All eyes will be on golf’s Nos. 1 and 2 as McIlroy seeks to put his much-criticized withdrawal from the second round of last week’s Honda Classic behind him and Woods hopes to regain his winning Farmers Insurance Open form and fare better than his T37 at PGA National. Rounding out the marquee group, which will start at 11:53 a.m. ET on Thursday, will be the formerly top-ranked Luke Donald, who will make his third start of the 2013 season.
For McIlroy, the no-cut event at Donald Trump’s TPC Blue Monster at Doral offers a chance for four consecutive rounds of golf with his new Nike clubs. The two-time major champ has struggled mightily out of the gate since announcing his lucrative deal with Woods’ major sponsor in a glitzy introduction in January.
In addition to his WD from the Honda, McIlroy missed the cut in Abu Dhabi in January and lost in the first round of February’s match play championship -- which makes a total of 80 holes played in three events this year. McIlroy was slated to meet the press at 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday.
For his part, Woods announced earlier this week that he would, to no one’s surprise, defend his Arnold Palmer Invitational crown later this month at Bay Hill. His victory on the Orlando course last year was his first on the PGA Tour since his 2009 sex scandal, a winless drought that covered 923 days and 27 tour outings. He went on to win two more times in 2012.
The two golfers have struck up a friendship after playing together several times last season. After each was bounced in the first round of match play, they teed it up in what McIlroy joked was their “own match-play final.” In 36 holes of speed golf, Woods won the first 18 contest while his heir apparent controlled the second.
Other groupings of note at Doral include 2011 PGA champ Keegan Bradley, 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, and Jason Dufner. Bradley is coming off a fourth-place result at the Honda -- his second fourth-place finish of the year. Schwartzel has two top-10 finishes so far as well. The group has an 11:31 a.m. tee time on Thursday.
Masters champ Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, and Steve Stricker will fill Thursday’s 12:48 p.m. slot. This will be Mickelson’s sixth start in a season that includes a win at last month’s Phoenix Open. Watson, who fired a second-round 10-under 62 last year, tying the 18-hole tournament record, has three top-15 finishes in four events this year.