Welcome to Florida, folks, the home of sunshine (California and Aruba would argue) and the home of the PGA Tour! During a conversation on golf earlier this week, my roommate said, “The Masters is like a month away.”
I said, “No it isn’t, it’s like six weeks away.”
He said, “Whatever, same thing. The point is, it’s on my mind. I’m thinking about it, and you know the Tour guys are thinking about it.”
Well said, Paul. The Florida swing offers a great warm-up to Augusta with the world’s best all playing at least a couple stops as the Tour makes it’s way North to Augusta. This week’s stop is at the PGA National Resort & Spa – Champion Course, so “for the love of Golf (can you hear The Black Knight’s accent),” let’s get to the preview!
PGA National: Champion Course
Originally a Fazio design, the Champion Course was redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 1990, making it–I believe–the 647th Nicklaus-inspired course played so far this year. A par-70, 7,048 yard layout, it’s a bear (pun all the way turnt up) of a track rated last year by Golf Digest as the most difficult non-major venue, averaging “1.138 strokes over par” per round (note: it’s a par 72 from the tips for the other 51 weeks of the year, so take the over-par measuring system with a grain of salt).
The overall theme of the course is precision. Landing areas, especially around pins, are tight and strategically guarded by bunkers, water, and sloping. Guys need to be dialed-in with their distances because misses short or long usually result in awkward, uncomfortable plays to the flag with bogey (or worse) squarely in play. That’s not say there aren’t bailout areas–there are–but you ain’t making birdies from ’em. The Champion Course at PGA National is a lot like Torrey South in that it must be approached with patience (par is a good number all week), only attacking flags when conditions (wind, pin, etc.) and club selection is right and utmost care is given. Rest assured our leaders will be ‘flighting’ the crap out of the ball this week, as it’s especially difficult to keep missing one’s way around without stepping on a land-mine or four.
The most renowned section of the Champion Course is #15 through #17. Glossed the ‘Bear Trap,’ it’s regarded as among (if not the) toughest three-hole stretch in golf. And if the wind is whipping? Forget about it. It becomes a challenge to just bail out and try to save par. Here are Jack and Nick Price discussing the Bear Trap:
As discussed in the clip, #15 is a 179 yard par-3 that appears somewhat benign. But the wind can really wreak havoc on club selection and there’s water front, right, and long right. Short left is a bailout area, with longer left leaving guys in the bunker. As is the case all over, it’s just tough to get the ball near most pin positions, and the wind can bring big numbers into play.
#16 is a 434 yard par-4, relatively short by Tour standards (length isn’t what makes the Bear Trap so formidable), with liquid looming right, and bunkers and rough looming elsewhere. The green is tiered with a bailout short. The challenge on this hole isn’t necessarily the green as much as driving the ball into a good spot so one can attack the flag with a second shot.
“Those about to die salute you.”
#17 is another par-3, measuring 172 yards. Water is again in play (surprise!), guarding short and right. Long leaves one in the bunker, and with the green sloping back to front, it’s a really scary bunker shot back to a front pin when you’re trying to make par. If the Champion were a horse track, this hole would officially be ‘Dead Man’s Corner,’ for the shear number of whips that get piled up here each week.
Located in Palm Beach Gardens, FL (2.5 hours southeast of Orlando on the Atlantic side, north of Miami/West Palm Beach), the Honda Classic on one hand feels like the ghost of the Players’ (locale, venue, copious water, prominent field) while also representing the closest thing we have to a true block-party among Tour players (both American and foreign-born guys have residences in and around the area. Must be something in the tax code air).
As touched on from the onset, now that the calender has turned to March, and with Augusta looming more prominent by the week, this event is a nice checkup to see who has their swing grooved and who’s still heavy in ‘The Process.’ Difficult scoring conditions are the exception rather than the rule on Tour, so I for one enjoy each chance we get to watch as Pros grind to make par and post red numbers. I also freely admit to rubber-necking a nice car crash or two, which should be provided in spades. Finally, we know any low round posted, especially on the weekend, is a genuine accomplishment, a feat deserving of all the praise and hyperbole admiration we can muster.
Michael Thompson, best remembered for his runner-up finish to NLU folk-hero ‘The Jungle Bird‘ for most memorable crashing of the 2012 US Open, opened 67-65 and never looked back through the weekend, finishing 9 under, 271 and besting Geoff Ogilvy by two strokes, Luke Guthrie by four strokes, and a group six back including Keegan Bradley, Lucas Glover and Justin Rose. Also in the top-ten (T9 to be exact) were Schwartzel, DeLaet, Westwood One, and Graeme McDowell. Why do we point all this out? Because this thing looked like a damn US Open Lite last year! Expect/hope for more of the same this year.
Gratuitous Jungle Bird photo
(all lines courtesy Ladbrokes.com, the Official Bookmaker of NoLayingUp.com)
Horses for Courses
- Graeme McDowell (20/1) – Love his game, especially here, but don’t really love the odds. Still, last three years has gone T9, T9, T6. The harder the conditions, the better the chance he’ll be right in the mix come Sunday.
- Charl Schwartzel (20/1) – Fair odds. Owns a T9, T5, and T14 last three years, combined with really crisp play last couple weeks, and he’s essentially a must-play.
