Leap years come and go without much fanfare. After all, they're just astronomical calibrations just once every four years and, except for maybe the roughly five million people on the planet who celebrate their birthday on Feb. 29, they truly can't be felt. However, a leap year still is as good as any checkpoint to look back on recent history to see what's transpired and who has achieved what in that short period of time.
At this time in 2016, Rory McIlroy hadn't yet secured his first FedExCup title, Emiliano Grillo was navigating his season en route to the Arnold Palmer Award as the best rookie, and the likes of Tony Finau, Danny Willett, Branden Grace, Daniel Berger, Si Woo Kim and Jon Rahm all were within a year of experiencing their breakthrough victories on the PGA TOUR.
This Saturday is February 29. It'll share its quadrennial existence with Moving Day at The Honda Classic at PGA National's Champion Course to launch the annual Florida Swing in Palm Beach Gardens. For details on the stern test and how the field of 144 doesn't need to dive as many as four years into the history books for an understanding of how to succeed, scroll past the projected contenders.
POWER RANKINGS: THE HONDA CLASSIC
Tuesday's Fantasy Insider will include defending champion Keith Mitchell, Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen, Ian Poulter and Lucas Glover among other notables.
A check of the expected conditions always is a smart decision upon arrival in south Florida. The ubiquitous winds that have come to help govern scoring at PGA National will be sustained from 10-15 mph throughout the tournament, but they're forecast to come out a generally northwesterly direction. The prevailing breeze is from the east, so experience in the alternative should help. After the threat of overnight rain ends early on Thursday morning, the stage will be set for beautiful weather with sunshine and daytime highs in the upper 60s throughout the tournament.
All that stated, even when the air was largely calm last year, PGA National still averaged as the hardest par 70 in non-majors all season at 71.016. It was the most difficult of its kind in four of the last five seasons, five of the last seven, and so on. What's more, Keith Mitchell's winning score of 9-under 271 marked the sixth time in seven years that the champion didn't need to reach double digits under par.
Last year also served as the debut for new, larger putting surfaces, but the field still averaged just under 10.5 greens in regulation per round, seventh-fewest of all courses in 2018-19. The putting: birdies-or-better percentage aligned perfectly, also ranking seventh at 27.25 percent. So, connecting for as many as three par breakers per round with a putter meant that a golfer was better the field average of 2.86.
Mitchell didn't relent off the tee last year, but it wasn't the driver that lifted him to victory. While he ranked fifth in distance of all drives and led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, he also paced it in par-3 scoring and finished T2 in scrambling.
Numerous parts of the practice area were upgraded since last year, but the only significant work done on the course proper occurred on the tee boxes. They are flatter and firmer. The TifEagle bermuda greens may hit 12 feet on the Stimpmeter. The primary rough, which is overseeded, will be trimmed at about two inches. PGA National tips at 7,125 yards.
A preview of The Honda Classic wouldn't be complete without an analysis of The Bear Trap. You're going to hear a lot about it, so you might as well understand what's what.
Holes 15, 16 and 17 comprise the challenging trio. It's a par 3-4-3 stretch that demands confidence and precision. In conditions as docile as it gets last year, these holes averaged just 0.319 strokes over par as a set. It was the lowest aggregate since they were just 0.006 strokes lower in 2013. With breezes up, this week's field will land in between last year's clip and the 2018 average of 1.186 strokes over par.
En route to his first PGA TOUR title, Mitchell scored 2 under on The Bear Trap with three birdies on the 15th. Of all champions since the course debuted in 2007, only Rory McIlroy has gone lower at bogey-free 3 under in 2012.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.