The PGA Tour will certainly welcome the move to the Florida Swing. As we near the quarter pole of the season, we've already seen tournaments impacted by wind, rain, and SNOW… all in the normally temperate regions of Hawaii, California and Arizona, respectively. It's been a weird weather year.
While the conditions have been a little off kilter, the list of champions hasn't been an anomaly so far in 2013. Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson have already won, which is par for the course on the left coast. Americans have dominated that segment of the Tour for several years now. But once we start moving east, the international players start to show up in the winner's circle a little more often. So why should we expect any big surprises as we move to the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens?
Since the Honda moved to PGA National in 2007, there has only been one US-born winner: Mark Wilson in that inaugural year. Why is that? Well, it's not because of the greens: the grainy bermuda grass prevalent in the Sunshine State isn't exactly native to the British Isles. No, it's more likely the windy conditions, exposed fairways and (usually) firm and fast conditions that make them feel at home.
Here are my rules for the Honda as we switch time zones and oceans: throw out the Match Play results (not relevant here), favor good wind players, and good putters trump long hitters. At the end of the day, however, if you're debating between an American and a European for your pick(s) this week, I'd go with the Euro.
That being said, it's another stacked field. Rory McIlroy
and Tiger are back, as are some of the biggest and hottest players on the planet: Justin Rose, Jason Day, Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell
and Lee Westwood
just to name a few. There's plenty of meat to choose from. Check the field here.
The weather forecast isn't all that wonderful, but it shouldn't be awful: some wind and some rain, mainly over the weekend. Onto the Top 5:
1. Justin Rose. He's a poor man's Brandt Snedeker, having seemingly contended in every tournament he's entered the last six months. He was my pick last week for the Match Play, which was a disappointment. But he got eliminated in the opening round of Match Play last year and finished T5 at the Honda (after having the 36-hole lead). Also finished 3rd here in 2010. His steady game is built for this track.
2. Tiger Woods. His memorable final-round 62 here last year started the buzz of his 'return,' which crescendoed with his win a few weeks later at Bay Hill. Last year was his first Honda start since the event moved to PGA National in 2007. Remember, he won his last full-field start on Tour (Torrey Pines), and it wasn't like he was awful in his Match Play loss to Charles Howell III -- he was -2 on his round.
3. Lee Westwood. His last three finishes here: 4, T29, T9. The bermuda greens might actually help his putting stroke; his driving and iron play are rarely issues.
4. Charl Schwartzel. His upset in the first round of match play was surprising, as he's been dominant or highly competitive in every other event he's entered in 2013. Finished T5 here in 2012 and T14 in 2011, with six of eight rounds in the 60's (par 70).
5. Rory McIlroy. The defending champ, he doesn't seem to have adjusted too well to his new Nike irons. Tough to play him this week, but he could snap out of his funk anytime.
Others I like: Louis Oosthuizen, Freddy Jacobsen, Ross Fisher, Graeme McDowell, Kevin Stadler, Charles Howell III.
Onto the some of the more under-the-radar guys:
6. Ernie Els. We're coming into the point in the schedule when Ernie has to be in consideration every week. In recent years, he's won this event (2008), Doral (2010), Bay Hill (2010) and finished in the top 5 at Transitions. He's off to a good start in 2013, so it would be no surprise to see him contend this week.
7. Jason Day. I was very high on Day coming into this year after an injury-plagued (and first-time-dad) 2012 season, and he hasn't disappointed. With three top-10's on three very different courses already in 2013, he's playing great. Driving accuracy is his biggest concern at PGA National, but it didn't penalize him too much at Torrey Pines (T9) or Pebble Beach (6).
8. Rickie Fowler. He's actually off to a better start in 2013 than 2012, in which he built momentum into the early part of summer. The 2012 Honda (T7) provided signs of what was to come. He's played sparingly so far in 2013, so he should be ready to go the next few weeks.
9. Luke Guthrie. Watch out for Luke. He has four top-30 finishes in his last five events, and played courses with similar features at PGA National very well last year -- True South (greens) and FedEx St. Jude (greens/layout/conditions). His putting -- which would've been 4th on Tour last year if he had enough qualifying rounds -- has been his Achilles so far in 2013.
10. Retief Goosen. This is the kind of event in which he should perform well: tough course, penal rough, par savers at a premium. He's healthy, he's already got a top-5 finish in 2013, and he's in the top-10 statistically in putting (1), GIR% (8) and driving accuracy (3).
Bonus pick: Scott Langley. This course sets up a lot like the Sony Open (T3), although it's more difficult. It wouldn't surprise me to see him post a top-15 this week. Two lefties (Harman, Chalmers) did as much last year.
Player to avoid: Dustin Johnson. He's been terrible since his win to start the year. Avoid, avoid, avoid him… until he proves he can put a couple of rounds together.
Last week: Poulter was the highlight, although it didn't take an "expert" to call that one. Strike another one at the expense of the crapshoot that is match play.
Photo: USA Today Sports Images