Honda Classic delivers a strong field with an eye toward Augusta National

The Associated Press

Golfer Tiger Woods hits out of a sand trap on the fourth hole during the Pro-Am round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Associated Press + More

By DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Adam Scott went surfing on the Big Island. He got caught up on the news. He tried to find something to do that would keep him from turning into the ultimate couch potato. And after a month of that, he headed back to the gym and dusted off his golf clubs.

That's all part of his preparations to defend his title at the Masters.

"Being recharged, that's extremely important out here," Scott said Wednesday, the day before he returned to his day job on the PGA Tour. "It's easy to get in a rut, so breaks are important. And then you've got to come back out wanting to be out here and ready to play."

Scott has a plan that's been working just fine the last two years, even if it took him a decade to figure out.

It's all about peaking for the four biggest golf tournaments of the year, starting with the first one in six weeks at Augusta National. His plan won't work for everyone. Tiger Woods figured out what's best for him a few years and one record-setting Masters after he turned pro. Phil Mickelson prefers to play the week before a major, even if the golf courses are nothing alike.

They all have one thing in common.

Most of the game's biggest stars are at the Honda Classic this week. And they all have the Masters on their minds.

"I think once we get to Florida, I think we're all thinking about our way to Augusta," Woods said.

The first step starts Thursday at PGA National with a tournament that features seven of the top 10 from the world ranking. It's the first time Woods, Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Scott have been at the same tournament since the BMW Championship late last summer outside Chicago.

So there's a buzz about the blue (water) and green (grass) of the Jack Nicklaus design. For some, it doesn't seem like golf even starts until the biggest group of stars get together in the tropical warmth of south Florida with the Masters just around the corner.

Scott is in no hurry. It's all about peaking at the right time, and it's an art form.

"Even though I've just had a little bit of a break, I'm giving myself enough time to peak," said Scott, playing for the first time in six weeks since he tied for eighth at the Sony Open in Honolulu. "It's obvious what I'm trying to peak for, but these are all important steps, and a poor performance sets you back. Confidence doesn't keep growing. You want it to all kind of snowball, so it's important that I come here and play well, and I think I've got myself as ready as I can be to tackle this course this week."

There is a trap to think results don't matter, as long as the best golf is playing at the Masters.

Woods doesn't think that way. He clearly is building toward the Masters, but he could stand to see some reasonable results. Woods has played only two times this year, and neither has been impressive. He missed the 54-hole cut at Torrey Pines, where he has won eight times, and he tied for 41st in the Dubai Desert Classic, where he had three wins. Woods is playing three out of the next four weeks, and he is defending at two of them (Doral and Bay Hill).

While he wants to win, Woods was asked what the measure of his game was this week.

"That," he said. "If I hit it great and win, if I slap it all over the place and win, I win. That's the intent."

Scott's six-week break required some discipline. He had won two times and finished among the top three in two other events. He was a factor in the weekend in both Hawaii tournaments (both top 10s), and there was a temptation to keep playing.

But he feared that might keep from peaking at the right time.

Even so, the Masters champ believes it's easy to fall into a trap of paying no attention to anything but that one week at a major.