When golfers tee off in the 2019 Honda Classic beginning Thursday, the 15th, 16th and 17th holes at PGA National will weigh heavily on their minds.
Those three holes— infamously known as the Bear Trap— at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., rank as the third most difficult 3-hole stretch on the Tour, with golfers averaging 0.671 over par since 2007.
The namesake of the Bear Trap, Jack Nicklaus, told Golf Channel Wednesday the difficulty of the three-hole stretch wasn’t intentional.
“It really was three benign holes and we brought the water close to them. The wind factors and the angles of the wind made them difficult holes. I certainly didn’t do that on purpose,” Nicklaus said. “But it turned out it became very famous and difficult for the the guys. The fifteenth hole, the only real bailout for the guys is over the green into the bunker. They’re only playing a seven-iron shot, I suppose. And 16, is a fairly benign tee shot and the water is not that close to the green. But the wind comes at such an angle, it’s awkward. And 17, there’s an elevated tee… You can’t win the tournament on those holes, but you can certainly lose it.”
The Bear Trap ranks behind the 16th, 17th and 18th holes at Quail Hollow (0.684 over par) and the eighth, ninth and 10th holes at Pebble Beach (0.884 over par) respectively in difficulty, according to ShotLink.
Since 2007, golfers are 3,489 over par on holes 15 through 17 at PGA National compared to 4,629 over par on all other holes on the course and 78 percent of golfers have hit at least one ball in the water during the stretch of the past 12 years.
Michael Thompson, who will also play in the event beginning Thursday with reigning champion Justin Thomas, has played 24 rounds from 2007-2018 at PGA National without hitting a ball in the water— the longest streak among active golfers.
Only one player, Andrew Novak, was bogey-free on the Bear Trap in last year’s Honda Classic.
Phil Mickelson, who has played 10 rounds at PGA National without hitting a ball in the water, spoke of the difficulty of the three-hole stretch before the 2016 Honda Classic.
“You know, that back left pin on 16, you can be aggressive if you get the tee shot in the fairway and so you start thinking of three on that hole, but for the most part, you’re happy to get through that stretch an even par,” Mickelson said to Golf Channel in 2016.
Mickelson will be absent in this weekend’s Honda Classic in preparation for the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the first time since 2013. Eight-time Arnold Palmer Invitational winner Tiger Woods is expected to join Mickelson at Bay Hill beginning on March 7.