After the always-enjoyable Accenture Match Play Championship, the PGA Tour is back to stroke play this week at the Honda Classic. It's a star-studded field, which includes the top two golfers on the planet, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
Scoring conditions for the opening round (leaderboard) have been pretty fair in the early going. No player has gone extremely low, like fans see so often during the tour's western swing, but solid numbers are available for players who are hitting the ball well.
Not everybody got off to the start they were hoping for, however. While they still have Friday to get back on track, a lackluster opening round makes the task a lot tougher. Knowing that, let's examine a trio of golfers from the early part of Day 1 who must regroup.
Henrik Stenson (+3)
Stenson was off to a strong start on the European Tour. In four starts, he didn't finish outside the top 30 and posted just one over-par round out of 16. It doesn't appear he was able to carry that form with him to the United States, though.
He was eliminated in convincing fashion by Steve Stricker in the first round of the match play event last week and posted a three-over 73 to start the Honda Classic. He recorded just one birdie in the round to go along with four bogeys.
Stenson's sudden loss of form shows just how fickle golf can be. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him come out in the second round and go low to get himself back in the mix, but he'll need to start putting better to make it happen.
Tiger Woods (E)
Although a lot of players would probably be happy with an even-par opening round, Woods is always held to a different standard. That's especially true when he's been flashing some well-rounded performances in the new season.
He won the Farmers Insurance Open with ease, running away from the field and turning it into a no-contest before pressure even had a chance to mount, just like the old days. And even in his loss to Charles Howell III last week he played well.
Starting the day on the back nine, he posted two bogeys in the first four holes, so things could have been worse. But he played much better after the second dropped shot, giving himself a chance to make a move on Friday.
John Merrick (+2)
Merrick is coming off a victory in the Northern Trust Open, where he survived a playoff with Charlie Beljan to claim the title. Any time a player wins a tournament, the expectations for his next start become significantly higher.
The California native didn't play terribly, carding one birdie and three bogeys, but he was unable to find the rhythm he had a couple weeks ago. He couldn't drop any key putts, turning a lot of birdie chances into pars.
That will have to change on Friday. Good things tend to happen if a player gives himself enough birdie opportunities, so Merrick shouldn't change his approach. He just needs to knock the approaches a little closer or start knocking in some putts.
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