The PGA Tour kicked off its Florida swing this week at the Honda Classic, which is held at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. The Palm Beach area is home to several tour players, as is nearby Jupiter.
Jack Nicklaus resides in North Palm Beach, and with just about every top player in town for the Honda Classic, he decided to host a dinner party — no, a massive dinner party — Thursday night for U.S. Ryder Cup hopefuls. Tiger Woods, who was at Nicklaus’ house, probably won’t make the team given the fact that he’s rehabbing from multiple back surgeries, but he’ll serve as a vice-captain to Davis Love III. Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and several other American golfers were also there. As evidenced by the group photo, the U.S. Ryder Cup team is in good hands this year. Fowler is playing as well as anyone, and Mickelson continues to chug along at the ripe age of 45.
As Arnie has made the Bay Hill Invitational his event each year. Now The Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus has done the same with the Honda Classic. Jack’s simple but testing modifications to the course over the last few years have made PGA National a true bear.
PGA National is presenting players with one of the most difficult challenges once again this year. On Thursday 45-50 degree temperatures with 20 mph winds set scores to a 3 over par average for the 145 players in the field. On Friday early tee times went off in 50 degree temperatures with once again gusty winds. Add to that the amount of water that comes into play on most holes at PGA National and you have more bogeys and doubles out there than pars.
While Fowler who played the wind to perfection was leading at -7 at days’ end on Friday a lot a players are on the move including Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia. Sergio Garcia, Jimmy Walker and Michael Thompson also have kept pace. All in all, there are only 20 players under par in the field and 11 are only -1. The projected cut midday on Friday was +2 and pushed to +3 after play was completed.
Already the toughest layout on the 2016 PGA TOUR schedule (non-major venues) boasting an average per round score of 1.318 over par, the improved Champion now features Celebration Bermuda grass on the fairways, tees and green surrounds. “The Bear Trap” on PGA National Resort & Spa’s The Champion course is an intimidating trifecta of holes – 15, 16 and 17 – known as among the most demanding 3-hole stretches on the PGA TOUR. Winners of the PGA TOUR Honda Classic and U.S. Senior PGA Championships have had to face its perils to come out with victory. How The Bear Trap is played invariably determines the winner of a tournament or even a match between PGA National resort guests. “The Bear Trap” was coined in honor of the difficulty and as a tribute to PGA Tour legend Jack Nicklaus. A plaque and bear statue celebrate what has come to be known as one of the ultimate challenges a golfer can face for three consecutive holes. Play The Bear Trap at your peril. The legend grows every day.
The final group on the tee box on Saturday was Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. Neither had stellar rounds from the get go. After being introduced on the tee box as Jimmy Fowler, Walker went out and carded a 79, he had 3 doubles, 5 bogies and only made two birdies on the day. Fowler did not fare much better carding a 74, 4 over with 4 bogies and no birdies on the day. While both were at the top of the leaderboard on Saturday morning in the final round they find themselves well back of the surging Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia who were tied at -9 heading into the final round. Scott had a perfect round going on Saturday and looked unstoppable until the 15th where he hit two balls in the water and walked off with a 7 on the par 3 hole. He came back on the 17th a carded a birdie to get it back to -9 for a tie with Garcia who birdied 18.
The quote of the day on Saturday after play was “I haven’t played many U.S. Opens, but I feel like this feels like it”.
Justin Thomas on the punishing PGA National.
The Sunday final proved to be more like match play then stroke play as it was Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia battling hole by hole with the rest of the field 3-5 shots back most of the day. It was May 2014 that Adam Scott the former number one play in the world had won his last PGA Tour event at the colonial.
Scott opened with a 10-foot birdie that settled him and led by no more than two shots until back-to-back bogeys around the turn. But it was a two-man race all day, and Scott seized control when Garcia missed a short par putt on No. 11 and Scott hit a fairway bunker shot to 2 feet for birdie on the next hole.
Unlike Saturday, when Scott took a quadruple-bogey on the par-3 15th with two shots into the water, he stayed dry around the treacherous Bear Trap to finish up with the win.
The only nervous moment was on the 16th hole when Scott had a one-shot lead. Garcia hit a poor pitch and was headed for a bogey. Scott left his 40-foot birdie attempt 10 feet short, and the par putt stopped short of the hole to keep the margin at one heading to the raucous 17th, a par 3 over the water.
Scott’s 7-iron covered the flag, and it was no small relief for him when he saw it hit the green. Garcia made another bogey, and Scott had a two-shot lead going to the 18th, where a par was enough for him to win for the 12th official time on the PGA TOUR.
“I hit a lot of good putts that didn’t go in. Fortunately, it was enough at the end,” he said.
Scott finished at 9-under 271 and moved back into the world top 10 (No. 9) for the first time in a year.
Justin Thomas closed with a 69 and tied for third with Blayne Barber (70), four shots behind. Graeme McDowell had a 69 to finish another shot behind, while Rickie Fowler lost momentum on the back nine for a 71 and joined Vijay Singh at 3-under 277.