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THE HONDA CLASSIC 2018

JUSTIN THOMAS WINS 2018 HONDA CLASSIC IN FRONT OF RECORD-BREAKING CROWD OF MORE THAN 224,000 AT PGA NATIONAL RESORT & SPA

By CRAIG DOLCH, Golf Writer and ESPN Commentator

Once again, the Champion course at PGA National Resort & Spa proved to be a beast.

And once again, the Champion course identified the best player in the Honda Classic, even if it took a playoff.

Justin Thomas, the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year and at No. 4 the highest-ranked player in the field, birdied the first extra hole to beat Luke List and put a fitting exclamation point on perhaps the most memorable Honda Classic held at PGA National.

When it was over, Thomas looked like a fighter who had just gone 15 rounds instead of a golfer who had played 19 holes. The Champion course, with its famed Bear Trap showing its fangs, can do that to one of the world’s best golfers.

“This was a hard win, it was,” Thomas said. “There were a lot of great players that were up around the lead or even tied for the lead at one point, and it's a place where you can be seven, eight back, and you have a chance to win because you don't know what's going to happen.

“Just something about this one. I was very calm and comfortable those first 14 holes, and that's the first time I've had to play the Bear Trap in that much pressure, and it was pretty nerve-wracking. It felt great to get it done this week.”

Funny thing is, Thomas’ victory won’t be the storyline remembered most by a record-setting crowd of more than 220,000 who showed up at PGA National Resort & Spa or by the millions who watched the CBS and Golf Channel telecast.

That would be the person responsible for those record crowds and the superb TV ratings – Tiger Woods.

Playing in the Honda for the first time since 2014, and in only his fourth PGA Tour event since 2015 because of back surgeries, Woods put on quite a show on a difficult Champion course that was made even tougher by dry, windy conditions. Woods broke 70 in a PGA Tour event for the first time in 917 days to move onto the leader board, thanks to Saturday’s 69. With four more birdies Sunday, Woods stepped to the 15th tee tied for sixth place, just four shots out of the lead.

Alas, Woods joined the list of star players who have been eaten alive by Bear Trap (holes 15, 16 and 17). He hit it into the water at the par3 15th for a double bogey and three-putted the 16th for a bogey – matching the same mistakes he made during Friday’s round of 70.

Woods finished in 12th place at even-par 280, but he was undone by the three-hole stretch named after the legend Jack Nicklaus that Woods has been associated with for all of his professional career.

Woods was eight-over on the Bear Trap for the week and eight-under on the other 15 holes. Had Woods played the Bear Trap in even par – no easy feat -- he would have finished at 8-under.

It took 8-under to make the playoff. Do the math.

“I had a shot at it,” Woods said. “I was right there. Unfortunately, I didn't play the last few holes well the last couple days. Might have been a different outcome.”

When’s the last time Woods left a golf course thinking he had a chance to win if he had minimized his mistakes? In 2013.

“It felt good,” Woods said. “I thought I might be able to sneak into a playoff, but gave myself a chance. This is a course that exposes you if you’re not hitting the ball well.”

Woods hit the ball so well he actually led the field in proximity to the hole. He also hit more than half his fairways after averaging five a round in his two previous starts this year.

“I’m surprised at how well Tiger played,” Nicklaus said. “I thought he had a fantastic week. Health-wise, he seems to be perfect. If he’s healthy, he’ll play as well as he ever did.”

Wood showed that at 42 he remains the most popular athlete in sports. His galleries over the weekend dwarfed the number of people watching the final groups.

Thomas, who joined an illustrious list of Honda champions at PGA National that includes Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington, said he had no problems with a smaller gallery than Woods.

“It's so weird,” Thomas said. “It was a good gallery, but it wasn't anything remotely close to Tiger's. But he fully deserves that and he is the needle. He's the reason why the attendance this week was as high as it was.

“They weren't coming out here to watch Luke List and Justin Thomas. They were coming out here to watch Tiger, so I don't blame them. I'd go watch him, too, instead of me. To be honest, I don't care. I'm sitting with the trophy, so I'm fine with it.”


