PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic has a major feel, and it’s not just because par is at a premium at PGA National. Three of the top four players in the world – No. 2 Lee Westwood, No. 3 Luke Donald and No. 4 Graeme McDowell – are in the field. Here’s what to expect this week:
1. Who’s No. 1? Westwood can retake the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking with a top-3 finish. “It’s good that it swings about,” Westwood said of the No. 1 ranking. “If you don’t play well, which I haven’t started off this year very good by my standards … then you deserve to drop down. But I’m not too worried about it. I’m never too fast out of the blocks at the beginning of the year.”
Westwood hasn’t finished better than 15th in four starts in 2011. He lost in the second round of last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play, then lost his No. 1 spot in the rankings to Martin Kaymer when Kaymer made the Match Play final. Kaymer is not in the Honda field.
Westwood finished ninth at last year’s Honda Classic, one of three Englishmen to finish in the top 10 (Justin Rose, Paul Casey). “I enjoyed the golf course,” Westwood said. “And the wind blows a bit, which I like.”
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2. Tough track: The Honda Classic’s site, PGA National’s Champion Course, ranked as the most difficult non-major site in 2010. The 7,158-yard, par-70 track played to a 71.64 scoring average. Camilo Villegas’ 13-under 267 was good for a five-shot victory. Only 16 players broke par. The cut was 3-over 143.
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3. “The Bear Trap”: The course’s difficult finishing stretch of Nos. 15, 16 and 17 has become known as “The Bear Trap,” and for good reason. It was the second-most difficult three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour in 2010. Players averaged nearly a stroke over par per round on those three holes (+0.8).
In 2009, 53 balls were hit into the water on the 205-yard, par-3 17th, second-most on a par 3 on the PGA Tour. Forty-nine balls found the water on the 179-yard, par-3 17th, fourth-most on Tour that year.
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4. Local ties: The Jupiter/Palm Beach area is popular with many Tour players. Among the players who live in the area are Villegas, Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler, Robert Allenby, Steve Marino, Jamie Lovemark and Nick Price, who’s playing this week at 54 years old.
Els finished 67th at last year’s Honda, then went on to win his next two starts. He’s seeking his first PGA Tour victories since those Florida Swing titles. Fowler is off to a solid start to 2011, having finished 35th or better in all four starts, including three top 20s. Allenby missed the cut at last year’s Honda, but finished fifth in 2009; he recently finished fourth at the Northern Trust Open. Marino has two top 5s this season. Lovemark is making his first start since withdrawing from Pebble Beach with a back injury.
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5. Singhing a sweet song: Could this be the site of Vijay Singh’s first victory since 2008? Singh has finished in the top 3 in two of his past three starts, and has a good Honda record, finishing fourth last year. The key for his good play? Not the swing that’s been grooved by countless hours on the range. It’s the putter.
“I’m putting well,” Singh said after his runner-up at Riviera. “That’s a great, great thing to have when you’re putting well. I haven’t done that for a long, long time. This is going to get me some places.”
Could the winner’s circle at Honda be next?