World Nos 1 and 2 Tiger Woods and Adam Scott return from lengthy layoffs at this week’s Honda Classic, but can they shake off the rust in time?
Scott is returning from a self-enforced six-week break, while Woods hasn’t played since the Dubai Desert Classic almost four weeks ago.
The duo join an already stellar cast at the PGA National’s Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida – one that includes Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Zach Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.
In all, eight of the world’s ten best players are here – including the entire top seven – and most of them are fresh and raring to go. Aside from Woods and Scott, Mickelson also sat out last week’s Match Play event, while Stenson, Rose, McIlroy and Johnson all suffered early exits.
Certainly, fatigue will not be a factor for the world’s best, but lack of experience might be.
The Honda is not one of Tiger’s regular haunts. Only since 2012 has the tournament been a part of his schedule. And Scott isn’t that familiar with the event either, having only played it three times in his career.
Their lack of familiarity and success at PGA National means Rory McIlroy is the favourite with the bookies this week.
The Northern Irishman was a champion here in 2012, pipping Woods to the trophy in the process, and has shown some encouraging signs this year. Backing him at 8/1 might just pay off.
After Rory, Woods is favoured at 9/1 and Scott at 18/1.
Then come a host of players who are given odds of between 20/1 and 30/1, including the in-form Charl Schwartzel and Graeme McDowell, as well as Mickelson, Stenson, Johnson, Rose and Garcia.
Picking a potential winner from such a capable bunch is no easy task, but looking at past champions at the Honda, it’s noticeable that the tournament has only had one American winner since 2006 – Michael Thompson in 2013 – so the odds seem to favour another international to do well this week.
Initially designed by George and Tom Fazio in 1981 specifically to host major championship golf, and then further toughened by Jack Nicklaus in 1990 with the introduction of the infamous “Bear Trap” of holes 15, 16 and 17, the Champion Course at PGA National is no walk in the park.
The par-70 layout has a scoring average of 71.3, making it the toughest non-major course on the PGA Tour.
More than likely it is precisely this level of challenge that is attracting the world’s best, who already have one eye on Augusta National in a little over a month’s time.
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