by Jeff Skinner
The last time we saw Rory McIlroy at The Honda Classic he was walking off mid-round as his game had left him and his agent said he had a toothache. Well, yesterday we saw the Rory McIlroy that has already won two majors and ascended to world number one.
McIlroy shot a bogey free, seven under 63 that has him leading The Honda Classic by a stroke. McIlroy has expelled the demons that haunted him last year and is in a more comfortable place. “Coming in this week, I knew that I was playing well and I just wanted to try and get off to a good start. … Regardless of what happened last year or where it is, it’s always nice to shoot a round like this and get yourself in the mix early.”
McIroy did have the low round of the day but the “moral victory” of the first round had to go to Zach Johnson. Johnson survived a tragic quadruple bogey on the par four tenth hole on only his second hole of the day. He plopped two balls in the water on his approach and limped away with an eight.
Johnson has the reputation of being a bulldog on the course and he lived up to that reputation yesterday. Faced with being four over par after just two holes, Johnson did what he does best, play great golf.
On a monster of a course he hit 79% of the fairways and 89% of the greens in regulations. Over the next sixteen holes he carded seven birdies to salvage a three under 67 and finished tied for eleventh.
Yes, he’s still four strokes off the lead but it’s testament to his doggedness that he is still in the mix.
by Jeff Skinner
This week we are treated to a very strong field of golfers on a very demanding course. But it hasn’t always been that way. This tournament had struggled to get top players to play in it for a long time. There appears to be many reasons behind the growth of The Honda Classic. While there are many factors that have contributed to The Honda being frequented by more and more top players they all start at one place: Ken Kennerly.
Kennerly is the tournament director of The Honda Classic and over the years he has singlehandedly dragged The Honda from the Netherlands of the PGA Tour to the top. Any tournament that has Jack and Barbara Nicklaus as partners is extraordinary.
Tim Rosaforte of Golf World and the ultimate insider for all things golf in the Palm Beach area profiles Kennerly and his quest to rebuild a tournament that was all but abandoned by the upper echelon tour players.
Ken Kennerly realized he’d put the Honda Classic on the map in 2008 during a visit to the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks after Ernie Els’ victory that year. Confirmation came at the crossover from the 14th green to the 15th tee at Bay Hill on pro-am day — from a guy who’d watched Kennerly’s event on TV. “Ken, congratulations on the Honda!” yelled Phil Mickelson, who had spotted Kennerly in a sea of spectators. “You’ve done a wonderful job. I really want to come and support it one year.”
The courtship of Phil heated up at last year’s PGA Championship when Mickelson called Kennerly to his table in player dining. Sitting next to Mickelson were three impressionable young players based in the Palm Beach/Jupiter area: Rickie Fowler, Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka.
Mickelson, who had played the 2002 Honda at TPC Heron Bay when it was struggling at the gate and bouncing between venues in Broward County, talked to Kennerly about potential changes to his 2014 schedule, mentioning that he also wanted to support the Jack Nicklaus family and their involvement with the Honda through the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation.
When the commitment was official, Kennerly didn’t get all choked up the way he did when Tiger Woods committed for the first time as a pro in 2012, but in a way, Mickelson playing Honda was a bigger get because of his allegiance to the West Coast swing.
by Jeff Skinner
You’ll have to excuse the golf geeks of the world if they seem a bit giddy this week. Even though we’ve been watching golf all winter things really start to heat up this week. The PGA Tour brings the strongest field of the year to a tough track as PGA National hosts the 43rd Honda Classic.
It wasn’t always The Honda Classic. Back in 1972 Jackie Gleason, a hard partying golf geek himself headlined the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic. He got the best players and many of his hard partying crowd to get together and play some golf in between the parties.
But that was then and this is now. Long gone is Gleason but his tournament has evolved into a significant PGA Tour event. The folks behind the Honda Classic have worked long and hard to grow this tournament. First the move to PGA National at Palm Beach Gardens gave them an opportunity to tap one of the most vital of Florida resources: Jack Nicklaus.
Jack and Barbara Nicklaus have signed on and play an important role in involving the community in The Honda. Any time Jack is in the mix there is always an extra buzz that week.
The move to PGA National has proved advantageous as more and more top ranked pros sign up to test themselves on Jack’s design. Holes fifteen through seventeen, nicknamed “The Bear Trap” has combined to give us plenty of excitement recently.
