A field of 144 golfers will get reintroduced to bermudagrass at this week's Honda Classic.
Some tournaments will benefit from the new PGA TOUR schedule but this event seems to be on the other end. After having 12 of the top 30 in the world last year (plus Tiger Woods), they will have just eight of the top 30 and no Tiger this year.
It's nice to see the Florida Swing actually all in one piece this year, but not many of the stars want to play that many weeks in a row, especially with the Florida Swing bookended by WGC events.
As usual, the field will get reduced to Top 70 and Ties after 36 holes this week.
PGA National's Champion Course is the venue this week. The par-70 layout was designed by Tom Fazio in 1981 and reworked by Jack Nicklaus over the years (2002, 2014 and again in 2018). It plays to 7,125 yards on the scorecard this week.
It could accurately be described as a water park. Golfers deal with water hazards on 14 of the 18 holes but there are four "blowup holes" that are most concerning. Those are the 6th, 11th, 15th, and 17th which all have handed out Doubles or Worse to more than 6% of the golfers that have played them since 2012. Holes No. 15 and 17 are both a part of the three-hole stretch known as The Bear Trap.
Unlike last week's course in Mexico, it's not boom or bust. It's just par-par-par and hope you avoid the big numbers along the way.
Thanks to all those hazards in play, it leads to a lot of irons and woods off the tee. A less-than-driver course, you might say.
A constant at this event has been the factor of dealing with steady winds. The average winds speeds over the last five years has eclipsed 15 MPH which is one of the highest numbers across all TOUR events. Partially due to all that wind, this course has played to a field average of +1.51 strokes over par since 2010. Easily the toughest non-major on a year-to-year basis. That might change this week but more on that in the weather section.
With winds usually in the forecast, you might expect scrambling to be key but that hasn't been the case here. Ball-striking is the name of the game. Stats like SG Approach, GIR, and Putting over-index at this event while SG Around-the-Green has proven almost irrelevant. Why would that be? Well, if you aren't hitting greens here then you are probably finding a lot of water. There is no amount of scrambling that is going to save you from that.
For grass types, many golfers will be pleased to leave the poa annua greens and find themselves putting on fresh TifEagle Bermuda greens this week. The greens have been expanded (7,000 average square feet now instead of 5,500 in year's past) but they were resurfaced since last year which usually means they will be bouncy for a year or two. The rough has been overseeded with ryegrass.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Rory McIlroy: "Hitting greens; it’s a ball-striker’s golf course. You can’t up-and-down it around here and expect to win. You have to hit fairways. You have to hit greens and you have to just take your chances when they come along."
Padraig Harrington: "Obviously the difficulty of the golf course puts me, I think puts everybody under pressure, but I tend to play a little bit better when I’m forced into that. It narrows my focus. It’s not that — nobody looks forward to hitting the tee shot on No. 6 here, but I tend to do well on holes like that."
Rickie Fowler: "I feel like it’s definitely a ball-striking golf course because keep the ball in front of you, hit the fairways, you give yourself a chance to hit the greens, so you’ve got to kind of piece your way around the golf course. You can’t really overpower it too much. There’s a lot of holes where you’re hitting less than driver off the tee"
Emiliano Grillo: "If I can play this tournament every single week of the year, I’d be happy to. I like tournaments when you are going to be close with single digits. That shows the golf course plays a bit harder than the other ones."
Martin Kaymer: "You really have to think your way around the golf course. And the wind, usually when it’s up, it’s very difficult to play. And I enjoy that where you stand on the first tee and you don’t feel like you’re already four or five shots behind, because you need to make birdies. Even level par or 1-under par is a good score on this golf course."
Overview: A lot of talk on the difficulty of the course and how some golfers really thrive in those conditions. Last year there was a lot of grumbling about the lack of grass on the greens. That has been resolved since last year since they've gone ahead and re-grassed all the greens.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Innisbrook's Copperhead Course
The first two courses are obvious ones as they are both in Florida and Sawgrass features a ton of potential for blowups. Innisbrook is another course where par is your friend. The last three don't check the initial boxes but they have somewhat similar scoring environments so that is likely where the correlation comes from.
Lastly, I'm interested to see how the latest version of the CIMB Classic correlates this week. It's another course where distance isn't everything and they also put in new greens since last year so there are a bit of overlapping factors there. The winner that week was Marc Leishman who is not in the field but names like Burgoon, Grillo, Hadley, JT, and Woodland all finished 5th or better and find themselves in the field this week.
Thursday: A small chance of AM Showers with a high of 83 degrees. Winds around 5 MPH.
Friday: Partly Cloudy with a high of 85 degrees. Winds around 5 MPH.
Weekend: The weekend looks beautiful with temps in the mid-80s and no precipitation in the forecast. Winds stay uncharacteristically calm, at least for now.
The course is set to receive about an inch of rain in the lead-up (Tuesday + Wednesday) so it may be a little more receptive on Thursday morning before it firms up as the week progresses. Overall, there is a shockingly low amount of wind in the forecast, considering this is usually one of the windiest events on an annual basis.