February 24, 2016 - 10:38am
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Rickie Fowler has three top-five finishes this season, including second at the Phoenix Open.

Goodbye, California. Hello, Florida.

The PGA Tour begins its Florida Swing this week with the Honda Classic at PGA National, and it's a star-studded field, headlined by Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler.

They're not the only big names heading for the Palm Beaches this week. Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson are also entered. In addition, defending champion Padraig Harrington and sudden-death playoff loser Daniel Berger have returned.

PGA National is your classic Florida layout: long, flat and chock-full of water hazards. The player who can keep his ball dry and in the fairway has the best chance of being around at the finish Sunday.

HONDA CLASSIC: Tee times | How's Tiger? See for yourself

But even that may not be enough. PGA National features a three-hole stretch called the "Bear Trap" that could decide who takes home the trophy. You'd think two par-3s wouldn't be so knee-buckling, but you're talking tiny targets surrounded by water, so there's no bailout area. And if the wind's blowing, those holes pose even more of a challenge.

Here are the five players to keep a close eye on this week:

5. Phil Mickelson
Best finish in 2015-16 season:
Second at AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Reason to watch: When Phil Mickelson says he's having fun playing golf again, and it's showing up in his results, there's nothing better. We know how well Lefty can scramble, but his entire game is showing vast improvement over the past couple of seasons. He's never been the most accurate driver of the ball, but he continues to amaze with his chipping and his putting hasn't been this good in a long time.

4. Jason Dufner
Best finish in 2015-16 season:
Won Career Builder Challenge
Reason to watch: After his victory in the 2013 PGA Championship, Dufner seemed to fall off the radar for the next two seasons. But the king of Dufnering has more top-10 finishes (three in nine events) so far than he had all of last season, including the playoff win at La Quinta. He may not allow his emotions to rise to the surface often, but there's been a hint of a smile that's been missing until recently. What's hurt him recently is driving accuracy and putting. If he gets those going again, he could be tough.

3. Adam Scott
Best finish in 2015-16 season:
Second at CIMB Classic
Reason to watch: For all the concerns over having to switch putting styles, Scott had the flatstick going at the Northern Trust Open. And he's still amazingly consistent on par-5s, having gained 33 strokes to par so far this season. That birdie-eagle finish Sunday at Riviera can't do anything but help Scott's confidence heading into the Florida Swing.

2. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2015-16 season:
T11 at the HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: After three strong rounds that put him in contention at the Northern Trust Open, McIlroy had a Sunday setback. If that sounds familiar, that's almost exactly what happened to Rory at PGA National in 2014, when he let a wire-to-wire victory slip away in the Bear Trap and missed the playoff. He's more than capable of putting together four strong rounds -- and perhaps has learned his lesson from that near-miss.

1. Rickie Fowler
Best finish in 2015-16 season:
Second at Waste Management Phoenix Open
Reason to watch: If Jordan Spieth, McIlroy and Jason Day are considered golf's current Big Three, there's room for Fowler as a fourth. He's certainly played that way already this season, with three top-five finishes, including losing the sudden-death playoff at TPC Scottsdale to Hideki Matsuyama. That one stung a lot, especially since Fowler seemed to have things in hand before overshooting the 17th green in regulation. He's battle-tested on tough Florida layouts -- winning last year's Players -- so anything's possible at PGA National.

5 players to watch at the Honda Classic
Tiger Woods/Twitter
Tiger Woods posted a video Wednesday morning on Twitter showing himself hitting a ball in a simulator.

How's Tiger Woods? He finally answered the lingering questions about his health Wednesday morning with his own video post on Twitter, showing him swinging a club in a simulator.

See for yourself.

 

 

After reports surfaced on social media claiming Woods' recovery from the most recent back surgery was going poorly, his agent disputed those rumors earlier this week. And now there's video proof from Tiger himself that he's "progressing nicely," in his own words.

MORE: Full coverage of 2016 Masters | 2016 Masters field list: Who's in?

Could we see Woods at Augusta National in six weeks? If that video is any kind of conclusive evidence, it seems more than likely.

 

How's Tiger Woods? He's hitting balls in a simulator
Tony Romo
USA Today Sports Images
Tony Romo never did go back to Wisconsin and work at a golf course, but he has always made golf a big part of his life.
 
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is well known as a golf fanatic – he loves the game, and was among the best golfers in all of pro sports at one point a few years ago. Recently, however, he explained that he very nearly pursued a career in the golf business.
 
