The fourth and final stop of the Florida Swing gets underway this week at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens for the 49th edition of The Honda Classic.
This year’s edition of The Honda brings a handful of top stars to the Champions Course at PGA National, including defending champion, and world No. 18, Sungjae Im. The Korean will be joined by another pair of top-20 ranked players in Daniel Berger, and Lee Westwood – the runner-up in the two most recent Florida tournaments.
Some of the other marquee names include Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Shane Lowry, Adam Scott, and Joaquin Niemann, among others.
The 2021 Honda Classic Preview
The Honda Classic Primer is powered by The Titleist Store at Amazon
Tournament: The Honda Classic
Dates: Mar 18 – Mar 21, 2021
Where: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Course: PGA National (Champions)
Distance: Par 70/7140 yards
Architect: George and Tom Fazio (1980)
Redesign: Jack Nicklaus (1990, 2002)
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $1,260,000
Points: 500 (FedExCup), 36 (OWGR)
Defending Champion: Sungjae Im
Other Marquee Names: Daniel Berger, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, and Adam Scott.
TV & ONLINE
Thu-Fri, 2:00 p.m.-6 p.m. (GOLF)
Sat-Sun, 1:00 p.m.-3 p.m. (GOLF)
Sat-Sun, 3:00 p.m.-6 p.m. (NBC)
PGA TOUR LIVE
Thu-Fri, 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (Groups)
Sat-Sun, 7:15 a.m.-3 p.m. (Groups)
Sat-Sun, 3:00 p.m.–6 p.m. (Holes)
Watch on Prime Video
PGA TOUR RADIO
Thu-Fri, 12:00 p.m.-6 p.m.
Sat-Sun, 1:00 p.m.-6 p.m.
(PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.com/liveaudio)
Although not officially part of its tournament history, The Honda Classic can trace its bloodlines back to the National Airlines Open Invitational. The event ran for three season, 1969 to 1971, with each edition anchoring the five-stop Florida Swing, leading into the Greater Greensboro Open.
The tournament was annually contested in late March as Florida’s fifth stop, and played at the Country Club of Miami.
Jackie Gleason already was a longtime fixture at the Tour’s Doral stop – one of TV’s biggest stars with a variety show based in Miami Beach – when he jumped at the chance to put his name on the new tournament.
Beginning in 1972, the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic, the tournament that is now officially known as the Honda Classic, replaced the National Airlines Open on the tour schedule but did not assume its history.
The new event, colloquially known as “The Gleason,” attracted Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and plenty of other big names – on and off the course. Gleason’s partner in the inaugural pro-am was Bob Hope – a reprise of their usual West Coast pairing – and dozens of showbiz friends came at its apex.
The inaugural tournament debuted at the Inverrary Country Club (East course) in Lauderhill, and acted as the leadoff event to the 1972 Florida Swing. Offering a purse of $260,000 and a $52,000 winner’s share, the Gleason debuted as the second richest event on tour, trailing only the Greater New Orleans Open, which offered a $58,000 winner’s check.
Tom Weiskopf, who edged Jack Nicklaus by a stroke, was the champion of the inaugural tournament.
In 1976, “The Gleason” was shelved for a year to make room for the then two-year old Tournament Players Championship (now known as The PLAYERS) at Inverrary Country Club.
From the start, Commissioner Deane Beman’s plan was to make the TPC (or The PLAYERS) golf’s fifth major. And so similar to the PGA or U.S. Open, Beman wanted it to be played at a new venue each year. He assumed golf courses and country clubs would be lined up to host golf’s new “major.” Except, it didn’t happen – at least soon enough, and so the TPC (PLAYERS) simply took over the course of an already established PGA Tour event, and shelved the regular title for a season.
So for instance, the inaugural TPC (now called The PLAYERS) was contested in 1974, and it was played at Atlanta Country Club, the host venue of the Atlanta Classic. In 1974, there was no Atlanta Classic that season, but there was a PLAYERS. The next year it was contested at famed Colonial, and the long-running Colonial Invitational had to take a seat for the 1975 season. Finally in 1976, Beman chose Inverrary Country Club, and told Gleason that his event was on the bench for a year.
At first, Gleason was excited. “The Gleason” would just be called the TPC for a year, but he’d still get all the perks and promotions. Well, let’s just say Gleason wasn’t too happy when he was cut out of the promotions (and cash).
Alas, the good times lasted only four more years. Gleason never got over the PLAYERS situation, and when American Motors came aboard as sponsor, a dispute over naming rights sent Gleason packing after the 1980 edition. Johnny Miller claimed a two-stroke win over Charles Coody and Bruce Lietzke in the 1980 finale of the Gleason.
A good thing did come out of the public feud with Gleason, however. The Tour, and Beman, got the hint that the idea of the PLAYERS essentially being The Gleason or the Colonial Invitational with a different name was kind of silly, and so they (Beman) created a permanent venue for THE PLAYERS.
Golf writing legend Dan Jenkins described it like this in a 1977 Sports Illustrated article on Tour’s move to Sawgrass.
And by then everyone realized that if the TPC (The PLAYERS) kept traveling around it was never going to be anything more than the Atlanta Classic, the Colonial or the Jackie Gleason by another name.
And what would happen if, on top of this, Nicklaus (who won 2 of the first 3) stopped winning it?
The Tour moved its 1977 event to the northern coast of Florida in a remote place called Ponte Vedra Beach, and contested the next five editions at Sawgrass Country Club. In 1981 they moved across the street to their permanent home at the brand new TPC Sawgrass. The rest as they say is history. And you can partly thank Jackie Gleason!
