Ask any player what they think of PGA National, the site of this week’s Honda Classic, and there’s a 98% chance “tough” (or some rendition of it) will be one of the first words uttered. Graeme McDowell changed things up and said, “windy,” when I asked him for one word to describe the course.
Keegan Bradley, who moved up to No. 2 in the first reshuffle (basically, priority order to get into events) for ’10 Q-School and Nationwide Tour grads, chose “really challenging.” Michael Putnam said “hard” with emphasis. Okay, got it.
When I strolled the range on Tuesday and chatted with players and caddies, the biggest takeaway was that the course is a good test and — you got it — very tough. Stay out of the rough — you absolutely can’t play the course from the rough. The ball disappears in the long grass, leaving the guys with virtually no second shot.
To conquer PGA National, it’s all about target golf, hitting the right spots. The greens aren’t that hard, but they are “Pete-Dye-ish” and have different levels. But with the wind gusting, it’ll make things really challenging. I watched a gust of wind blow Ian Poulter’s putt 10 feet off line. Of course, he threw his arms up in the air and his classic “can-you-believe-that?!” look.
PGA National is long and there’s a lot of water, and when the wind blows like it’s supposed to this week, it plays even harder. In 2010 PGA National ranked as the toughest non-major track with a 71.64 scoring average.
The par-3s are probably the most challenging set of four that the players face on Tour all year. Basically, you’re hitting into island greens while fighting strong cross winds. You’ll see lots of balls dropping in the water, especially in the stretch known as “The Bear Trap,” Nos. 15-17.
“It’s a good test and not as much of a putting contest as say, the Bob Hope,” said Putty. “The best player definitely wins.”
Luke Donald, who dominated to win last week’s Accenture Match Play Championship, described conditions during Wednesday’s pro-am as “tough.”
“The wind is really picking up on the back nine, gusting to 20, 25 miles an hour,” said Donald. “And I believe that’s what we are forecast for a couple more days in the tournament. The last four holes are tricky. You have to stand up there and really commit to some good shots and really have control of your ball flight, so it’s certainly a challenging finish, one of the toughest we have all year.”
Donald thinks No. 17 is the most difficult shot because the wind pushes the ball toward the water.
Keegan, who feels the course suits his game well, agrees with Donald’s assessment. “There’s a bail-out area but you can make a double on that hole without even thinking, he said. “Probably the guys who play the last four holes the best are going to do the best in the tournament.
“It could definitely come down to those holes on Sunday. If the wind is going to blow like it is supposed to all week, you could have a five-shot lead and anything could happen in those last four holes. You could hit it in the water five times without even knowing it. You’ve gotta be paying attention but at the same time you’ve gotta be relaxed.”
Added defending champion Camilo Villegas: “Thursday and Friday will be really windy and we have got some rain coming for Sunday. So it’s going to be challenging. This golf course is always tough and it tests our game, tests our emotions and I’m looking forward to it.”