And K.J. Choi is in the unique position of defending a title he won little more than four months ago.
During the last week of October the Korean-born veteran pasted the field for a four-shot victory at the Chrysler Championship, earning his fourth PGA TOUR win (second in the event) and enough money to gain entry into the Tour Championship the following week.
Not since 2000, when the U.S. Open and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am were played within three months of each other, has the PGA TOUR seen such a short turnaround between events at the same course.
Putting it into perspective, Tiger Woods has played only four times worldwide since Choi's win, and just twice in PGA TOUR-sanctioned events.
Following a strict schedule in which he only plays in the world's biggest tournaments, Woods is skipping the second leg of the TOUR's Florida swing. Among the top golfers, he's not alone: world No. 9 Vijay Singh and No. 13 Sergio Garcia are the highest-ranked players in the field.
But Choi will be back, as will 2006 runners-up Paul Goydos and Brett Wetterich and a host of other players with good records in the event. Players like Jesper Parnevik, who owns three top-25 finishes and is 4-for-4 in cuts made here.
The GOLF CHANNEL will broadcast the first two rounds, with NBC taking over for the weekend.
Next week the TOUR continues its Florida swing with the Arnold Palmer Invitational (formerly the Bay Hill Invitational), where Rod Pampling picked up his second career win last year.
But, as for this week, here are our five favorites for the PODS Championship:
Despite sitting in the No. 3 spot on the FedExCup points list and already with a win under his belt, there's a sense that Singh is off his game a little bit. Of the six events in which he has teed it up, only twice has he finished in the top-10. But the big Fijian comes into this event with great credentials having taken home the trophy in 2004 and a runner-up finish the season prior.
Howell has already missed the cut two times in his five starts here in Tampa, but not to worry; that was the old Charles. Since the beginning of the 2007 season, the 27-year-old has started showing the golf world the new and improved Charles. He's first on the aforementioned FedExCup points list, first on the money list, and he has risen all the way up to 15th in the world rankings. He took last week off and should be well rested and ready to continue his roll toward Augusta.
The up-and-coming South African really has showed his mettle the past year, especially against strong fields. The 2006 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year beat Tiger at last year's Western Open to go along with another seven top-10s. He started off this season with a tie for third at the Mercedes-Benz Championship and is closing in on becoming the highest ranked South African with his current rank of 13th, just seven spots below Ernie Els and five behind Retief Goosen.
The young gun had a decent if not yet impressive debut in this event in 2006 with a tie for 31st. But playing his college golf at the University of Florida, Villegas knows the area well and is coming off a big week at The Honda Classic. Although he missed a short putt in the playoff, the Columbia native will be riding a wave of confidence into the Innisbrook Resort.
When South Korea's Choi returns this week to Tampa, not only is he returning as the defending champion, but he is also returning to the site where he has earned half of his four career PGA TOUR victories. The man they call 'Tank' obviously likes what he sees at this course. In last year's four-shot win, Choi finished in the top-10 in both putting stats and in greens in regulation, and his 19 birdies led the field for the week. He started the year with an eighth-place showing at the Mercedes and followed it up with a fourth at the Sony.
Another foursome to keep an eye on this week in Tampa:
Campbell had an impressive run at the WGC-Match Play Championship, where he was the lone American to make it to the weekend before bowing out in the semifinals to Geoff Ogilvy. He has two top-4 finishes here in Tampa in the last four starts.
Jesper came close to notching his fifth career PGA TOUR win here in 2004 when he finished second to Singh. He had another good run last year, closing with a 66 to tie for sixth.
Haas is starting to come into form in his sophomore season with five top-30 results, including a solo fifth in Mexico. He currently stands 40th on the money list.
After missing the cut in his first go around at the PODS Championship in 2003, the 'Redneck Swede' came back with a top-10 in '04 and then captured his maiden TOUR title the following year with his one-stroke win over Campbell.