A Preview Of The Honda Classic
February 18, 2017
The PGA Tour converges in South Florida this week for the Honda Classic on the Champion course at PGA National Resort & Spa. Despite the high-profile withdrawals of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, a stellar line-up has been compiled with world number 14 Rickie Fowler the latest addition to a field which features defending champion Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and reigning Masters Champion Danny Willett.
Since 2007, this event has seen a vastly improved player field, largely due to the decision to make PGA National the tournament’s permanent habitat. It was initially introduced to the circuit 45 years ago as Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic, in homage to the American actor and comedian. Honda took over sponsorship of the tournament in 1982 and prior to 2007; the tournament was moved from location to location which grossly affected the standard of entrants.
As for the magnificent course itself, it has previously hosted some of golf’s most iconic events including the 1983 Ryder Cup and the 1987 PGA Championship, the latter being the last of Larry Nelson’s three major tournament successes. The course underwent a $4 million renovation in December 2002, and was redesigned by Jack Nicklaus ahead of last year’s version.
The taxing three hole stretch of the par-3 15th, par-4 16th, and par-3 17th holes is known as the Bear Trap, named after the Golden Bear himself. USA Today calls the Bear Trap “one of the toughest stretches in golf.”
Major record holder Nicklaus remains the only player in the competition’s history to successfully retain the title after his back-to-back triumphs in 1977 and 1978.The likes of Irishman Padraig Harrington and American Johnny Miller are also two-time winners of the event.
In addition to Scott returning to defend, past Honda champions also teeing off are Russell Henley (2014), Camilo Villegas (2010), Mark Wilson (2007), Michael Thompson (2013) and Mark Calcavecchia (1987, 1998).
World number seven Scott ended a two year PGA Tour win drought with his victory last year – clinching it by a single stroke in a thrilling contest with Garcia. The Australian saw off a brave challenge from his Spanish rival as he shot a level-par 70 in blustery conditions at the PGA National to finish nine under.
Garcia looked in ominous form earlier this month during his wire-to-wire performance at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic where he ousted Open Championship winner Henrik Stenson by three shots. Scott’s unproblematic schedule so far this year has seen him compete in just in one event where he finished in a disappointing tied for ninth at the Singapore Open after squandering pole position with a forgettable final round of 74.
Along with Garcia, Justin Thomas is another of the in-form players on the PGA Tour. The American claimed back-to-back victories in Hawaii last month and he will be confident of going close in what is undoubtedly one of the premier events in world golf.
I am tending to lean towards a Garcia victory – he is getting closer to that elusive major and victory here could be the springboard for breaking that hoodoo.