The California dreamin’ is over as the Tour swings east to Florida this weekend and the notorious three-hole Bear Trap (15th to 17th) down the stretch at PGA National.
Eleven of this season’s 14 Tour winners pitch-up at the Honda Classic where having a solid links game can save you a lot of heartache – particularly when the wind is up.
With the many sand traps and water hazards likely to prove their share of ‘don’t go there’ moments, here are the seven best-backed players in Paddy’s book as of noon on Wednesday.
1. Rory McIlroy
A 2012 winner in the Florida State he now calls home, McIlroy nearly doubled up two years later when losing a sudden death play-off to Russell Henley after a 74 on the final-day undid three good rounds in the 60s.
An apparent toothache – and not the +7 score after nine holes – did for him at this track in 2013 and the same putting problems returned with a very un-Rory like 75 in the final round on his Riviera debut last weekend as he dropped out of contention behind eventual winner Bubba Watson.
One of the few consolations for Mc-Attack was that world number one Jordan Spieth had shot his worst-round like, ever, at the same venue. With the US Masters inching ever closer McIlroy needs to iron out his problems with the flat-stick, sharpish.
2. Patrick Reed
A solid show when T6 at Pebble Beach for Mr Irascible who comes here fresh after skipping the Northern Trust Open.
Reed has gradually improved his scorecard in his last three visits to Palm Beach Gardens to post 58-24-7 – place finishes and only has to maintain that improvement to be in the mix again.
With no finish outside the top 15 in six of his eight tournaments this season, the man who makes Bubba Watson look the picture of serenity on the fairways has been inching closer to the winner’s podium all year.
3. Phil Mickelson
Lefty used to be spotted less than a black actor at an Oscars party at PGA National but has posted a MC and 17th-place on his last two runs here.
Came over all Dustin Johnson-like when giving up a two-stroke lead on the final day of the AT&T Pro-Am as his birdie putt on the final green lipped out to leave top spot to Vaughan Taylor.
The Mick is back in the groove though as he tries to perfect his game ahead of Augusta in April. Can still break out in a rash when it comes to winning outside of California though.
4. Webb Simpson
Three top-20s on the bounce this calendar year has seen the 2012 US Open Champ start to get his freak on again after his 4am text to Tom Watson begging the US Ryder Cup captain to give him a game at Gleneagles.
Simpson promptly teed it up with Bubba Watson before being hammered 5&4 and wasn’t seen again until halving his singles match with Ian Poulter as Team USA crashed and burned.
First look at this track since since finishing 24th to Rory Sabbatini. in 2011 but is obviously starting to get some confidence back in his game.
Who’d have thunk it? Moved up to 13th in the World Rankings by proving he was no one-trick-belly-putting pony when finishing runner up at Riviera last Sunday for his best finish since the ban on the anchor putter began..
The Aussie had taken the lead early doors on the final day, thanks to some blistering flat-stick action that yielded an eagle and 21 birdies over the four days before the old Adam Scott returned to drop three shots on the eighth and ninth that effectively ended his winning surge.
Not a regular at this track but did finish T12 behind Russell Henley in 2014 they year after being crowned Masters Champion.
6. Branden Grace
The South African links specialist trousered a nice prize in Qatar a month ago and should be at home when the wind blows at Palm Beach Gardens.
Has a remarkable five top five finishes in his last six starts (T8 in the other) as he makes his debut Stateside this calendar year as a shiny new US Tour member.
Finished 71st on his 2013 run out here but was in nowhere near the form he’s in now.
7. Shane Lowry
The Irishman makes his debut at PGA National but that’s going to apply a lot as he builds his PGA Tour CV in his first full season since securing his card Stateside.
His prowess when the wind is up should help on the Champion course which is recognised as one of the toughest tracks in the pro game.
Started the year strongly with a T13 at the monsoon-delayed Farmers Insurance Open before a T6 in Phoenix gave the partisan crowd something to shout about. May have been a little star-struck with the distractions around the Pro-Am at Pebble Beach on his last start where he finished down the field.
Compatriot Padraig Harrington won here last year after a seven-year US Tour drought so maybe the luck of the Irish can rub off again on the Clara man.