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The Florida swing marks the unofficial beginning of the march to major championship season as less than 50 days separate players from the Masters. While one eye and a few minds may be on Augusta National in April, players will first take on some of Florida's finest and most treacherous golf courses, including this week at PGA National for the 2024 Cognizant Classic.

A tournament which has seen a slight downturn in field quality the last couple years due to PGA Tour scheduling changes, the Cognizant Classic receives a boost this year in large part to world No. 2 Rory McIlroy adding the event to his calendar. McIlroy stated more golf would be in his future in the lead-up to the Masters, and he has made good on his promise and will play at PGA National for the first time since 2018.

The champion in 2012, McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 for the first time in his career more than a decade ago when he fended off a charging Tiger Woods. McIlroy is not the only past champion playing this week as Rickie Fowler returns to the Cognizant Classic after forgoing festivities last season. McIlroy and Fowler both hope to find some form around the difficult PGA National, as will defending champion Chris Kirk and former champions and fellow Georgia Bulldogs Russell Henley, Sepp Straka and Keith Mitchell. 

A large international contingent will aim to put its stamp on this season as Presidents Cup hopefuls Tom Kim, Sungjae Im, Min Woo Lee, Byeong Hun An and Corey Conners are all set to tee it up. They join European Ryder Cup members from this past fall like Justin Rose, Matt Fitzpatrick and Shane Lowry in the field for what is sure to be a rollercoaster four days at one of the most difficult golf courses on the PGA Tour.

2024 Cognizant Classic schedule

Dates: Feb. 29 - Mar. 3 | Location: PGA National Resort (The Champion) — Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Par: 71 | Yardage: 7,147 | Purse: $9,000,000

2024 Cognizant Classic field, odds

  • Rory McIlroy (7-1): His return to PGA National represents an added step he has chosen to take before getting to Augusta National. After winning in Dubai to kick off his 2024, McIlroy may need it after he struggled to string rounds together in California. Beholden to small stretches of poor play at Pebble Beach and Riviera, the 34-year-old and his tournament hopes were ultimately undone by just a few swings. McIlroy has a win and T2 to his credit at PGA National, but those came a decade ago.
  • Cameron Young (22-1)
  • Russell Henley (25-1)
  • Eric Cole (25-1): The former mini tour legend first appeared on televisions at last year's Honda Classic. Falling to Kirk in a playoff, Cole parlayed his success at PGA National into a Rookie of the Year campaign which essentially changed his life over the course of six months. Up to 36th in the Official World Golf Rankings, Cole ranks third in this field in total strokes gained over the last six months. He already has five top-21 finishes this season, including a top 10 at the Genesis Invitational in his last start out.
  • Matt Fitzpatrick (28-1)
  • Byeong Hun An (28-1): The 32-year-old continues to quietly put together one of the best starts to the 2024 season. After a nice Hawaii swing, An resurfaced at the Genesis Invitational where he struck the ball beautifully en route to a T16 finish. Firmly inside the top 10 of the FedEx Cup standings, the South Korean will look to make a figurative splash at PGA National where he has a pair of top fives in five starts.
  • Tom Kim (30-1)
  • Min Woo Lee (30-1)
  • J.T. Poston (30-1)
  • Sungjae Im (40-1): It may not quite be time to press the panic button for Im, but if these Florida tournaments don't go well, then there may not be another choice. After opening his season with a PGA Tour record amount of birdies at The Sentry, the South Korean's iron play has fallen off a cliff. Losing strokes on approach in his last five starts, Im has failed to crack the top 20 and was an afterthought in both signature events. The good news is PGA National is the site of Im's first victory in 2020. The bad news is this golf course can expose even the slightest weakness in a player's iron play.
  • Shane Lowry (40-1)
  • Keith Mitchell (40-1)
  • Daniel Berger (40-1): Early returns for the 30-year-old have been solid. Berger struck the ball nicely in his first start back from injury at The American Express and did so again his last time out at the WM Phoenix Open. The short game still has some rust attached to it, but the transition to Bermuda grass and his backyard in Florida should alleviate some of that stress. Berger should have won this tournament in 2022 when he blew a five-stroke lead Sunday but ultimately settled for a solo fourth marking his third top-five finish in seven tournament appearances.

2024 Cognizant Classic expert picks

Winner (30-1): Believe it or not, it is not McIlroy but Poston who leads this field in total strokes gained over the last six months. Ranking eighth around the green and sixth in putting, Poston's short-game prowess has been matched with an uptick in the ball-striking department. He's connected on five top-10 finishes in six starts to begin his 2024 and appears on the cusp of entering the winner's circle for the third time in his career.

Contender (40-1): Conners is among the throng of players happy to get off the bumpy poa annua of California and onto Florida's Bermuda grass. The Canadian ranks fifth in strokes gained tee to green, second in strokes gained off the tee and 11th in strokes gained approach over the last six months. He hasn't found much success around PGA National in two prior attempts, but Conners has been known to find his putting stroke this time of year.

Sleeper (60-1): PGA National calls for accurate driving, pinpoint iron play and timely putting. Bezuidenhout checks all three boxes. The South African has enjoyed a very nice start to his 2024 with a runner-up at The American Express and a pair of top 25s in the first two signature events in California. He ranks 10th in total strokes gained, third in strokes gained approach and 14th in strokes gained putting over the last half year and has found some success around these parts before finishing T25 in his debut in 2022.

Who will win the Cognizant Classic, and which long shots will stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine now to see the projected leaderboard and best bets, all from the model that's nailed 10 golf majors and is up more than $9,700 since June 2020.