THE HONDA CLASSIC 2017

RICKIE FOWLER LATEST STAR GOLFER TO WIN HONDA CLASSIC ON APTLY-NAMED CHAMPION COURSE AT PGA NATIONAL RESORT & SPA

By CRAIG DOLCH, Golf Writer and ESPN Commentator

The Champion Course produced another champion winner in the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort & Spa.

Rickie Fowler, one of the game’s most popular players, made three long birdie putts to maintain a dwindling lead, and went on for a four-shot victory over Gary Woodland and Morgan Hoffmann.

Fowler started the day with a four-shot lead, pushed it to five, then saw it almost disappear until he made three birdie putts totaling 91 feet on the eighth, 12th and 13th holes. Fowler re-built his lead to five, finishing with two bogeys that only blemished his final round of 1-over 71.

“My putter saved me,” said Fowler, who lives 10 miles from PGA National in Jupiter. “Those putts on 8, 12 and 13 … if I don’t make those, I’ve got a pretty tight race.”

Fowler easily drew the largest galleries during a week when another record crowd of more than 200,000 flocked to PGA National. And he put on a show.

It marked the first time in five tries that Fowler converted a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour. Fowler still hasn’t broken par in those situations, but that mattered little as he earned his fourth win in 179 starts on tour.

“It’s nice to get the goose egg off that stat,” Fowler said. “It was tough out there. I saw Gary was making a late run and I just had to hold on. I would have liked to have had a cleaner card today and played a little bit better. But I got the job done.”

Fowler started the week ranked 14th in the world, but the victory moved back into the top 10 in the world rankings (at No. 9). Fowler’s victory continued a trend where the Champion Course usually identifies the top players.

Adam Scott was ranked 19th in the world last year when he beat Sergio Garcia by a shot. Of the 11 winners since the Honda Classic has been held at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course at PGA National, five have either won a major or would go on to win a major (Ernie Els, Y.E. Yang, Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington and Scott).

The Honda field got a break when more than 2 ½ inches of rain fell during the Wednesday pro-am, softening the course and forcing PGA Tour rules officials to play preferred lies in the first two rounds even though there were calm conditions. As a result, the course played to a stroke average of almost its par of 70 during the first 54 holes.

But when the wind shifted and intensified in the final round, the Champion showed its fangs, especially the Bear Trap (holes 15-to-17). Sunday’s scoring average was almost two shots higher (71.84).

Fowler had only three bogeys in the first three rounds, but added three bogeys and a double bogey on Sunday. Fortunately for him, the rest of the field also struggled as only two players shot lower than a 68.

“This golf course, without wind, it only gives you a little bit of wiggle room,” Fowler said. “Once there is wind and it starts to play a lot tougher, if you miss your window just by a degree, good luck.

“You've got to be pretty on point. Luckily, I was enough but there were definitely some areas that were a little off. It could have been a little bit more of I guess a simpler round. We decided to throw some bogeys and a double in there.”

One way to make up for a so-so ball-striking round is to get red-hot on the Champion’s greens. Fowler rolled in 134 feet of putts in the final round after averaging 80.3 feet in the first three rounds.

“He made every putt that mattered this week, and that was the difference,” Fowler’s caddie, Joe Skovron, said.

The Bear Trap inflicted its usual damage, with more than 70 balls going into the water on the three-hole stretch. Reigning PGA champion Jimmy Walker felt the most pain, making a triple bogey at the 15th and a double bogey at the 17th Sunday to plummet from third to 21st place.

To show how tough the Champion played, only six players had bogey-free rounds during the week, and there were none in the second and final rounds.

In the end, they were all chasing Rickie Fowler. And they never caught him.
 


THE HONDA CLASSIC 2016

Former Master's Champion Adam Scott Claims the 2016 Honda Classic Title!

