The First Look: The Honda Classic
February 16, 2018
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
- February 16, 2018
Rickie Fowler wins The Honda Classic
Rickie Fowler, who lives minutes from PGA National Resort, returns to defend his title against a strong lineup with plenty of local firepower fronted by FedExCup champions Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia arrives to make his first U.S. start of 2018, as will a trio of other top Europe-based professionals. Woods was a late entry, committing to his first back-to-back starts since undergoing spinal fusion surgery last April.
FIELD NOTES: Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, winner of the World Super 6 Perth earlier this month, makes PGA National his first U.S. start since the 2016 Web.com Tour Finals. Also coming across for their first U.S. appearance of the year are England’s Tyrrell Hatton and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger. … In all, PGA National is slated to welcome 10 of the top 25 in the current world rankings. … FedExCup leader Patton Kizzire is one of four commitments among the top 10 in the PGA TOUR’s season points race. … Fowler, Thomas and Woods are among at least 14 Honda entrants who keep a home within 45 minutes of PGA National.
FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 points.
STORYLINES: Fowler, who owns six top-4 finishes on TOUR since his four-shot romp a year ago, hopes getting back to home base will break the hex. He also led after 54 holes in Phoenix, but a closing 73 dropped him out of the top 10. … A Fowler victory would make him just the second back-to-back winner in Honda annals, alongside Jack Nicklaus (1977-78). … Garcia arrives with a victory already on his ledger this year, winning in Singapore to start his schedule. He was second behind Adam Scott at the 2016 Honda. … Woods tees it up near his Jupiter Island home for the first time since 2014, when back spasms forced his withdrawal 13 holes into the final round. He was the 2012 runner-up behind McIlroy. … It’s the final chance for pros to get into next week’s WGC-Mexico Championship, with spots for anyone not previously qualified among the FedExCup top 10 or who moves into the world’s top 50. … Since PGA National became host in 2007, the “Bear Trap” trio of Nos. 15-17 has accounted for 18 percent of all bogeys in the event, 33 percent of all double bogeys and 38 percent of all triples or worse.
COURSE: PGA National (Champion), 7,110 yards, par 70. Designed with major events in mind, the original George & Tom Fazio layout was site of the 1983 Ryder Cup where Lanny Wadkins’ birdie at No.18 vs. Jose Maria Canizares dashed European upset hopes. The original also was the backdrop for the 1987 PGA Championship, captured by Larry Nelson, before Jack Nicklaus was brought in for a 1990 redesign that introduced golfers to the perilous “Bear Trap” closing stretch. The course also staged 19 Senior PGA Championships through 2000, going on tournament hiatus until the Honda arrived in 2007.
72-HOLE RECORD: 264, Justin Leonard (2003 at Mirasol). PGA National record: 267, Camilo Villegas (2010).
18-HOLE RECORD: 61, Brian Harman (2nd round, 2012).
LAST YEAR: Fowler ended a nearly 14-month victory drought with a four-shot win, pulling away with a Saturday 65 before enduring a roller-coaster final day. Fowler began a windblown Sunday with a four-shot advantage, which proved useful when he putted into a sprinkler hole on the way to bogey at No. 4 and found the water two holes later for double bogey. Gary Woodland’s birdie at No. 13 cut the margin to one before Fowler’s putter found the range. Fowler drained a 40-foot birdie at No. 12, then connected from 25 feet at the 13th. Another birdie at the par-3 16th gave him a five-shot cushion before a bogey/bogey finish left him with a 71. Woodland (69) also finished bogey/bogey to share runner-up honors with Morgan Hoffmann (68).
HOW TO FOLLOW
TELEVISION: Thursday-Friday, 3-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1-2:45 p.m. (GC); 3-6 p.m. (CBS).
PGA TOUR LIVE: Thursday-Friday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. ET (featured groups), 3-6 p.m. (featured holes). Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (featured holes).
RADIO: Thursday-Friday, noon-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 1-6 p.m. (PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.com).