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Cognizant Classic preview: Florida swing begins with punishing test

Stuart Franklin / Getty Images Sport / Getty

After two months of traveling up and down the West Coast of North America, the PGA TOUR returns to Florida with an old friend sporting a new name.

The beast that is PGA National provides a familiar setting, but the annual tournament won't hold the Honda Classic title for the first time since 1982. Cognizant is the new sponsor of the event and pulled in a big fish to headline the field, with Rory McIlroy returning for the first time since 2018. McIlroy is among the field of 144 that'll attempt to tame the iconic "Bear Trap" stretch of holes on the punishing setup.

The tournament also kicks off the Florida swing - a run that features historic venues like Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass in the buildup to the Masters.

When: Feb. 29-March 3
Where: PGA National Resort, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

How to watch (all times ET)

Date Time Channel
Feb. 29 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. GOLF
March 1 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. GOLF
March 2 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. GOLF
3 p.m. - 6 p.m. NBC
March 3 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. GOLF
3 p.m. - 6 p.m. NBC

Last year's result

Sam Greenwood / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The final Honda Classic featured incredible drama down the stretch, with Chris Kirk's quest to end an eight-year winless drought taking center stage. The veteran held a one-stroke lead playing the 72nd hole but found water and made a bogey to fall into a playoff with Eric Cole. Kirk immediately rebounded with a birdie on the first extra hole to secure the title and snap his winless run.

Kirk's victory qualified him for the season-opening Sentry in Hawaii, and the Georgia alum took full advantage with a shocking win at 125-1 odds. Both Kirk and Cole are in the field again this time around and come into play with strong form over the opening two months of the year.

Recent winners

2023: Chris Kirk (-14)
2022: Sepp Straka (-10)
2021: Matt Jones (-12)
2020: Sungjae Im (-6)
2019: Keith Mitchell (-9)
2018: Justin Thomas (-8)
2017: Rickie Fowler (-12)
2016: Adam Scott (-9)

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Reasons to watch

One of the TOUR's toughest tests

PGA National presents a very rude welcome to the Florida swing, with the course ranking among the toughest non-major tracks on TOUR annually. Water comes into play on 15 of 18 holes, and the three-hole "Bear Trap" stretch from 15 to 17 is one of the hardest finishes in the circuit. The players get a bit of a reprieve this year with the par-4 10th being stretched out to a 530-yard par 5, and the fairways have been widened slightly to help off the tee. Regardless, plenty of carnage likely awaits for anyone who doesn't have their swing in full command throughout the week.

Rory back at PGA National

Sam Greenwood / Getty Images Sport / Getty

PGA National used to be an annual event on McIlroy's schedule - with the golf course in very close proximity to his south Florida residence. He won the event in 2012 and placed second in 2014 but hasn't played since 2018. McIlroy has been candid about wanting to play more golf heading into the Masters this year, and this week is the first of four events in six weeks before the season's first major. While he won in Dubai in January, McIlroy has struggled to get going in the United States with 66th- and 24th-place finishes across two tournaments.

Last chance for Bay Hill

All five players holding the final five places in the Aon Swing 5 are in the field this week at PGA National. Sami Valimaki, Stephan Jaeger, Justin Lower, C.T. Pan, and Robert MacIntyre currently hold those slots for next week's signature event at Bay Hill. However, those coveted spots are up for grabs, with five players within 20 points of the cutoff. That could add some drama down the stretch as players jockey for places.

Betting odds

Rory McIlroy +800
Cameron Young +2,000
Russell Henley +2,200
Byeong Hun An +2,500
Eric Cole +2,500
Matt Fitzpatrick +2,500
J.T. Poston +3,000
Tom Kim +3,000
Daniel Berger +3,300
Min Woo Lee +3,300
Adam Svensson +3,500
Corey Conners +3,500
Keith Mitchell +3,500
Shane Lowry +3,500
Sungjae Im +3,500
Chris Kirk +4,000
Luke List +4,000
Sepp Straka +4,000
Stephan Jaeger +4,000
Beau Hossler +4,500
Jake Knapp +4,500
Christiaan Bezuidenhout +5,000
Matthieu Pavon +5,000

Odds via theScore Bet

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