Tiger Woods’ absence mars otherwise exciting time for South Florida golf fans


OK, golf fans, you are bummed out.

The Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens starts Thursday on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa, and a week later the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship tees off on the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral.

It’s the wondrous part of the professional golf season for South Florida. So, why are you sad?

Because Tiger Woods will not be in either of those events.

Woods, his game ailing, his back aching and his ranking sinking (currently No. 70), will sit out those two tournaments. He will miss the Honda because he is not yet recovered from an ailing back, and the Doral tournament because he did not qualify to play in it.

Granted, if Woods were to play, make no doubt about it, he would have the biggest gallery craning their necks to follow each and every shot he hit.

Woods has built a fan following and mystique that will not go away. Nothing wrong with that — he earned it.

However, let’s consider what you can see at the Honda and Doral events, even if Woods isn’t there.

And if Woods was there, remember that getting a good look at him is almost an impossibility. A Woods’ gallery is usually 10 deep or more, and you are in luck if you see the top of his club on his follow-through.

At Honda, in relative comfort, you can watch world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and 16 of the top 25 in the World Golf Rankings tee it up. That is the best lineup in the history of the Honda tournament, an event that less than a decade ago was a run-of-the-mill PGA Tour stopover.

After McIlroy, the Honda field includes No. 6 Sergio Garcia, No. 7 Jim Furyk, No. 8 Justin Rose, No. 10 U.S. Open Champion Martin Kaymer, No. 12 heartthrob Rickie Fowler, No. 14 Hideki Matsuyma, No. 15 Dustin Johnson, No. 16 and WGC Doral winner Patrick Reed, No. 17 Victor Dubuisson, No. 18 Billy Horschel, No. 19 Phil Mickelson, No. 20 and Palm Beach native Brooks Koepka, No. 21 Graeme McDowell, No. 22 Chris Kirk and No. 23 Zach Johnson.

“I think the word continues to spread around the PGA Tour that this is a special event that kicks off the Florida swing,” Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly said. “Each year more players are deciding to come and be a part of it.”

Added bonus: The average fan can get a good look at McIlroy and his swing, particularly on Thursday and Friday, without absorbing elbows and bruises from fellow fans fighting for position.

Then, just a week after the start of the Honda, comes the start of the World Golf Championships event at Doral (March 5-8). Don’t be surprised, barring injury, if nearly all the top 50 in the world will be playing on Donald Trump’s playground. That’s how much Doral and the WGC label mean to the professionals.

And even though Woods will be absent these two weeks, there are plenty of young, hungry golfers taking their best swings at making you not forget Woods, but to simply remind you that at some point change inevitably happens.