The PGA Tour flips to the East Coast this week for the beginning of the Florida swing and The Honda Classic. Sandwiched between two World Golf Championship events, this field is stacked with international players.
The defending champion is Michael Thompson, who won by two over Geoff Ogilvy. In 2012 Rory McIlroy beat Tiger Woods and Tom Gillis by two, and in 2011 Rory Sabbatini beat Y.E. Yang by one.
Our picks here are McIlroy and Woods, but not really for any statistical reasons. Rory hasn't started 2014 in super sharp form (he lost in the second round last week at the Accenture Match Play Championship), but has shown improvement in his game in recent months and does enjoy The Champion Course at PGA National.
Tiger, meanwhile, has gotten off to the worst start of his career in terms of finishes (T80-T41) but played well toward the end in Dubai, made 10 birdies over 15 holes in an exhibition in India and has been home grinding away since returning from overseas. Like McIlroy, this is a home game for Tiger this week, and if his game is on he should play well through The Bear Trap.
Who is Playing
This field is completely and utterly stacked, headlined by Tiger, Phil Mickelson and Rory. It has a strong international contingent with it as well, including Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and more.
Of that group, I recommend picking Garcia. Yes, he made a very odd decision in his match last week against Rickie Fowler, but he is playing well and does have a win to his name overseas. On this tour, he has finishes of T11-4-T9 to begin his 2013-14 season, and while he doesn't have enough rounds played to be included in the PGA Tour's official stats sheet, his equivalencies would have him sixth in scoring average and tied for 23rd in greens in regulation.
Conversely with Mickelson, I'm not quite sure what to make of him. His play has been erratic, his back has been aching and his putting (he's 129th in strokes gained-putting) is anything but solid. And he hasn't played in this event since it went to PGA National in 2007. He is fifth in sand save percentage - which will do him well if he goes astray - but the uncertain nature of his play coming in leads us to not recommend him.
As we begin the Florida swing and mark six weeks until the Masters it is finally a good time - with the disclaimer of some guys, like Woods and Scott who have very few PGA Tour rounds under their belts - to look at the all-around ranking and see who's playing their overall best at the moment.
Will MacKenzie - MacKenzie is second in all-around because of the strength of his ball striking. He's 19th in ball striking, 17th in total driving, 35th in greens in regulation and 23rd in strokes gained-putting.
Zach Johnson - Johnson is fourth in all-around by virtue of being first in driving accuracy, third in greens in regulation, second in birdie average and fourth in scoring average.
Ryan Palmer - Palmer, sixth in this category, is 20th in total driving, third in par-5 birdie or better leaders, 25th in ball striking and 10th in putting from 10-15 feet. He enters the week with a second and another top-10 in the 2013-14 PGA Tour season.
Patrick Reed - Reed, who won the Humana Challenge, is 10th in the FedEx Cup standings and seventh in all-around ranking, helped by being 20th in greens in regulation and 24th in strokes gained-putting.
Brendon Todd - Todd, who has yet to win on the PGA Tour but has come close on several occasions, has one top-10 and four top-25s so far this season. Tenth in all-around ranking, he ranks 15th in strokes gained-putting and 10th in scoring average.