- Rickie Fowler (33/1) – #trending. Was T13 here last year including a final round 74 that saw him give ground on Sunday.
- Lee Westwood (50/1) – Tastier odds for a guy off T9, 4, and T29 and T9 last four starts in this event. Plus, we’re hoping Westwood One can start making some noise and be a real threat going into Augusta.
- Billy Horschel (50/1) – Right in the mix last year before he hit the eject button in the 3rd round (shot 81) . Bounced back with a very respectable 70 in the final round, though, and we have to believe he’s had this tourney circled for some revenge. Steadfastly believe he’s plotting a massive, hostile takeover of the Florida Swing. When a stock you’re in love with loses even a little value, the prudent decision isn’t to sell, it’s to double down. That’s us and Mr. Horschel.
- Patrick Reed (80/1) – you can’t convince me this guy, in his form over the last 8 months, belongs below the 66/1 group. Made cut here last year in only start, though it was an unspectacular T58. I think his game is that of a consistent 40/1 to 50/1 type guy right now. Hence, value play.
- Luke Guthrie (80/1) – this one’s practically mandated. We’re really high on this young guy, and his performance here last year is a big reason why (solo 3rd). At these odds we couldn’t face ourselves in the mirror if we didn’t take him.
- Chris Stroud (100/1) – has made the cut five straight times here, including a T13 last year and a T9 in 2012.
- John Senden (150/1) – so Senden probably won’t win this thing, but he’s about as good a tee-to-green player as there is in the world. Hasn’t played the event the last three years, which is why these odds are perhaps so high, but JS made the cut every year from 2007 to 2010 here finishing between T27 and T50 each time. I’ll happily buy a Senden lotto ticket on a this track ALL DAMN DAY.
- Stephen Ames (500/1) – hahaha….JUST KIDDING. But seriously, there are a ton of dudes at 100/1 and higher who are intriguing for whatever reason. Have some fun, throw a couple darts and you’ll probably have a puncher’s chance into Saturday at least.
- Slug your beer every time you see a fanny pack. Along with the sun and the PGA Tour, Florida is also home to sketchy pain doctors fanny pack tourism!
- Rog (or anyone else on the broadcast team) manages to crowbar sneak in a reference to Johnny winning this event twice (’80 & ’83). Also go ahead and just drink like crazy if you’re upset with the switch back to NBC for the Florida swing. It’s not even golf coverage, it’s just a running conversation between “Rog”, Gary, and Johnny with Dan Hicks making sure everyone stays deferential to what Johnny says from on high. It’s a stale shtick and only tolerable in small doses.
- Pour a stiff shot every time an allusion is made to The Golden Bear’s Nephew, Florida State TE/H-Back Nick O’Leary. You know it’s coming at least once during each day’s broadcast since they’re playing on Seminole soil. Although we at NLU have stupid high respect for O’Leary after watching this footage of his gnarly motorcycle accident…The dude walked away with nothing more than scrapes…WHOA!
- Begin chugging a col’ beer each time the broadcast cuts to obviously canned footage and Dan says in somber, hushed tones something to the effect of, “this was the scene just moments ago at the [insert hole number] where [insert Pro] became yet another victim of the famed Bear Trap…” The challenge is to see if you can kill your beer before our poor, fallen Pro has finished killing his tournament.
- If you’re looking to binge a little bit, take a sip each time NBC points out so and so is “from the area,” or “lives nearby,” or “has a house here.” Like eighty guys do, so you should be good and sauced in time to sit down for family dinner!
- Really have to love the way car companies embrace the golf tourney sponsorship. Hyundai kicked things off right this year in Hawaii (though ZJ wasn’t the sexiest winner…), and Honda has been sponsoring this tourney since 1982, though some would argue that Honda and ‘classic’ is an oxymoron.
- This tournament has bounced around like a foster child over the years, with some rather illustrious stops at cookie-cutter TPC courses along the way. Pro’s used to bitch that TPC Heron Bay sucked and the Country Club at Mirasol wasn’t too much better. It seems they’ve finally found a suitable home – kinda makes you wonder what took so long, as PGA National has been sitting here just about as is since Nicklaus redid it in 1990. Too, PGA National is widely credited as one of the reasons Tiger decided to play the event, along with the close proximity to his house and it fitting in nicely with the rest of his schedule.
- Speaking of Big Cat, events always feel bigger when he’s around. Really not too much to say about him thus far other than it’ll be interesting to see where he is in ‘The Process.’ At this point, it’s rather surprising to learn it’s more about building for Augusta than actual results for him.
- The extra-girthy duo of Uihlein and Koepka are in the field this week for a rare US cameo. Can we get these guys boosted in the OWGR just a bit already so they qualify for WGC’s????
- There are four power groups which will dominate 1st and 2nd round coverage: Thursday: Rory/Adam Scott/Horschel and Lefty/Rickie/Grame McDowell; Friday: Stenson/Sergio/Luke Donald and Tiger/ZJ/Keegan. Uhhh, OK!
- Lastly, and apropos of nothing really, I got a kick out of what Google kept trying to direct me to when I typed in ‘honda classic.’ I finally gave in and let our digital overlords take me there:
If a venue change is needed again, my vote is to TPC Islamabad.