Tournament: Honda Classic, February 28-March 3, 2019
Course: PGA National (Champion), 7,125 yards, par 70. Located in Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Defending Champion: Justin Thomas. The Kentuckian who grew up in Louisville played collegiate golf out of Birmingham, so there’s no reason to like him. Other than he’s really good and very likable. He forced a playoff on the final hole, then birdied the 2nd playoff hole and cameras caught a NSFW exclamation as he made the winning putt.
Fun Fact: Holes 15-17 are known as “The Bear Trap”, due to the difficulty of the holes in the face of normal Florida breezes and lots of water. There is actually a statue of a large angry, amorous, disease-ridden bear right at #15 to greet the players. The “bear” is because Jack Nicklaus (aka “Golden Bear”) redesigned the course several years ago. (Editors Note: This is the fun fact I’ve used before. I like it. So I recycled it.)
Television: Thursday-Friday, 2-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1-3 p.m. (GC); 3-6 p.m. (NBC). CBS won’t cover golf again until Augusta in April, so get used to Dan Hicks and his new sidekick Paul Azinger.
Former ‘Dawgs in the Field (Nine): Brian Harman, Harris English, Hudson Swafford, Russell Henley, Keith Mitchell, Chris Kirk, Sepp Straka, Joey Garber, and Erik Compton.
The Honda Classic. Unofficially a Jack Nicklaus sponsored tournament. The start of the Florida Swing (the Tour having been primarily in the tropics and West Coast the last 2 months). Since so many professionals live in south Florida, and with Jack Nicklaus on the property all week, one might expect lots of big names jumping at the chance to play this week. Not so.
Tiger is skipping this tournament. Phil is skipping. World #1 Justin Rose is skipping. Jordan Spieth is skipping. Dustin Johnson is skipping, but he just won almost $2,000,000 this past Sunday, so I don’t blame him, Even Bubba and Kevin Kisner are skipping. The WGC - Mexico Championship was last week, The Players Championship is in two weeks, the WGC - Dell Match Play two weeks after that, and the Masters three weeks after that. This is the new PGA Tour schedule, where the season is ending earlier (August instead of October), the PGA Championship moved from August to May, and The Players Championship moved from May to March.
Because of all this movement, and a condensed schedule slam full of top tournaments most every month, the top players are having difficulty picking their tournaments and travel. As they are invited and/or qualified for all events, they can choose to rest or take a week off to practice or recharge, and most of the top pros take this route in these modern times of immense tournament purses.
Even with so many of the big names absent, the course is a tough one this early in the season (windy this time of year) and there are 8 former Bulldogs set to tee it up and take advantage of a “lesser” field. I say “lesser” because there are still 12 of the world’s top 30 attending. Now let’s catch up with our ‘Dawgs on Tour:
Brian Harman. He’s 73th in the world, and 165th in FedEx Cup points. The 2 time Tour winner has made 6 of 9 cuts this season, but hasn’t made much noise in 2019. His last 5 results are MC (missed cut), MC, MC, T39, T51. But he does hold the course record here... a 9 under 61 in 2012.
Harris English. 348th in the world, 154 in FedEx. After making his first 7 cuts of the season, he’s missed the last 3.
Hudson Swafford. 242nd in the world, but 76th in FedEx (which gets you into the season-ending playoffs). Like English, he made his first 7 cuts but has failed to reach the weekend his last 2.
Russell Henley. 105th in the world, and 148th in FedEx. He’s also a former champion of this event, shooting an opening 64 in 2014 and playing good golf down the stretch to close it out.
Keith Mitchell. Keith is 162 in the world and 102 in FedEx. He had a very solid rookie campaign in 2017-18, but has missed 4 cuts in his last 6, and one of those was a 73rd place finish (next to last).
Chris Kirk. 181 in the world, and 190 in FedEx. Kirk is a 4 time Tour winner, but is also due for a turnaround. He has missed the weekend in 4 of his 5 2019 starts.
Sepp Straka. 351 in the world and 147 in FedEx Cup. The Tour rookie isn’t doing bad, but needs a couple of finishes in the top 30 to help move him up the points list. He started rough on the PGA Tour, but has 2 top 15 finishes in his last 3 tourneys, including a T16 last week in Puerto Rico.
Joey Garber. 410th in the world and 185 in FedEx. Also a rough start in his first Tour campaign, but his T10 last week was valuable in getting FedEx Cup points.
Erik Compton. The outlier. A mainstay on the PGA Tour between 2014-2016, Compton lost Tour playing privileges in 2017 and has been playing the Web.com and mini-tours, but gained entry via Monday Qualifying (tournaments have a small number of open spots, and certain players must compete against each other for these spots on the Monday before the tournament).
So not a lot going on in the winner’s circle of late, but with 8 Bulldogs in the field, chances are one of these talented fellows is going to break through soon. Flip it on over to Golf Channel and NBC and let’s get it going sooner rather than later. And as always...