There’s nothing like an early season bye-week, even from the virtual links, which is what the Match Play Championship provided. Fantasy Golf returns at the Honda Classic with a field loaded with the globe’s best players, including world No. 1 Rory McIlroy (the defending champion) and No. 2 Tiger Woods.
No one finds it surprising to see those names atop the list. It’s become a given over the past 12 months that if either is entered in a tournament, they are the prohibitive favorites. Makes sense. Rory has ended up searching for a giant ATM to deposit his oversized check in three of his past five PGA events, while Tiger hasn’t finished outside the Top 10 since Labor Day and has more victories (four) than any other player has since this event last season. But it’s crazy how quickly these notions have been branded into our minds because this was certainly not the case entering last year’s Honda Classic.
Since I’ve been able to generate the required 1.21 gigawatts, let’s jump in my DeLorean and head back to Leap Day 2012. McIlroy had stalled at No. 2 behind Luke Donald in the world rankings, leaving many questioning whether he would ever become the transcendent player everyone expected after his dominating victory at the 2011 US Open. Maybe he was just Sergio Garcia 2.0 – Sergio with a Major. And Tiger, no one knew what to expect. Despite a win at the Chevron Challenge the previous December, the greatest player of his generation hadn’t posted a real win in over two years. His trademark Sunday Red, once signaling to rest of the field that they were all competing for second, had become big bright indicator that Eldrick was going to implode.
That all changed with one shot.
One eagle putt later, and the announcement was made: Tiger has returned. It was clear that Woods had shed the cloak of Sunday disappointments. His final round 62 persists as the best final round of his storied career, yet it still wasn’t enough to rattle McIlroy. Just making the turn when the chorus of cheers exploded from the gallery on 18, the Northern Irishman forged ahead on the back nine, holding on for a two-shot victory, planting his flag atop golf’s summit. In the moment, it was thrilling. In retrospect, it has actually been bestowed a greater importance. That Sunday afternoon at PGA National can now be pointed to as the catalyst that elevated the game’s two biggest names back onto a plane of superstardom above the rest of those required to sport plaid pants to work.
Now we get Tiger/Rory II: The Sequel. Hopefully the result is more entertaining than the Airplane! follow-up. Since both will appear on the majority of Fantasy teams this week, the best chance to create separation from your league mates is siding with only one. Make sure it’s Tiger. Both are coming off disastrous first round exits at the Match Play, but Woods has been playing the superior golf heading into Palm Beach. Also, it’s his “home” course, and McIlroy appears to be still adjusting to his new blades. He found himself in the Tucson desert so often last week that he now exclusively walks in single file, knows the value of a good droid and is fluent in Jawaese. Take the spot you were going to fill with Rory and use someone else – I endorse Graeme McDowell – and roll the dice in your alternate “A” slot.
Fun Fact of the Week:
You know what, screw “of the week”; this may be my favorite anecdote of all time, from any sport. Shout out to Grantland’s Shane Ryan for this tidbit. Also, check out his superb coverage of the Match Play Championship; it’s most definitely worth your time. Just remember to keep reading this first.
Personal favorite of mine, Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, uses a unique method of judging the wind. And by unique, I mean for professional golfers. It’s something you’ll see before every shot playing a round with me:
“While every other player on the course tests the wind by picking up bits of grass and throwing them in the air, Colsaerts holds up his cigarette and watches the drift of the smoke.” – Shane Ryan, Grantland
God bless you Nic, for attempting to make golf cool again. Now, if someone could only snap a pic of Yoenis Cespedes sneaking a few drags in the tunnel between innings – fact – we’d have the foundation of a solid All-Cig team: Jim Leyland always get the most out of his players. Although, coaxing Teppo Numminen out of retirement would be paramount to its success.
Getting back to Colsaerts, I take offense to commentators continually referring to him as “The Muscles From Brussels”. Look, I’m all for the repurposing of nicknames, but until Colsaerts successfully foils an international terrorist plot perpetrated by the Penguins mascot, that moniker shall remain with JCVD.
Graeme McDowell – It was a rough start for G-Mac in his PGA debut at the Northern Trust, firing three-over in two rounds, missing out on the weekend. I’ll give Blackjack a pass though, not everyone can acclimate themselves to a nine-hour time zone change as well as Charl Schwartzel. McDowell flashed some sterling shots at the Match Play before being ousted on the 18th hole of the quarterfinals by Jason Day. But the initial rust that was evident in La Quinta appears to have wilted away.
Tiger Woods – TIGA, TIGA WOODS Y’ALL!!!
Fredrik Jacobson – Every weekend hacker can appreciate Jacobson’s game – he’s one of us. Except, unlike us, he makes basically every putt inside 15-feet. Something that will keep him afloat while the rest of the field navigates through the dreaded “Bear Trap”. Plus, Freddy Yaks is coming in hot. After missing the cut at his 2013 season opener in Phoenix, he’s reeled off three straight Top 10 finishes.
Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen & Ernie Els – Internationals have won seven of the last eight Honda Classics; so cherry picking from a group of such high quality isn’t necessary. All three have ample experience at PGA National, and all currently rest inside the Top 25 in the world rankings. Get them all into your lineup, stand back and simply let the Fantasy points pile up.
Charl Schwartzel – Schwartzel’s first round exile from the Match Play ended his string seven-straight Top 5 performances. No bother. This is the perfect time for the South African to start a new streak. On top of his recent stellar play, Schwartzel cut his super-sized teeth here last year, earning a tie for fifth.
Harris English – You need to go off the board with a few picks every tournament, and English is my guy this week. He entered the final round last year in second place and absolutely crumpled. Still, even after a Sunday 77, English managed to pull out a tie for 18th. His breakout is looming; eventually he’s going to put it together for all four rounds, and he proved in 2012 his game is tailor to overcome the stiff challenges that PGA National presents.
Photos via Getty