Now that the West Coast swing and the one-week Mexico sojourn are behind us, the PGA Tour shifts east to the Sunshine State for the new-look Florida Swing.
The events themselves are familiar—the Honda Classic, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Players Championship and Valspar Championship—but the order is not. Last year, when the Players was still in May, the Honda was followed by the WGC-Mexico, then the Tour came back to Florida for the Valspar and API at Bay Hill. The Players' moving back to March prompted the Tour to bump the Mexico event before the Honda.
On one hand, now we have a true Florida Swing—four events in four weeks, all in Florida—which makes sense geographically. On the other hand, the Honda is getting a bit of a raw hand. Many elite golfers played in both the Genesis Open (two weeks ago) and last week's WGC, and many of those same players want to play at Bay Hill and the Players. Playing five straight weeks isn't desirable nor feasible, so as a consequence, this year's Honda field isn't exactly star studded: just three of the top 20 players and six of the top 25 are competing, whereas a year ago there were 12 top-25 players in the field.
Noticably absent is Tiger Woods, who lives just a short drive away from this week's host venue, PGA National. It was at this tournament last year that Woods' comeback kicked into gear, as his T12 finished sparked a nice run of play that included a T2 at the Valspar.
Despite a distinct lack of starpower, the difficult PGA National layout and the iconic "Bear Trap" stretch (15, 16, 17) seem to always deliver. Let's just hope that no fans this year dare to ask for a ball to go into a bunker.
The Champion Course at PGA National, located in Palm Beach Gardens (just southwest of PGA Tour player Mecca Jupiter), was originally designed by George and Tom Fazio in 1981—Tom Fazio's other designs include Shadow Creek, Gozzer Ranch and Firestone—and it's clear they had elite tournament play in mind. It was given a redesign in 2014 by Jack Nickalus and was actually closed from June-October of last year for further renovations. It's widely regarded as one of the most difficult courses on Tour, and the average winning score from the past six Honda Classics is 8.66 under, which is closer to what you see at majors than normal PGA Tour events.
The most famous stretch of the course is nicknamed the "Bear Trap," after Nicklaus. Like the rest of the course, water is everywhere on the par-3 15th, the par-4 16th and the par-3 17th.
Here's a look at the second shot on 16.
And the brutal par-3 17th. Imagine having to hit this shot in 20 mph winds with a tournament on the line:
Like most other Florida courses, PGA National has bermuda fairways and bermuda greens. They'll play much differently than the poa annua surfaces we saw throughout California, and in Mexico.
As discussed previously, this has to be the worst Honda field in years, and this is all due to the new schedule. There are some stars in the field however. Namely: Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler. Thomas returns as the defending champion after he beat Luke List, who is also in this year's field, in a playoff last year. Top-10 machine Gary Woodland will be there, as will Webb Simpson, Alex Noren, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and young Aussie phenom Cameron Smith.
Here are some featured groupings for the first couple days. Here is a full list of tee times. All times EST.
Adam Scott, Ernie Else, Kiradech Aphibarnrat — 7:35 a.m.* Thursday/12:25 p.m. Friday
Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland, Jhonattan Vegas — 7:45*/12:35 p.m.
Webb Simpson, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer — 12:25 p.m./7:35 a.m.*
Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Billy Horschel — 12:35 p.m./7:45 a.m.*
* denotes 10th-tee start.
All times EST
Thursday, Friday — 2-6 p.m. on Golf Channel
Saturday, Sunday — 1-3 p.m. on Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m. on NBC
Streaming available all week on NBC Sports' online platform.
Justin Thomas +500
Rickie Fowler +1000
Brooks Koepka +1200
Adam Scott +1400
Sergio Garcia +1600
Gary Woodland +1800
Webb Simpson +2000
Cameron Smith +2500
Billy Horschel +3300
Daniel Berger +3300
Alex Noren +4000
Emiliano Grillo +4000
Luke List +4000
Byeong Hun An +5000
Kiradech Aphibarnrat +5000
Michael Thompson +5000
Lucas Glover +5500
Russell Knox +5500
Scott Piercy +5500
Charl Schwartzel +6600
There's no reason (besides maybe fatigue) to believe Thomas, who will be sleeping in his own bed all week, won't contend. But +500 are some of the lowest odds you'll see for a favorite all year. Cameron Smith is a guy who jumps off the page at 25-1. The 25-year-old Aussie, who looks like he's about 16, first jumped onto the casual fan's radar when he finished T5 at last year's Masters. He's played extremely well since then, winning the Australian PGA in December and already notching four top-10s on the PGA Tour this season. That includes last week in Mexico, where he finished T6. This will mark Smith's first appearance in the Honda, which is concerning, but he presents great value at 20-1. Another guy worth a wager is Luke List (+4000), who lost in a playoff last year and put up a solid T15 in his last start at the Genesis Open.