The PGA Tour has returned to the eastern time zone, and the repeated talking point this week at the Honda Classic is that it feels like the unofficial start to the season. The biggest names in the game are in attendance to start the Florida swing, which most use to prep for the Masters in just over a month.
Tiger Woods makes his return for just his second american Tour start of the year. He has yet to make it to Sunday after bombing out at Torrey Pines, but this should be a much better showing at an event that he's playing for the third straight year. Tiger started showing up at the Honda in 2012, his move from Orlando down to Jupiter and South Florida becoming a big reason why he committed to the Palm Beach stop at PGA National.
Woods is obviously a game-changer for any tournament, but the event has added even more big names to create the best field, at the top, of the entire season. Phil Mickelson committed to play the Honda for the first time since 2002, telling reporters on Wednesday that it just fit his schedule nicely after he missed Riviera while vacationing with his family. Mickelson can make the trip across the country and knock out two weeks in Florida, the much more lucrative WGC title at Doral next week being the draw. That made the Honda a possibility, and Mickelson committed to play what has become, after some Jack Nicklaus course renovations, one of the toughest non-major tests on the annual rota.
In addition to Tiger and Phil, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott will also be teeing it up. McIlroy held off a Sunday charge from Tiger to win it in 2012 and take over the No. 1 spot in the world rankings. Also, both his game and his mental state are much improved since his walk-off withdrawal here last year. Scott took six weeks off, playing the opening doubleheader in Hawaii before disappearing to recover from a sprint to the end of 2013. He's back now and in full Masters mode, prepping to get ready for a title defense at Augusta.
The swing back to Florida also brings a transition in coverage from CBS back to NBC. Given that NBC and Golf Channel are sister networks under the Comcast umbrella, this adds a little more to the coverage. In particular, we will no longer have that annoying half-hour blackout break on the weekends when things switch to CBS, and we'll also get concurrent "spotlight coverage" of the Bear Trap over on Golf Channel while NBC runs the typical broadcast.
Those are the extras that will arrive with the weekend, but Thursday's coverage falls to Golf Channel only, and it comes on the air at 2 p.m. ET. Tiger, who tees off at 7:35 a.m., should be done well before Golf Channel even starts its pregame (with live look-ins) show at 1 p.m. But you can catch glimpses of his opening round via PGATour.com's featured holes stream, which starts at 8 a.m. In addition to that service, Golf Channel will also have the usual simulcast stream running during the afternoon coverage, when Mickelson, Scott, and McIlroy will all be out on the course.
Here are all the media options for Thursday's opening round:
Thursday's first round coverage
2 to 6 p.m. -- Golf Channel
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. -- PGATour.com featured holes stream (Nos. 3, 15, 18)
2 to 6 p.m. -- Golf Channel simulcast stream
Noon to 6 p.m. -- PGA Tour Radio on Sirius-XM (Ch. 93/208)