Weekly 18: Aces Have It

By Jason SobelJune 6, 2011, 2:25 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Long stricken by poor ball-striking, Steve Stricker is streaking since using stricter discipline to become a stickler for sticking shots.

Say that five times fast. Or just one time fast.

His name may evoke tongue-twisters, but Stricker was smooth throughout the week at The Memorial Tournament, earning his 10th career PGA Tour title while posting four rounds in the 60s.

Even so, Stricker still doesn’t have the cachet of a Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson when it comes to his public persona. That’s not always such a bad thing, but as the Weekly 18 begins, all of the things that keep Stricker from being a superstar may in fact be what makes him one right now.

1. Not Your Average Bear

Stricker is a proven winner, with six PGA Tour wins since the beginning of the 2009 season, including a triumph at the Memorial Tournament this week.

He’s the No. 4-ranked golfer in the world and the top-ranked American player, higher than any of the single-named studs.

He’s an exciting player – despite his reputation – as evidenced by multiple eagles, a bevy of birdies and more par saves than the average Bear at Muirfield Village.

He’s emotional, never failing to shed a few tears after his victories.

He’s the quintessential nice guy. He’s a family man. He’s humble.

All of which leads to one burning question: Why isn’t Steve Stricker a bigger superstar?

Don’t mistake that query as an insinuation that he lacks talent. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. He is such an elite-level player that it’s a quandary as to why he doesn’t own a larger Q-rating.

The truth is, all of those aforementioned reasons why Stricker isn’t the prototypical superstar are really what should propel him to such status. Nobody dislikes him, from fellow players to fans. Nobody roots against him. Nobody isn’t happy for the guy when he prevails over the field.

And yet, it still has the feel of David overcoming a group of Goliaths every time Stricker wins a title.

Shouldn’t everything that makes him a fan favorite also qualify him as not only one of the biggest names in the game, but the type of guy who can’t even go out in public without getting mobbed? Different people have different takes on why this hasn’t happened – and probably never will.

Just ask his caddie, who spends time with him away from the golf course and rarely sees their plans interrupted.

“He looks a little different at night, off the golf course, when he has his hat off,” Jimmy Johnson explained. “Let’s just say he’s a little thin on top.”

Just ask his fellow competitors, who maintain they have nothing but the utmost respect for the guy they call “Stricks.”

“Maybe it has to do with the media coverage,” said Matt Kuchar, who finished in a share of second place this week. “I just don’t know if steady players are that exciting. I mean, Tom Kite probably wasn’t the most exciting player in the world, but what he did worked, just like Steve. I would imagine Steve likes it just the way it is, too.”

“Steve is kind of a humble guy. He's a Midwest guy. That's his personality,” said Brandt Jobe, who shared runner-up honors with Kuchar. “He's one of the few guys that's won a lot of times that still sheds a tear when he wins. I think Steve is Steve. He's very down-to-earth and I don't think he draws attention to himself. Not that it's negative or positive, but I think he kind of enjoys the way things are and he's playing great.”

Then there’s tournament host Jack Nicklaus, who believes Stricker really is a superstar, even if it’s for different reasons than other players.

“I think he's a superstar in more ways than his golf game,” Nicklaus said. “I think he's been a superstar from the way he's behaved himself, the way he handles his game, the way he handles people and the way he handles fans. He's always done that and that to me is equally as important as how well you score. I've always felt that about Steve.”

See? Maybe superstars don’t have to have cool names. Maybe they don’t have to have an entourage. Or a fleet of expensive sportscars. Or an attitude.

Maybe superstars can simply be superstars because they’re among the best in the world at what they do. Because they’re genuine and unassuming and thoughtful. Because success means more to them than the flashier guys and they never take it for granted.

Maybe Stricker is the new breed of superstar. The kind who doesn’t pound his chest or sport any bling. The kind who appreciates the fan support and isn’t considered a villain by any of ‘em.

Most of all, maybe Stricker is a superstar for one major reason: He doesn’t think he is.

