2014 Honda Classic at PGA National | Local Knowledge

Rory McIlroy
USA Today
Rory McIlroy would love nothing more than to have a huge week at the Honda Classic after withdrawing from the tournament as defending champion a year ago.
By T.J. Auclair
Connect with T.J.

Series: Local Knowledge

Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 | 9:01 a.m.

Stacked. That's the best way to describe the field that tees it up in this week's Honda Classic at PGA National's Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia and Keegan Bradley -- they're all there, as are many other big-time stars.

So why such a strong field for the first event of the PGA Tour's Florida Swing, you ask? Easy -- the venue. PGA National is one of the most difficult courses on the PGA Tour, boasting major-like conditions (no surprise, seeing as the course hosted the 1983 Ryder Cup, as well as the 1987 PGA Championship).

RELATED: Honda Classic leaderboard | Woods just getting started | Day's priorities

Like most other weeks, plenty of eyes will be on McIlroy. One year ago as the No. 1-ranked player in the world and the defending Honda Classic champion, McIlroy walked off in the middle of his second round, citing discomfort with his wisdom teeth. Many were skeptical, even critical, of McIlroy for not at least finishing the round.

Not long after, McIlroy admitted he was wrong. At the time, he had been struggling mightily with his game following an equipment change to start 2013.

This year, McIlroy looks to be back on top of his game. A win this week could work wonders for any player considering the incredible strength of field.

Before the tournament, we chatted with PGA National Director of Golf Jane Broderick for a little Q&A.

PGA.com: PGA National is one of those rare courses on the PGA Tour where par truly is a player's best friend. What is it about the course -- even under perfect conditions -- that makes scoring so difficult?

I think one of the things that makes scoring difficult is the fact that none of the trouble is hidden. There are no tricks here. The danger stares the players in the face and subconsciously increases the pressure. The course difficulty is a real combination of length, strategically placed bunkers and hazards, length of rough and fairway width. The invisible gremlin is having to stare the trouble in the face.

PGA.com: Over the last several years, we've seen a variety of conditions -- primarily the strength of wind. How much of a factor will that be this week?

The current forecast for the week is pretty good. Seasonable temperatures and seasonal winds which are always in the 8-14 mph range this time of year. It'll make the Bear Trap (holes 15, 16 and 17) interesting, but shouldn't make it unfair in any way.

PGA.com: Can you tell us about your favorite hole on the course and what makes it so special?

My favorite hole is No. 11. It's a great par 4 with a narrow landing area and second shot over water. It's one of those holes that if you let up mentally, it will jump up and bite you.

PGA.com: Last year, then defending champion Rory McIlroy took a lot of heat for pulling out of the tournament before completing his second round. He was visibly frustrated. Not long after, he apologized and admitted his actions were wrong. It's not every day that a high-profile athlete can admit he or she is wrong. How do you think McIlroy handled the aftermath once he admitted his mistake?

In this day and age, accountability is often a rarity. I think, initially, many changed their views of Rory when he withdrew, but he more than redeemed himself when he admitted he was wrong, put his head down and went to work on his game. That speaks to the type of person he is, and made a great statement to his young fans.

PGA.com: If there's one single facet of your game that needs to be on point the most in order to succeed at PGA National, what would it be?

Although many have said you have to hit major championship type shots to win, I personally feel you need to be spot on off the tee. The landing areas are pretty narrow, and the rough is very penal, so if you plan to hit it close, you need to be in the short grass.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.


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.