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