Apparently, the stars don’t just come out at night. They seem to have a thing now for sunny South Florida.
The field for The Honda Classic, being played this week on the Jack Nicklaus-redesigned Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa, is again a marquee list of some of the best, brightest and most popular players in today’s game. Led by World No. 3 Rory McIlory—the 2012 winner—the Honda has assembled a field with four players ranked in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking and 11 of the top-20, including fan favorites such as Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott.
The tournament, which tees off today on a Nicklaus course just minutes from the Golden Bear’s North Palm Beach, Fla. home, has the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation as its primary beneficiary.
The Honda Classic will air today and Friday on Golf Channel from 2:00-6:00 p.m. EST. Weekend coverage airs on Golf Channel from 1:00-3:00 p.m. and NBC from 3:00-6:00 p.m. EST. Barbara Nicklaus, the guiding light of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, will be live on NBC Saturday afternoon to discuss the tournament’s impact on children, while husband Jack is expected to make a cameo in the broadcast booth during Sunday’s final round.
The star-laden field includes McIlroy, No. 5 Rickie Fowler, No. 9 Patrick Reed and No. 10 Branden Grace. Also playing is 2014 Memorial Tournament winner and World No. 11 Hideki Matsuyama, No. 13 Adam Scott, No. 16 Zach Johnson, No. 17 Brooks Koepka, No. 18 Kevin Kisner, No. 19 Sergio Garcia, and No. 20 Phil Mickelson.
“The [Champion] course is looking real good,” said McIlroy, the Jupiter resident and member of The Bear’s Club, the Nicklaus family’s Florida home club. “It’s looking as good as it has ever, or since they redid a few of the holes a couple of years ago and re-laid the fairways.”
The Champion is annually considered on Tour as one of the most challenging courses outside of any major-championship venue, and that is among the reasons why The Honda Classic has in recent years attracted a field that has the cachet of a major. All the while, Jack Nicklaus has worked closely with the management at PGA National to improve the strategy, playability and conditioning of the acclaimed resort layout.
McIlroy indicated that the course can accentuate—and, depending on perspective, expose—whether a player is on or off his game.
“Yeah, it’s one of those golf courses that if you’re slightly off, it can really magnify your misses a little bit; it can make you play worse than you actually are,” he said.
McIlroy added that if you are “in control” of your game, you will have plenty of opportunities on the Champ.
“And it’s not like you need to go crazy out here to be in contention,” he said. “But it is a tough golf course and with some of the tough conditions we can get here, it is one of the more challenging venues that we play every year.”
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington returns to defend his title. He will challenged by 2015 runner-up Daniel Berger, the former Florida State University standout from Jupiter, Fla., as well as TOUR mainstays such as Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby (1997 Honda winner), Keegan Bradley, Angel Cabrera, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Luke Donald (2006 Honda winner), Jason Dufner, Ernie Els (2008 Honda winner), Retief Goosen, Russell Henley (2014 Honda winner), Russell Knox, Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter, Rory Sabbatini (2011 Honda winner), Vijay Singh (1999 Honda winner), Michael Thompson (2013 Honda winner), Jimmy Walker, Boo Weekley, Mike Weir and Mark Wilson (2007 Honda winner). Also in the field is U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III, who last year at age 51 became the third-oldest winner in TOUR history when he won the Wyndham Championship.
Exemptions were awarded to Andy Sullivan, the No. 30 player in the world, No. 36 Bernd Wiesberger, No. 46 Matthew Fitzpatrick, Ollie Schniederjans, Tom Gillis, Dicky Pride, Sam Saunders, Nicholas Thompson and Steve Marino.
“We are thrilled at the quality of our field and the mix between established veterans of the game and the younger generation which has been so impactful on the PGA TOUR in the early stages of their careers,” Honda Classic Executive Director Kenneth R. Kennerly said. “It should be a phenomenal week of golf and when you mix in some of the additional events we have such as the Kenny G community concert after play on Thursday and our array of hospitality offerings at The Bear Trap and around the golf course, we think we are providing something for everybody to make their visit to The Honda Classic memorable.”
The Bear Trap hospitality offering has grown into the most popular spot on the “Champ,” offering views of the 16th hole as well as all the action on the par-3 17th hole. Not only is The Bear Trap one of the biggest spectator parties in the PGA Tour, but USA Today called the stretch of holes from 15 to 17 named for Jack Nicklaus, “one of the toughest stretches in golf.”
As Nicklaus himself has said, “it should be won or lost right here.”
The 15th plays at 153 yards from the blues—179 yards from the tips—and shows a diagonal green running left to right with water all along the right side. A big bunker in the back prevents easy up-and-downs as the green runs away from the bunker and toward the water.
Hole 16 is a relatively short par 4 at 391 yards from the blues and 434 for the pros. Well bunkered right and left to present a small landing area, the hole demands accuracy off the tee. Most of the Honda field will use irons or hybrids. The second shot is played completely over water to a large, undulating and elevated green.
The 17th hole, at 155 yards from the blues and 205 yards from the Honda tees, is an imposing par 3. From both tees, all you can see is water in front and then a sliver of a green with a cavernous bunker on the left. Even hitting the bail-out area left of the green and short of the trap requires great skill.
In 2015, Golf Digest rated the Champion one of the top-five public golf courses in Florida. In 2016, Golfweek named the course to its top-100 Best Resort Courses list. Also this year, the Champion received the Sustainable Golf Course of the Year Award in the Americas region by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators, solidifying the resort’s exceptional commitment to the three pillars of sustainable golf: nature, resources and people.
Here is the full field:
4 Open Qualifying
144 Players in the Field
The Honda Classic awarded a record $2.555 million in charitable contributions after the 2015 event, about $27,000 more than the previous high of $2.528 million established in 2014. That made it the ninth straight year that the tournament has elevated the impact it makes on South Florida children’s charities through Honda Classic Cares philanthropic initiatives. And this time it was accomplished despite the major expense of cleaning the golf course after incredible storms on Saturday of the 2015 Honda, and opening for an extra day on Monday when admission was free.
To learn more about The Honda Classic, visit thehondaclassic.com.