You may have heard of the Honda then again, you may not. It has perennially been sandwiched uncomfortably between the more glamorous Doral on one side and Arnold Palmers Bay Hill on the other. It has fitfully struggled to find its rightful place on the PGA Tour schedule, and no tournament in history has had more comical results. Now, with the WGC-Accenture Match Play in California causing most of the stars to bypass Doral ' along with the considerable presence of Dubai ' Honda is finally is getting its due after 32 years of hijinks.
The Jackie Gleason was highly successful in the 70s. Its first winner was Tom Weiskopf, followed by Lee Trevino. Jack Nicklaus won twice and finished second three times, Johnny Miller won twice, Hale Irwin and Tom Kite won once. But in 1984 the tournament moved to a beautiful little track on the north side of Fort Lauderdale, the TPC at Eagle Trace, and the hilarity started. Honda was in control now, and almost every year, another side-splitting antic ruled the news.
You see, Eagle Trace was a perfectly good course for most of the year. But it was terrible during March, which was when Honda was played. Set on the edge of the Everglades, the winds howled back and forth across the layout and the greens were cut too close to the water hazards to allow for the frequent gales. The result: the players were continually embarrassed, and the golf course was continually the target of very tough criticism.
Here are a few of the strange follies which are part and parcel of the Hondas legacy:
1986 ' Kenny Knox wins the 86 tournament despite shooting an 80 in the third round. The culprit, of course, was a Saturday windstorm which sent all the scores soaring and hats flying.
1986 ' Winner Mark Calcavecchia provokes a PGA Tour lawsuit against Ping when Calc rips a Ping 8-iron out of the rough and it has enough spin to back up a considerable distance. The box groove suit is settled in the early 90s with the tour enduring a costly settlement.
1990 ' Winner John Huston wears a shoe ' endorsed by him - manufactured by a Tampa-area company, built up more on the side that the other. The shoe is ruled non-conforming and Huston must change footwear. Before Hustons win, however, the Storm of the Century rips through the course on Saturday night, blowing down tents and scoreboards before spreading its havoc throughout the Northeast.
1991 ' In a fit of anger and frustration, Greg Norman lashes out in a verbal tirade against the course, calling it carnival golf. Incidentally, he made a quadruple bogey on the sixth hole, hitting into the water twice on the hole and shooting a 77 Saturday.
Steve Pate was the winner, but only after almost losing his ball on the final hole. Funny, but it was adjacent to the green, Thousands of people were around ' yet no one saw it.
Runner-up Paul Azinger was also incensed by the course. Its not often you finish second and say youre definitely not coming back, he said in vowing not to return to Eagle Trace.
Pates reaction to this course from hell? Maybe I hate myself, but I like playing here.
1992 ' The tournament course goes up the road 10 miles to Weston Hills, but still the funny stuff persists. Brit Sandy Lyle attempts to drive from Doral to Weston, a distance of maybe 30 miles, but inadvertently neglects to take the Sawgrass Expressway turnoff. He winds up clear across Alligator Alley 100 miles away in Naples ' on the western side of the state. Cursing and yelling, he has to backtrack all the way to Honda.
Corey Pavin holes out from the fairway with an 8-iron on the 72nd hole to tie Fred Couples with an eagle, then birdies the 18th in the playoff to win.
1995 ' Three weeks earlier, Mark OMeara had shown up at the Nissan in Los Angeles but had forgotten to enter. Reject! So he hastily penciled in Honda as a substitute. And what do you know ' he won! The wind was ' once again ' a major factor. Wednesdays hurricane-force gales destroyed the commissioners skybox. OMeara, playing Sunday in the face of biting gales, held off Nick Faldo for his first win in three years.
1996 ' The Honda played Can You Find theTournament? It was supposed to move to a new home on a Mark McCumber-designed course, but 60 inches of rain during the previous summer meant that the new course still wasnt finished in time for the tournament. Tournament organizers checked in with Weston Hills about staying one more year, but a couple of BAR MITZVAHS, for goodness sakes, were scheduled at Weston and the fathers refused to change the dates. So reluctantly Honda returned for one year to good old Eagle Trace. Norman did indeed return, and he and Nick Price pulled up for their opening rounds on a firetruck, of all things.
In addition to the yuks it has provoked down through the years about the fierce winds, Honda became known for the youngsters who have competed in recent years. Sixteen-year-old Chris Couch played in the 90s, and later 16-year-old Ty Tryon caused a ruckus in 2001 when he opened with a 67 and closed with a 68.
The tournament moved to Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens last year, and now its time to start a new reputation. But - uh-oh - it was so difficult that players had a diffiult time completing their rounds Wednesday. The hilarity continues at this event, known as the wackiest on the PGA Tour schedule.
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