Despite being the least prestigious title of this year’s Florida Swing, this week’s Honda Classic will once again be contested over a layout that is the equal of any course hosting a tournament on the 2021 PGA Tour.
Designed by Tom and George Fazio, the Champion Course at PGA National remains one of the most testing venues on the calendar.
Opened in November 1981, the Champion layout staged the Ryder Cup two years later, as well as the PGA Championship of 1987.
And this will be the 15th straight year that PGA National, some 80 miles north of downtown Miami, will have hosted the Honda Classic.
Located at Palm Beach Gardens in the south of the state, the venue has undergone three Jack Nicklaus-led upgrades during the past 20 years.
With water and sand a serious and constant threat, a golfer will need to employ his best course management skills to stand any chance of lifting the trophy on Sunday afternoon.
Although trees and dense vegetation are in short supply, it remains a course on which accurate tee-to-green golf is rewarded, courtesy of its plentiful and strategic bunkering, along with sizeable water hazards on 13 holes.
Even though the fairways do not appear to be overly tight, the low-lying Champion Course requires solid ball-striking, while its Tifeagle Bermuda grass putting surfaces were re-laid three years ago.
The course is home to the famous ‘Bear Trap,’ which is three consecutive holes (15th-16th-17th) on the back nine, and named after local resident Jack Nicklaus.
On the tee
Owing to a PGA Tour schedule full of prestigious events at this time of year, the field for this week’s Honda Classic has suffered greatly.
Previously, the tournament had always been staged late February or early March, but has now been moved a few weeks later in the rota – and it’s made a huge difference to the entry list.
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Not one member of the world’s top 10 is teeing-up, leaving No 15 Daniel Berger as the highest-ranked golfer at PGA National.
Berger, who was born in Florida and still lives in the state, is a Tour winner already this year and tied-ninth in The Players Championship on Sunday.
In-form Lee Westwood, who has just returned to the world’s top 20 for the first time in many years, is still among the list of entries ahead of Thursday’s opening round.
The 47-year-old’s busy recent schedule must have taken a heavy toll on his mental stamina, especially after missing out by the narrowest of margins at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday.
Defending champion Sung Jae Im arrives on the back of a solid start to the calendar year, even if there’s an absence of top-10 finishes over the past two months.
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Yet history is against the young Korean, as well as other former champions, as no winner at PGA National has triumphed at the venue more than once – although a number of golfers have come mighty close.
Course history tends to play less of a role at the Champion Course, than at most other venues.
Tournaments, such as these, provide an excellent opportunity for first-time winners to emerge.
One in-form golfer chasing a maiden PGA Tour title is 29-year-old Talor Gooch who was fifth at Sawgrass at the weekend and is now a career-high No 64 in the world.
Meanwhile, former PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley has shown some improved form in recent weeks.
The 34-year-old currently stands seventh in the Strokes Gained: Approach the Green category, which is a strong indicator for overall level of performance.
The same applies to Russell Henley, although he would have to break with Honda tradition and become the first two-time champion at PGA National.
Course Comparisons (1.1.16 – 31.12.20)
Driving Accuracy (%)
73.88: Sea Island (RSM Classic) (1/29)
61.87: PGA National (Honda Classic) (17/29)
52.24: Torrey Pines (Farmers Insurance) (29/29)
Greens in Regulation (%)
75.98: Sedgefield (Wyndham) (1/29)
60.98: PGA National (Honda Classic) (26/29)
58.99: Innisbrook (Valspar) (29/29)
1.664: PGA West (host) (American Express) (1/29)
1.773: PGA National (Honda Classic) (25/29)
2.668: Augusta National (Masters) (29/29)
Key: Above stats are for all 29 courses which staged four or more PGA Tour events between January 1st, 2016 and December 31st, 2020. To qualify for a ranking (between 1 & 29), tournaments must have a minimum of 50 players competing over the final two rounds of the event. Averages do not include players who failed to complete at least 54 holes.
PGA National Data (2016-20)
DA: (T10 – 65.56%); (Cat10 – 73.96%)
GiR: (T10 – 65.64%); (Cat10 – 69.98%)
Putts: (T10 – 1.743); (Cat10 – 1.663)
Key: T10 (Average for Top-10 finishers); Cat10 (Average for Top-10 in Category)
Twitter: Andy Swales@GolfStatsAlive
MC* – Missed Additional 54-Hole Cut
Note: List Contains Leading Reserves