Honda Classic running on fumes as many big names stay away
Gary Woodland says a new schedule has made it hard for players to choose which events to play
Tiger Woods during the final round of last year’s Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He finished 12th, and kickstarted his comeback from spinal fusion surgery. Photograph: Getty Images
Three of the world’s top 10 will contest this week’s Honda Classic, but the pre-tournament focus has centred on the names missing from the first event of the PGA Tour’s “Florida Swing”.
Local residents Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are among the star names to skip the €5 million tournament, despite previously enjoying success at Palm Beach Gardens, as the effects of changes to the schedule begin to bite.
McIlroy won the event in 2012 to become world number one for the first time, holding off a charging Woods, who carded a final round of 62 to finish two shots behind.
Woods also finished 12th last year to kickstart his comeback from spinal fusion surgery, but is also an eight-time winner of next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, which is followed by the prestigious Players Championship after its move from May to March.
The Honda Classic used to precede the World Golf Championships event at nearby Doral, but that tournament was moved to Mexico three years ago and in 2019 switched to the week before the Honda as it made logistical sense for it to follow the west coast swing.
One local player who is in the field is world number 23 Gary Woodland, but he admits the new schedule has made it hard for players to choose which events to play or miss.
“It’s unfortunate because it’s a great golf course, and usually in the past they’ve had some really big names and there’s a lot of guys that live down here,” Woodland told a pre-tournament press conference.
In a row
“But with tournaments moving around, there’s a lot of tournaments right now that are really good in a row. I skipped Riviera, which is one of my favourite golf courses of the year, but you just have to find a time.
“I’m in a stretch of playing five out of six right now. I’ve played Bay Hill, I want to say seven years in a row, and since I moved down here two years ago I switched them out, and now I’m playing here instead of Bay Hill, and that’s tough since I love Bay Hill as well.
“It’s a tough spot in the schedule. I love this golf course, so that’s one reason why I’m playing here, but I think the field isn’t as strong as it typically is just because of where it is right now in the schedule.”
World number three Justin Thomas will defend the title he won by beating Luke List in a play-off last year, but the likes of Masters champion Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter are among those who played 12 months ago but are not this year.