Honda Classic tops list for favorite moment of 2012


It’s folly to pick a favorite week of 2012 – they were all pretty stout, weren't they? But I’ll make a case for The Honda Classic at PGA National.

That was the week when Rory McIlroy held off Tiger Woods, who happened to throw a Sunday 62 at the lad.

I still remember crouching by the tee box on the 13th hole and watching Tiger bomb a drive into the distance.

“Fairway,” Tiger announced, handing the club back to his caddie, Joe LaCava.

I still remember ducking beneath the gallery ropes on the 18th fairway, where Tiger smoked a five-iron from a hanging lie over water to 8 feet. (I’m not sure how many people on the planet have that shot).

When he rolled in the eagle putt, the roar was loud enough for Rory to hear it on the 13th green. No matter. Rory birdied the hole, saved par from off the green on 15 and 17, won the first of four PGA Tour events on the year, and became No. 1 in the world.

Watching Rory and Tiger trade blows was enough to elevate the tournament to the top of my list, but it was only one of the great memories I have of the week.

On the morning of the final round, I visited the home of Barbara and Jack Nicklaus for a profile on one of the most famous wives in sport.

Jack had a tennis match that morning, but before he left he sat and joined Barbara in some storytelling about long road trips, portable cribs and diaper pails. Frank Sinatra played softly in the background. We could have been back at Ohio State.

Later that day, with his tennis match behind him, Jack popped over to PGA National to give final-round commentary on the NBC broadcast. Barbara was there, too, among the dignitaries who greeted Rory for his trophy presentation in the gloaming.

With his parents watching near the 18th green, Rory stood before the cameras and held the trophy in his right hand and pointed a finger of his left in the air. He wore a bright blue shirt.

Rory then made his way to the giant clubhouse, answering dozens of questions before walking to the locker room to sign 21 Honda Classic flags and kick off his golf spikes at last.

“Well done, No. 1,” Rory’s caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, told him before the player hopped into a courtesy car for a flight to New York.

The sky was black. The week was over. I didn’t expect to see PGA National for the rest of the year.

But three days before Christmas, I pulled onto the property one more time, to the large valet stand where I had talked Knicks basketball with Lee Westwood earlier in the year (Linsanity was gripping New York City in March).

My wife and I, along with our favorite couple, had decided to drive to Palm Beach, the wives for the spa, the fellas for golf (including a session at the Leadbetter Golf Academy; wearing a Golf Channel logo has only added to my desire to improve).

We hit putts on the giant practice green where I’d asked Padraig Harrington in March why so many players loved the championship course. “This is a golf course that asks a lot of questions,” he’d said.

We wolfed down steaks at Ironwood and relaxed at the lobby bar, always the hub of activity at PGA National.

The highlight, though, was our lesson with Bob Hite, a teaching pro from Paducah, Kentucky.

Hite broke down our swings on video. We joked that we were watching a horror show. (At least I think we were joking). We chased the sunset on the Fazio course.

When it was time to leave, we strode through the lobby past pictures of Nicklaus and Palmer and the rest.

There is also a picture of Rory, in the blue shirt, holding that Honda Classic trophy he won in March.

Well done, No. 1.