Timing has much to do with the growth of The Honda. It marks the start of the East Coast Swing and a countdown to The Masters. Hawaii is great, Pebble Beach is awesome and Riviera is classic but for many the season, the major chase season starts this week. 43 days to Augusta and don’t think the boys of the PGA Tour haven’t calculated that into their schedule.
Finally, the most attractive aspect of this week is the field. We all know what a buzz a great field can give and this week is a perfect example. Tiger Woods’ relocation to this part of Florida has made it a natural starting point to his march to Augusta. Phil Mickelson has reworked his schedule and has signed on to test The Bear Trap. Normally Phil will start his east coast swing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but this year the Honda has earned a place in Phil’s new schedule.
Great theater needs a great cast and this week has just that. Seven of the top players in the world are teeing it up here. Justin Rose would have made eight but withdrew due to his ailing shoulder. For the first time this year numbers 1, 2, 3 are in the field as Woods, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson lead the field. Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia round out the remaining top ten players. Only Jason Day and Dustin Johnson are passing on The Honda.
With all these top players there is bound to be plenty of excitement as the tour really starts to get busy. 43 days and six tournaments left to The Masters.
by Jeff Skinner
The 2014 season has officially started this week, well at least on The Golf Channel. Monday their most popular show, The Big Break debuted with Big Break Florida and a cast full of women which is sure to get good ratings. That was followed by the season premiere of In Play With Jimmy Roberts and The Golf Channel execs were hoping to get a carryover of all those viewers watching the short skirts on Big Break.
Well it worked for me at least as I hung around to watch In Play. Now, I am normally no fan of Jimmy Roberts but this show was by far his best offering yet. Each segment was better than the last. Roberts’ headliner was Gil Hanse and an up close look at the Olympic course in Rio. He has NASCAR champion Jimmie Roberts on and a piece on the history of golf in the Olympics and a Now and Then piece on flash in the pan golfer Robert Landers.
All were interesting and entertaining segments but the highlight of the show was the tale of a golfer of a different sort, Michael Labrie. To say Michael’s story is amazing is an understatement, it is just unbelievable. Michael was so badly burned as a two year old he wasn’t expected to survive.
But he has done more than just survive he has flourished. He has had over 70 operations over the years to help him recover from burns over 95% of his body and to help him lead his life. And what an inspirational life it is. Yes, he plays golf to a single digit handicap and that’s amazing but that’s just a small part of this incredible story. You must watch this video.
by Jeff Skinner
1. All in all it was a great week at The Match Play. I know it may be a difficult format for television and sponsors but for real golf fans it is so much fun.
2. We saw Jason Day play the way we all have been waiting for and we got an up close look at the latest and greatest French export, Victor Dubuisson. He’s his own man, not your typical golfer, and we will be seeing ore of him this season.
3. Rickie Fowler started the week as the 58th ranked golfer in the Match Play and had just come off three missed cuts. He then proceeded to bust everyone’s bracket with his round one victory over Ian Poulter. That work with Butch Harmon may be paying off.
4. Cheers to Anna Nordqvist for her win at the Honda LPGA Thailand. It’s her first win since 2009. It’s good to see Michelle Wie and her tabletop putting stroke in contention again.
5. Is it me or are the players from Ireland the forthright golfers in the world. Rory is always open and honest and sometimes it gets him in trouble. Put a microphone in front of G-Mac and you get more than an earful. And Paddy Harrington once listed a dozen things and went on for fifteen minutes when asked about a swing change.
6. Paddy this week let it be known that he has had treatment for skin cancer and had some spots removed from his face. He’s hoping other golfers will heed his warning and get checked.
7. Jordan Spieth was cruising until his round four match with Ernie Els. He was spraying the ball and for the first time in his short but noteworthy career seemed to lose it on the course. He later apologized on Twitter,” I’m embarrassed about the way I acted on the course today.. Played like the 13 year old version of myself mentally.” He’s 20…he’ll be fine.
8. Sergio Garcia played well but then he ran into the buzz saw that was Rickie Fowler. Of course the match is remembered more for Sergio’s concession of Rickie’s 18 footer. True, play was delayed by Sergio’s taking a few drops to avoid a bee’s nest but that golf. Stuff happens. I can’t help but think Sergio is in full image upgrade mode. Even with that it was still classy, no matter what Faldo days.
