The Honda Classic
PGA National Resort & Spa
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.,
Par: 70 (35-35)
Greens: Tifeagle Bermudagass; 6,400 square feet on average
Rough: Bermudagrass and ryegrass at 3 inches
Water Hazards: 26
Course Architect: George and Tom Fazio (1981); Nicklaus Design (2013)
Winner’s Share: $1,080,000
FexExCup Points: 500 to the winner
Defending Champion: Michael Thompson became the third, first-time winner since this event has made the Champion Course its host in 2007. He defeated Geoff Ogilvy by two shots for his victory.
Dates: February 27 – March 2
Format: Stroke play; 144 players will be cut to the top 70 and ties for the weekend. Ahhhh, no more match play!
Notes: Of the 10 best players in the world according to the OWGR, eight are playing this week. #topheavy. Holes No. 4 and No. 12 have been lengthened.
Recent History Lessons
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA has won 13 of 14 events to start 2013-14. Harris English, Jimmy Walker (THREE), Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed, Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler and Bubba Watson have kept the engravers busy this fall and winter. Last week, Australian Jason Day brought the run to an end as he claimed the WGC-Match Play title.
After racking up 12 first-time winners in 2013, the new season has added only two more in the first 13 events as Jimmy Walker (Frys.com) and Kevin Stadler (WMPO) have broken their maidens. Both guys are in their mid-30s as well. As noted above, this has been a happy hunting ground for first-timers since the Champions Course became the host in 2007.
Young Guns versus Prime Time versus Old Guys
Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and was joined by Ryan Moore (30) in Malaysia and Zach Johnson (37) at Kapalua now Kevin Stadler (33), at WMPO and now, Watson 35, keeps the Prime Time guys rolling. Walker has now added TWO more victories to the guys currently in their prime! Scott Stallings, 28, Patrick Reed (23), Chris Kirk (28), Webb Simpson (28), Dustin Johnson (29), Harris English, (24) and now, Jason Day, 26, are the twenty-somethings on the board. The Prime Time guys and Young Guns are level on seven wins a piece this season. The Old Guys are playing like old guys as they have zero wins this season. The Big Easy, Ernie Els, gave it a run making the final four before losing twice to take fourth.
Pay Attention: It’s FREE
Horse-for-course fans remember any data prior to 2007 goes out the window this week. How these guys performed at Herron Bay or Mirasol doesn’t interest me.
Michael Thompson was the first US winner since Mark Wilson in 2007.
2013: Michael Thompson – US
2012: Rory McIlroy – Northern Ireland
2011: Rory Sabbatini – South Africa
2010: Camilo Villegas – Colombia
2009: Y.E. Yang – South Korea
2008: Ernie Els – South Africa not in the field this week
2007: Mark Wilson - US
Michael Thompson, Y.E. Yang and Mark Wilson made this their first win on TOUR. Thompson is the only winner on this list WITHOUT multiple TOUR wins.
Jack Nicklaus is the only person to defend their Honda Classic title. Fitting, it’s his place…
The course record at the Champion Club is 61 by Brian Harman, in his first visit, in round two in 2012.
Camilo Villegas has the tournament record on this course at 13-under-par, 267.
How It Shook Out:
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
2013: Michael Thompson (-9); 17 players broke par
In seven events, the biggest margin of victory is two shots, including the last two years. In the other five years, the victor has one by one shot and the other year it was a playoff. McIlroy, Els and Yang have also won a major in their careers.
Inside the Ropes
The Champion Course was developed by the brothers Fazio at PGA National for the 1983 Ryder Cup. That’s one way of breaking in a new course! It also has hosted the 1987 PGA Championship and was the permanent home of the Senior PGA Championship from 1982 to 2000. Based on those tournaments, gamers should be able to tell that this is NOT a resort-course track where 24-under is going to win. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.
The Champion Course has never ranked worse than 12th-hardest on TOUR and checked in as No. 5 most difficult last year. It was the hardest par 70 used on TOUR that was not a major. It’s a difficult track for a multitude of reasons. There are 26 water hazards. That’s 25 more than the players saw in the desert last week. I don’t care how good a guy is, when they see that much water, the gears start to grind. Another issue is the weather in Florida this time of year. As many of gamers witnessed during the Daytona 500 last Sunday, plenty of wind, rain, storms, gusts, etc. can pop up this time of year. Being just off the Atlantic Ocean leaves this door WIDE OPEN. On top of all of that, add holes Nos. 15-17 as where “the tournament will be won or lost” according to the plaque that greets the players as they enter The Bear Trap. Nicklaus has loaded up these three holes with two three pars and a four par that will test the nerve of the best players with the tournament on the line. Survive and advance should be the motto. As Nicklaus courses are known, the hole gets tougher the closer the player gets to the hole. His bunkering will test the short games of the best players. His green complexes, as shown by the scores over the previous years, don’t yield many birdies. And if that’s not enough, he retooled all the bunkers last summer. Let’s have a quiz! Did he make the bunkers easier, harder or better? I’m going with a little of each from column B and C! As the mark of a great golf course, premium play is rewarded and slack play in penalized. All gamers have to do is look at the field to see what kind of courses the best players in the world enjoy playing.
Now that I have your attention, the guys who have won here have either had great short games or were premium ball-strikers. On a course where par is a very solid score I’m looking for grinders and ball-strikers this week to rise above the fold. This is not the week for birdie machines or guys who spray it with their irons. Trouble is lurking around every corner and making double bogeys on a course that doesn’t yield many birdies, especially late, is a recipe for disaster. There are plenty of holes with doglegs as well that will reward those players who can work the ball both ways consistently off the tee. No wonder this course ranks in the top 12 annually of most difficult tracks to play. Finally, the final angle this week is the TOUR returns to Bermudagrass putting surfaces. This will favor the better putters and those most familiar with this Florida grass. Remember, the Scottsdale squad = Bentgrass; Jupiter-West Palm squad = Bermudagrass; Great putters can putt any grass with a croquet mallet!
This week we have a very top-heavy filed on a very difficult golf course which doesn’t make things any easier for gamers and TOUR pros. Need proof? Two years ago, McIlroy finished first and Woods was second. Last year, Michael Thompson, who finished T70 his previous start and defeated Geoff Ogilvy who had one top 10 in his last seven months of golf. Weather, the Bear Trap and a premium field make this a great event!