“No, I don't,” he said. “I've been up to No. 2 in the world, and I just go about my own business. I don't look at myself any differently. I just go out and play, you know, and I try to play well. And I'm on a great run these last five or six years and I just want to continue it.”

An elite world ranking. Great play. A sincere attitude.

All of it makes Steve Stricker is one of the game’s biggest superstars after all. Whether he likes it or not.

Three Up

2. Elliot Saltman

It was a feat at once impressive and unusual. Saltman aced the 17th hole at Celtic Manor in the opening round of the Wales Open, then followed by duplicating the achievement three days later.

Like I wrote, it was impressive. It even earned him a couple of bottles of champagne. But it wasn't that impressive.

Hey, Elliot. I know Yusaku Miyazato. And you, sir, are no Yusaku Miyazato.

As far as major tour hole-in-one feats are concerned, I’ll take Miyazato’s over that of Saltman. In the second round of the 2006 Reno-Tahoe Open, Miyazato posted a pair of aces. To analogize the situation to another game of skill, anyone who plays poker knows a pair of aces beats ace-high in one hand and ace-high three hands later.

That’s not to take away anything from the much-maligned Saltman, who was recently suspended by the European Tour for repeatedly mis-marking his ball on the greens.

'I'm just overwhelmed with it. Amazing,' said Saltman, playing just his fifth event since returning from that suspension. 'I hit a great 7-iron, it bounced once and in she pops. I'm so excited.'

Brittany Lincicome 

3. Brittany Lincicome

For one of the most talented players on the LPGA, this was a long time coming.

With a final-hole up-and-down for birdie, Lincicome earned her first victory since 2009 at the ShopRite LPGA Classic on Sunday, defeating fellow top players Jiyai Shin and Cristie Kerr by a single stroke.

I asked Lincicome afterward whether the winless streak has been weighing on her mind.

“Yeah, absolutely,” she said. “Each week, I’m like, ‘Alright, will it happen this week?’ And now it finally has. It’s early in the year still; we’ll see if we can get another one before the year is over.”

One? Lincicome has the type of raw power and touch around the greens that could someday earn her a handful of victories in a single season. This may very well be that season.

4. Augusta State

Finally the city of Augusta, Ga., is on the golf map!

I kid, of course, but the men’s golf team is doing a bang up job of showing the world that Augusta has more ties to the game than simply the year’s first major venue.

On Sunday, the Jaguars won their second consecutive national championship, defeating the University of Georgia in the title match.

It wasn’t without a few interesting side notes, either.

Augusta State coach Josh Gregory will go out a winner, as he is poised to take over this week as the coach at SMU, his alma mater.

Meanwhile, Patrick Reed, who won the clinching match, is in this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic field on the PGA Tour and will reportedly turn pro before teeing it up.

Considering how well Reed played during the week, he could increase awareness for Augusta on the golfing landscape even more very, very soon.

Three Down

5. Graeme McDowell

The week started benignly enough, with G-Mac returning to the scene of his Ryder Cup-clincher at Celtic Manor, even reenacting the final putt. (See “Video Clip of the Week” section for more.) And it continued nicely, as he opened with scores of 67-68 at the Wales Open to find himself near the top of the leaderboard entering the weekend.

That’s where it all went horribly wrong.

McDowell posted a quad, three doubles and three bogeys en route to a third-round 81 – his worst competitive score since he carded the same in the final round of the 2005 U.S. Open.

It’s been a continuing theme for the world’s fifth-ranked player. In eight stroke-play events worldwide since mid-March, he’s missed three cuts and hasn’t finished better than the T-30 he claimed this past week.

'I've probably made more doubles and triples this season than I have in years,” McDowell admitted.

If he wants to contend in his U.S. Open title defense next week, he’ll need to turn things around in a hurry.

6. Vijay Singh

It appears a major streak is about to end.

Singh hasn’t missed a major championship since the 1994 U.S. Open, but he appears resigned to the fact that he won’t compete in the upcoming edition of that event, ending his consecutive major streak at 67. 

