Golf spotlight

Tiger, McIlroy pairing not a slam dunk for Honda

 

Special to The Miami Herald

What would be the most-dramatic first-round pairing that the Honda Classic, which runs Feb. 28-March 3, could offer?

Ask any golfer and they won’t hesitate answering. The tournament has landed world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and world No. 2 Tiger Woods for the second year in a row. A year ago, McIlroy finished first and Woods second in a dramatic duel at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, so why not let them go at it in the same group for the first two days?

Not so quick.

Tournament executive director Ken Kennerly points out it’s the PGA Tour and not the tournament that makes that pairing decision.

Certainly, a group including McIlroy and Woods would be a huge fan draw on the course, but that might be part of the problem. Too huge. It might not make sense to have 11,000 fans elbowing for viewing position by following one group while the rest of the groups walk down the fairways feeling lonely as they are watched by 15 to 20 followers.

No matter what the PGA Tour decides on pairings, and those pairings are typically released the Wednesday before the tournament begins, Honda can’t lose because its field is as strong as it has ever been. Just a few of the players tentatively committed other than McIlroy and Woods include Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler.

“We have the best players in the world here,” Kennerly said, “and Tiger will be going against all of them.”

A year ago, in Woods’ first appearance at the Honda since he was an amateur, attendance for the event increased from 110,000 to a record 160,000.

“Tiger moves the needle,” Kennerly said with a smile.

Both Kennerly and tournament director Ed McEnroe admitted that landing Woods to play a year ago “was a work in progress for six years and we got a little emotional about it.” As for getting him again this year, Kennerly was still emotional:

“We can’t be happier,” he said with a huge smile.

FLORIDIAN BECKONS

Florida’s most-famous golf course, at least in recent weeks, has become The Floridian.

The course, located near the Palm Beach-Martin County line, has had some big-name guests recently striding its fairways. Really big. In a benefit to raise money for the son of golf pro Dana Quigley, the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Player, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw and many others played The Floridian less than three weeks ago.

Then, this past weekend, President Barack Obama showed up at the course. Probably didn’t have any problem getting a tee time. His playing partner? Some guy named Woods.

As an added bonus, famed teaching pro Butch Harmon was also there to tell the Prez (very politely, we presume) what was wrong with his game.

PUTTERING AROUND

• One of the most-meaningful benefit tournaments in Miami-Dade will be held March 8 at the Miccosukee Golf and Country Club.

Money raised goes to support Haiti and, particularly, its youth. The tournament was already planned three years ago in 2010, but the need for it became even more urgent when the country was devastated by an earthquake from which it is still struggling to recover.

A brochure and entry form can be picked up at the Miccosukee pro shop (6401 Kendale Lakes Dr.), or more information can be obtained by calling 786-247-8215. Entry fee is $150, with the field limited to 144.

•  Carly Ray Goldstein, a senior who won the state championship for Coral Glades High School in Coral Springs and also finished second in the Dixie Amateur, won her 97th tournament and is Golfweek magazine’s Player of the Week. Goldstein, 17, was honored after shooting 71-71—142 in a FCWT event. Goldstein will attend LSU starting in August.

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