The four major championships are reserved for crowning achievements, but there is no disputing that the current stretch of the schedule tends to separate those who are most in tune with their game from those who want to be. This is a fact despite the annual cross-country expedition to Florida and from a week-to-week mixture of grasses to primarily Bermuda. (Only one tournament west of Texas remains, the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nevada, during the first weekend of July.)
The West Coast Swing concluded at Riviera Country Club, which was the hardest par 71 of 2014-15. The Honda Classic launches the Florida Swing on the Champion Course at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. After rolling over, relatively speaking, after a redesign in 2014, it battled back to be the most challenging par 70 in a non-major last season, averaging 71.832, more than 1.40 strokes than the previous edition. After Russell Henley needed a playoff to prevail in 2014, defending champion Padraig Harrington did as well, taking down then-rookie Daniel Berger on the second hole of sudden death.
The Irishman hadn’t won on the PGA TOUR since picking off the last two majors of 2008, but he was in vintage form at PGA National a year ago. He ranked second in both proximity to the hole and strokes gained: tee-to-green. Harrington also offset ranking T24 in greens in regulation by finishing sixth in scrambling, but he made the most of his chances, finishing first in the field in birdies-or-better percentage (with 18 birdies). He placed just 37th in strokes gained: putting.
The 7,140-yard Champion Course is arguably best known for holes 15, 16 and 17, otherwise known as The Bear Trap. It’s a par 3-4-3=10 on which getting through in even par is akin to gaining a little over one-half of a stroke on the field. Harrington played the set in 1-under in four rounds of regulation, but it was his par at 17 in the playoff that clinched victory.
Each of the 14 tournaments in the books this season has yielded a different winner, 11 of whom are scheduled to compete this week. Winner No. 15 will have managed PGA National delicately on approach and capitalized with timely conversions on its greens. Experience never hurts, but one’s temperament to handle adversity is the most important asset this week.
Wind is almost always a factor to help defend PGA National, and it will be again this week. Gusts north of 20 mph can’t be ruled out during the first two rounds, elevating the value of par even more before they abate some on the weekend. Maybe. The threat of rain is expected to be history by the time the tournament starts. Daytime highs may not eclipse 70 degrees throughout.
ROB BOLTON'S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM's Fantasy Columnist will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week's event. Look for the following features later this week:
MONDAY: Power Rankings
TUESDAY: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One-and-Done, Comfort Zone
THURSDAY: Most-picked players