Thursday, February 28, 2013
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Honda now a home game for Englishman Westwood

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[February 28, 2013]  PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- Lee Westwood made a big move, uprooting his wife and two children from England to relocate in south Florida. The easy part was sitting down with the family to discuss it.

Westwood said the conversation went something like this.

"Do you want to go and live by the sea and the sun by a beach?" he said Wednesday. "It was a pretty quick takeup, yeah."

Westwood now has what amounts to a home game this week at the Honda Classic, even though he had not set foot on PGA National since he closed with a 63 and finished fourth last year. He plays down the road at Old Palm, along with Charl Schwartzel and defending champion Rory McIlroy.

He is not in Florida to work on his tan.

Westwood is not far away from his 40th birthday, and while he feels like he is more fit than he was 10 years ago, it's becoming a burden to travel over oceans to play tournaments. He is used to jet lag and the drain of travel, but it's not getting any easier.

Still to be determined is whether it helps his game.

"I expect to feel better this year because of less travel and going through time zones," Westwood said. "I found that the older you get, the harder it is to sort of get your head around that. It becomes frustrating to play a couple of weeks and then have to fly back to England and go through the time zones, and then come back and do it all over again. It just wears you down after a while. That was one of the main reasons for moving."

Westwood, of course, is not the only player who has flocked to south Florida.

The pulse of the Honda Classic is much stronger in recent years because of some significant moves. One of them was moving the tournament to PGA National, which has hosted a PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup and makes for good TV with so much water in play over the closing holes.

The other was a vast improvement in the neighborhood.

Tiger Woods moved from Orlando to Jupiter Island. McIlroy has left Northern Ireland, making his permanent base in these parts. Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson also live in the West Palm Beach area, along with Ernie Els.

"This is home now," Els said. "Wonderful to crawl out of bed and come play a golf tournament. Obviously, winning here a couple of years ago was really great. I'd love to do well this week. The course is playing really long, great field, and the people are very excited. And I think it's great for the local community."

The golf community is growing so much that it seems like everyone is a golfer.

One story making the rounds from a few years ago was Els hanging out a West Palm Beach dive when he met Steve Marino. The Big Easy asked Marino what he did, and when Marino said he played golf for a living, Els replied, "Really? Which tour?"

Marino respectfully broke the news that it was the PGA Tour. And by the way, he was ahead of Els on the money list.

Westwood still misses his friends and family in England, and being able to watch cricket and rugby, or read about those sports on the back pages of the newspaper. He loves soccer, too, and has found the Premier League on TV as much in the United States as in the United Kingdom.

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Mostly, though, it's the warm climate.

"I like being by the ocean," he said earlier this month. "I find it very relaxing. Just the weather, and getting up in the morning and not having to look out the window. Feels weird not having to get wrapped up and push the ice off the green."

Not surprisingly, the stars are out at Honda Classic.

Even though it had the weakest field of the Florida swing last year, that might change now that McIlroy and Woods are Nos. 1 and 2 in the world.

As for a rivalry? That hasn't started the way many imagined.

They made their debut in Abu Dhabi last month and both missed the cut. The next time they played in the same tournament was last week in the Match Play Championship, and both were eliminated in the first round.

The difference is that Woods returned to Torrey Pines the week after missing the cut. He left little reason for anyone to doubt his game when he built a lead that reached eight shots until the day dragged on and he won by four for his 75th career win on the PGA Tour.

McIlroy knew starting the year there would attention on his change from Titleist to Nike, and it only intensified with two bad results.

But the start of the Florida swing is no time to panic, and McIlroy sure didn't sound worried at the Honda Classic.

"It's fine," he said. "I knew coming into (the year) it was going to be a bit of a process and I knew there was going to be comments if it didn't happen for me right away," McIlroy said. "I'm only two tournaments into the season. I've still 20 to go. So it's not like I'm in any rush. It's not like I'm pushing for answers. Everything is there. It's just a matter of putting it all together."

McIlroy put it together much sooner a year ago.

He was runner-up in Abu Dhabi, tied for fifth in Dubai, lost in the final of the Match Play Championship and then won the Honda Classic, making one clutch par save after another to hold off a late rally by Woods. McIlroy went to No. 1 by winning at PGA National, and he has been atop the world ranking since winning the PGA Championship.

How much longer he stays there depends on his game -- and that of Woods, who is making up ground.

For now, the only time they have gone head-to-head on Sunday was a few days ago at The Medalist, the home club of Woods. With both leaving early from Match Play, they figured they would get together for a casual game.

After all, they're neighbors now.

[Associated Press; By DOUG FERGUSON]

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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