The First Look: The Honda Classic
February 22, 2019
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
- February 22, 2019
Justin Thomas wins in 1st playoff hole at Honda
Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and defending champion Justin Thomas – all of whom live minutes from PGA National Resort & Spa – top the marquee at The Honda Classic, which kicks off the PGA TOUR’s revamped Sunshine State schedule.
Luke List, who lost a playoff to Thomas a year ago, is back as he continues to pursue his first TOUR victory. Several Europeans are playing The Honda before making the trip to TPC Sawgrass in two weeks, including Alex Noren, who finished one shot out of last year’s Honda playoff, and former PLAYERS champions Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer.
FIELD NOTES: Two-time Honda champion Padraig Harrington is slated for his first start of 2019 after being sidelined the past 2 1/2 months with a broken bone in his wrist. … PGA National is slated to welcome 12 of the top 30 in the current FedExCup standings. … Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard tees it up for the first time in a regular TOUR event and first on U.S. soil since the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. He also played the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No.2. … At least a dozen Honda entrants keep a home within 45 minutes of PGA National.
FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 points.
STORYLINES: Thomas, who owns three top-3 finishes since the calendar turned to 2019, seeks to become just the second back-to-back winner in the Honda’s 48-year history. Jack Nicklaus pulled it off in 1977-78 at Inverrary, but nobody since. … Koepka returns home for his first start on U.S. soil since the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January. The reigning PGA TOUR Player of the Year grew up in West Palm Beach, but hasn’t finished better than 26th in four Honda starts. … Fowler, the 2017 Honda champion, arrives just four weeks removed from his victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He missed the cut in his title defense last year. … Since last year’s playoff loss, List has notched a trio of top-5 finishes. … In 12 events since The Honda arrived at PGA National, the “Bear Trap” trio of Nos. 15-17 has eaten participants to a tune of 3,571 shots over par. All three were among the TOUR’s 10 toughest holes last year, with the par-3 17th outranked only by two at the U.S. Open.
COURSE: PGA National Resort & Spa (Champion), 7,125 yards, par 70. Annually one of the most demanding layouts on the PGA TOUR schedule, the Champion Course stood No. 2 last year even when held up against major venues. Only Shinnecock Hills (U.S. Open) proved tougher in 2018. Even though the original George & Tom Fazio layout hosted a Ryder Cup (1983) and PGA Championship (1987), Jack Nicklaus was brought in for a 1990 remake that introduced golfers to the daunting “Bear Trap” stretch of two often windblown par-3s flanking the stout par-4 16th. The course also staged 19 Senior PGA Championships through 2000, going on tournament hiatus until the Honda arrived in 2007.
For those visiting South Florida, must-play courses include Trump National Doral GC (Doral, Fla.) and Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne (Key Biscayne, Fla.). Book your reservations via TeeOff.com.
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: Thomas knocked a wedge stiff on the 18th hole to force a playoff with List. Thomas reached the par-5 18th in two shots in the playoff, two-putting for birdie for the victory. Thomas was there to congratulate Fowler when he won in 2017, and Fowler returned to PGA National to return the favor last year. … A closing 2-under 68 lifted Thomas alongside List (69) after four rounds, though it didn’t come without a few tense moments three holes from the finish. … Both Thomas and List birdied No.18 to end regulation, but List pushed his drive on the replay and was forced to lay up out of the rough. Thomas hit the green in two for a stress-free birdie that capped his eighth career victory.
HOW TO FOLLOW
TELEVISION: Thursday-Friday, 2-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1-3 p.m. (GC); 3-6 p.m. (NBC).
PGA TOUR LIVE: Thursday-Friday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. ET (featured groups). Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (featured groups), 3-6 p.m. (featured holes). International subscribers (via GOLF.tv): Thursday-Friday, 12:00 to 23:00 GMT. Saturday-Sunday, 14:00 to 23:00.