The Honda Classic
Jack Nicklaus may be 70, but he’s still handing out beatings.
Nicklaus won’t be playing when the Honda Classic begins Thursday at PGA National’s Champion Course, but his intimidating presence will be felt in the start to the Florida Swing.
“It will stand the test,” Nicklaus said at the time. “I don’t care if they make golf balls go a thousand yards. The Bear Trap will stand the test no matter what the equipment is.”
The Honda Classic will feature one of its strongest fields in recent years with four of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking in the field, but local fans have learned they can count on a triumvirate of stars every year, no matter which PGA Tour pros show up.
The Bear Trap’s 15th, 16th and 17th holes are as much stars as stage.
The 15th hole is a 179-yard par 3 that wouldn't be much more daunting if prison guards stood watch in towers there. A par under final-round pressure will feel like golf's version of a stay of execution, birdies like a governor's pardon. The only protection this hole lacks is a barbed-wire perimeter. The narrow green is guarded right by water and to the left by a large pot bunker. The prevailing wind is dead into the player's face with club selection ranging from a 6- to 8-iron, depending on the strength of the wind.
The 16th hole is a 434-yard par 4 that doglegs right over water to a two-tiered green. This hole is an ageless, square-jawed sentinel that won't be overpowered, even in this era of long-hitting titans. Only a fool will hit driver here. The approach is dead into the prevailing winds, requiring a mid-iron.
The 190-yard, par 3 17th hole is a twin menace to the 15th. There's water around more than half the green with the prevailing wind quartering left-to-right and into the player's face.
The 18th hole offers some drama with realistic shots at birdie, though it’s an ornery par 5 that yields lots of bogeys and worse.
Stance: PGA National Resort & Spa should feel like home away from home for Europe’s top players. The continent’s biggest stars are taking over the resort. Four of the top 10 players in the world will play the Honda this week, and they have something considerable in common: They’re all European. England’s Lee Westwood (No. 4) and Paul Casey (No. 6), Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy (No. 9) and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington (No. 10) lead the field.
Takeway: Camilo Villegas makes his home in Jupiter, Fla., just a few miles up the road from PGA National, but he’ll be making an especially long commute to this week’s event. He’s flying home to his native Colombia early in the week to help host pre-tournament functions for the Nationwide Tour event that will be played there this week. He received an excused absence to skip the Honda Classic Wednesday pro-am to help his country as host but plans to fly back in time to tee it up in the first round at PGA National. Villegas has a good history at the Honda, tying for second in a four-way playoff that Mark Wilson won in 2007, the first year the event was played at PGA National.
Bunker shot: Ernie Els bears watching this week. He won the Honda Classic two years ago and calls the area home now. Els moved his family to the Bear’s Club in Jupiter after winning there. He’s off to a promising start this season. He hasn’t shot a round higher than 70 in three stroke-play events. He tied for 12th at the Sony Open, tied for fifth at the Farmers Insurance Open and tied for 10th at the Northern Trust Open. Something large may be imminent for the Big Easy.
The Toshiba Classic
The Champions Tour is off to a special start.
You only need look at the money list to see how special.
Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson are 1-2-3 respectively.
They’re all in the Toshiba Classic field this week at Newport Beach (Calif.) Country Club, where play begins Friday.
Stance: If you were going to design a start to the new Champions Tour season, you couldn’t do much better than what we’ve seen. Watson beat Couples in a dramatic duel in the season opener in Hawaii, Couples bounced back to win in the year’s second event in Naples and Langer holed out from a bunker at the final hole to win in week No. 3 in Boca Raton. All three events came down to final shots at the final hole.
Takeaway: Couples vs. Watson. Who could tire of that? Another showdown is possible again this week with both players in good form.
Bunker shot: Did you see how high Langer leaped into the air after holing out from the greenside bunker to beat John Cook at the end of the Allianz Championship last week? If you wondered how hard these guys still grind to win, you got your answer. Langer didn’t show that much joy when he won his two Masters titles.
Around the rest of the world . . .
European Tour: Australian Andrew Dodt will be looking to win back-to-back events when he plays the Maybank Malaysian Open at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club.
Nationwide Tour: The inaugural Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open will mark the Nationwide Tour's first tournament in South America.