This week the PGA Tour heads to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. for The Honda Classic. Rory McIlroy returns to defend his title at PGA National, but a strong field will be chasing him, including last year's runner-up, Tiger Woods. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel includes: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams and staff writer Ryan Lavner. They will also be joined by former 'Saturday Night Live' star Norm Macdonald, who will serve as a celebrity guest throughout the fantasy season.
Group 1: Rory McIlroy: Forget those 75s to start 2013, forget the wayward iron play at the Match Play and the poor driving in Abu Dhabi, he was downright dominant last year at PGA National and has the look of a new man this week.
Group 2: Peter Hanson: Although off to a slow start in his Tour debuts this year, the Florida Swing is where he started to heat up last year (T-4 at Doral) on his way to a T-3 at The Masters.
Group 3: Geoff Ogilvy: The move back to Scottsdale hasn’t exactly produced the results he’d hoped for but he has a good history at this event (runner-up showings in 2001 and 2006). Besides, when the Australian is on there are few who can control their golf ball in the wind as well as he can.
Group 4: Chad Campbell: Not a lot of great options in this group, but the Texan is used to playing in the wind and has played some of the best golf of his career in Florida (won 2004 Arnold Palmer Invitational).
Group 1: Tiger Woods: Really tough to pick in this group. I narrowed it down to Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel, and local resident Tiger Woods. Ultimately going with Tiger because of this particular statistic thanks to the folks at Shotlink. Instead of looking at him getting knocked out in Round 1 of the Match Play as a negative, I view it as a positive because when you look at the six times it's happened, he's managed to go on and finish inside the top 10 in his next start each time, including last year, when he finished T-2 at Honda.
Group 2: Fredrik Jacobson: The Swede, who makes his home in nearby Hobe Sound, has a great resume at the Honda for a player in this group. He finished T-16 last year, T-6 in 2010 and T-5 in 2009. He has three top 10s this season with a T-3 the best of the year at the Northern Trust Open. He also advanced to the third round last week at the Match Play. He is second on Tour this year in strokes gained putting and second in scoring average, as well as 13th in scrambling.
Group 3: Brian Harman: He tied for 12th last year and has made a paycheck in each of his last four starts. This is what I liked best about him in this group, he is one of only eight players who played the Bear Trap bogey-free last year in all four rounds. He had three birdies and nine pars.
Group 4: Stuart Appleby: The 1997 winner has finished inside the top 25 here the last two years, tying for 10th in 2011. This season he has made a paycheck in three of his four starts.
Group 1: Lee Westwood: In a year where it seems like every top player is getting a turn, this ball-striker’s course should suit Westwood’s game well.
Group 2: Ernie Els: His last three wins in the States have come in Florida; after a T-13 in his last stroke-play event, this could be a big week for the Big Easy.
Group 3: Ted Potter, Jr.: Trust me on this one: The Florida kid will find a lot of success playing on home turf during this year’s Florida Swing.
Group 4: Patrick Reed: Man, that’s a packed Group 4 filled with players who can contend, but I’ll go with young Reed, who has shown a lot of promise.
Group 1: Justin Rose: A key to success on a difficult course like PGA National is hitting the green in regulation. It was important last year, as 12 of the top 15 on the final leaderboard finished T-10 or better in GIR percentage for the week, and it makes me lean to Rose, who led the Tour in the category in 2012. He is one of many looking to rebound from an early exit at Dove Mountain, but I think he gets his third top-five finish at this event in as many starts.
Group 2: Ernie Els: A winner here in 2008, Els has notched a pair of top-25 finishes since that victory, including a T-21 showing last year. While he left Dove Mountain earlier than planned, I think his play this week will more closely emulate the form that yielded a T-13 at Riviera the week prior.
Group 3: Billy Horschel: The Florida grad has now made the cut in 16 consecutive events, one shy of the best active streak (Ian Poulter 'made' his 17th in a row at the Match Play). In Group 3 I want solid cash, and Horschel will provide it as he is not the same player that missed the cut here in 2011, his lone prior appearance in this event.
Group 4: Jerry Kelly: The former Players champion has been feast or famine in this event lately. In six starts at PGA National, Kelly has three missed cuts but he also has three top-20 finishes, including a solo third in 2011. With the veteran in decent form of late on some difficult tracks (T-27 at Torrey Pines, T-38 at Riviera), I'll take my chances.