The 2013 Honda Classic promises to be another thriller featuring many of the game's marquee names—headlined by last year's joint runner-up Tiger Woods and defending champion Rory McIlroy.
Woods and McIlroy are teammates with Nike now, and each has had a relatively inactive start to the season, with Woods' victory at his beloved Torrey Pines course at the Farmers Insurance Open being an exception.
There are several other big names who may not have the widespread notoriety of golf's current titans but do have a chance to make a big splash this weekend.
Here is a breakdown of the current odds for some of golf's top players—including Woods and McIlroy, of course—as well as an emerging star who has a more substantial resume than name recognition.
Note: All odds are courtesy of GolfOdds.com.
As might be expected when all else is in doubt, Woods enters this week as the prohibitive favorite despite being bounced in the first round of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship last week.
Prior to that, the only PGA Tour event Woods played was at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, which is a venue Woods loves. He won there for the seventh time as a professional, which included his last major triumph at the 2008 U.S. Open.
The 2013 campaign has been an interesting one thus far, to say the least. Woods is not driving the ball as well as he has in recent years but has picked up his play on the greens and flashed some brilliant putting.
A brilliant final-round 62 fell two strokes short of McIlroy in 2012 at this event, but it showed that Woods has the ability to light up PGA National any day.
If he can continue converting a tour-best 42.86 percent of his putts for birdie or better and tighten up his long game ever so slightly, there is a good chance Woods could make some serious noise on Sunday.
A lot is being said about the switch McIlroy made to Nike equipment, which has perceptibly stunted the beginning of his year.
This will only be the third time McIlroy has teed it up in competition in 2013, and he didn't play more than two rounds in either of his previous times out. But the confident 23-year-old did not seem fazed at all in the press conference leading up to the tournament (h/t Golf.com):
I knew coming into it, it was going to be a bit of a process, and I knew there was going to be comments if it didn't happen for me right away.
...I'm only two tournaments into the season ... So it's not like I'm in any rush. It's not like I'm pushing for answers or looking for answers. Everything's there. It's just a matter of putting it all together.
With roughly 20 stops remaining on McIlroy's schedule, it's easy to see why he isn't sweating the sluggish start too much. In fact, he missed four cuts in the middle of last season but came out from that slump to have a record-setting, eight-stroke triumph at the PGA Championship.
The Honda Classic was the first time McIlroy stood up to the wrath of Woods. McIlroy was not crisp with his full shots down the stretch, but he drained clutch putt after clutch putt to hold firmly at 12 under.
That wound up being McIlroy's initial ascent to World No. 1 before he went into the aforementioned slump. So, there are good vibrations at this venue for the youngster, and he should put on by far his best showing of the season to date.
If it's not enough to win, McIlroy certainly figures to be in contention on the weekend.
Perhaps not the biggest name on casual fans' minds, Schwartzel fell off rather drastically after his breakthrough at the Masters in 2011, in which he birdied the final four holes to seal the green jacket.
However, since the end of 2012 and into the start of this year, the South African has been nothing short of phenomenal. Check out his seven most recent stroke play events worldwide before he was bounced in the match play tournament.
|SA Open Championship||European||5th|
|DP World Tour Championship||European||3rd|
|Nedbank Golf Challenge||Sunshine||2nd|
|Thailand Golf Championship||Asian||Win|
|Alfred Dunhill Championship||Sunshine||Win|
|Northern Trust Open||PGA||T-3rd|
Talk about a sensational stretch of golf, and to do it worldwide on so many different types of courses makes it all the more impressive. It is also a testament to how adaptable Schwartzel's game is.
Last season, Schwartzel's uncharacteristically bad ball-striking found him 150th in the PGA Tour in greens in regulation percentage (h/t PGATOUR.com). Now that his swing is back, and his confidence is renewed, he is capable of winning any week.
That includes this week, too, at an event in which Schwartzel tied for fifth year ago and had one of his two best putting performances of the season.
Here is a name that doesn't often pop up on PGA Tour leaderboards, but don't be surprised if this is the week that it happens.
The 24-year-old is the reigning Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner and compatriot of Schwartzel. He is also one of golf's most rapidly rising, underrated stars. Having said that, there are plenty of players in the Honda Classic field who are worth mentioning or are more widely recognized than Grace.
But if you're looking for a serious dark horse to bet on, Grace is one of the best under-the-radar propositions in this deep, world-class pack of golfers.
Grace won four times on the European Tour in 2012 and five times worldwide, including back-to-back triumphs at the beginning of the season. That stretch was capped off by a playoff victory at the Volvo Golf Champions event over Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
After beginning 2013 in fine form with three top-seven finishes, the No. 30 player in the world has dipped in recent weeks. That makes him a perfect candidate for a coming-out party on the PGA Tour in Palm Beach Springs.
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