Honda Classic Kicks Off Florida Swing With Plenty of Subplots
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) Rory McIlroy has a love-hate relationship with the Honda Classic, and lately it's been the latter.
McIlroy won in 2012 by holding off a late charge from Tiger Woods, and the victory propelled McIlroy to No. 1 in the world. A year later, he already was 7-over par through eight holes of the second round when he walked to the parking lot, later saying his wisdom tooth was bothering him.
The next year? He looked like a sure winner with a two-shot lead going into the final round until he stumbled badly on the back nine, only to recover with a brilliant 5-wood to 12 feet for an eagle putt to win. He missed, then lost in a playoff. Last year, he missed the cut.
Asked whether it was the nature of PGA National that caused so many highs and lows, McIlroy laughed Wednesday and said, ''I think it's the nature of me.''
There might be some truth to that.
The Honda Classic starts the Florida Swing, a stretch of tournaments that can bring out the best and worst of just about anyone.
So much is made of the ''Bear's Trap,'' the stretch of four water-lined holes at the end. But with two par 5s being changed to par 4s for the week, there's plenty of trouble all over the course. Consider what happened last year. Padraig Harrington made four straight birdies on the back nine to take the lead, gave it away with a double bogey from the water on the 17th hole, made a 15-foot birdie to get in a playoff and won with a 5-iron to 3 feet on the 17th.
No telling what will happen when the tournament gets started on Thursday.
WHO'S PLAYING: For the first time since 2012, the Honda Classic does not have the No. 1 player. Jordan Spieth is taking the week off before playing five of the next six weeks through his title defense at the Masters.
McIlroy was No. 1 in 2013 and 2015 and Tiger Woods was No. 1 in 2014.
It's still the second-strongest field of the young PGA Tour season (behind Riviera last week) with four of the top 10 - McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Branden Grace of South Africa making his PGA Tour debut.
Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh - part of the ''Big Four'' from a decade ago - also are playing.
Riviera winner Bubba Watson is taking the week off.
WHO CAN'T WAIT TO PLAY: McIlroy, Mickelson and Fowler have something in common this week. They are playing for the first time since losing a good chance to win.
McIlroy was briefly tied for the lead after the opening hole at Riviera in the final round Sunday, only to make bogey on Nos. 4, 6 and 7 to fall out of contention and close with a 75 to tie for 20th.
Mickelson had a two-shot lead at Pebble Beach going into the final round. He had a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff with Vaughn Taylor, only for the putt to riding the edge of the hole and stay out.
Fowler had a two-shot lead with two holes to play at the Phoenix Open when he drove into the water twice on the 17th hole - once in regulation to fall into a tie, the second time in a playoff in losing to Hideki Matsuyama.
None of them appeared to be losing sleep.
''So win, lose or what have you, it's not really affecting the confidence that I have or the direction that I feel like my game is going,'' Mickelson said.
WHO TO WATCH: The featured group Thursday morning includes Kevin Kisner, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, who have combined for one victory over the last year.
That belongs to Kisner, who ended last year with an impressive win at Sea Island.
His stock is rising, and what makes this group interesting is the Ryder Cup implications. Mickelson was on the task force that lobbied for a change in the U.S. standings so that the fall events that start the official PGA Tour season would not count (Mickelson doesn't play in the fall). That means Kisner comes into the Honda Classic at No. 11 in the standings. If the fall events had counted, as they did in 2013, Kisner would be No. 5 in the standings.
THE FORECAST: A vicious thunderstorm forced a Monday finish last year. More storms have rolled through PGA National on Tuesday and Wednesday, though that should be the end of it. The forecast is for clouds giving way to sunshine with slightly cooler temperatures (highs in the upper 60s) the rest of the week.
And there will be wind. It's south Florida in March.