The real PGA Tour season begins at the Honda Classic
By Ron Sirak
About 10 years ago, I was giving a talk to a room full of sponsors at the Honda Classic and I said I thought the PGA Tour should require every player to play each event at least once in a four-year cycle. I got a standing ovation. Back then, the Honda was often the odd-tournament-out when guys needed a week off in the stretch that included Doral, Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill and the Players (which was moved to May in 2007) on the way to the Masters. Go back another decade to the early 1990s and that Miami event at Doral was the first spot each new year where the best in the world gathered to begin their prep work for the major season.
Look at the winners at Doral from 1990 until the World Golf Championships event was created in 1999: Greg Norman three times, Raymond Floyd, Nick Faldo and Steve Elkington -- all major winners. Now that unofficial start to the major season has moved 80 miles north to the Champion Course at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. The top six players in the world coming into 2014 -- Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy -- have all committed to play the Honda, although Rose had to drop out with a shoulder injury. And all of those six but Stenson are major winners. This once embattled tournament has gained in stature for several reasons. For starters, it was flipped on the schedule with Doral, which is now the WGC-Cadillac Championship, making it the first stop on the Florida swing. That helped Honda without hurting Doral.
Related: More from Ron Sirak There is also the hard work Jack and Barbara Nicklaus have put into the Honda through the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation, and the fact that the event has settled on the Champion Course, a layout to the liking of many tour pros. The tournament has a whole new energy to it. And then there is the fact that for a lot of players -- Tiger and Rory among them -- this is a home game. And never underestimate the importance of convenience when PGA Tour players are making a decision. So if Honda and Doral both gained, who lost? That's easy: The West Coast Swing. Of those top-six players who committed to the Honda, only Mickelson, who lives in California, played three times on the eight-event Hawaii-California-Arizona leg of the schedule. Woods, Stenson and McIlroy played once, and Scott and Rose twice. Three of them -- Woods, Scott and Mickelson -- even skipped the WGC-Accenture Match Play. The Accenture was the only West Coast events with more than three of the top 10 in the world (six), and the only one on the continental United States with more than two. Simply put, the West Coast Swing has been hurt by the success of the PGA Tour.
Related: Best (and Worst) of the West Coast Swing The creation of the WGC events in 1999 initially a boost for the Left Coast because it got the Match Play, which started at La Costa in California, and that brought some big names west. But then in 2007, two things happened: Doral was given WGC status and the FedEx Cup was created. Suddenly, between the WGC, FedEx Cup playoff events, the Players and the majors, the best in the world had a lot of spots on their dance cards filled -- 13 weeks. Beginning with the Accenture in late February and ending with the British Open in mid July, there is one top tournament a month for six months with the Cadillac, Masters, Players and U.S. Open sandwiched in between. Then things get really busy. This year, August and September are crammed with the WGC-Bridgestone, PGA Championship, four playoff events and the Ryder Cup. And, just to complicate things more, the WGC-HSBC Championships in China falls in November. No one goes to Asia without playing more than one event. It's too far to travel otherwise, so that means top players making the trip are committing to a second start.
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Is it really any wonder that by the time the new calendar year starts -- and let's not even factor in the wrap-around schedule here -- guys are looking for time off? But none of that really matters this week, except in a good way. For a variety of reasons, the Honda Classic has one of the sexiest fields on the PGA Tour. So just enjoy it. Settle in, crank up the TV machine, watch some great golf and play a drinking game involving "Bear Trap" mentions. The Honda has become a must-see tournament.
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