The Starter: A Bear Trap, The Great One, Bubba’s Alley and Whatnot

Bubba Watson has Riviera’s (even) number – but Riviera still has Tiger’s. The West Coast Swing now gives way to Florida, where the Bear Trap awaits and Jackie Gleason’s influence is a faded memory.

And though the Starter isn’t much into geopolitics, the European Tour had little choice.


THREE HEADLINES

1. Is it time to rechristen Riviera CC as “Bubba’s Alley”? Three wins in the past five editions – all the even-numbered years – puts Bubba Watson alongside Ben Hogan’s track record at the old L.A. Open. Yes, Hogan still has that 1948 U.S. Open win. We’ll see if Bubba can peak for the 2028 Olympics.

2. Jin Young Ko wins in her debut as an LPGA cardholder. Not even Nancy Lopez managed to pull that off. Nor did Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Karrie Webb or Lydia Ko. You have to go back to 1951 to find the only other occurrence – when Beverly Hanson won in the tour’s second year.

3. Bill Haas heads home to recover after fatal LA auto accident. The 2011 FedExCup champ escaped serious injury after the Ferrari in which he was riding clipped a car driven by actor Owen Wilson and struck a BMW. Haas withdrew from the Genesis Open and this week’s Honda Classic.


AROUND THE TOURS

PGA: The Honda Classic
Course: PGA National Resort & Spa (Champion)
Where: Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Defending: Rickie Fowler

LPGA: Honda LPGA Thailand
Course: Siam CC (Pattaya)
Where: Chonburi, Thailand
Defending: Amy Yang

European: Commercial Bank Qatar Masters
Course: Doha GC
Where: Doha, Qatar
Defending: Jeunghun Wang


RANKINGS REPORT

Watson’s triumph at Riviera also earned a return to next week’s WGC Mexico Championship, jumping him inside the top 50 in the world rankings at the qualification cutoff. The two-time Masters champ rose all the way from 117th to No.40.

Bubba’s gain was Si Woo Kim’s loss, as The Players Championship titleholder slipped to No.51 – by half a thousandth of a point – and isn’t otherwise qualified. The Korean pro has one more chance, among a handful seeking a last-gasp berth by joining the top 50 after this week’s Honda Classic.

Austin Cook, who missed a Mexico invite when he fell out of the FedExCup’s top 10 on Sunday, can get a reprieve with a top-25 finish at Honda. Chesson Hadley also has a mathematical chance, but needs to finish no worse than fourth at PGA National.

Rank – Pts Avg – Player (Last Week)
50. (2.4319) – Adam Hadwin (57)*
51. (2.4314) – Si Woo Kim (48)
52. (2.4042) – Cameron Smith (58)
53. (2.3807) – Bernd Wiesberger (50)*
54. (2.3338) – Yusako Miyazato (52)*
55. (2.3315) – Russell Henley (54)*
56. (2.3143) – Kyle Stanley (53)*
57. (2.2708) – James Hahn (61)
58. (2.2606) – Adam Scott (51)
59. (2.2597) – Zach Johnson (55)
*already qualified via other criteria


HISTORY SPOTLIGHT

Fort Lauderdale was little more than a haven for spring break and spring training when the PGA Tour first arrived in 1972. But it had two factors at the outset that made it a guaranteed success – the biggest purse and its most outsized personality.

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.

The new Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic 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.

Alas, the good times lasted only nine years. Gleason somehow got on the wrong side of Tour officials, who cut him out of Tournament Players Championship promotions when it made a one-year stop at Inverrary.

When American Motors came aboard as sponsor, a dispute over naming rights sent Gleason packing.


STAT OF THE WEEK

Last week’s missed cut at the Genesis Open marked the 11th time Tiger Woods has left the PGA Tour stop at Riviera without victory – by far the most any venue has held him winless.

Even if you scratch the two starts he made as an amateur, his nine winless pro starts are more than double the next sites on his futility list – TPC Scottsdale, Dove Mountain and Westchester CC (four each).


HOLE OF THE WEEK

No.15, PGA National (Champion)
Par 3, 179 yards
2017 average: 3.14 (7th toughest)

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 a year ago, 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.”

2017 Honda Classic: 2 aces, 63 birdies, 267 pars, 54 bogeys, 33 double bogeys, 2 higher


AUGUSTA STRETCHING?

Other than the usual cosmetic tweaks, Augusta National’s footprint has remained the same since its growth spurt of the mid-2000s. That soon may change, though, with plans now on file to extend the fifth hole.

According to the Augusta Chronicle, plans filed with the city’s planning department last month show a design that moves the tee box back 20 to 30 yards. Work would not begin until at least May 1, with alterations done well ahead of next year’s Masters.

Though it’s likely the new tee is intended to relieve congestion between the No.4 green and fifth tee, it also would extend No.5 to approximately 485 yards. Not that it’s been any sort of pushover – last year saw just 21 birdies compared to 82 bogeys or worse.


DID YOU KNOW?

Previously part of a three-week Middle East swing on the European Tour, the Qatar Masters had to shift dates after the country turned politically toxic. As numerous Western and Middle East nations condemned Qatar for housing terrorist groups, the United Arab Emirates cut off air travel to and from Qatar and closed those borders.

That would have made it tough for golfers to get there from Abu Dhabi or return to Dubai – hence a new date, paired with last week’s stop in Oman.


END QUOTE

“The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have, right? … Kind of like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn’t, so it worked out. When I get focused on the game of golf – the more difficult it is, the more challenging it is – it’s seemed to work out in my favor over the course of my career.”
Bubba Watson


Credit: Getty Images


Jeff Shain

Jeff is a contributor to Pro Golf Weekly. He is the managing editor of Prime Sports, and a weekly contributor to PGATour.com. As a member of the Golf Writer's Association of America, Jeff has covered golf for nearly two decades, including stops at the Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina.

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