The first of the four-stop Florida Swing gets underway this week at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens for the 50th edition of The Honda Classic.
The Honda will feature defending champion Matt Jones, alongside a handful of top-ranked stars, including twelve of the world’s top 50, headlined by the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger, Billy Horschel, Sungjae Im, and last week’s Riviera winner, Joaquin Niemann, who are all ranked inside the top 25.
Other marquee names include Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Shane Lowry, Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter, among others.
As we do each week, here’s a rundown of facts and figures to get you prepped for The Honda Classic.
The Honda Classic Primer is powered by The Titleist Store at Amazon
The Honda Classic
Dates: Feb. 24-27, 2022
PGA Tour Debut: 1972
PGA TOUR Week: 17th (of 43)
Course: PGA National (Champions)
Where: Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Distance: Par 70/7140 yards
Architect: George and Tom Fazio (1980)
Redesign: Jack Nicklaus (1990, 2002)
Field: 136 players
Format: Low stroke, 72-holes
Cut: After 36 holes
Winning Share: $1,144,000
FedExCup Pts: 500
OWGR Pts: 42
2021 Champion: Matt Jones
How to Follow The Honda Classic
TELEVISION: Thu-Fri: 2-6 p.m. (GOLF); Sat: 1-3 p.m. (GOLF); 3-6 p.m. (NBC); Sun: 1-3 (GOLF), 3-6 p.m. (NBC)
PGA TOUR LIVE (ESPN+): Thu-Sun: 6:45 a.m.-6 p.m. ET (Main Feed, Marquee, Groups, Holes)
RADIO: Thu-Fri: 12-6 p.m.; Sat: 1-6 p.m.; Sun: 1-6:30 p.m. (PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM)
History: The Honda Classic
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 seasons, 1969 to 1971, with each edition anchoring the then 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 was already a longtime fixture at the Tour’s Doral stop – and 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 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 such as Nicklaus, Weiskopf, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin, Curtis Strange, Lee Trevino, Tom Kite, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Justin Thomas.
Nicklaus, in addition to Miller, Mark Calcavecchia, and Padraig Harrington, are the only players with multiples victories at The Honda Classic – each with two apiece.
History: Tournament Titles
- The Honda Classic (2002-Present)
- Honda Classic (1984-2001)
- Honda Inverrary Classic (1982-83)
- American Motors Inverrary Classic (1981)
- Jackie Gleason-Inverrary Classic (1974-80)
- Jackie Gleason Inverrary-National Airlines Classic (1973)
- Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic (1972)
History: Recent Champions
2021: Matt Jones (-12)
2020: Im Sung-jae (-6)
2019: Keith Mitchell (-9)
2018: Justin Thomas (-8)
2017: Rickie Fowler (-12)
2016: Adam Scott (-9)
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)
Key Hole at The Champions Course
No.15, PGA National (Champion)
Par 3, 179 yards
2020 average: 3.18 (8th 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.”
2021 Honda Classic: 62 birdies, 270 pars, 52 bogeys, 32 double bogeys, 6 triple+
The Honda Classic Field
The field this week at PGA National features Matt Jones, the defending champion, along with fellow Honda winners Sungjae Im (2020), Keith Mitchell (2019) and Rickie Fowler (2017).
Other top names include Louis Oosthuizen, Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger, Patrick Reed, Shane Lowry and Joaquin Niemmann.
In addition to Jones, Im, Mitchell and Fowler, the field in Palm Beach Gardens, also includes former champs in Padraig Harrington (2015, 2005) and Rory Sabbatini (2011).
Matthew Wolff, Billy Horschel, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, and Ian Poulter are some of the other familiar names.
The strength of field is only 234, according to the Official World Golf Rankings, and will reward 42 first-place points to the winner. For comparison, last week’s runner-up of the Genesis, was allocated to receive 48 points… for second place.
Im, the winner here in 2020, is the slight favorite at 14-1, just ahead of Florida native Berger, who’s listed at 16-1.
Palm Beach resident Koepka, and last week’s L.A. winner, Niemann, are offered at 18-1, while Oosthuizen and Fleetwood round out the top-5 favorites at 20-1.
Top-5 Betting Favorites
1. Sungjae Im (14-1)
2. Daniel Berger (16-1)
3. Brooks Koepka (18-1)
3. Joaquin Niemann (18-1)
5. Louis Oosthuizen (20-1)
5. Tommy Fleetwood (20-1)
Full Field & Odds
PGA National (Champions) | Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. | Feb 24-27, 2022
Credits: PGA Tour Media, Getty Images