The Honda Classic, which unofficially kicks off the six-week race to Augusta, tees off on Thursday at PGA National’s Champions course.
The field in Palm Beach Gardens this year includes 18 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings, led by No. 4 Justin Thomas and defending champion Rickie Fowler (No. 7).
The Honda also marks the last shot for a handful of players to punch a ticket to the WGC-Mexico, with $1.26 million and 52 world-ranking points up for grabs.
Here are the five power picks for this week’s Honda Classic.
1. RICKIE FOWLER
The defending champion dismantled the field last year in route to a four-stroke victory, and should be well-rested after taking the last two legs of the western swing off.
He did miss the cut at Torrey Pines, but that has been a difficult track for him in recent years anyway, while he has contended the past two years at PGA National.
Rickie reached double-digits under par in his three other starts this season, with all three resulting in finishes of T11 or better.
World Rank: 7th
Field Rank: 2nd
2017 Finish: 1st
Last Seven Starts: 11, MC, 4, 1, 2, 26, 2
2. RORY MCILROY
Rory is probably the toughest player in the field to get a handle on this week. The 2012 Honda Classic champion also made a playoff in 2014, but has missed the cut in his past two attempts.
Some recent high finishes in Europe gave hope that he is over the injury and other issues that made his 2017 a disappointment, but in his first U.S. start of the year, he missed the cut at Pebble Beach. In a vacuum, his T20 last week at Riviera was not super impressive, but a final-round 68 was one of the best Sundays in the field, so he may be positively trending again.
World Rank: 10th
Field Rank: 3rd
2017 Finish: DNP
Last Seven Starts: 20, MC, 2, 3, 63, 2, 58
3. JUSTIN THOMAS
At No. 4 in the world, Thomas is the highest-ranked player in the field, and has been solid this season, with a win in South Korea among his seven top 25s in seven starts.
He was terrible off the tees and abysmal around the greens last week at Riviera, but still managed a T9 finish, which can be largely credited to a great approach game and excellent work on the greens.
The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year missed the Honda cut last year, but was T3 the year prior.
World Rank: 4th
Field Rank: 1st
2017 Finish: MC
Last Seven Starts: 9, 17, 14, 22, 11, 1, 17
4. SERGIO GARCIA
The Masters champ will be making his 2018 U.S. debut in a place where he has been successful before, as he finished runner-up to Adam Scott just two years ago.
With two more wins since October, one apiece on the European and Asian Tours, Sergio is looking like a great bet for his third straight top-15 PGA National finish, and third in his last four tries.
World Rank: 11th
Field Rank: 4th
2017 Finish: 14th
Last Seven Starts: 32, 1, 24, 19, 4, 1, 30
5. TYRRELL HATTON
Early on, in what epitomized an up-and-down season, the 26-year-old Englishman Hatton finished T4 at last year’s Honda Classic, making the final pairing on Sunday with Fowler.
After a month of positive results after PGA National, Hatton slumped badly from April to August, but since he re-discovering his form after missing the cut at the PGA Championship, Hatton has been as good as anyone on the European Tour, with 10 consecutive top-20 finishes, including two victories and two third-place finishes.
Hatton should not have trouble with typical windy conditions at PGA National, and has had every part of his game clicking as of late.
World Rank: 15th
Field Rank: 6th
2017 Finish: 4th
Last Seven Starts: 3, 15, 8, 19, 16, 11, 1
Credits: Getty Images, Stats