As the Tour heads east, let’s take a quick look at the former ‘Dawgs who teed it up last week in LA at the Genesis Invitational:
Greyson Sigg shot 77-72 and missed the cut by 6.
Brian Harman carded 74-72 and missed the weekend by 3.
A pair of 73s for Brendon Todd meant he also missed the cut by 3.
Davis Thompson had a shot Thursday, but his Friday 75 meant he went home early.
Kevin Kisner matched Harman and caught the redeye Friday night.
Sepp Straka shot 70-71-70-72 to finish at 1 under par and a tie for 46th. $59,560.
Harris English opened hot with 66, recorded a cooler 73-72 in the middle, but raced back up the leaderboard with the low Sunday round of 65 and a tie for 12th. $445.000.
And Keith Mitchell continued good early season play, shooting 64-69-69-70 for solo 5th place and $820,000.
Now let’s play some golf in the correct time zone.
Tournament: The Honda Classic, February 23-26, 2023.
Course: PGA National (Champion), par 70, 7,125 yards. Located in West Palm Beach, Florida and close to home for a couple dozen PGA Tour players (they love the Jupiter area).
Purse: $8.4 million in total, $1,512,000 to the winner. These are less than half the payouts from the previous two weeks, and the Tour players took notice. More on that below.
Defending Champ: UGA’s own Sepp Straka. The Olympian (competed in golf for his native Austria) messed around until Sunday when he overcame a 5 stroke deficit on the final day, weathered an untimely downpour on the final hole, but made birdie to capture the title.
Fun Fact: Historically, there are more balls in the water at this tournament that any other on Tour. “The Bear Trap”, holes 15-17, has quite a bit of water. And thanks to dynamics of the attendance and a desire to mimic the WM Phoenix Open, you will hear jeers when balls get wet.
TV Times: Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m.-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel), Saturday, 1 p.m.-3 p.m. (Golf Channel), 3 p.m.-6 p.m. (NBC). Sunday, 1 p.m.-3 p.m. (Golf Channel), 3 p.m.-6 p.m. (NBC). We lose Jim Nantz and Colt Knost for a few weeks while NBC takes over and gives us Dan Hicks and Smylie Kaufman.
‘Dawgs in the Field: 4. Harris English, Greyson Sigg, Chris Kirk, and defending champ Sepp Straka.
The 2023 Tour schedule started with 2 tourneys in Hawai’i, then Palm Springs, San Diego, Pebble Beach, Scottsdale, and last week in LA. This “West Coast Swing” ended, and thus begins the “Florida Swing” where the Tour begins in West Palm Beach, heads north to Orlando, stops for the biggest purse in golf at the Players (St. Augustine), then takes I-4 over to Tampa for the Valspar. A little “Texas Two-Step” in Austin and San Antonio before the sporting world turns its eyes to Augusta.
So the Arnold Palmer is next week, then the Players. Less than a month later is the Masters. This is after back-to-back “designated events” where the purses are huge and the fields are stacked. No wonder that the Honda will suffer as one of the few breaks players choose to take in the middle of an important portion of the schedule.
If your two highest ranked players are Billy Horschel and Sungjae Im, you might need to think about marketing another aspect of the tournament. But that’s the thing - this tourney raised over $6 million for charity in 2022 alone basically with the same “sub par” field. With a top field, I don’t think those dollars get much higher. This tournament, and most of the attendees, are corporate. Sponsored boxes, swag for days, casual laid-back atmosphere... it is probably doing just fine as a stand-alone run-of-the-mill Tour stop. Because Jack Nicklaus (and wife Barbara) put their clout behind it and get the fat cats to write fat checks to the local Children’s Hospital. Sponsors get their logo plastered, get to mix in elegant hospitality tents, players on the fringes get a start and a chance at FedEx Cup points, and TV gets a February product in sunny South Florida. In essence, mission accomplished.
If you’ve seen any coverage in previous years, you know about the aforementioned “Bear Trap”. Quail Hollow has the Green Mile, Innisbrook has the “Snake Pit”; simply giving a moniker to a small stretch of holes became en vogue in the last 20 years. In our case this week, it does rank as one of the toughest 3 consecutive holes on the PGA Tour. The funny thing is that holes 5-7, though with less water, actually prove tougher (i.e. higher scores). It is just that the Bear Trap is right at the end of the track, so escaping big numbers can often determine the winner.
Keith Mitchell and Chris Kirk did well here last year, and this was the site of Mitchell’s breakthrough PGA Tour win in 2019. On top of that, Russell Henley won the Honda here in 2014 for his 2nd Tour victory. Mitchell and Harris English had good weeks in LA, so there’s a lot to be hopeful for. If, like me, “hopeful” means a Bulldog at the top of the leaderboard Sunday evening. With that, as always...