Preview and Prediction for PGA Tour's 2014 Florida Swing
Now that the new wraparound schedule and west coast swing have concluded, the PGA Tour moves to Florida.
Professional golfers profess that early season tournaments are used to work out the kinks and get back into tournament mode after their winter layoff.
A renewed sense of urgency seems to hit the golf circuit, however, as the tour moves into the "Florida Swing."
Fourteen tournaments are complete in the 2013-14 season, but the top names have only played in handful of events thus far.
The four tournaments in Florida, the Honda Classic, the WGC-Cadillac, the Valspar Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational are a preview and a warm-up for the Masters each year.
Tiger Woods has only played once thus far in the U.S. which resulted in a rather untidy T-80 at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
No. 2 in the world and Masters champion Adam Scott has played just two events in Hawaii before taking his winter vacation.
Phil Mickelson has played in five events this year, but he skipped Riviera and the match play.
All the big names will be in attendance in Florida as the Masters looms the second week in April.
The Honda Classic Will Host the Strongest Field of the Year Thus Far
The Honda Classic has been hosted by various courses and has assumed different names over its 42-year history.
Tom Weiskopf won the first tournament back in 1972 when it was hosted by Jackie Gleason and played at Inverrary. Since then, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Fred Couples, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy have won the event.
The host course, PGA National, was designed by Jack Nicklaus and features the Bear Trap. The three-hole stretch of Nos. 15-17 is the most difficult annually on the PGA Tour. The winner must navigate his ball away from the water hazards that come into play on each of the three holes.
Woods, Mickelson, Scott and McIlroy will all be in the field at the 2014 Honda Classic.
Young players, Harris English, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth have all been playing at a very high level and should do well here.
McIlroy won this event in 2012, withdrew during a poor second round last year and will want to redeem himself this year. He has to be among the favorites to win this week.
Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel all reside near this golf course and are playing well right now.
Woods has never won here, but he also lives close to the course and needs to get his year started.
WGC-Cadillac at Newly Renovated Trump Doral
Doral is one of the most iconic golf courses on the PGA Tour and has hosted a tournament annually since 1962.
The Miami area offers warm breezes, sun, sand and South Beach nightlife.
Donald Trump purchased the property last year, and Gil Hanse just completed a multimillion-dollar renovation to the Blue Monster.
A total purse of $9 million is up for grabs with $1.5 million to the winner.
Woods is the defending champion and has won here seven times since 2006.
Scott should also finish high up on the leaderboard, as well as Justin Rose, who won this tournament in 2012.
Mickelson won here in 2009 and should be a factor, too.
Although he has not won this event, McIlroy has had good finishes at Doral in the past.
Coming off his big win at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, Jason Day has the game to win here.
Young players to watch at Trump Doral include, Spieth, English and Hideki Matsuyama.
Hanse restored some of the difficulty of the Blue Monster, though he did leave the difficult par-four, 18th alone. Water runs all along the left side of the fairway, and a row of palm trees guard the right side.
Length and accurate ball-striking will need to be demonstrated by the winner.
Look for a veteran like Woods, Mickelson, Scott or Rose to hold the trophy Sunday evening.
Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort
This is the inaugural year for Valspar as the title sponsor, but this tournament has been held on the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort since 2000.
With a purse totaling $5.7 million, many of the big names take this week off.
Gary Woodland was a rare long-ball hitter to win this tournament in 2011. The Copperhead course demands solid ball-striking, and over the years, control-type players normally finish higher.
Jim Furyk won here in 2010, and Donald hoisted the trophy in 2012.
Spieth got his year rolling last year with a T-7 finish in Tampa.
Look for the player with solid ball-striking skills like, Zach Johnson, Donald and Furyk, to perform well.
Boo Weekley was runner-up to Streelman last year. English, Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar also finished high up on the leaderboard in 2013.
Arnold Palmer Invitational from Bay Hill
Anytime Arnold Palmer is involved, golfers are intrigued.
The tournament annually draws a very strong field in respect to The King.
A total purse of $6.2 million with $1.1 million going to the winner doesn't hurt either.
The big story here is that Woods has won this event eight times since 2000. He won it the last two consecutive years, and if he is healthy, he has to be the favorite again this year.
This is a big-hitters ballpark with tricky greens. Rose, Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker and Henrik Stenson all finished high up on the leaderboard last year.
It would be insanity to predict anything other than another win for Woods, but Scott, Mickelson, Rose and a few younger players could challenge him down the stretch.
Someone like Dustin Johnson, Woodland or Bradley could be a factor late Sunday.