PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) For golf fans of South Florida, the Honda Classic should not be missed this week. That’s because for the first time since 1970, it will be the only time this year that the best in golf congregate in this part of the Sunshine State.
Instead of going to Doral the following week, the PGA Tour has moved that World Golf Championship event to Mexico City.
Then again, the ”best in golf” relates to the PGA Tour being the strongest circuit. The current ”best in golf” is not at PGA National this week – Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth are taking the week off or are injured. That leaves Adam Scott (No. 7) as the highest-ranked player at the Honda Classic. Even if he wins, he still will be No. 7.
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The star might be PGA National, with all its water looking even more dangerous in the wind. The last few years have been particularly exciting, with Scott and Padraig Harrington seemingly throwing away the tournament and still finding a way to win.
Not only is this the only golf in Florida this week, it’s the only golf in the country. The LPGA is still on its Asian Swing, while Europe still isn’t in Europe. The PGA Tour Champions and Web.com Tour both are off until the middle of next month.
PGA National is where Jack Nicklaus (1971) and Larry Nelson (1987) each won a PGA Championship, and where the Americans narrowly hung on to win the Ryder Cup in 1983 despite Seve Ballesteros hitting a 3-wood out of a fairway bunker on the 18th by cutting it around a steep lip.
So there have been plenty of heroics.
But lately, it’s about avoiding a meltdown at the Honda Classic.
Scott was sailing right along last year until putting two balls in the water on the par-3 15th hole in the third round, going from a three-shot lead to a one-shot deficit. He eventually got it back together and held off Sergio Garcia.
In 2015, Padraig Harrington looked like a sure winner until he hit his tee shot into the water on the par-3 17th hole and made double bogey to fall one shot behind. Harrington birdied the 18th with a 15-foot putt and, given a second chance at the 17th in a playoff, hit his 5-iron to 4 feet. He missed the putt, but it didn’t matter because Daniel Berger hit into the water.
”Certainly 15 and 17, you are thinking about those holes for a long time and trying to figure out your strategy and just really praying to get through them,” Harrington said.
So keep this in mind: In the 10 previous years at PGA National, Camilo Villegas in 2010 was the only player to win by more than two shots. He won by five that year over some guy named Anthony Kim.
The Honda LPGA Thailand is worth watching primarily because of the No. 12 player in the world.
That would be Inbee Park, who hasn’t played since she won the gold medal in the Olympics last summer in Rio. Park has been coping with a thumb injury so bad that last year it was just a matter of getting in tournaments to get credit for her 10th year on the LPGA Tour and become eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Her gold medal really was one of the most amazing stories of the year in golf. Imagine an injured golf star sitting out for two months, and returning with the sole purpose of winning Olympic gold. It wasn’t quite Tiger Woods defying doctors to play in the 2008 U.S. Open on a badly damaged left leg, but it was remarkable.
Thailand is becoming a hotbed for women’s golf, primarily because of Ariya Jutanugarn , the LPGA Tour player of the year.
Park, Suzann Pettersen, So Yeon Ryu and Na Yeon Choi are among those making their 2017 debuts.
Television: Thursday-Sunday, 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. (Golf Channel).
This week on the European Tour it’s more about quantity than quality.
The Joburg Open boasts the largest field of the season with 210 players. But the highest-ranked player in the field is Brandon Stone , checking in at No. 69. At least it features three major champions in Darren Clarke (2011 British Open), Y.E. Yang (2009 PGA Championship) and Trevor Immelman (2008 Masters).