The Honda Classic
PGA National Resort & Spa
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Yards: 7,110 per the scorecard
Par: 70 (35-35)
Greens: Tifeagle Bermudagrass (6,400 square feet on average)
Rough: Bermudagrass with perennial ryegrass at 3”
Stimpmeter: 11’ to 11.5’
Water Hazards: 26. TWENTY SIX.
Course Architect: Tom and George Fazio (1981); Jack Nicklaus (2001)
Winner’s Share: $1,080,000
FexExCup Points: 500 to the winner
Defending Champion: Rory McIlroy held off Tiger Woods and Tom Gillis by two shots to win the first event of the “Florida Swing” last year.
Dates: February 28 – March 3
Notes: No more match play, thankfully. Top 70 and ties advance to the weekend in stroke play.
The Champion Course has been the site of this tournament since 2007. Please remember this when you are researching “horses-for-courses” this week.
Only Jack Nicklaus (1977-78) has successfully defended his championship.
McIlroy was the fifth consecutive foreign player to win at The Honda Classic. In the first eight tournaments of 2013, all of the winners have been American. SOMETHING MUST GIVE.
In the six tournaments held at the Champion course, two winners have been maidens (Mark Wilson 2007 and Y.E. Yang 2009). Only Mark Wilson has won in his first appearance at this course. It’s not easy to do so. Here’s the full list:
2007: Mark Wilson (-5); First win on TOUR; 12 players broke par
2008: Ernie Els (-6); 14 players broke par
2009: Y.E. Yang (-9); First win on TOUR; 26 players broke par
2010: Camilo Villegas (-13); 16 players broke par
2011: Rory Sabbatini (-9); 16 players broke par
2012: Rory McIlroy (-12); 25 players broke par
Four winners have been by one shot. Mark Wilson won in a playoff. Rory McIlroy won by two shots last year. A tight course and a tough finish will make for exciting times. Is there another “Rory” in the field who can make it three in a row? Half of the winners have won a major championship. The other half do not. #math.
Brian Harman (T12) and Harris English (T18), both from the University of Georgia, were the two, best rookie finishers in 2012. English was also the 54-hole leader before his final round 77 knocked him back.
Rank and File
By my count, as of Monday afternoon,15 of the top 30 OWGR players are in the field this week.
All six former champions at the Champions course are in the field this week as well.
The Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa is the host of The Honda Classic for the seventh year running. Last year was the first year of six that the Champion Course did NOT rank inside the top 10 of hardest courses played on TOUR. It was ranked 12th.
All righty then!
Must be easy now!
No it’s not.
The Champion Course is home to “The Bear Trap” which, trust me, you will hear about once or 49,499,593 times over the course of the broadcast. Nicklaus decided that the tournament will be won over this stretch of holes. Well, hang on a minute. It’s not like the rest of this course is punch and cookies either. Tight fairways are protected by strategic bunkers and/or doglegs. The greens, which run into and across some of the TWENTY SIX water hazards and are also well-bunkered, are not very easy to read and putt if you hit them in regulation. Throw in unpredictable wind and breezes in early March in Southeast Florida and we have now dissected why this course is usually in the top 10% of most difficult on TOUR annually.
This week, I’ll be looking for the better iron players on TOUR to make the most noise. As we saw at another Jack Nicklaus course last week at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain, Jack will leave pins in accessible spots for the premium players who can control distance. Those who are not as accurate must bring A or better short game to get up and down. As you can tell by the average winning score, birdies will not be growing on trees this week so players who can make a few and avoid the big numbers will be in the hunt come Sunday. “The Bear Trap”, holes Nos. 15-17, will test the players’ nerves down the stretch as they navigate two par-threes, a par-four and plenty of wind and water. Rory McIlroy only made five bogeys last year as he (and Tom Gillis) fired all four rounds in the 60s. McIlroy led the field in scrambling as well so there is more than one way to skin the cat! It can be done but Nicklaus will not let it be done easily.
The “Florida Swing 2013” begins this week in Palm Beach Gardens and will continue next week at Doral, followed by Innisbrook and concluding at Bay Hill. Keep in mind the four winners of the “Florida Swing” last year were Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Tiger Woods. Who’s in your dream foursome?