Golf

Lush, watery course greets Tiger

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods signs autographs Wednedsay after the pro-am of the Honda Classic.
GolfWeek Sean Martin
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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla.

One of the top open events on the PGA Tour schedule is this week with the Honda Classic. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy highlight a strong field at the first event of the Florida Swing. Here ae five things to track as you watch:

1. On course

Woods and McIlroy had plenty of time to prepare for the Honda Classic after losing in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play. McIlroy struggled with his iron play and lost to Shane Lowry. Woods insists he played well — he made two birdies and no bogeys — but fell to Charles Howell.

“I missed a few putts out there, but other than that, I really played well, and, unfortunately, I ran into a guy who also played well,” Woods said.

Woods shot a final-round 62 at this event last year to finish second to McIlroy. PGA National’s Champion course is among the toughest on the PGA Tour. Soft conditions may change that this week, though.

“The golf course certainly has a lot of grass on it,” Woods said. “The rough is up. The fairways are a bit watery.”

Woods won his last stroke-play start, running away from the field at the Farmers Insurance Open for his seventh title at Torrey Pines.

2. Off track

McIlroy arrives at PGA National having played just three competitive rounds in 2013. He missed the cut at Abu Dhabi before losing to Lowry in the first round of Match Play. Is he panicked? Doesn’t sound like it.

“I’m only two tournaments into the season,” McIlroy said. “I still have more than 20 to go. So it’s not like I’m in any rush; it’s not like I’m pushing for answers.”

McIlroy is under increased scrutiny not only because he’s the No. 1 player in the world, but because of his equipment change. He said his troubles aren’t caused by his new sticks, but by how he’s swinging them. Swing problems are “the real concern.”

When playing poorly, McIlroy has a tendency to drop the club under the proper plane on the downswing. This forces him to use his hands to square the club, which requires good timing and can lead to pushed or hooked misses.

McIlroy admit last week that he was rusty. He may not have lasted long at the Match Play, but got in 36 holes with Tiger Woods at the Medalist. McIlroy said they split their two single-round matches.

3. Home at last

This is the first year the Honda will be a home game for Lee Westwood, as well. He recently moved to South Florida and plays out of Old Palm, along with other Chubby Chandler clients such as Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen. Westwood recently moved to Florida to help his quest for his first major championship. The reason for the move was simple.

“I wanted to come and live in the sunshine,” said Westwood, who also hopes the reduced air travel will help him stay fresh during the year.

The Masters is Westwood’s final major before turning 40. Can he win one of golf’s Grand Slam events after turning 40?

“I feel fitter now than I did when I was 30,” Westwood said. “I’m keen to keep going out on the range. I enjoy practicing and working out.”

4. Walking wounded

If longtime agent Mac Barnhardt of Crown Sports Management ever considers changing jobs, he might think about going into the medical field. Barnhardt’s stable has battled its share of injuries in the past year and a half, from Steve Marino and Lucas Glover (knees) to Jonathan Byrd (wrist surgery).

Barnhardt said he’s participated in more than his share of surgical and rehab discussions.

“We are pre-disastered this year,” he said with a smile on Wednesday at the Honda Classic. “Some people out here play for years and never get hurt. It’s golf.”

Crown’s latest two guys on the sideline: Brandt Snedeker (ribs) and Davis Love III (neck surgery). Love has started to chip and putt and is ahead of schedule to return in April. As for Snedeker, the 2012 FedEx Cup champion and winner of this month’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Barnhardt said he’d be “shocked” if he were back in time for next week’s WGC Cadillac Championship at TPC Doral. Snedeker likely will make a call on Monday.

“He’s really in no hurry,” Barnhardt said. “The good thing about Brandt is that when he comes back (from injury), he usually wins.”

Byrd, a five-time tour winner who had surgery on his left wrist in October, is expected to return at the Tampa Bay Championship from March 14-17. Byrd’s last start was the Deutsche Bank Championship in September.

5. Anchors away?

The USGA’s proposed ban on anchoring continues to be a hot topic on tour. Woods on Wednesday said his position on anchoring has not shifted.

“I still think that it [putter] should be swung, not anchored," he said.

But Woods said he “understands” why the PGA Tour as an organization would be opposed to the ban, noting that all three guys who won majors with anchored putters (Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els) are PGA Tour members.

“I understand his position, but still think all 14 clubs should be swung,” Woods said. “That hasn’t changed at all whatsoever.”

A day earlier, Bradley was emotional when talking about the effect that the USGA’s impending ban has had on his play and mental state.

“It’s been actually pretty difficult,” he said. “I’m being called a ‘cheater’ more than ever by fans, by some writers. . . . You know, I realize this is going to be an issue now for the next couple years, at least. I hope the USGA thought about us players before they did this, because it’s really been difficult on me and I know it’s been really difficult on some other players, too."

Golfweek's Jeff Babineau contributed to this report.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Brandt Snedeker, Rory McIlroy, Jonathan Byrd, Lee Westwood

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