort. Few people believed McIlroy, who previously had a sterling reputation. Instead, many chalked it up to his frustration with his game. His antics were looked down upon by the likes of his playing partner that day, Ernie Els. The word, basically, was you need to carry on and be a professional. Later, McIlroy admitted he should have played through whatever was bothering him -- overall game, or wisdom teeth. It was a learning experience, no doubt, and McIlroy was accountable for his actions. I want to see if he's up for bouncing back this week and I really think he could be. His game looks back on track and there's surely nothing more he'd rather do than give the fans in the Palm Beach Gardens area a reason to talk about his game instead of last year's antics.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.
Much of the buzz over the weekend at the Accenture Match Play Championships was about Sergio Garcia’s unusual “good-good” concession in his match with Rickie Fowler.
That was all set up by an even more unusual situation on the previous hole, when Garcia’s ball wound up next to some angry bees, which created a bit of a delay while Garcia tried to find a place where he could get a free drop without being bugged. It was that delay that Garcia cited when giving the somewhat long putt to a confused Fowler.
Watch the situation unfold here:
If you're ever facing a similar situation on the golf course, here's what you do from a rules standpoint.
According to Bryan Jones, co-vice chairman of the PGA Rules Committee, it’s a situation that is definitely up to each individual player. What may not seem like a dangerous situation to one may be quite the opposite to another.
“It may only be a few bees, but if the player might be allergic to them, you can certainly see how that could be dangerous,” Jones said.
Jones said the Rule Book doesn’t have a specific section to cover dangerous situations, but there is precedent.
“In the Decisions Book, there’s a famous decision — under Rule No. 1, it’s Decision 1-4/10 — that talks about dangerous situations and what the player is allowed to do,” Jones said. "Without getting closer to the hole, they can drop within a club length of the spot where it is not dangerous.”
The decision not only includes bees and rattlesnakes, but covers a wide variety of dangerous situations, like when your ball winds up on an alligator’s head, as happened here a few months ago.
On Friday, Garcia’s ball was in the rough near the green, so he was allowed to drop in a nearby section of rough no closer to the hole.
Had he been in the bunker, he'd have to drop in another section of the bunker — or a nearby bunker. Had he not been able to resolve the issue while remaining in a hazard, he would have had the option to drop outside of the hazard, but would have incurred a one-stroke penalty.
In Garcia’s case, he took a second drop because the bees were still near enough to his ball to cause him consternation.
“Dangerous situations are not necessarily animal or insect, but when you think of alligators and snakes and fire ants, and Sergio’s case, bees, those are covered in the decision,” Jones said. “But cactus needles or poison ivy — they’re very challenging things — but that’s not what this dangerous situation concept is really about.”
Last fall, I traveled with Team USA to the PGA Cup in De Vere Slaley Hall, Hexham, Northumberland, England. It was an unbelieably awesome experience, in more ways than one.
Before the matches began, I had a chance to play in the pro-am (well, 16 holes of it. Missed the first and last, first because I overslept, last because of radio interview - but save those stories for another day). The "Pro" in my group was a chap by the name of Richard Wallis. I had never met him but I knew he was considered by many to be one of the top players on the Great Britain & Ireland team. He's since become a friend - one who's career I follow on Twitter and share notes with once in awhile via email.
Wallis has the trademark British wit (referencing my putt blasted past the hole as "dead sheep"... still ewe (get it?)), Hollywood-esque good looks (or so I'm told by some ladies that were in attendance) and a heck of a golf game.
How good? Good enough that he was recently honored by the Guiness Book of World Records for shooting the lowest below-par score in a single round of a professional tournament ever recorded. Yes, Wallis shot a 59 while winning the PGA Southern Open Championship Pro-Am last June. And yes, others have shot 59 but Wallis' score came on a par 73 course - giving him a phenomenol -14 par for the day. (Wait, what???)
The actual certification of the award just came down and has been in various papers across Europe. I was lucky enough to contact Wallis and ask him a few questions about his accomplishment.
PGA.com: Richard, first of all, again, congratulations. What's it take to shoot a 59, fourteen-under, in a single round? I mean, that's just a silly score. Video game type stuff, right?
Wallis: You know what your spot on, when I first shot the score my first thought was, that's a 'play station' score and I chuckled to myself...it took a couple of days and probably after a bit of the hype that it sunk in what I had achieved. First of all a PGA event 59 and then the realisation of -14...I mean dreams are made of such things. Literally felt top of the world.
PGA.com: Going back to that round, when did you know you had something special going?
Wallis: I probably started thinking about a serious number after 15 holes, I had started birdie, par, par so really quite a soft start but for the next 12 holes I was -12 so at that point I was thinking of a deep number. The eagle on 15 (a 350 driveable par 4) opened my eyes to the 59 but a missed 3ft'r on 16, I thought had skuppered it a bit but a birdie finish brought it back to life!
PGA.com: The course is a par 73. That's a little unusual for our audience in the states. How common is that in England?
Wallis: A par 73 is very rare, I only know of 1 other and it's in Wales.
PGA.com: Not to be a real idiot, but is it an easy course? I've played courses in England, and they are every bit as challenging (if not more so) than some of the toughest layouts we have here. Still just trying to wrap my head around a 14-under par day.
Wallis: Haha well a lot of people have asked the same question. Let's be honest, even on the easiest of tracks you've still got to hit the shots and make the putts. This course is your typical Surrey course, narrow, heavily tree lined fairways with small greens. The only benefit with small greens is, when you hit them, your likely to be close. I missed 1 green and had only 20 putts for the day.
PGA.com: You've played in European Tour events, a hundred professional events a year, etc. What's the one thing keeping you from a playing card on the big tour?
Wallis: Good question, if I knew that I'd be winning on tour now. My time will come I'm just being patient, it's taking longer than I hoped but if I keep working hard and knocking on the door, at some point it will open and I'll walk through. I work hard, my desire and passion is there, sometimes maybe I just try too hard.
PGA.com: Can you imagine you or anyone going lower than 14-under?
Wallis: Yes for sure, there's 18 holes on a course and even in my -14 I felt like I left 2 out there!
PGA.com: You had some pretty special call-outs on Twitter after your round. That's what actually got you to start your Twitter account, right?
Wallis: Yes definitely, my sponsor thought it would help raise my profile and to a certain degree it has but if I'm honest, only to a small degree, I had hoped for a few invites haha but obviously nonne yet :-)
PGA.com: So finally, what's next for you?
Wallis: Well I'm going to keep pressing on, playing for GB&I and shooting numbers like the 59 fills you with confidence and we all know that confidence breeds success so if I keep my ambition and desire up then who knows...my life could be turned upside down from 1 single event and who knows, that event maybe next week so let's work hard and keep trying.
You can follow Richard Wallis on Twitter @Richie59wallis.