The three-time major champion was entered in U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying, but decided against competing for 36 holes on Monday. He also told reporters that despite being entered in the field in Memphis, he is planning to withdraw from the field. If he competed, he could have qualified by ascending from No. 62 in the world into the top-50.

He does have one other way of getting into the field at Congressional, but it seems unlikely.

Last year, Singh received a special exemption from the USGA. While he could get another one, executive director Mike Davis has previously stated that he didn’t expect any exemptions to be granted for this year’s event.

7. Stomach ailments

Something fishy was going down in one rental house this past week. Maybe it was the fish.

In three consecutive days at the Memorial, Bill Lunde, Nick Watney and D.J. Trahan were each forced to withdraw due to stomach issues. The common bond? All three stayed in the same house and ate meals together.

Meanwhile, the remaining member of the foursome remained peculiarly healthy.

So I asked Charley Hoffman, “Um, did you poison your housemates?”

“Hey, you gotta win out here somehow,” he responded with a mischievous laugh.

Hold your anger. He was just kidding. At least, I think he was.

Three Wishes

8. I wish every major tour would consider the following idea.

I’ve always been a fan of easily implemented ideas that improve the state of the game. This one certainly qualifies.

In the opening round of the Memorial Tournament, Roland Thatcher hit what he believed to be a well-struck second shot into the par-5 15th hole that should have set up an eagle opportunity. Instead, the ball landed a yard short of the green, bounded off a sprinkler head and wound up 50 yards over the green. End result? Bogey.

It’s not an uncommon occurrence, either. One day later, Rickie Fowler suffered a similar fate on a similarly well-struck approach shot.

This is a problem for which Thatcher believes he has an easy solution.

By placing a grass or artificial turf padding over each greenside sprinkler head that mirrors the nearby terrain, players wouldn’t suffer such consequences on otherwise good shots. Considering the sprinkler heads aren’t a natural part of the course anyway, covering them up would allow the course to play truer to its natural surface.

It wouldn’t be difficult to implement, either. Members of the grounds crew could add the padding in the mornings, then simply remove them once the final group plays through each evening. Since the sprinklers aren’t in use during competition anyway, there’s no reason this shouldn’t happen.

It’s an idea so sensible, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been implemented yet.

9. I wish the thoughts of Davis Love III would be embraced by more players.

As usual, there will be some very good players – even some who are capable of winning – absent from this month’s U.S. Open because they failed to qualify. There will also be many who don’t play Congressional because they didn’t even try.

Whether it’s apathy toward the year’s second major or a reluctance to compete in a 36-hole qualifier, there are always those who don’t even take a chance at reaching the field.

As Love told a gaggle of scribes after Thursday’s opening round at Muirfield Village, the experience of trying to qualify and competing in majors will pay off for players in the long run.

“I heard some players say they’re going to skip qualifying, then have two weeks off in a row and I'll be ready,” Love said. “For what? So you'll be ready for the AT&T?

“I’m telling my son [Dru] now, he’s entered in U.S. Junior Amateur qualifying and U.S. Amateur qualifying. He said, ‘Do you think I can win the U.S. Amateur?’ I said, ‘If you get really hot, but you need to practice qualifying. You don't need to show up when you’re 20 and say, I’m ready to win the Amateur.’

“A guy might feel like now he can't win the U.S. Open. But he still needs to go try to qualify.”


10. I wish Charl Schwartzel wasn’t being saddled with a reputation as a “cheater.”

When you’re on the golf course, it’s sometimes difficult to realize what is big news and what isn’t. I was on the 11th hole Friday afternoon when Schwartzel drove his tee shot left and then waited on a ruling. While waiting out the typical player/official conversation, I checked my phone and saw that there was plenty of discussion about it on Twitter, which in turn led me to realize that the Golf Channel telecast was airing the entire process.

And so what is usually a fairly typical decision became a hot topic when analysts questioned whether the right call was being made.

Nothing wrong with raising that question. It’s the analysts’ job to, well, analyze such things and proffer opinions.

What’s completely incorrect is the insinuation from some fans – I heard from plenty of ‘em via tweets – that Schwartzel is a “cheater” and was trying to skirt the rules by requesting an unnecessary ruling.

