European Flavor at Honda Classic


2005 Honda ClassicSituated in southwest Florida, with its beautiful, blue skies; bright, shiny sun; and ever-present palm trees, the Honda Classic would appear to have very little European flavor.
And yet it does.
A look back over the last 12 years of the tournament reveals a strong connection between the tournament and its Atlantic Ocean neighbor.
Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington earned his first of two PGA Tour victories last year in the Honda Classic.
Nick Price won the Honda in 1994, the same year in which he won the British Open. Mark OMeara was Honda champion the following year, and then three years later also captured the claret jug. Mark Calcavecchia won this event in 98. It was the second such triumph for the man who also won the 1989 British Open. Justin Leonard, 1997 Open champion, was the 2003 Honda winner. And, two years ago, Todd Hamilton won the Honda and the Open four months apart.
Then there are the European winners of this tournament during that stretch: Swedens Jesper Parnevik (2001) and Irelands Padraig Harrington (2005).
Harringtons playoff victory over Vijay Singh last year extended a European winning streak on the PGA Tour to 23. Beginning in 1983, a European-born player has won at least one official event ' regular, major or WGC ' on tour.
The Honda was the first of two wins on the 05 season for Harrington, as he also won the Barclays Classic. Spains Sergio Garcia (Booz Allen) and Swedens Carl Pettersen (Chrysler Championship) won as well a year ago. The four victories by European-born players tied the largest number on tour since 1988, when Scotsman Sandy Lyle and Spaniard Seve Ballesteros accounted for five titles.
European winners on tour are far from common-place, but an even smaller number is the total of different European winners.
Since the start of 2000, Europeans have claimed 15 tour victories ' by only six different European players. Garcia has six victories; Parnevik three; Harrington and Northern Irelands Darren Clarke two each; and Pettersen and Spains Jose Maria Olazabal one apiece.
Thus far this year, the Euros are 0-for-10. And if tournament history is any indication, then Harrington will not be repeating this week at the Country Club at Mirasol. Jack Nicklaus is the only player in tournament history to successfully defend his title, doing so in 1978.
But if not Harrington, then perhaps another European player. Here are five possible Honda champions ' European-born, British Open winner, or otherwise.
Davis Love III
Love is neither European nor an Open champion, and hes never won this tournament. But he has had plenty of success in Palm Beach Gardens. Love has played this event 11 times and has never missed a cut. He has five top-10 finishes, including runner-up finishes in both 2003 and 2004. Love has been playing well of late. He made it to the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and tied for 12th last week at Doral. This will be a great test for his new fitness plan. While this will be his fourth consecutive tournament, it will seem like five in a row, as he played seven 18-hole sessions at La Costa.
Luke Donald
Donald is one of those players who you dont know whether to classify as a serious contender on a weekly basis or a big disappointment for not having won on tour since 2002. Were going to go with the former this week based solely on the fact that he is European. The Englishman has twice before played this tournament. He tied for 30th in 2002 and tied for 21st in 2004. Donald has gotten off to a decent start this season, finishing in the top 25 in each of his three stroke-play events. He also made it to the third round of the Match Play, before losing to Retief Goosen.
Camilo Villegas
Though he didn't win last week, the Ford Championship was Villegas' coming-out party on the PGA Tour. The 24-year-old Colombian held a share of the lead during the third round at Doral, before a late stumble dropped him three off the 54-hole pace. He recovered nicely on Sunday, however, shooting 5-under 67 to earn a second-place tie with David Toms.
Bubba Watson
Watson has had a stellar start to his rookie campaign. He already has a pair of top-5 finishes in just five starts. He tied for third two weeks ago in Tucson, where he became the first player since Lee Trevino in 1974 to play a 72-hole PGA Tour event without making a bogey. The big hitter then bombed his way up the leaderboard at last weeks Ford Championship, but fell hard on Sunday with a 77. The 7,468-yard, par-72 Mirasol course should suit him just fine.
Bubba Dickerson
This Bubba hasnt gotten a lot of publicity this year, but that could change this week. Dickerson has made four of five cuts in his rookie season, including a career-best tie for 18th two weeks ago in Tucson. The 2001 U.S. Amateur champion is plenty long enough to compete on this course, averaging over 297 yards off the tee. Like Watson, who grew up and lives in northwest Florida, Dickerson is very familiar with the Bermuda greens, as he, too, grew up and still resides in the Sunshine State. Dickerson was born in Jacksonville, lives in Hillard (northern Fla.) and went to school briefly at the University of Florida in Gainesville. This event has been kind to Florida residents: six straight winners, from 1997-2002, lived in the host state.
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