Honda Classic: No Tiger or Rory, but Sunday Storylines Still Abound

Kevin Casey@kevincasey19Contributor IMarch 3, 2013

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 02:  Luke Guthrie hits his tee shot on the fourth hole during the third round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on March 2, 2013 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For the PGA Tour, the allure of a superstar can be both a blessing and a curse.

One single player can draw much of the interest in a tournament, attracting new viewers and bringing the attendance at the site of the event to astronomical numbers. Yet, nobody is immune to poor play and, when a superstar exits the stage early, the ratings and attendance suffer.

The latter is the scenario Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have cooked up this week at the Honda Classic. The 23-year-old Northern Irishman was the buzz of the internet Friday afternoon for a youthful gaff, playing his first eight holes of the day in seven over par before withdrawing with an excuse about as convincing as Lance Armstrong's remorse.

Woods hasn't quite flamed out so hard, instead offering up three monotonous rounds of 70 that leave him eight shots off the lead and with no realistic chance at winning Sunday afternoon. Crowds will still show up to see Woods fight for a meaningless high finish, but not at the same level as if he were challenging for his 76th Tour victory.

All of this means less viewers on and off the golf course, a dearth of story lines causing casual golfing fans to flip their interests elsewhere.

There is more to golf than Tiger and Rory, though. In fact, the leaderboard at the Honda Classic has left a multitude of intriguing story lines heading into Sunday's final round.

11 players sit within four shots of the lead and some of the bigger names in golf are lurking and ready to pounce. Keegan Bradley, the fiery, bug-eyed bomber from the Northeast, sits just four shots off the lead and is looking for a way to capture PGA Tour victory No. 4 with an instrument that already has people disgracefully calling him a cheater.

The more reserved Justin Rose is also at that -4 number and hoping to add another notch to his belt of impressive victories. One shot closer is Rickie Fowler, who struggled all afternoon Saturday until a stunning birdie-eagle finish. The 24-year-old silenced many of his doubters with his first PGA Tour win last May in Charlotte, but another one in Palm Beach could offer further validation to his quest to become one of the game's next big stars.

Even more interesting stories are located closer to the top of the leader board. At six under par and two shots behind, Lee Westwood is in prime position to capture his first PGA Tour title since 2010. This would not be the major championship victory that would so brighten his legacy, but it would at least be a start.

The other man at that number doesn't have to worry about winning major championships, just returning to prominence. It was less than five years ago that Geoff Ogilvy was at No. 3 in the world golf rankings and could put wins at the U.S. Open and the WGC-Accenture Match Play on his resume. Those victories haven't faded away but Ogilvy's game has in recent years, as the Aussie has plummeted to No. 79 in the world and produced just one top-10 in his last 26 starts.

He's not in the Masters yet, so a win could serve the dual purpose of getting him into the year's first major and setting him back on a preliminary path to the upper-echeleon of the sport.

The most exciting headline may be at the top of the leaderboard though. With apologies to Michael Thompson (sorry, you're just not that interesting a character), the co-leader Luke Guthrie provides a scintillating story heading into the final round.

The Tour rookie is not just your average newbie. The 23-year-old turned pro early this summer after finishing a second straight season setting the all-time school record for single season scoring average at the University of Illinois, and continued to tear it up when he hit the pro circuit.

He registered a top-five finish at the John Deere Classic in July, then took his talents to the Web.com Tour where he stormed his way to two victories and a second place finish on the money list-- all in just 10 events!

Needless to say, he is a star in the making. His introduction to golfing stardom is on the line Sunday, with a victory catapulting him right into the thick of the discussion as the next great American golfing hope.

So, do not be fooled. Sunday's action may not be able to offer a battle between the game's two most important stars (although some may argue Phil Mickelson is still bigger than McIlroy), but there is a lot at stake nonetheless. 

Some of the Tour's biggest movers and shakers are still in contention and a hot young player from the Midwest may produce his "hello world" moment to the golfing public.

Don't miss tomorrow's conclusion, Tiger and Rory aren't the only ones who can produce drama at PGA National.


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