Luke Donald would reclaim the No. 1 ranking with a victory, five of the top 10 players in the world are in the field and the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook is arguably the most highly regarded track on the Florida Swing.
That the Transitions Championship in Tampa is having trouble generating much buzz is through no fault of its own. There's just too much other exciting stuff going on. Tiger may or may not be seriously injured. (He never planned on playing Tampa, nor did Phil Mickelson.) Rory will be visiting the White House — it turned out he was in New York last week also to get fitted for a tuxedo — and Augusta National when he's not practicing at home in Jupiter, Fla., during the next three weeks.
Despite all that, and its awkward place on the schedule — after two WGC events, before Arnold Palmer's tournament — the Transitions has a lot going for it.
"It's a ball-striker's paradise here," said Gary Woodland, who made every putt he saw inside 20 feet in the final round to win the tournament, his first Tour victory, last year. "This is one of the best courses we play all year."
The 7,340-yard, par-71 Copperhead features elevation changes, which is unusual for Florida, and tall pine trees. There are also four par-5s, which is not unusual, and five par-3s, which is a bit different. It's no bomber's paradise — Woodland played against type to win — as evidenced by its roster of champions that includes Jim Furyk (2010), K.J. Choi ('06, '02) and Retief Goosen ('09, '03).
"It's not long," Goosen said, "but it's really well laid out."
If there's one stat that's worth looking at in regards to the Transitions, it may be Par-3 Performance. Goosen has always excelled at playing par-3s, as has Furyk. A player to watch out for this year might be Jason Day, who led the Tour with a 2.93 average on the threes last year. (In a bit of possible bad news for McIlroy and his fans, Donald was second.) Justin Rose, coming off his fourth Tour win at the WGC-Cadillac at Doral, also excels in Par-3 Performance.
Others to watch include fifth-ranked Charl Schwartzel, who is coming off a tie for fourth at Doral; eighth-ranked Webb Simpson, who was second in Tampa a year ago; Ryo Ishikawa, who tied for second at last week's Puerto Rico Open; and rookie John Huh, who won at Mayakoba earlier this year in just his fifth Tour start.
Among the notable threesomes, Ishikawa will tee off at 2:04 p.m. Thursday with another super-rookie, Alabama's Bud Cauley, who turns 22 Friday, and Brit Tom Lewis, 21, who led after the first round of the British Open last summer.
Padraig Harrington, Zach Johnson and Geoff Ogilvy, who will go off the first tee at 8:27 a.m. Thursday, have five major championship titles between them. All three have been strangely quiet this season, although Johnson logged a T8 at the Humana (Hope), and Harrington was T7 at Pebble Beach.
Lucas Glover, who injured his knee while paddle-boarding in Maui prior to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, is making his first start of 2012.
"I'm in good gym shape," he said at the Wells Fargo Championship media day earlier this week. "I've just got to see what kind of golf shape I'm in now."
This the last year of a four-year title sponsorship for Transitions.
Woodland, who will play at 1:22 p.m. with Simpson and Scott Stallings (third a year ago), hasn't finished in the top 20 while trying to groove swing changes under new coach Butch Harmon. Although his first six tournaments included a first-round exit at the Accenture, Woodland has yet to miss a cut.
Seniors return at Toshiba
It's been almost a month since Kenny Perry won the ACE Group Classic on the Champions tour. The seniors return this week with the Toshiba Classic on the narrow fairways of the 6,591-yard, par-71 Newport Beach Country Club.
Defending champion Nick Price is joined by Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Perry, Corey Pavin — who won the Allianz the week before Perry won the ACE — Mark Calcavecchia and Jay Haas.
LPGA starts domestic schedule
Karrie Webb defends at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix, where Lexi Thompson; 2011 runners-up Paula Creamer and Brittany Lincicome; Yani Tseng and Angela Stanford are part of a strong field.
Although last year's entire $1 million purse was designated for charities — Webb donated her $200,000 winner's check last year to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, and Japan Relief — this year's purse is up to $1.5 million, with $500,000 going to the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program.
The tournament also goes from three to four rounds.
European tour also resumes
Andalucia native Miguel Angel Jimenez helps run and also stars in this week's Open de Andalucia Costa del Sol in Spain as the European tour gets back underway at Aloha Golf Club. Major champions Rich Beem, Michael Campbell and Mike Weir, 41, are among those hoping to revive their careers at Aloha.
Battling an elbow injury for much of last season, Weir made just two of 15 cuts. He's missed the cut in all three of his PGA Tour starts in 2012.
Colin Montgomerie, who will turn 50 next year, is also in the field.