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The Honda Classic Preview: Graeme's on his Game

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

It's the same thing every year at WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The first few days are exciting, but come the weekend, the shine is off the apple. This generally leads to a few days of discussion about how to fix the event, all of which is forgotten by the time the next event rolls around. Here's the thing, though, does it really need a fix?

Let's break this down: the first three days are among the best non-major rounds of the year. Heck, there are even pools out there for this event. I dare say that there aren't many pools run for the John Deere Classic. An argument could even be made that Day 1 is about as good as a first round can get, majors included. Sure, as the week wears on and players exit left and right, the excitement starts to fade, but how is that any different than a regular tournament? When the event starts all players have a chance to win. By Saturday, maybe a dozen are still in the mix and come Sunday afternoon, it's usually down to a handful of golfers. Heck, sometimes it's just down to one guy trying to hold onto a lead. Is that more exciting than two guys duking it out for a title? What it really boils down to is this - it's the players who draw crowds, not the format. If Tiger Woods is in the final of the match play event, then there's nothing wrong with the format. If it's Kevin Stadler and John Senden, then we need to overhaul everything. Perhaps we should just sit back and enjoy this little quirk in the schedule each year, for us golf fans have so little to complain about.

This week:
The Honda Classic - PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Last Year:
Michael Thompson shot a final-round 69 on his way to a two-stroke victory over Geoff Ogilvy.

Players to Consider:

Lee Westwood

Westwood hasn't had a lot of success in the states over the years, but he usually finds a way to play well here. Westwood has three top-10s in the past four years here, including one top-5. His worst finish here the last four years was T29 in 2011.

Graeme McDowell

McDowell showed some signs last week at the match play event that his game is coming around, and if that's the case, he'll be tough to beat this week as his track record on this course is outstanding. McDowell enters this year's Honda Classic on a streak of three consecutive top-10s.

Rory McIlroy

It might be wise to save McIlroy for later in the year, but there's a case to be made that this week is the best spot for him. McIlroy won his first-round match last week, so we know his game is in decent shape. And he won this event just two years ago, so it's clear he knows his way around this course.

Tiger Woods

Anytime Tiger is in the field he deserves a look. Although this might not be the best time to use him, a case could be made. Tiger has a solid track record in Florida and finished runner-up here in 2012.

Charl Schwartzel

Schwartzel has played this event three times and has yet to finish outside the top-15. His best finish came in 2012 when he earned a top-5. He's not at the level he was last year at this time, but he's one of the best players in the world and is capable of winning any given week.

Players to Avoid:

Geoff Ogilvy

Ogilvy surprised the golf world with a runner-up finish here last year, but he failed to capitalize on the momentum the rest of the year. He does have a solid track record here, but he's only competed on the current course once, so it's hard to say that he has a great feel for this course.

Freddie Jacobson

Jacobson has a strong history at this event, finishing inside the top-30 here five consecutive years. His game, though, is at a five-year low entering this week, and I'm not sure the familiar confines of PGA National can pull him out of this funk.

Phil Mickelson

There's really no way to tell how Mickelson will play this week, and that's the major reason he's on the Avoid List this week. With so many good places to use Mickelson down the road, there's simply no reason to burn him now. Mickelson hasn't played this event since the venue change in 2007.

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano

Fernandez-Castano is a heck of golfer, but he's off to a troubling start this season with two MCs in three stroke-play events and a first-round loss last week. This will be his first time at this event, so there's really no reason to use him.

Johnson Wagner

Wagner has always saved his best for a couple courses on the PGA Tour, and PGA National isn't one. Wagner has missed the cut in four of seven tries at this event and has never finished the week here under par.


Last week:
Hunter Mahan (T9) - $148,000; Season - $1,682,160

This week:
Graeme McDowell - McDowell played well last week on his way to a T5 at the Accenture Match Play event and he has the numbers here as well.


Rank: 7,299

This Week: N/A

Group A -
Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods
Group B - Zach Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Keegan Bradley
Group C - Graeme McDowell, Charl Schwartzel

Last week: N/A; Streak - 1

This week:
Graeme McDowell - Yep, doubling up again. Two reasons for that; first, McDowell has an outstanding track record on this course, and second, he wasn't reliable during the majors last year, so I'm not sure there will be a better spot for him this year.

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