I spoke with PGA Tour rules official Jon Brendle and Golf Channel interviewed Schwartzel after the incident. (You can read their thoughts here) While each of them maintained that it was a difficult ruling, neither believed there was anything improprietous about it, nor did Schwartzel think it would weigh on his conscience for any reason.

If you think Schwartzel received an unfair ruling, that’s fine. You’re entitled to your opinion – and you may not be wrong about that. To call him a cheater or suggest that he doesn’t compete with honor, however, is to completely miss the point in this situation.

11. Video Clip of the Week:

11. You’ll have to either turn your head or your computer, but it’s worth it to watch Graeme McDowell reenact his Ryder Cup-clinching putt at Celtic Manor – much to the delight of all the fans: Click here for video

12. Tweet of the Week:

@JustinRose99 Just been called Mr Scott all night by our waiter! Funny how girls don't seem to make that mistake!

13. Stat of the Week:

Stricker played the front nine at Muirfield Village in 20 under par with scores of 33-30-31-30.

Not enough? Here’s another…

Stricker played holes 7 through 9 in 11 under for the week.

Need one more? Here you go…

He played the par-3 eighth hole in 5 under.

That would be birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie.

14. On the Hot Seat:

Patrick Cantlay

The list of players who have won the Jack Nicklaus Award at the Division I level reads like a who’s who of accomplished professionals over the past two-plus decades.

From Phil Mickelson (three times) to David Duval to Tiger Woods to Luke Donald to Hunter Mahan, winning the award doesn’t ensure success, but it almost always leads to it down the road.

The most recent recipient is Patrick Cantlay, a freshman at UCLA who was honored by Nicklaus on Sunday after previously receiving the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation’s top first-year player. It all earned him one more award, too: A place on the weekly Hot Seat.

Q: Jack Nicklaus Award, Pac-10 Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year – what does all of this mean to you?

A: It means a lot. It’s everything you ever dreamed of doing your first year in college. It’s been exciting and a lot of fun.

Q: Did you think it would happen this quickly?

A: I never really thought about it. You just try to take it one week at a time. It just worked out.

Q: What are your career goals? Going to turn pro or stay in college?

A: I’ll be there four years and get my degree.

Q: Definitely?

A: Yes.

Q: You’ve won all of these awards already. What do you do for an encore the next three years?

A: You know, try to win as many tournaments as I can, have a good time and finish school.

Q: You look at the list of guys who have won the Jack Nicklaus Award from the Division I ranks and there’s hardly a miss in there. Almost every single one is either on tour or has been on tour. Do you look at that and get some confidence knowing the history behind it?

A: Yeah, it’s great to see all of those guys and see that they have success out there. Hopefully someday that can be me.

Q: You said during the winner’s press conference that your best shot this year was a 4-iron from – how far exactly?

A: I was 250 to the flagstick. I landed it 225 or so.

Q: That’s kind of far, you know.

A: Yeah, I tagged it pretty good.

Q: Do you still have finals for school?

A: Yes, next week.

Q: How excited are you for that?

A: Oh, elated.

Q: How are your grades so far?

A: They’re OK. I’m right around 3.3 or 3.4.

Q: That’s pretty solid. So you can play golf, you’ve got good grades. What aren’t you good at?

A: I’m sure there’s something. I’m not too great at fishing.

15. Fact or Fiction

Luke Donald 

Luke Donald has played too much golf lately.

It’s a valid point, considering in the last four weeks, the No. 1-ranked player has played 318 holes of competitive golf.

That would be 72 holes at The Players Championship; 101 at the Volvo World Match Play Championship; 73 at the BMW PGA Championship; and 72 at the Memorial Tournament.

Throw in three pro-am rounds and a handful of practice rounds and he’s easily eclipsed the 400-hole mark in the past month.

“I am tired,” he said. “More so from not having full strength – I had a couple bouts with strep throat, just wasn’t feeling my best and that’s always tough. And obviously playing in contention every week takes it out of you, as well. I’ll definitely take a couple of days off after [Monday].”