Before he became the Tony Romo that most football fans know today, he was an undrafted free agent hanging to his NFL dream by his fingernails. Heading into his second season with the Cowboys, Romo came to training camp as the No. 4 quarterback on the depth chart behind then-starter Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde and Drew Henson.
 
"I'm not a rocket scientist, but one, two, three and I'm four," Romo said in a Feb. 18 podcast with The Village Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Romo struggled in his first few days of that training camp, he said, and got so anxious about his situation that he sat in bed one day and prayed for some clarity.
 
"I was like, 'If I'm not meant to be the quarterback here or play quarterback in the NFL, that's fine," he said. "Then I'm going to go back and be a really good assistant golf club professional back in Burlington, Wisconsin.'"
 
 
After he realized that he'd be fine with whatever happened with the Cowboys, Romo said, he performed much better in camp. Not long afterward, Carter got cut, Romo made the squad – and Burlington, Wisconsin, had to find another assistant golf professional.
 
Romo, of course, has remained very active in golf through the years, though he hasn't played much lately because of the injuries that have slowed his football career as well. 
 
And as we discovered last summer, his wife Candice is giving him a pretty good for the title of best golfer in the family. You can check out her swing, and hear what Peter Kostis thinks of it, here.
 
Tony Romo's fall-back plan was to be an assistant golf professional
Contributed photo

There are amazing golf stories that you hear sometimes that seem too good to be true, mainly because nobody official was there to witness it.

For example, making birdie-eagle-ace over a three-hole stretch? That's almost too good to be true. Except in this case, it is.

That's because it was done on Feb. 16 at Fresno's Airways Golf Course by none other than retired PGA Professional Steve Menchinella in the company of three other golf professionals. The feat was confirmed in a story you can read here by the Fresno Bee's Bryant-Jon Anteola

According to the story, the 75-year-old Menchinella -- head golf professional at Sunnyside Country Club for 41 years and general manager for 13 -- was playing a casual round one week ago with Kings Country Club professional Tom James, current Sunnyside professional Steve Pellegrine and Kings Country Club director of golf Paul Wightman.

Menchinella's round started off with four routine pars, and then the fun began. He birdied the par-3 fifth hole, then faced a 120-yard approach shot after his drive at the par-4 sixth. He pulled out a 9-iron and the shot went right at the flag and in.

"I can’t see that far, but it seemed like it just disappeared,” Menchinella was quoted as saying in the Bee article. “We went up, saw it went in and we were all laughing and high-fived each other.”

The seventh hole is a 115-yard par 3, so Menchinella used the same 9-iron from the teeing ground. And lo and behold, the ball went in the cup for a hole-in-one.

Three holes. Five shots. Five under par. And by Menchinella's count, his 11th career ace.

“It was by far the neatest thing I’ve seen on the course,” James said in the article. “I think you’d have better odds at winning the Powerball.”

Menchinella finished with a 4-under 67, which also meant he shot eight strokes lower than his age.

“It’s always fun to shoot your age or way under your age,” Menchinella was quoted as saying. “Then to go 5-under in three holes, that was amazing."

 

Retired PGA Professional goes birdie-eagle-ace over three holes
Justin Leonard
PGA Tour/YouTube
Justin Leonard walks after his ball after his first putt didn't make it over the ridge on an eagle attempt.

If golf had the equivalent of balls and strikes, it would probably look something like this 2-putt birdie from Justin Leonard.

Leonard was about 60 feet away Saturday with an eagle chance on the first hole at Riviera.

The ridge through the middle of his putt had different ideas and kindly returned the ball to Leonard.

Turns out it didn't matter much.

 

 

Lenoard would finish the day at 7-under, tied for 14th going into Sunday's final round.

Justin Leonard makes birdie the hard way at Riviera
USA Today Sports Images
Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson had nearly identical lies at the 18th -- and both made huge par-savers.

If you just happened to look at the scorecard, pars for Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy at the 18th hole Saturday at Riviera Country Club doesn't seem like that much of a deal.

But what pars they were.

Both players missed the 18th green on their approach shots, leaving themselves almost identical shots, short-siding the hole in a low area next to the grandstand. With the green sloping quickly away, just getting the ball on the green and taking a two-putt bogey seemed likely. But these are two of the best players in the world -- and with good reason.

Watch this shot by Watson, who was clinging to a one-stroke lead at the time.

 

 

McIlroy was several groups in front of Watson when his approach went awry. His recovery nearly hit the flagstick, but rolled several feet by, leaving him with this tricky par-saver.

 

 

That puts McIlroy just two shots behind Watson heading into Sunday's final round.

Just a couple of outstanding pars that don't look that impressive on the scorecard.

 

Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy make magic Saturday at Riviera's 18th