Gust and glory
Rob Lee says Rory McIlroy will top the world, but he might not do it in the wind of the Honda Classic.
Last Updated: 01/03/12 9:28am
I don't think we saw the Rory McIlroy deluxe game for the whole week out in Arizona.
Yet he managed to get himself through to the final day and - without being disrespectful to Hunter Mahan or Mark Wilson - he probably thought that the winner of his semi-final with Lee Westwood would go on to win the trophy.
That must have been in the mind of both players, which is understandable when you've got the world number two and the world number three going toe to toe. They probably thought the winner of that game would become the World Match Play champion and the world number one.
So both players put everything into that match and, as a result, it looked like Rory was running a bit empty in the final. Mahan is a very good player and I'm sure McIlroy didn't underestimate him; it just looks like he was out of gas.
The Match Play is a long week with a Wednesday start and practice rounds to fit in and at the end of the day he shouldn't be too disappointed to finish as runner-up. That was his best ever performance there, he walks away with a healthy cheque and he now edges closer to that world number one spot.
And if he wins at the Honda Classic then he will displace Luke Donald, who isn't in the field, at the top of the rankings. For me, it's only a matter of time before he gets to number one anyway.
I don't know if he'll do it this week, but he will get there. He hit the crossbar last week, but it won't be long before he finds that goal.
It will be hard for him to do it at the Honda Classic because there's such a tasty field. Rory lines up against Westwood, Tiger Woods, Keegan Bradley, Kyle Stanley and plenty of other good names.
The Masters is five weeks away now and all of those guys will be looking to get on a bit of a run so that they can play well at the first major of the year. It should be a really good test.
PGA National is a great tournament course and there are some stinking holes to contend with. The "Bear Trap" includes par-threes over water at 15 and 17 and when the wind is in your face it is hellish. You'll see a lot of fives and sixes there.
There's a couple of key holes that you've got to play really well and for some reason it's always windy. Rory struggled on it last year, particularly hitting shots into the wind over water.
He's stated in the past that The Open Championship is not his favourite event because he doesn't enjoy playing in the wind. However, if he wants to be a great player that's something he's going to have to learn.
He will need to tailor his game to do that. His natural game is one of a powerful high-ball hitter and he will need to adjust those shots, but I'm sure he can do it.
He has eight top-three finishes in his last 11 starts, which is the form of a world number one, and there must be an underlying confidence within him. He knows what a good player he is and the more confident you get, the more good stuff happens to you.
When you're confident you seem to get the bounces and the breaks - and then at the end of the week you open your wallet and a huge wedge flies into it!
The strength of the field suggests most of the good players think it's beneficial to come to the Honda Classic; this is surely the best field they've ever had.
Woods has never played here as a professional, but perhaps he realises how important it is to get some strokeplay rounds under his belt before the Masters.
He lost to Nick Watney at the Match Play and I was surprised to see him miss a putt on the final hole that would have seen him take his opponent down the 19th.
I'm sure he has been working furiously on his putting in the meantime; he's just not had the consistency that we've seen from him in the past. For 10 or 12 years you never doubted he would hole a five-or-six-footer. He's been getting putting advice from Steve Stricker, who is excellent at that aspect of the game, so that's not a bad thing. We'll see what he comes up with this week.
We've seen Tiger produce three good rounds this year, but he's not put a whole tournament together. He had a poor final round at Pebble Beach and another at Abu Dhabi when he could have won. In general terms he's not far away and he this week will be another useful one in the build-up to Augusta.
The other standout name in the field is obviously Westwood, who played some wonderful stuff at the Match Play and he will not be far away at the Honda.
Rob's Sky Bet Tip
I'm going for Lee Westwood, 10/1 with Sky Bet, this week. You've got to think that a top ball-striker is going to win here and he can hit the ball as well as anyone, even if it gets breezy.