That’s right. Donald won’t follow that string by taking a nice long nap, but will instead tee it up at Congressional for a practice round.

It all begs the question: Has it been too much?

In two words: No way.

During the recent stretch, he’s gone T-4, solo second, win and T-9, T-7 while – oh, by the way – reaching No. 1 in the world, too. Players have got to strike while the irons are hot and that’s exactly what Donald has done. Will it catch up with him later, perhaps even at next week’s U.S. Open? Perhaps, but that shouldn’t be of any worry.

Donald teed it up at four very good events and played very solid golf at all of ‘em. He wouldn’t do it any differently if given the chance, so we shouldn’t question his decision-making, either. Consider the above statement FICTION – and rest easy knowing the top-ranked player will get some rest this coming week.

16. Quote of the Week

“Steve is a great guy, and I mean, he's got a great game.  He drives it really straight and as everyone knows, he putts the $#!% out of it.” – Dustin Johnson on Steve Stricker.

17. From the Inbox

As always, you can reach me on Twitter at @JasonSobelGC with your golf-related questions…

@DaveCC1109 What is holding Dustin Johnson back?

Hmm, I didn’t realize he was being held back. With his strong finish at the Memorial, he now has four top-10s already this year. Even though he won’t turn 27 for a few more weeks, he already owns four career PGA Tour victories. And he’s previously contended in a few major tournaments. What more would you like? Just be patient. DJ has a world of talent. There’s absolutely nothing holding him back.

@TheSLReport Will Congressional provide more challenges to the players off the tee or playing into the greens at the US open?

If I can only pick between the two, I’ll contend that driving accuracy will be a better barometer of success than ball-striking. They kind of go hand-in-hand, but players are going to need to keep it in the short stuff just to have a chance to score. More important than either of these, of course, is chipping and putting. Those who scramble and get up-and-down better than their peers will find the most success.

@JayReynoldsATX How long do you think @Luke_Donald holds #1 ranking?

It may only be a matter of time before someone else overtakes him again. Even Donald understands that, saying just minutes after claiming the ranking last week, “Hopefully I can hang onto it for a few more weeks.” However, don’t expect him to drop very far. With 15 top-10s in his last 16 starts, he’s been the most consistent player in the world. With those on his ledger for a while, he should remain near the top of the ranking.

@jeffdebalko Will Bay Hill and Memorial retain their prominence after Arnie and Jack are gone or will they go the way of the Nelson?

No offense to the legends, but players show up to tournaments more because of the host venues than the hosts themselves. Bay Hill and especially Muirfield Village are top-rate courses. As long as those two are still in the annual rotation, players will show up, even long after the tournament hosts are no longer around to greet them.

18. Photo of the Week

Charl Schwartzel 

He’s not only the Masters champion, Charl Schwartzel can also apparently walk on water. That’s a handy talent to own when traversing across hazards.

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Stock Watch: Fans getting louder, rowdier

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 3:01 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.


Bubba (+9%): Half of his 10 Tour titles have come at Augusta National and Riviera – that’s pretty stout. Though he can be maddening to cover because of his personality quirks, an in-form Watson is a must-watch.

Phil (+5%): For the first time in 11 years, Mickelson put together three consecutive top-6 finishes on Tour. Suddenly, another green jacket or that elusive U.S. Open title doesn’t seem so far away.

Kevin Na (+3%): How much fun would this guy be on a Ryder Cup team? He hits it dead straight – which will be important at Le Golf National, where the home team will narrow the fairways – and would drive the Europeans absolutely bonkers.

West Coast swing (+2%): From Jason Day to Gary Woodland to Ted Potter to Watson, the best coast produced a series of memorable comeback stories. And that’s always good news for those of us who get paid to write about the game.

South Korean talent (+1%): They already represent nine of the top 16 players in the world, and that doesn’t even include Jin Young Ko, who just won in her first start as an LPGA member.


Steve Stricker Domination (-1%): Those predicting that he would come out and mop up on the PGA Tour Champions – hi there! – will be surprised to learn that he’s now 0-for-7 on the senior circuit (with five top-3s), after Joe Durant sped past him on the final day in Naples. The quality of golf out there is strong.

