Rickie Fowler primed to defend Honda Classic title, hopeful Tiger Woods joins field

Craig Davis, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Golf

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- One of the best aspects of winning last year's Honda Classic for Rickie Fowler was being able to celebrate at home.

The Jupiter resident is eager to defend his title in familiar surroundings next week at nearby PGA National. The most intriguing question Tuesday during media day was whether another esteemed resident of northern Palm Beach County will elect to join the party Feb. 23-26.

Honda organizers remain hopeful Tiger Woods, early in a comeback from spinal fusion surgery, will return for the first time since 2014 when he had to withdraw from the final round due to back trouble.

"It's great to see him healthy and pain free to where we can go out (on the course and) ... he's just enjoying having fun," said Fowler, who won the Hero World Championship in the Bahamas in early December when Woods made his return to competition by tying for ninth place.

Whether Woods plays Honda will depend on how he feels this week in Los Angeles at the Genesis Open, his agent said Saturday. He has until 30 minutes after completing his round Friday to commit.

"We're prepared for him, our community is prepared for him," said Ken Kennerly, executive director of the Honda Classic. "I think if his back can hold up, if his doctor agrees that he's able to do two (tournaments) in a row -- that seems to be the hang-up right now -- I think we'll see him."

As of Tuesday eight of the top 20 players in the world rankings had committed to Honda, topped by No. 4 Justin Thomas.

Fowler (No. 7) knows the odds are stacked against him repeating due to the quality of the opposition and the rigors of the Champion Course. Only Jack Nicklaus has won back-to-back in the 36 years of the tournament, way back in 1977-78 at Inverrary.

"It's a course where there's a lot of trouble that's in play, it wears you out mentally and physically. So to have the win last year was pretty special," Fowler said after making the short drive to get in some practice. "This has been a tournament that I always look forward to. I love playing the Champion Course with all the ups and downs."

Other top-20 players entered so far include 2012 Honda champion Rory McIlroy (No. 8), reigning Masters champ Sergio Garcia (No. 11), Tommy Fleetwood (No. 12), Tyrell Hatton (No. 15), Alex Noren (No. 16) an Brian Harman (No. 20).


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