Honda Classic 2014: Biggest Storylines from Palm Beach Gardens

Tim KeeneyContributor IMarch 2, 2014

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 02:  Russell Henley reacts during the final round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on March 2, 2014 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

It's clearly the Year of Russell. 

Following in the footsteps of a certain Super Bowl winning quarterback by the same name, 24-year-old Russell Henley kept cool under pressure on Sunday, defeating Russell Knox, Rory McIlroy and Ryan Palmer in a four-man playoff at PGA National to win the Honda Classic. 

With many of the top-ranked golfers in the world competing in Palm Beach Gardens this weekend, it turned into a thrilling up-and-down tournament with several emerging storylines. 

Let's take a look at the biggest. 


Henley Saves His Sinking Ship

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 02:  Russell Henley celebrates with the trophy after winning The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on March 2, 2014 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

In 2013, it took Henley just 13 days to capture his first PGA Tour victory, as he tore through Waialae Country Club en route to a dominant win at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He went on to tally three top-10 finishes in what eventually turned into a tantalizing rookie season. 

But over the first two full months of 2014, Henley found himself mired in a sophomore slump. Through nine tournaments, he had missed four cuts—already just three less than in 2013—and failed to secure a top-20 finish.

So much for those struggles.

Henley shot just a two-over 72 on Sunday, but he was clutch when it mattered, tapping in a three-foot birdie while McIlroy, Knox and Palmer each parred the very first playoff hole. 

The former Georgia star was shell-shocked following his victory, via's Jason Sobel:

Henley is one of the best young stars on Tour, and it will be intriguing to see if this performance helps him get back to his rookie form. 


Tiger's Back

Mar 2, 2014; Palm Beach Gardens, FL, USA; Tiger Woods grimaces after his drive during the final round of The Honda Classic golf tournament at PGA National GC Champion Course. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Literally. Tiger Woods' back was a major storyline on Sunday, as it forced the World No. 1 to withdraw after completing just 13 holes on Sunday. 

He entered the final round at five under par in a tie for 17th after shooting a birdie-filled 65 on Saturday. But in his famous red shirt, he absolutely fell apart, going five-over on the front nine before dropping out and citing a back problem as the issue.

ESPN Stats & Info added some historical context:

Woods, who struggled with a similar injury down the stretch of 2013, talked about next week's WGC-Cadillac Championship, via ESPN's Bob Harig:

"It's too early to tell," Woods said about defending his title at Doral Resort. "I'll get treatment every day to try and calm it down. Don't know yet. We'll see how I am, wait till Thursday and see how it feels."

Woods has been practically non-existent this season, with his only other tournament of the year resulting in an 80th-place finish at the Farmers Insurance Open. 


Rory Collapses

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

A second-place finish is something most would gladly accept, but it's going to be a difficult pill for McIlroy to swallow. 

Entering the day 12-under and in first place, the 24-year-old looked like a lock for his first Tour victory since September of 2012. And even after going two over through the first 15 holes, that still seemed like a good bet. 

But on No. 16, he went swimming on a horrendous shot from the bunker, and on No. 17, he bogeyed to drop out of the lead. 

Of course, when all seemed lost he continued the roller-coaster ride by hitting one of the best shots you'll ever seea ridiculous 236-yard bullet onto the 18th green to set up a potential tournament-winning eagle from inside 12 feet. CBS Sports' Kyle Porter summed it up:

Alas, McIlroy missed that putt and had to settle for a birdie to force a four-man playoff. Then, on the same hole, he had to scramble for par out of the bunker, allowing Henley to grab the victory. 

The young star is well on his way to reversing a miserable 2013 season. This is already his second top-10 finish, and he came in 11th in his only other tournament. Still, he saw his lengthy winless streak continue in just about the most painful way possible. 

How he bounces back is going to be crucial.