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Five Players To Watch – 2014 Honda Classic at PGA National

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2014 Honda Classic: Power Rankings and Preview

PGA Tour Honda Classic
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No matter whether you’re just a casual fan or a golf addict, if you’re looking for a preview of what’s to come in this year’s majors, look no further than this week’s stop at the Honda Classic.

As the road to the Masters begins in earnest for many, the PGA Tour will have its most star-studded field teeing off at PGA National. Seven of the top ten players in the world are in action, including FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott. Oh, right, Tiger Woods will be there too, attempting to make his first cut on Tour this season.

The Honda Classic has been the host of plenty of drama in recent years, and that’s a testament to the track’s brutality. After the relative birdie bonanza that we witnessed on the West Coast swing, PGA National is the first of four straight Florida stops on Tour, and last year played as the hardest par-70 on the schedule.

One of the more difficult stretches in golf is the run from holes 15 to 17, collectively known as the “Bear Trap” in honor of Jack Nicklaus. Another classic Nicklaus design, the Bear Trap has a way of leveling out the field coming down the stretch, and it is a virtual certainty that the tournament will come down to the 72nd hole as players generally hope to make it through in level par.

As the stars get ready to shine in Florida, let’s take a look at who you should pay extra attention to this week, with my top five favorites for the Honda Classic.

Brandon Raper is a golf writer for “Like” him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @Brandon__Raper, and join him on Google+.

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5. Keegan Bradley

Keegan Bradley
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Keegan Bradley has been a machine this season, with five top-20 finishes in his last six stroke play outings. The guy just doesn't take any time off, and that's working out for him. Hitting fairways at a 62% clip, but still ranked 25th in the all-around, Bradley could easily improve on last year’s T-4 finish.

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4. Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods
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This is about as low as I can remember ever having Woods in one of these columns. Still, he has to be in the top five this week, if only for the fact that he needs to start getting his game in shape if he’s serious about contending at Augusta National this year. Woods finished a disappointing T37 last year, but his memorable Sunday 62 in 2012 almost let him catch eventual winner Rory McIlroy. Woods must get off to a fast start to contend this week, as making another run at 62 isn't likely to happen this year.

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3. Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy
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Speaking of McIlroy, the 2012 champion at PGA National has made some great strides in his game lately, and I expect that to continue this week. McIlroy has had some mixed experiences with the Bear Trap, with two top-20s and last year’s infamous withdrawal to his credit. Still, this week will be a good test to see if his European Tour success can continue Stateside.

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2. Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell
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Simply put, McDowell appears to be built for this course. Top tens in each of his last three outings at PGA National have him right on the edge of victory. Three more in official Tour events in 2013-14 show he’s at the top of his game. Sleep on McDowell this week at your own risk.

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1. Zach Johnson

Zach Johnson
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Fairways are going to be at a premium this week, and nobody has been better off the tee than Zach Johnson this season. Hitting at nearly 77%, it’s no coincidence that he also sits third in greens in regulation, with 76.11%. He hasn’t played at PGA National since 2008, so history is meaningless. This is all about the way he’s playing right now, and he’s still one of the best week in and week out.