Keith Mitchell Wins the 2019 Honda Classic
By CRAIG DOLCH, Golf Writer and ESPN Commentator
15 FEET TO THE DREAM...The 2019 Honda Classic Finish!
Keith Mitchell was 15 feet away from accomplishing a dream.
Fifteen precious feet of real estate on the 18th green of The Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa.
Mitchell had fought his way to the top of a crowded leader board in the final round of the Honda Classic. At one point on the back nine Sunday, there were six players – six! – tied for the lead.
Hometown favorites and world No. 3 Brooke Koepka and No. 9 Rickie Fowler were in the clubhouse at 8-under. If Mitchell misses his putt, he joins Koepka and Fowler in a playoff. If he makes, he wins.
Mitchell draws back his putter …
“I think I might have early-looked it,” Mitchell said. “It looked good so early, I kind of stepped it too soon.”
There was a reason Mitchell started walking toward the hole. He knew he had made it. He knew he had realized his dream of winning on the PGA Tour.
“It was the best putt I've ever hit under the circumstances, hands down,” Mitchell said, “and just to have it fall is too cool.”
In a sense, this putt was a year in the making. Not on his part. On the part of PGA National.
As soon as last year’s Honda Classic ended with Justin Thomas winning in a playoff, PGA National Resort & Spa met the challenge: New greens.
The Champion was shut down last summer for four months to make way for the new greens. It’s not easy for a resort to close its most popular course for that long, but PGA National management, led by Greg “Coach” Saunders, delivered the dream.
The course re-opened, and the rest was up to Mother Nature and PGA National’s superb agronomy staff, under the direction of Jeremiah Lockhart, Director of Agronomy.
“They are better,” Koepka said. “Much better. This golf course is obviously a lot better than years past with redoing the greens.”
Despite the new, more consistent greens and calm conditions, par didn’t take a beating at this year’s Honda Classic. The leader was at 6-under after each of the first two rounds, 7-under after 54 holes and Mitchell’s winning score was 9-under.
The average score in the previous 12 Honda Classics held on The Champion: 8.8-under.
“I've always loved this tournament,” said 2017 Honda Classic champion Fowler. “I love the golf course. It's a true test of golf. You can't fake it around here. If you're a little off, it's going to tear you apart.”
Ryan Palmer became the fourth player to shoot a 29 when he did so on the front nine Sunday. But he could only manage 1-under on the back nine and is 63 left him two shots behind Mitchell.
The average score of 71.02 on the par-70 layout left The Champion as the second-toughest on the PGA Tour in the 24 courses used this wraparound season.
“The golf course still held up,” said Palmer, who lost in a playoff here in 2014. “The scores are still not that low.”
The Bear Trap lost some of its bite due to the lack of wind until Sunday. The 15th and 17th holes – usually among the toughest par-3s in professional golf -- played to averages of 3.17 and 3.09, respectively.
The drama certainly ramped Sunday as Koepka and Fowler thrilled the hometown fans and 56-year-old Vijay Singh tried to become the oldest player to win a PGA Tour event.
“It was good for the fans,” Koepka said. “They got what they wanted, a good tournament, two of the bigger names coming down the stretch and having a chance to win. That's what this golf course will do, really bring out some of the best players.”
2019 PGA Tour Honda Classic Golf Tournament
The Honda Classic is a PGA TOUR golf tournament played in late February or early March at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
With expanded seating around the infamous Bear Trap, new VIP areas and gourmet food trucks, the 2019 Honda Classic was ready for more fans than ever to attend this year’s event.
The 2019 Honda Classic was held Feb. 25 – Mar. 3 on the PGA National Resort and Spa’s Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Newly renovated hospitality areas throughout the course combined with performances from top PGA players created an exciting weekend of competition and entertainment for all attendees.
The 2018 reigning champion, Justin Thomas along with some of the world’s best players including No. 2 player in the world Brooks Koepka competed in the 2019 PGA tour event.
New additions to the tournament included added public seating around the 14th and 16th holes, and an expansion of the United Technologies Patriot’s Outpost which offered free admission to military personnel and veterans. For the best sightline to the Bear Trap and access to a private bar, fans could purchase passes to the elevated VIP area, The Bear Trap Reserve.
The entertainment continued after the last play with a concert series at the Michelob ULTRA Terrace. Fans enjoyed food, drinks and live music from talented artists on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the Honda Classic.
The event’s net proceeds will support local Palm Beach County organizations with the primary beneficiary being the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. The foundation focuses on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of childhood diseases.
Guest stayed at the PGA National Resort & Spa for the most convenient access to this community event and experienced a week full of tense competition. Check back later in the year to plan your stay, purchase tickets and find out who will compete in next year's Honda Classic PGA tour tournament.
Honda Classic HistoryTHE 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.”