Patrick Cantlay’s routine (-2%): Never really noticed it before, but Cantlay ground to a halt during the final round, often looking at the cup six or seven times before finally stroking his putt. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that his final-round scoring average is nearly four strokes higher than his openers.

Lydia Ko (-3%): Another wholesale change? Whatever is going on here – and it reeks of too much parental involvement – it’s not good for her short- or long-term future.

Tiger (-4%): It’s early, and he’s obviously savvy enough to figure it out, but nothing else in this comeback will matter if Woods can’t start driving it on the planet.

Fan behavior (-8%): Kudos to Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas for taking the Riviera spectators to task for their tiresome (and increasingly aggressive) calls after a player hits a shot. The only problem? PGA National’s par-3 17th could be even worse – the drunk fans are closer to the action, and the hole is infinitely more difficult than TPC Scottsdale’s 16th. Buckle up.

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USGA, R&A detail World Handicap System

By Randall MellFebruary 20, 2018, 2:00 pm

The USGA and the R&A released details Tuesday of a proposed new World Handicap System.

The WHS takes the six handicapping systems that exist worldwide and aligns them under a new single system.

The USGA and the R&A will govern the WHS with the six existing handicap authorities administering them locally. A two-year transition will begin to fully implement the new system in 2020.

The unified alignment is designed to make it easier to obtain and maintain a handicap and to make the handicap more equitable among golfers of differing abilities and genders around the world.

“For some time, we’ve heard golfers say, ‘I’m not good enough to have a handicap,’ or ‘I don’t play enough to have a handicap,’” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “We want to make the right decisions now to encourage a more welcoming and social game.”

Davis said the effort is designed to both simplify and unify the handicap system.

“We’re excited to be taking another important step – along with modernizing golf’s rules – to provide a pathway into the sport, making golf easier to understand and more approachable and enjoyable for everyone to play,” he said.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said the new handicap system should make the game more inviting.

“We want to make it more attractive to golfers to obtain a handicap and strip away some of the complexity and variation which can be off-putting for newcomers,” Slumbers said. “Having a handicap, which is easier to understand and is truly portable around the world, can make golf much more enjoyable and is one of the unique selling points of our sport.”

The new WHS system aims to more accurately gauge the score a golfer is “reasonably capable of achieving” on any course around the world under normal conditions.

Key features of the WHS include:

*Flexibility in formats of play, allowing both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes and ensuring that a golfer’s handicap is more reflective of potential ability.

*A minimal number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap; a recommendation that the number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap be 54 holes from any combination of 18-hole and 9-hole rounds, but with “some discretion available for handicapping authorities or national associations to set a different minimum within their own jurisdiction.”

*A consistent handicap that “is portable” from course to course and country to country through worldwide use of the USGA course and slope rating system, already used in more than 80 countries.

*An average-based calculation of a handicap, taken from the best eight out of the last 20 scores and “factoring in memory of previous demonstrated ability for better responsiveness and control.”

*A calculation that considers the impact that abnormal course and weather conditions might have on a player’s performance each day.  

*Daily handicap revisions, taking account of the course and weather conditions calculation.

*A limit of net double bogey on the maximum hole score (for handicapping purposes only). 

*A maximum handicap limit of 54.0, regardless of gender, to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance to increase their enjoyment of the game.

The USGA and the R&A devised the WHS after a review of the handicap systems currently administered by six authorities around the world: Golf Australia, the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) in Great Britain and Ireland, the European Golf Association (EGA), the South African Golf Association (SAGA), the Argentine Golf Association (AAG) and the USGA. Those authorities, plus the Japan Golf Association and Golf Canada, collaborated in helping develop the new system.

The six handicapping authorities represent approximately 15 million golfers in 80 countries who currently maintain a golf handicap.  

“While the six existing handicap systems have generally worked very well locally, on a global basis, their different characteristics have sometimes resulted in inconsistency, with players of the same ability ending up with slightly different handicaps,” the USGA and the R&A stated in a joint release. “This has sometimes resulted in unnecessary difficulties and challenges for golfers competing in handicap events or for tournament administrators. A single WHS will pave the way to consistency and portability.”

