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2024 Cognizant Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 26 Feb 2024

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house 12 months ago as Chris Kirk made a long-awaited and emotional return to the winner's circle by beating Eric Cole in a play-off at the Honda Classic, securing his first title in eight years.

Kirk had taken a well-publicised break from the game after announcing that he was an alcoholic and that he was struggling to get through a day without a drink. He had laid his soul bare, battling with his mental health.

After Kirk bogeyed the par-five 18th hole to necessitate the play-off, he and Cole returned to play the hole again. This time, Kirk stuck his third shot for what proved to be the winning birdie tap.

"I just have so much to be thankful for," Kirk said. "I'm so grateful for my sobriety. I'm so grateful for my family. I'm so grateful for everyone that supported me throughout the past three or four years, especially.”

Both men are back this week for a tournament that has a new name - it is now the Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches.

Cole finished last season as rookie of the year but is still looking for his first PGA Tour victory at the age of 35. If ever there was a golfer who did not want the 2022-23 season to come to an end, it is Cole. 

The son of Bobby Cole and Laura Baugh, he is a serial winner on the mini-tours but finally got to play with the big boys last season. It started inauspiciously for the American with four missed cuts. 

But then he began to find a way to make it to the weekend. He served notice by finishing second at the Honda Classic, was tied fifth at the Mexico Open and then took off during the fall season, finishing fourth at the Fortinet, tied third at the Shriners, tied second at the Zozo and tied third at the RSM Classic. He is now in the top 50 in the world. 

He made a whopping 37 starts in 2022-23 and achieved 14 top-25 finishes. And he has yet to take a week off in 2024. It is almost as if he feels the need to make up for lost time.

Kirk, who went on to win the Tournament of Champions in January, was a hugely popular champion here last year, but Cole will also bring the house down if he can go one better.

Rory McIlroy

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

A major surprise this year is that Rory McIlroy has announced he will play. The Northern Irishman said earlier this season that he was planning to increase his playing schedule in 2024 as part of his latest attempt to end a major drought that goes all the way back to 2014. He finished second to Tommy Fleetwood at the Dubai Invitational and won the Dubai Desert Classic the following week but his form on the PGA Tour has so far been patchy, to say the least. 

At the Genesis, for instance, he was in fine shape and then ran up a double-bogey and a triple-bogey in successive holes. To be fair, McIlroy has always been that sort of a player. He can produce some wondrous stuff but you just know that with the way he plays the game disaster could strike at any time. It is what makes the Northern Irishman the golfer he is. We watch him because he plays golf most of us could only dream of and then, out of the blue, comes crashing back to earth in a manner the rest of us are all too familiar with.

McIlroy believes that winning breeds confidence and he is, of course, absolutely correct. He is head and shoulders the class act in this week’s field but with that comes a huge expectation that he will simply turn up and win. And we all know golf just isn’t like that.

McIlroy won the 2012 Honda Classic in memorable fashion, holding off a Sunday charge from Tiger Woods to win his third PGA Tour title and rise to world No. 1 for the first time in his career. Fifteen years after Woods became the youngest player to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking at 21 years and 6 months, McIlroy, 22, became the second youngest at the time with his two-stroke victory at PGA National. He will be making his 10th career start at the event in 2024.

“It’s always good to come back to a tournament where you’ve won and had success before, and even better when it’s a bit of a home game,” said McIlroy. “PGA National is a great test of golf, and the fan support and incredible crowds make for an exciting atmosphere throughout the week for the players.”

Former US Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick, a Ryder Cup teammate of McIlroy, will believe that if he produces his best then he is going to take some beating. It is Fitzpatrick’s third start in this tournament and he is hardly turning up with positive memories - he missed the cut in 2016 and finished 68th the following year. Since then, he has won the US Open and RBC Heritage and he is a proven winner on home soil, with nine DP World Tour titles.

Shane Lowry and Justin Rose will also be hoping to make their presence felt for Europe. Rose is playing the Cognizant for the 11th time, but his first since 2020. Lowry was runner-up two years ago and finished tied for fifth last year. 

Daniel Berger is on the comeback trail after injury and this a good venue for the American, with three top-five finishes in just seven starts.

Among others in the field are Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, Cameron Young, Matt Kuchar, Lucas Glover and Austria's Sepp Straka.

Tournament Winners:

It was won in 2015 by Padraig Harrington, in 2016 by Adam Scott, in 2017 by Rickie Fowler, in 2018 by Justin Thomas, in 2019 by Keith Mitchell, in 2020 by Sungjae Im, in 2021 by Matt Jones, in 2022 by Sepp Straka and last year by Chris Kirk.

The Course:

PGA National’s Champion course opened in 1981 and staged the Ryder Cup in 1983 and the US PGA Championship in 1987. It underwent a $4m renovation in 2002. The tough three-hole stretch of the par-3 15th, par-4 16th, and par-3 17th holes is known as "The Bear Trap," named after Jack Nicklaus who is nicknamed the Golden Bear and redesigned the course. It is a par 70 measuring 7,048 yards and the winner is going to be looking for a score around 270.

Form Guide:

With Rory McIlroy, form coming into a tournament is utterly irrelevant - this is a golfer who can turn up playing like a drain and then produce golf from the gods. And he has some great memories of this place. Shane Lowry loves this course.

To Win:

Rory McIlroy. I actually cannot see past him this week

Each Way:

Cameron Young. Still searching...

Each Way:

Matthew Fitzpatrick. World-class on the greens

Five to Follow:

Rory McIlroy. Nothing better in golf when he is in full flight

Cameron Young. That win can’t be far away, can it?

Matthew Fitzpatrick. Sneaky long

Shane Lowry. Really should have won more

Sepp Straka. Terrific iron player

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Tags: PGA Tour Golf Previews FedEx Cup

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