No ‘faking it’ during Florida Swing
Water, high degree of difficulty separate contenders from pretenders over next four weeks
February 26, 2020
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
PGA TOUR – The CUT
Florida Swing Preview
The four-tournament Florida Swing on the PGA TOUR is made up of The Honda Classic this week, the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, THE PLAYERS Championship, and the Valspar Championship.
Although it sometimes seems to be, like the earth itself, mostly water – see: this week’s Bear Trap holes (Nos. 15-17) – the Florida Swing is in fact very driveable, like the 12th at TPC Sawgrass. It’s 162 miles from PGA National to Bay Hill, 120 from Bay Hill to TPC Sawgrass, 165 from there to Innisbrook, and 216 back to PGA National for a grand total of just under 700 miles.
That’s four tournaments, no TSA agents, if you’re keeping score at home. Caddies sometimes call that taking Air Honda, which is convenient because so many TOUR pros live in Florida. They’re in Jupiter (Keegan Bradley, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler, among others in the Honda field) and Orlando (Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter) and sprinkled liberally around Jacksonville near TOUR headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach (Cameron Smith, Jonas Blixt, Billy Horschel, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, among others).
“I wish it was a little bit closer,” said Gary Woodland, who finished T6 and T2 at Honda in 2011 and 2017, respectively, and lives in Delray Beach. “With no traffic, it's 30 minutes, but there's always a little bit of traffic around here. For me now with the family, it's nice to be home, nice to sleep in my own bed, try to get just a little comfortable for the week.”
Even better, he added, not many friends and family will follow him this week, allowing him to focus on golf.
No matter where you rest your head at night, the Florida Swing means poa annua greens are out, and Bermudagrass is in.
“I’ve always felt like this was my good stretch because I grew up on Bermuda greens,” said the defending champion at Honda, Keith Mitchell, who birdied the last hole to beat Fowler and Koepka. “I grew up in this part of the country playing golf, so I’m a little more comfortable here.”
The Bear Trap at PGA National
A lot of players are. Singh’s solo sixth at PGA National last year was his only made cut in six starts on TOUR last season. (He turned 57 last week and plays mostly on PGA TOUR Champions.)
Who is most comfortable in Florida? Glad you asked.
Woodland hasn’t missed a cut in seven Honda starts, while Tiger Woods, no surprise, has the most wins in Florida since 1983, with 16. More recently, 35 players teed it up in all four Florida Swing tournaments last season. Only three – Sung Kang, Jason Kokrak and Anirban Lahiri – made the cut in all four. Kokrak (69.94) had the lowest scoring average.
Tommy Fleetwood and Sungjae Im were the only two to record multiple top-five finishes on the Florida Swing last year. Fleetwood is 47 under in the Sunshine State over the last three years. Lucas Glover has the most Florida Swing birdies over that span (151), while Jupiter resident and reigning PLAYERS champion Rory McIlroy has the most FedExCup points (1,338).
The Florida Swing is comprised of the 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th events of the TOUR season, which is to say we’re just about to the halfway mark. (For three-hole stretches with catchy nicknames – The Bear Trap at Honda, The Snake Pit at Valspar – we’re just getting started.)
Want to read the tea leaves on TOUR? The Florida Swing provides.
Tiger Woods won the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational on his way to the FedExCup title, his second of two, and Jim Furyk captured the 2010 Valspar en route to the FedExCup that year. Jordan Spieth won the Valspar as part of his 2015 FedExCup-winning season, and of course McIlroy last season won THE PLAYERS, the FedExCup and PGA TOUR Player of the Year.
In the FedExCup era, eight of 13 Honda winners have made it to the TOUR Championship.
The Florida Swing is important from the get-go, and players know it.
“Hopefully it'll start to turn around here,” said world number three Brooks Koepka, who hasn’t found much form since coming back from a knee injury this season and will play the Honda, PLAYERS and Valspar. “I feel good. I'm excited to play.”
The Florida Swing is also hard. Mitchell’s winning score of 9 under last year was the first single-digit (to par) winning score since Justin Thomas won – wait for it – The Honda Classic in 2018. The other three Florida Swing courses are no picnic, either.
Woodland embraces the high degree of difficulty because there can be no mistaking the feedback; players simply can’t fake it around all that water. This is good because with their flaws magnified, they can get their games organized to take on the remainder of the TOUR schedule.
“Yeah, it's a hard golf course, and I think that benefits me,” Woodland said of PGA National. “Scores are never going to get too low. Obviously it's a lot weather-depending, but it's one of the most mentally demanding golf courses I think we face all year.
“There's a lot of shots,” he added, “especially coming down the back nine, that you just have to step up and hit shots. There's just really no bail-out.”
You could say that about a lot of the Florida Swing. Time to settle in and see who’s got it and who doesn’t, because there’s no turning back now.