Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods put on quite a show in the final round of last year’s Honda Classic, with the latter posting his career-best closing round and the former winning the tourney. This time around, any one of a number of stars, many of whom live within commuting distance of the PGA National Championship Course in Palm Beach Gardens, seeks to come out on top in the first leg of the Florida Swing.
Woods and McIlroy, who played their own match-play finale on Sunday at Tiger’s home course in Hobe Sound, won’t see much of each other in the first two days of the competition. Woods, with a 7:25 a.m. (ET) tee time off No. 10 on Thursday, will take on Jupiter neighbor Dustin Johnson and 2010 PGA champ Martin Kaymer.
Woods, like McIlroy, is coming off a first-round loss at last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. But the world’s second-best golfer won four weeks ago at Torrey Pines and he can always call up that 62 from a year ago should his confidence lag.
DJ won the PGA Tour season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions but he has struggled mightily since, withdrawing from the Sony Open with the flu and carding two missed cuts and a T51 and T33 in his other events.
McIlroy will join reigning British Open champ Ernie Els and Mark Wilson in the afternoon wave (12:25 p.m./first tee). If there’s any venue that can get the defending champ back on the winning track, PGA National, where he climbed to the top of the world rankings with his win last year, should be it. The defending champ certainly hopes to put a miserable start to his season (a MC in Abu Dhabi and that early exit last week) behind him with a good follow-up to last year’s win.
Els was looking forward to some home cooking.
“With us living at the [Jack Nicklaus-designed] Bear’s Club [in Jupiter] this is pretty much a home game and that’s always nice,” Els wrote Monday in his weekly tour blog. “Actually my schedule for the next few weeks shapes up well for not having to travel far, another of the benefits of being based here in Florida.”
Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, and Lee Westwood (12:35 p.m./first tee) make up another group of marquee players residing in the ‘hood. All three were first-round losers last week at Dove Mountain. It also bears watching to see if Bradley can overcome recent struggles he has blamed partially on the heat he’s taken as the poster child for anchored putting.
“It's really good to be home,” Bradley told PGATour.com’s Larry Dorman. “I love this golf course. I especially love Bermuda greens. It's just such a great area to live.”
Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen round out the roster of players who can sleep in their own beds this week. Schwartzel will tee it up with Justin Rose and rookie and Sony Open winner Russell Henley at 7:35 a.m. (No. 10) on Thursday, while Oosthuizen has a 7:25 a.m. date with Jason Dufner and John Merrick on No. 1.