Back to the Honda – from 1983 through 2006, some 23 years, the tournament bounced around to seven different courses in South Florida, averaging a new course every 3 or so years. This reputation of instability led to poor fields.
Since 2007, though, The Honda Classic has seen a vastly improved player field, largely due to the decision to make PGA National the tournament’s permanent home.
On Florida’s southeast coastline, roughly 80 miles north of Miami, it’s another exceptionally beautiful location with wonderful weather, perfect for February and or March golf.
The tournament boasts big-name past winners like Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Kite, Vijay Singh, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, and Justin Thomas.
Nicklaus, in addition to Johnny Miller, Mark Calcavecchia, and Padraig Harrington, are the only players with multiples victories at The Honda Classic – each with two apiece.
2002-19: The Honda Classic
1984-01: Honda Classic
1982-83: Honda Inverrary Classic
1981-81: American Motors Inverrary Classic
1974-80: Jackie Gleason-Inverrary Classic
1973-73: Jackie Gleason Inverrary-National Airlines Classic
1972-72: Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic
HISTORY: RECENT CHAMPIONS
2020: Im Sung-jae (-6)
2019: Keith Mitchell (-9)
2018: Justin Thomas (-8)
2017: Rickie Fowler (-12)
2016: Adam Scott (-9)
2015: Pádraig Harrington (-6)
2014: Russell Henley (-8)
2013: Michael Thompson (-9)
2012: Rory McIlroy (-12)
2- Jack Nicklaus (1977, 1978)
2- Johnny Miller (1980, 1983)
2 – Mark Calcavecchia (1987, 1998)
2 – Pádraig Harrington (2005, 2015)
264 (-24) – Justin Leonard (2003)
No.15, PGA National (Champion)
Par 3, 179 yards
2020 average: 3.29 (4th easiest)
The entrance to the vaunted three-hole “Bear Trap” produced not a single hole-in-one during the Honda Classic’s first 10 years at PGA National. Then in 2016, there suddenly were two.
Scott Stallings broke the jinx in the opening round with a 6-iron that landed just short of the pin and rolled in. Three days later, Jhonattan Vegas did likewise with a 6-iron into a 15 mph breeze.
No.15 isn’t a long par-3, but the prevailing wind makes it dicey as players negotiate a narrow, diagonal green running left-to-right. The front part of the green slopes left, with a big bunker creating a tough up-and-down.
“It was sort of a nothing little hole,” said Jack Nicklaus, who did the redesign in 1990. “When we brought the water in play, all of a sudden it became a monster. And it’s only a monster because of the awkward wind there that sort of comes into you right-to-left. You have to sort of cut into it.”
2020 Honda Classic: 49 birdies, 259 pars, 69 bogeys, 46 double bogeys, 3 triple+
THE FIELD: OVERVIEW
The field this week at PGA National features Sungjae Im, the defending champion, along with fellow Honda winners Keith Mitchell (2019), Rickie Fowler (2017) and Adam Scott (2016).
Other top names include Daniel Berger, Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, and Joaquin Niemmann.
In addition to Im, Fowler, and Scott, the field in Palm Beach Gardens, also includes former champs in Padraig Harrington (2015, 2005) and Russell Henley (2014).
Chris Kirk, Talor Gooch, Bendan Steele, Chez Reavier, Alex Noren, and Ian Poulter are some of the other familiar names.
THE FIELD: ODDS TO WIN
The field last week at TPC Sawgrass included 48 of the world’s top-50 ranked players. This week, it’s not nearly as stout – not even close – as just three of the top-20 will tee it up at PGA National’s Champions course, and none of the top-10.
The strength of field is only 193, according to the Official World Golf Rankings. And it will only reward 38 first-place points to the winner. For comparison, last week’s runner-up of the PLAYERS, Lee Westwood, received 48 points – 10 more than the winner of the Honda will take home.
Daniel Berger, a winner this year at Pebble Beach, is the highest ranked player in the field at No. 13. and is the favorite at 10-1, with 2020 Honda winner Sungjae Im next at 12-1.
Joaquin Niemann (12-1), the aforementioned Westwood (20-1), along with Adam Scott (25-1), and Shane Lowry round out the top-5 favorites.
Top-5 Betting Favorites
1. Daniel Berger (10-1)
2. Sungjae Im (12-1)
3. Joaquin Niemann (16-1)
4. Lee Westwood (20-1)
5. Adam Scott (25-1)
5. Shane Lowry (25-1)
The Honda Classic Picks
The Golf Betting Show has this week’s picks for The Honda Classic…
Here’s how the field qualified for The Honda Classic.
Winner – PGA/U.S. Open Championship
Winner – THE PLAYERS Championship
Winner – The Masters
Winner – The Open Championship
Winner – World Golf Championship Event
Winners of the Arnold Palmer, Memorial, Genesis (Last 3 Years)
Tournament Winner in Past Two Seasons
Cheng Tsung Pan
Ted Potter, Jr.
Career Money Exemption
Bo Van Pelt
Sponsor Exemptions: 2018-19 FEC / 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Category
Rafa Cabrera Bello
Sponsors Exemptions – Members not otherwise exempt
Sponsors Exemptions – Unrestricted
PGA Section Champion\Player of the Year
Top 125 on Prior Season’s FedExCup Points List
Byeong Hun An
Harold Varner III
Top 125 (Prior Season Nonmember)
Frederick van Rooyen
Major Medical Extension
Top 10 and Ties from the Previous Event
2018-19 Top 125 FEC/2019 Top Finishers Korn Ferry Tour (reordered)
Credits: PGA Tour Media, Getty Images