Now The Fun Begins: Honda Classic Boasts PGA Tour's Strongest Field To Date
The PGA Tour Honda Classic since the creation of the FedExCup in '07 has "turned into one of the best events of the season," according to Hank Gola of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. The event not long ago was the "least prominent event on the PGA Tour's Florida swing," but that has changed "since the Players was moved to May and many of the players themselves moved" to the Palm Beach County area. Seven of the top 10 players in the world rankings are scheduled to play when the tournament tees off tomorrow, including Phil Mickelson making his debut at the event (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/23). GOLF WORLD's Tim Rosaforte reports Tiger Woods added the tournament to his schedule in '12 after moving to the area, but getting a commitment from Mickelson may be a "bigger get because of his allegiance to the West Coast swing." The revived Honda Classic has "grown exponentially from 2007 (two top-10 players, 40,000 spectators) to 2013 (five and 168,000)." One of the biggest changes was the event moving to PGA National in '08. Tournament Exec Dir Ken Kennerly was able to create "a party atmosphere, positioning hospitality areas" near the course's signature Bear Trap. He also extended invitations to Darren Clarke and a then 19-year-old Rory McIlroy in '09. With Ernie Els' win over Luke Donald in '08 and the "endorsement of Clarke and McIlroy, more Europeans started playing the Honda as a bridge between the WGC events in Arizona and Miami" (GOLF WORLD, 3/3 issue). NBC's Johnny Miller, who will call the tournament, said, "With all the guys living around this area, Honda has become just a premier event" (PALM BEACH POST, 2/25).
GO WEST, YOUNG MEN? GOLF DIGEST's Ron Sirak noted with both the Honda Classic and WGC-Cadillac Championship having gained in stature in recent years, the West Coast swing has "lost" its prominence. Mickelson played "three times on the eight-event Hawaii-California-Arizona leg of the schedule" this year, the most of any of the top six ranked golfers. Woods, McIlroy and Henrik Stenson only played in one tournament each, and Woods, Mickelson and Adam Scott skipped last week's WGC-Accenture Match Play event. Sirak wrote the West Coast swing "has been hurt by the success of the PGA Tour." The creation of the WGC events in '99 "was a boost for the Left Coast because it got the Match Play," but Doral "was given WGC status and the FedEx Cup was created" in '07. Sirak: "Suddenly, between the WGC, FedEx, The Players and the majors, the best had a lot of their dance card filled" (GOLFDIGEST.com, 2/25). In California, Larry Bohannan wrote it is "easy to see that the West Coast swing has suffered from the backloading of the PGA Tour schedule." Some players, especially Woods and Mickelson, "played more golf on the West Coast swing before the FedEx Cup and even into the first few years of the FedEx Cup than they do now" (Palm Springs DESERT NEWS, 2/25).