- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The haze lifted after nearly two hours Wednesday morning, the start to the Honda Classic pro-am delayed.
Tiger Woods completed his obligatory round with Honda executives at PGA National, but how he emerges from his own fog this week is of bigger concern.
The No. 1-ranked player in the world headlines the field at the Honda Classic, which begins Thursday on the Champions Course at PGA National and includes reigning Masters champion Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy. All are looking to find form and get in a competitive mindset as an important part of the PGA Tour schedule leads up to the Masters in April.
"Once we get to Florida, I think we're all thinking about our way to Augusta,'' Woods said. "Some guys start at Doral [next week's World Golf Championship event], some guys start here, but once we get to Florida, now most of the guys are getting pretty serious about their prep for Augusta.
"You can understand now with the field the way it is, the quality and depth of the field has gotten so much better over the years.''
The Honda Classic is the first of four straight tournaments in Florida. Seven of the top nine players in the world are in the Honda Classic, the best of 2014 to date.
Mickelson, after a two-week break, is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in 12 years.
"I'm not really looking necessarily at how I finish as how I play, am I able to shoot the scores and get the round going,'' said Mickelson, who after a tie for second in Abu Dhabi last month has played three times on the PGA Tour, his best finish a 19th at Pebble Beach. "This feels like the start of the year because I feel good, I'm healthy, I'm able to swing it well. I've had some good practice sessions, I feel strong and ready to play some good golf, and so this kind of feels like the start for me.''
Mickelson said his back is fine after issues surfaced at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he withdrew following the second round late last month.
Woods had back issues late in 2013, a reason he has given for keeping practice to a minimum in the offseason and working on his fitness. That, in turn, has led to the worst two-tournament start of his professional career. Woods finished 80th at Torrey Pines and 41st in Dubai; never before had he failed to finish in the top 20 in one of his first two events.
Woods skipped last week's WGC-Match Play Championship and now has three tournaments in Florida prior to the Masters, including the Honda, which he has played just twice as a pro.
"I was pleasantly surprised how well I was hitting it today,'' said Woods, who tied for 37th here a year ago. "And just getting a feel for the green sand, how the short game is playing out of this grass versus up at Medalist [his home course]."
Woods, who has not competed since the final round of the Dubai tournament Feb. 2, said he's mostly spent time on his short game the past few weeks.
"I made sure I got that dialed in,'' he said. "I felt that was a bit off.''
Scott is playing for the first time since the Sony Open in Hawaii, a six-week break.
"It's probably going to be one of the best fields of the year for sure,'' said Scott, who is playing with McIlroy and Billy Horschel in the first two rounds and tees off at 12:25 p.m. Thursday. "It's going to be a true test of where my game is at this point in time.
"The fields are as strong as we're going to see on the PGA Tour this year, and I think with a tough golf course like this, everyone is trying to measure themselves up and see where they're at and how much work needs to be put in before the next run of big tournaments.''