9. Jason Day has been a very good golfer for a long time. He hangs around every major championship but for some reason he has fallen short. I think 2014 may be the year he breaks through.
10. Thanks to The Match Play we got to know Victor Dubuisson. He’s not your typical golfer and that’s a good thing. According to reports he’s a loner that doesn’t mind being by himself. Golf is the right game for him. He kept his composure even after he landed in the desert…twice. More amazing is that he didn’t even crack a smile when he made those amazing recoveries.
Extra Hole. There were many exciting matches all week at the Match Play but to finish with that championship match was remarkable. It was a good match going into 18 and after that is just got better. Match Play is fun and hopefully there will be plenty more of it.
by Jeff Skinner
The 1986 adventure/fantasy film, The Highlander gave us the memorable quote, “There can be only one.” They were talking about immortal warriors that spent centuries trying to slay each other. But the quote can certainly be applied to sports as we separate winners from losers.
Each week in golf there can be only one…winner. Most weeks that would be true, but this week in the desert there wasn’t only one winner. Jason Day walked away with the win at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship but runner up Victor Dubuisson earned our respect with his steel will and miraculous shot making.
Jason Day looked to be in control when he went three up but as he did earlier against his hero, Ernie Els, Dubuisson found a way to turn it around. The 23 year old Frenchmen won the last two holes in the championship match with a clutch birdie at seventeen and a par on the last that sent the match to extra holes. And that is when the fun began.
Day looked to have the trophy in his hands as Dubuisson got into serious trouble more than once. Hitting from the desert on both the 19th and 20th holes Dubuisson made miraculous recoveries. And then like a pro’s pro sank the par putts. They were two astonishing pars made by a golfer known to few here in the states. But after today’s performance he may have supplanted Jean van de Velde as France’s most famous golfer.
Day claims his second and most significant PGA Tour win and may be on the way to fulfilling his huge potential. He has had three second place finishes in majors and always seems to be in the mix.
While Dubuisson could understandably be upset at his second place he has to be happy with his performance and his steady rise up the world ranking.
Day and Dubuisson aren’t the only “winners” this week. With all the great matches we were treated to the Match Play Championship certainly got a bump. There was plenty of buzz all week with Rickie Fowler, Graham McDowell, Els, Jordan Spieth and Jim Furyk all playing well and there was a wonderful mix of young bloods and old vets sharing the limelight.
Cheers to both Jason Day and Victor Dubuisson for giving us a championship match well worth watching. And here is hoping that The Match Play Championship finds a new sponsor and venue because this is an entertaining format worth preserving.
by Jeff Skinner
Jack Nicklaus may be retired from competitive golf but that doesn’t mean he’s sitting in a rocking chair. Nicklaus is a busy as he has ever been tending to the Nicklaus Companies. Steve Schaefer of Forbes profiles Nicklaus in “retirement” and looks at his latest endeavors.
Jack says he took an unconventional route, “Most people work all their lives so they can eventually stop and go play golf. I played golf my whole life and when I stopped I went to work.”
Nicklaus Design, created almost 45 years ago, has designed more than 380 courses in 36 different countries. Courses built, designed or consulted on by Nicklaus host regular PGA Tour stops like the Memorial Tournament (at Ohio’s Muirfield Village) and the RBC Heritage (South Carolina’s Harbour Town Golf Links). In 2014 the Ryder Cup will be hosted by Nicklaus’ PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles in Scotland, and the 2015 President’s Cup will be played on a Nicklaus course in Incheon, South Korea.
The course design is just one business under the umbrella of the Nicklaus Companies though, an umbrella that is constantly evolving to cover new ventures, most recently a new line of golf balls and a lemonade deal with Arizona Beverage Company.
It’s not just course design for Jack lately he has been branching out. “The course design business is a passion for Nicklaus, but he also speaks with pride of the company’s other endeavors, particularly the new golf balls, which are color-coded to the white, blue and black tees golfers play.
The color-coding makes for easier purchasing decisions than the traditional way golf balls are sold, based on clubhead speed, which most duffers don’t understand. There is also a charitable element; the balls sell for $30 per dozen online (versus $50 at Nicklaus course pro-shops), with buyers encouraged to make a donation to the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation.
“The charitable part is nice,” Nicklaus says, but the bottom line matters too. “You either make a profit or you’re not in business.”