The Honda Classic at PGA National is one of the premier events on the PGA TOUR, and the first stop on the "Florida Swing." The 2016 champion Adam Scott rose to victory over The Champion course at PGA National and the infamous Bear Trap – holes 15-17 – commonly regarded as the toughest three-hole stretch on the PGA TOUR. And now, Hole #14, newly redesigned by Jack Nicklaus, is adding a bear claw to test the pros even more. The Honda Classic attracted 202,128 confirmed spectators to PGA National Resort & Spa over seven days between the Monday Pro-Am and Sunday’s final round that saw Adam Scott prevail in a day-long duel with Sergio Garcia. The victory vaulted Scott back into the Top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking at No. 9 and the runner-up finish improved Garcia’s ranking from No. 19 to No. 12.

By CRAIG DOLCH

If a golf course can be judged by the winner it produces, PGA National Resort & Spa’s The Champion course certainly lived up to its name in the 2016 Honda Classic. With record crowds watching, former Masters champion Adam Scott scored a one-shot victory over Sergio Garcia in the 10th Honda held at the world-class resort.

Scott’s final round of even-par 70 left him at 9-under 271 after four trips around the daunting, Jack Nicklaus-designed course. Both Scott (No. 19) and Garcia (No. 18) started the week in the top 20 in the world rankings, and Scott moved into the top 10 afterward. It was the Aussie’s 12th career PGA Tour victory – his first since the 2014 Colonial – and no player on the PGA Tour under the age of 40 has won more. When his 2-foot par dropped, Scott let out a deep breath as the crowd around the 18th green roared its approval. “It was certainly a sense of relief to win again,” Scott said. “It’s getting tougher and tougher to win out here.”

The Champion maintained its reputation for toughness. It marked the eighth time in 10 years the winning score at The Champion has been single-digits under par (the average winning score is 8.6-under par). “It wasn’t easy, but that’s to be expected,” Scott said. “This is a tough track.”

Fourth-ranked Rickie Fowler started the week strongly, becoming the first player to finish the first 36 holes without a bogey. He settled for a sixth-place tie, giving Honda three players inside the top 20 atop its leader board. Scott appeared to be coasting to victory Saturday until the Bear Trap took another victim. Scott was 7-under through 14 holes and had a three-shot lead over Garcia – until Scott dumped two balls in the water at No. 15 and made a quadruple bogey. When Scott held on for the victory, he became the first player to do so on the PGA Tour with a quad on his card since Phil Mickelson in 2009. “I never dreamed that these holes were going to play so difficult coming down the stretch,” said Nicklaus, who re-designed The Champion course. “If you’re going to have a Bear Trap, you might as well have a nice trap.”

Scott became the first player to win after having to convert from the anchored putter to a shorter model, thanks to the USGA’s rule change Jan. 1. It took him just three starts do so. “Adam deserved it,” Garcia said. “He played better than me. I played with him the last two days, and he looked awesome.” So did The Champion Course. Before the first meaningful shot was struck, the players were raving about the conditions. “The course is looking really good,” Rory McIlroy said after his pro-am round. “It’s looking as good as it has ever looked.” That was quite a compliment to Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy. The resort had been hit by 22 inches of rain during the previous six weeks – the average rainfall this time of year is 4 inches – but you would have never known it by the way it looked during tournament week. "We're proud of the way the course played," Nelson said. Nelson and his staff set the stage on The Champion course, allowing the world’s best players to shine. In the end, Adam Scott was the brightest star.

Honda Classic History

Founded in 1972 as the Jackie Gleason's Inverrary Classic, The Honda Classic is a PGA TOUR golf tournament played each March at PGA National in Florida. In 1981, American Motors (AMC) backed the tournament, but in 1982, Honda took over the title sponsorship. 3. After years of moving from course to course, the tournament found its home in 2007 on PGA National Resort & Spa's Champion course. The 2007 event marked a new executive director, Ken Kennerly, who oversees the tournament organizing committee. The tournament's main beneficiary is the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation, which is chaired by Barbara Nicklaus, wife of golfing legend Jack Nicklaus.