10 Players to Watch: Honda Classic

  1. Rickie Fowler, United States — After being knocked down a peg to No. 5 in the World Golf Rankings by his good pal Bubba Watson, who won the Northern Trust Open last week, Fowler returns from a two-week break to play in the Honda Classic. In his last start, he lost in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, his fourth top-five finish in his last five outings, the only glitch a missed cut in the Farmers Insurance Open. Fowler, who won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship last month, has four victories since the Players Championship last May. He is making his seventh start at PGA National, with his best result a tie for seventh in 2012, and he was in contention the following year before closing with a 74 to tie for 13th.
  1. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland — Rory tries to bounce back from his final-round 75 in the Northern Trust Open on Sunday, dropping him from a tie for the lead to a tie for 20th, when he tees it up in the Honda Classic for the eighth consecutive season. He won the tournament in 2012, posting four rounds in the 60s to beat Tiger Woods and Tom Gillis by two strokes, and seemed to be headed for another victory two years ago. He opened with a 63 and led much of the way before shooting 74 in the final round and losing in a playoff to Russell Henley. Before playing for the first time on the PGA Tour at Riviera in 2016, he started the year on the European Tour with a tie for third in Abu Dhabi and a tie for sixth in Dubai.
  1. Adam Scott, Australia — If nor for a double-bogey 6 on the eighth hole, Scott might have been holding the trophy at the Northern Trust Open on Sunday night rather than Bubba Watson. His tie for second at Riviera was his best result since he finished solo second in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia during the early portion of the 2015-16 schedule in November. Scotty seems to be making progress with his short putter after the long wand he anchored to his chest was banned as of the beginning of this year. He is making his fifth start in the Honda Classic, with his best result a tie for 11th in his first appearance in 2001, and he also tied for 12th the last time he was at PGA National in 2014.
  1. Phil Mickelson, United States — Lefty can’t wait to get back into the game this week in the Honda Classic after a strong start on the West Coast swing. Even though he missed the cut in his hometown event, the Farmers Insurance Open, he showed he has plenty left in the tank at 45 when he tied for third in the CareerBuilder Challenge, tied for 11th in the Waste Management Phoenix Open and finished solo second in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am — lipping out a putt on the final hole that would have put him into a playoff. Mickelson is playing in the Honda Classic for only the fifth time, with his best result a tie for 11th in 2002. He tied for 17th last year.
  1. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan — Up to No. 11 in the World Golf Rankings after a tie for 11th in the Northern Trust Open two weeks after he beat Rickie Fowler in a playoff to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Matsuyama seems to be on the verge of becoming one of the best players on the planet. The 25-year-old, whose only other PGA Tour victory came in the 2014 Memorial, didn’t win last year but came close with six results in the top five — including solo fifth in the Masters. This week, Matsuyama will make only his second appearance in the Honda Classic, after shooting 70 in the first round in 2014 before being forced to withdraw because of because of a left wrist injury.
  1. Patrick Reed, United States — It has been a solid start to the 2015-16 season for Reed, who is No. 9 in the World Golf Rankings, even though he has not won in more than a year since the Hyundai Tournament of Champions gave him his fourth victory since August 2013. He has four finishes in the top 10 in the new season, including solo second in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and a tie for sixth in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in his last start two weeks ago. Reed will make his fourth start in the Honda Classic, with his best result a tie for seventh last year. It would have been better because he was near the lead after opening with 67-67, but he played the weekend in 70-73.
  1. Branden Grace, South Africa — This will be Grace’s first start on U.S. soil as a full-fledged PGA Tour member, but he has been tearing it up on the European Tour and risen to No. 10 in the World Golf Rankings. He has finished in the top six in his last six outings, capped by a victory in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters last month. In events that were sanctioned by both major tours last November, he tied for 17th in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and tied for fifth in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. This will be his second appearance in the Honda Classic. He tied for 71st in 2013 at PGA National after an opening 65 put him in a tie for second before he closed with an ugly 81.
  1. Zach Johnson, United States — Even though he has yet to make a real run up the leaderboard, Johnson has gotten off to a solid start in the 2015-16 season with four finishes in the top 25 in five starts. His best result was a tie for ninth in the Sony Open in Hawaii, and he also tied for 14th in his last start at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. With the Masters only six weeks away, Zach will be looking for the form that took him to the Open Championship last August at St. Andrews as he plays in the Honda Classic for only the fifth time. His best result was a tie for 13th in 2004, but he shot 69-76–145 to miss the cut by one stroke last year.
  1. Sergio Garcia, Spain — After a missed cut in the Northern Trust Open to start 2016 on the PGA Tour, Garcia will try kick-start the year when he plays in the Honda Classic. He got off to a solid start on the European Tour with a tie for seventh last month in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters after playing twice in the early stages of the wrap-around schedule on the U.S. Tour last November, tying for 24th in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and tying for 11th in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. This will be Garcia’s six appearance at PGA National, where his best finish was a tie for eighth two years ago, when he opened with a 72 but then reeled off scores of 68-68-67 to wind up three shots out of a playoff won by Russell Henley.
  1. Kevin Kisner, United States — Coming off a missed cut in his last start at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Kisner hopes to find the game that put him atop the early 2015-16 FedEx Cup standings with four consecutive top-10 finishes. It started with a solo second in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China before he claimed his first PGA Tour victory in the RSM Classic, finished ninth in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and tied for fifth at the Sony Open in Hawaii. During that stretch of four tournaments, he was a cumulative 71 under par. Kisner is playing in the Honda Classic for only the second time. Last year, he finished in a tie for 51st, breaking the par of 70 at PGA National only when he posted a 68 in the second round.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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