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Mark Wilson returns after infamous rules incident

At the Honda Classic, it’ll forever be known as the Mark Wilson Rule.

Wilson was struggling just to make the cut at PGA National a year ago, and needed three routine shots to finish the par-3 fifth hole during his second round. Problem was, caddie Chris Jones told Camilo Villegas, who was playing alongside Wilson, what his boss hit on that hole.

That’s where Rule 8-1 came into play.

Giving other players advice during competition is prohibited, so Wilson paid dearly for the caddie’s mistake. He called a rules official on the sixth tee and docked himself two strokes, putting his chances of staying for the weekend in serious danger.

“I thought we were done,” Jones said.

By now, everyone knows Wilson wasn’t done.

In a stirring turnaround, Wilson was 8 under over the next 49 holes, got into a four-man playoff and ultimately wound up getting his first tour victory, along with a $990,000 check. He’s back at PGA National this week, aiming to become the first back-to-back Honda champion since Jack Nicklaus, who won three straight from 1976-78.

“I guess it shows that there’s more to the game than just hitting the ball in the hole,” Wilson said Wednesday. “You know, I think that’s maybe why it snowballed.”

Wilson still hears about the penalty just about everywhere he goes.

It’s part of Honda lore now, but this week, Wilson is looking ahead to the challenge PGA National’s Champion Course presents. His winning score here last year, 5 under, was the highest on tour in any 2007 event other than the U.S. Open (won by Angel Cabrera at 5 over) and the Masters (won by Zach Johnson at 1 over).

PGA National is a demanding par-70, with some extremely tricky short holes, long carries on many driving holes and, if the wind blows right, can force some players to hit as much as 3-iron into some par-4 tests.

“It becomes more of a mental challenge,” said world No. 7 Justin Rose, the second-highest ranked player in this year’s field after No. 4 Ernie Els. “The words you hear all the time—patience, grinding characteristics—come through. … So when you do get a low score at a regular tour event with similar characteristics, it’s an attraction.”

Indeed, the Honda has become an attraction.

Johnson and Cabrera—two of last year’s four major winners—are in the field, along with Sergio Garcia and all three of the players Wilson beat in the 2007 playoff: Villegas, Boo Weekley and Jose Coceres.

“A lot of people should come play in it,” Weekley said. “It’s still to a lot of the guys’ advantage that it doesn’t take that much to win. I mean, there’s not a whole lot of birdies out here.”

There are some three-putts, however.

Weekley could have won the Honda on the 72nd hole last year before a stunning collapse. He three-putted on the final hole of regulation, missing a three-foot par try as darkness fell on PGA National, then came back Monday morning and lost to Wilson in the playoff.

In true Boo style, he doesn’t seem to be too bothered by it now.

“Ain’t nobody who wants to three-putt,” Weekley said. “But it’s just part of how I play golf. It just happens.”

Somewhat surprisingly, cold weather will usher in the start of the tour’s Florida Swing.

Temperatures fell into the high 50s on Wednesday, which is well below normal, and forecasters said wind chills—a phrase not often uttered in South Florida—could be in the high 30s by the time players begin teeing off Thursday morning.

“I’ve got a 7:44 tee time,” Woody Austin said. “So that’s not a good spot to be in.”

Wilson tees off a little after noon, when the sun—and the spotlight—will both likely be shining.

He saved most of the money from last year’s win, blowing a bit on a party for about 40 friends and a new car. He’s exempt for the next two seasons by being a tournament champion, so he can finally relax a little bit.

There’s a bit of added pressure, being a defending champion on tour for the first time, but Wilson said he doesn’t see any reason to change his approach now.

“I was always looking to the next day, trying to make the cut, and lo and behold there I was in contention on Sunday,” Wilson said. “I guess I’ve figured out that with tournament golf, it can happen that easily. You just have to keep plugging along.”

 

February 28, 2008




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