PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic, a PGA Tour fixture since 1972, is in its 10th year at PGA National Golf Club. That's time enough to figure out a few things about the course and what it does to the competitors.
Here are 10 trends that come to mind. I'm guessing that many of them will hold true this week, starting with the certainty that the Champion Course will crush everybody's spirit at one point or another, including the fortunate few who are still in contention for the $1,098,000 first prize on Sunday.
1. Most PGA Tour events play out like a road rally, with players taking every corner of the course on two wheels and making birdies almost by accident. Think of the Honda as more of a demolition derby.
Outside of the U.S. Open, the Champion was the second-toughest course on tour last year with an average score of 1.832 over par. What that means is don't get carried away when somebody shoots an opening 66 out here. They'll likely be coming back to reality and back to the field.
2. This course isn't kind to anyone for very long. Since the Honda moved to PGA National from Mirasol just across the street, four of the first eight winners failed to make the cut the following year and a fifth, Rory McIlroy, withdrew during a lousy second round. No champion has finished in the top 20 the next time around.
3. International players always find a place on the Honda leaderboard. Only three American players (Mark Wilson, Michael Thompson and Russell Henley) have won in the nine years the tournament has been at PGA National. Add that to the uncommon grit that is required to handle this course and the Honda begins to take on the feel of a major at times.
As defending champion Padraig Harrington tells it, "If you can win here, you can win a major and that's why you see guys here. This is definitely a warmup in terms of the attitude you need in a major tournament."
4. Everybody talks about The Bear Trap, holes 15-17, and that's where most of the rowdy party decks are built, but I always make my way out to No. 6, the nastiest hole on the course. Stretching 479 yards and lined with water all the way down the left side, it's a cruel par-four that played to an average of 4.411 last year and ranked as the 10th-toughest hole on tour. Surely it deserves a catchy nickname, too. The Trap Door?
5. A Palm Beach County mailing address never hurts at the Honda. Ernie Els, Camilo Villegas and McIlroy all have commuted from their nearby homes to a championship at PGA National. Jupiter's Daniel Berger was in a playoff with Harrington last year after a spectacular closing 64.
6. Winning the Honda right out of the blue is another trend. Harrington was No. 297 in the world rankings when he got to PGA National last year and needed a sponsor's exemption to get into the field. When Els won here in 2008, it was his first tour victory in more than three years. Rory Sabbatini's 2011 Honda win was one of just three top-10 finishes he had that season.
7. Certain players seem to have the game for this course and always bear watching. Russell Knox, for instance, has a tie for third and a playoff loss in his only Honda appearances the last two years. Luke Donald, a Honda winner at Mirasol, has made the transition to PGA National far easier than most with four top-10 finishes in a row.
8. No matter how strong the Honda field might become, and this one includes 24 of the top 50 players in the Official World Golf Rankings, executive director Ken Kennerly always will be fighting to improve it. Tiger Woods can't play this year because of injury. Jordan Spieth, the new No. 1, isn't here because of an uncommonly busy schedule and an obligation to defend his title in the Valspar Championship near Tampa next month. Wouldn't surprise me to see one or both of them in the Honda next year.
9. No matter how splashy and creative the fan entertainment areas are at the Honda, they always seem to get bigger. This year there's a new party platform, the ULTRA Deck, set up along the 16th hole. Just look for the food trucks and listen for the laughter.
10. The Bear Trap always will be a bear, but it also can be the best place for a player to make up ground on the field. Berger went five-under-par on those three holes last year and earned a second-place finish for it.
This article was written by Dave George from The Palm Beach Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.