Is Rory ready to win again?
By Neville Leck Last updated: 26th February 2013
A host of golf's elite, including world number Rory McIlroy, the defending champion, are looking to win this week's Honda Classic.
Luke Donald, the world number three, is taking a break and the number four Brandt Snedeker is still injured, but the world numberss two, five and six Tiger Woods, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose are all in the field.
Joining them are other highly-ranked stellar campaigners like Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley and Graeme McDowell.
So don't expect a runaway victory from anyone - and especially not from McIlroy, who has looked no more than mediocre in the little golf he's played with his new Nike clubs this year.
To date its amounted to not much more than a few rounds of uninspired, uncompetitive golf.
He missed the cut at Abu Dhabi and got no further than the first round at last week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship where, after a spluttering, rusty battle to find some form, he crashed out one-down to Irish journeyman Shane Lowery.
If you go to Bettingzone.oddschecker you'll find that the bookies have installed him as the second favourite at odds of 12/1 behind Woods, who is at 8/1.
Schwartzel at 14/1, Oosthuizen at 22/1 and Westwood at 25/1 are the three players with odds closest to the world's two top players.
Clearly reputation and not current form has been a major factor in the bookies' unanimous choice of Woods, McIlroy and Schwartzel as their top bets.
For, if you think about it, all three were blown out of last week's World Match Play championship in the first round, although 18-hole match play is a completely different game.
In the case of Tiger, we should not forget that a week after missing the cut in Abu Dhabi in late January, he bounced back astonishingly to a comprehensive, four-shot victory in the Farmers Insurance at Torry Pines In San Diego.
Torrey Pines, where he won the last of his 14 majors - the US Open in 2008 - is of course, one of his favourite courses. However this week's PGA Tour battlefield - the Bear Trap at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens in Florida - does not seemed to be.
He has only played in one Honda Classic there and that was last year, although his closing round of 62 might begin to change things.
As of now, I would say his form this week looks to be as hard to predict as is McIlroy's and perhaps Schwartzel could be a better bet to win.
Coming into the lottery at Dove Mountain last week, he hadn't finished lower than fifth and had won twice in his previous seven starts worldwide.
It might also help his confidence that he tied for fifth at the Honda last year, this when McIlroy was winning with a pretty faultless 12-under 268.
And while on the subject of last year, it might be worth remembering that the consistent Rose hasn't finished lower than fifth in his last two visits to PGA National. His irons play during the past season has been superb and it was no wonder that he ranked first on the Tour last year in greens hit in regulation.
Sheer consistency could also prove to be a key factor this week for Oosthuizen, who has already one once on the European Tour this year, though he may have to put aside the bad memories of making the cut in each of the last two Honda Classics. but then of having to withdraw because of illness.
As one of West Palm Beach's newest residents, Englishman Lee Westwood will surely be keen to make a mark at PGA National this year. With three top 10s in his last three starts here - including a solo fourth last year when he closed with a 63 - could help inspire his bid.
But Europe's greatest threat to an American victory this week could either be McDowell, who played some excellent golf last week to make the quarter-finals of the Accenture Match Play event, or the in-form Swede Fredrik Jacobson, who has made the top 10 in his last three starts.
The Australian threat, on the other hand, won't come from their highest ranked golfer Adam Scott, who like McIlroy and Woods, played only one round at the Accenture Match play and unlike them, isn't playing this week, but from Jason Day could be his nation's greatest Honda hope.
The Aussie young gun is another one of the form starters coming off a third place at the WGC-Accenture last week, where he beat McDowell in the quarters, as well as claiming two other top 10 finishes in his last four starts this year.
Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan, the two Americans that contested the WGC-Accenture final, are not playing this week, although Tour rookie Russell Henley, should not, on the strength of his stunning debut win at Wailae earlier this year and his upset victory over Schwartzel in the first round of last week's match play shouldn't be overlooked. Even on a course where the best rookies have always struggle to win first time.
The weather this week?
It shouldn't be too much of a factor. The course will be breezy as always with north-westerly gusts getting up from 11 mph for most of the week to a high of 18 mph on Sunday afternoon when the front runners will be coming down the final stretch. No rain has been forecast by Golfweather.com.
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