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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 11:44 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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Randall's Rant: Tiger no longer one with the chaos

By Randall MellFebruary 19, 2018, 9:49 pm

Back in the day, Tiger Woods appeared to relish riding atop the chaos, above the raucous waves of excitement that followed him wherever he went.

Like Kelly Slater surfing epic peaks at Banzai Pipeline ...

Like Chris Sharma dangling atop all the hazards on the cliff face of “The Impossible Climb” at Clark Mountain ...

Hell, like Chuck Yeager ahead of the sonic boom he created breaking the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 over the Mojave Desert in 1947.

It was difficult to tell whether Woods was fueling the bedlam in his duel with Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship, or if it was fueling him.

Fans scampered in a frenzy you rarely see in golf to get the best look they could at his next shot at Valhalla in that playoff.

Same thing when Woods turned his 15-shot rout into a victory parade in the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that same year.

And when Woods improbably chipped in at the 16th at Augusta National to shake every pine tree at the Masters before going on to defeat Chris DiMarco in a playoff in 2005.

Tiger brought a boisterous, turbulent new wave of excitement to the game, unrivaled since Arnie’s Army followed the legend in his heyday.

Woods attracted new fans who did not understand golf’s time-honored traditions. He lured them to the game’s most hallowed grounds. There were challenges with that, though they always seemed more daunting to Woods’ playing partners than to him.

At his best, Tiger seemed to be one with the chaos, able to turn its energy into his energy.

Every Tiger pairing in his prime turned wherever he was into a home game, turned every golf course into his stadium and transformed every opponent into the visiting team.

We heard how hard that was for the Bob Mays, Chris DiMarcos and even the Ernie Els of the world.

That’s what added to the intrigue of Tiger’s return to Riviera last week, and what will make this week at PGA National and the Honda Classic similarly interesting.

Tiger’s back.

Well, the overly exuberant frenzy only he can create is back, but his game isn’t. Not yet. And now we’re hearing how the bedlam is a challenge to more than his playing partners. It’s a challenge to his game, too.

“It cost me a lot of shots over the years,” Woods said at the Genesis Open. “It’s cost me a few tournaments here and there.

“I’ve dealt with it for a very long time.”

Huh? Did Tiger forget the advantage he had playing in a storm? Or are today’s storms different, more unruly, more destructive?

Did having total control of all facets of his game when he was at his best make the bedlam work for him?

Does the focus it requires to find his old magic today make the chaos work against him?

Jack Nicklaus used to say that when he heard players complaining about difficult conditions going into a major, he checked them off his list of competitive threats.

You wonder if Tiger did the same back in the day, when players talked about the challenges that surrounded a pairing with him.

Golf is different than other sports. That has to be acknowledged here.

When you hear mainstream sports fans wonder what is so wrong with a fan yelling in a player’s backswing, you know they don’t understand the game. A singular comment breaking the silence over a player’s shot in golf is like a fan sneaking onto the field in football and tripping a receiver racing up the sideline. It is game-changing chaos.

Is Tiger facing game-changing chaos now?

Or was Riviera’s noise something he just can’t harness in his current state of repair? Is there more pressure on him trying to come back in that environment?

If Rory McIlroy needed a “couple Advil” for the headache the mayhem at the Genesis Open caused him playing with Tiger last week, then May and DiMarco must have needed shots of Demerol.

Then all those guys who lost majors to Tiger in final-round pairings with him must have felt like they endured four-hour migraines.

“It got a little out of hand,” Justin Thomas said of his two days with Tiger at Riviera.

Maybe McIlroy and Thomas were dealing with something boisterously new, more Phoenix Open in its nausea than anything Tiger created when he broke golf out of a niche.

Whatever it is, Tiger’s challenge finding his best will be even more complicated if he’s no longer one with the chaos, if he can no longer turn its energy into his energy.

If that’s the case, he really may be just one of the guys this time around.