Recap: The Honda Classic

What a week it was at PGA National. The tournament that was getting slightly overlooked due to a watered down field turned into the most exciting week on tour this season. We had a little bit of everything this week: star players showing up down the stretch, another rules fiasco, plenty of shots from the water and into the water, and another first time winner. Big time congratulations to Keith Mitchell. I’m not sure you can say enough about how he performed down the stretch in what was undoubtedly the biggest moment of his professional life. More on Mitchell later.

The tournament as a whole was great. The bear trap didn’t disappoint, as we saw players struggle mightily to get through the water filled 15th, 16th, and 17th holes. There are plenty of famous 3 hole stretches on the tour, but the bear trap may be the most consistently tough one. That difficulty makes the stellar shots that much more impressive, and you can see how many strokes players can gain by being even or potentially birdieing a few of the holes. Another calling card of the Honda Classic is the rare occurrence where par is a good score. Year after year we see this tournaments winning score in single digits, and I for one am a huge fan of it. It is refreshing to see players truly struggle to make par after a single bad shot. So often on tour a wayward drive is not penalized, or a poor approach leads to a simple up and down. At Honda that is not the case. Their is trouble everywhere, and it makes for extremely entertaining television. Between the water, wind, green complexes, and trees, you can never let your guard down at PGA National. Kudos to Mr. Nicklaus on an unbelievable course redesign. Let’s take a look at some of the takeaways from the week that was:

  1. Mitchell Mania: Keith Mitchell had one of the more memorable performances by a first time winner in recent memory. Not only did he hold off charges by the unflappable Brooks Koepka and fan favorite Rickie Fowler, but he did it all after bogeying his first 2 holes of the day. Again, hard to describe how impressive it is for a guy who has never won on tour to come back and do what he did. 1 and 2 are some of the easier holes at PGA National, which means he had to be thinking, as Anakin Skywalker once did, “what have I done?”. Instead of packing it in though, Mitchell turned it on, grabbing 2 birdies on the front and then 4 more in his final 7 holes to get to -9. The putt on 18 was one that he will remember forever. As documented, Mitchell came into this tourney off of 3 missed cuts and a 73rd. Golf, I guess. Congrats again to K Mitch, a PGA Tour winner!
  2. Brooks and Rickie: Let’s start with Brooks. Tony posed the question last week of who we think the tour players DO NOT want to see making a charge on Sunday. After yet another late Sunday display of pure ice, Koepka has got to be the guy. I am struggling to find a time in recent years where he has hit a bad shot when in contention late. He has an unwavering sense of confidence, and clearly lives for the big moments. It’s awesome to watch Koepka display his clutch gene time after time. Now onto Rickie. A bit of a different tale for Rick, as he has had his struggles closing out tournaments storied for years. I think those times are done. What we saw from Rickie Fowler late on Sunday was winning golf shots. He did it last year at Augusta, he prevailed in Phoenix, and he did it again at the Honda. His shot making and putting ability were maybe at their peak during wining time. Rickie birdied 3 of his final 4 holes to tie Koepka, before Mitchell ruined the party. I think it’s just a different Rickie now, and he believes he can win everything. Kudos to those two for being great sports after Mitchell hit the winning putt. I think golf fans around the world were ready for an epic playoff, but their reactions, like we’ve seen from numerous players, paint the game of golf in a great light.
  3. Age is just a number: I can’t talk about the Honda without mentioning the incredible run of Vijay Singh. Vijay, at 56 years old, was well within striking distance to claim his first tour title in nearly 9 years before a water ball on 17 did him in. Vijay has always been known as one of the hardest workers on tour, and it is cool to see a guy so dedicated to the grind get rewarded like that. Big Easy even made a charge early on before faltering a bit on the weekend. And don’t forget about captain Furyk, who had a solid week overall and earned himself a top 10. Keep on keepin’ on, old timers!
  4. Rules…: Another week on tour yields another head scratching rules fiasco. It began with Alex Cejka, who was DQ’d on Thursday for using an old greens book that was pointed out by playing competitor Cam Tringale. Yikes. A guy gets disqualified for using a greens book that is literally an incorrect map of the greens, and to top it off his fellow pro called him out? Extremely weak by Tringale, as he joins Kuchar territory in guys who I won’t be rooting for any time soon. Long live Tucan! We weren’t done there, however, as Adam Schenk was the latest victim of the caddy being behind the player and maybe lining him up (this time for a bunker shot) and leaving in time but Schenk not realigning himself. What a cheater! Honestly, that rule is very confusing for the viewer. A caddy blatantly lining a player up should be a penalty, but I’m not sure where that line is crossed. JT found himself in the mix as well, getting into a twitter fingers war with USGA PR account. We’ll see how that unfolds.

Honorable mentions: Ryno Palmer’s Sunday charge, The Glove (Lucas Glover) is hot 

That’ll do it for main takeaways from this week. Another exciting one from the golf world, and expectations will be even higher this week as we head to Bay Hill and Arnie’s tournament. For a myriad of reasons, this is one of the best weeks on tour, and one I always look forward to.  Thanks as always for reading, and see you next Monday! Long live the King!

KW

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