T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.
2014 Honda Classic | Five players to watch
Series: Golf Buzz
Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 | 12:28 p.m.
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.