By Michael Williams
Special to GolfWRX
The PGA Tour begins its Florida Swing with the 2012 Honda Classic at PGA National Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Defending Champion Rory Sabbatini will be joined in the field by past winners Camilo Villegas, Y.E. Yang, Mark Wilson and Justin Leonard. Six of the eight players who share the single-round record 64 (Padraig Harrington, Anthony Kim, Justin Rose, Stephen Ames, Mike Weir and Greaeme McDowell) will also bring positive memories to the 7,158 yard, par-70 layout. The stellar field also includes Tiger Woods for the first time in his storied career, along with major champions Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley competing for a $1 million first prize and 500 FedEx Cup points.
There have been plenty of fireworks on Tour so far, and the sparks flew early this week in the pre-tournament interviews. Woods had a testy exchange with Golfweek senior writer and Golf Channel contributor Alex Miceli, who asked Woods about a passage in Hank Haney’s new book about his time as Woods’ instructor. The terse words seemed to reflect the frustration that Woods has experienced in the young season, failing to close multiple opportunities to win with less than stellar performances on Sunday. Woods has especially been plagued by poor putting, missing more meaningful 5 –footers in the past month than he would miss in entire past seasons.
One of the keys to victory will be the ability to make the transition to the Bermuda grass that is prevalent in the courses in the Southeast United States. That fact, in addition to learning greens that he is competing on for the first time, are obstacles facing Woods as he sets out to garner what would be his 72nd PGA title. For his part, Woods feels that he is close to a solution, estimating that the fix would take “a day.”
“I had to go back to putting in the reps, and I did,” Woods said. “I worked on just going back to my old basics with my dad, and some of the things that he taught me.”
McIlroy will also be seeking a bit of redemption, having been denied the World’s No. 1 ranking due to his loss to Hunter Mahan in the finals of the WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship last week. McIlroy didn’t have his most consistent week of golf but managed to put together bunches of birdies at the right times to oust his opponents. His most dominant moment came in his semi-final victory against Lee Westwood, where he birdied seven out of the last 10 holes. In his press conference, McIlroy discussed handling the pressure of being in the spotlight week after week in his quest to be No. 1.
“The friends that I have, have known me my whole life,” McIlroy said. “That’s what you need, someone who has a sense of humor [about you].”
McIlroy also put his own sense of humor on display, describing a chance meeting with three-time Honda Classic winner Jack Nicklaus, who was not wearing his glasses and couldn’t initially recognize McIlroy. Nicklaus has praised McIlroy as being “humble when he needs to be humble and confident when he needs to be confident.” McIlroy commented that, “It’s very nice to hear the kind words, but you still have to go out and play some good golf.”
Other players to watch in the field include Johnson Wagner, Mark Wilson and Kyle Stanley, all having already notched victories in the 2012 campaign.
Play will be televised by The Golf Channel on Thursday – Friday, with coverage moving to NBC for the weekend.
Check local listings for air times.
Michael Williams is the contributing editor of Newschannel8 Capital Golf Weekly and Bunkershot.com, as well as a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.
You can follow Michael on twitter — @Michaelontv