Rickie Fowler won the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens shooting a final round one over par 71 to return a total of -12, four shots ahead of Morgan Hoffman and Gary Woodland on Sunday. Yes in the end England’s fiery Tyrell Hatton may have finished further back on -7 in a tie for fourth along with six other players, so it wasn’t exactly a one-on-one contest down the stretch, however the final grouping of Rickie and Hatton nonetheless offers an excellent opportunity for such an analogous headline to contain some relevance at least. Fowler’s first three rounds of 66-66-65 left him four strokes ahead of Hatton going into the final round, but when Hatton bogeyed two of the first four holes it was immediately a case of Rickie against whoever else might fancy a charge from the bunch behind. Rickie encouraged the pack with a double bogey on the 6th and at one point Gary Woodland was just one stroke behind, but Fowler’s sensational pair of back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th in tandem with various Bear Trap induced meltdowns from the challengers left daylight again between the leader and the field. A spectacular approach on the par four 16th set up a birdie to more or less put the win to bed and even a tee shot in the drink on the 17th could do nothing to fluster the 28 year old Californian, subsequently saving bogey brilliantly to allow a triumphant walk down the 18th where his mate Justin Thomas was waiting to join in the congratulations.
Rickie had not won on four previous occasions when taking a 54 hole lead into a final round and had struggled to contend regularly since his painful failure to close out the 2016 Phoenix Open, but 2016 also contained the highlights of a Ryder Cup success to which he contributed two points and an appearance at the Rio Olympics that he very much embraced. So he never really went away, he has just been waiting to pounce and pounce he certainly did, with a jab and an uppercut, dominating this demanding tournament from start to finish and closing it out in a confident fashion that evoked the Fowler of 2014/2015, yet being an improved and perhaps wiser version of same. This win adds to the intrigue for the year ahead with so many of the top names jostling for position and in great form. Since January 2016 Fowler, Spieth, Johnson, McIlroy, Thomas, Matsuyama, Day, Garcia and Stenson have won 29 times worldwide and since the turn of the year the healthy among them have seemingly been taking turns in the winner’s circle as and when they please. Add to this the general form of Mickelson, Rahm, Scott, Noren, Reed and Rose among others and the remainder of 2017 is looking like a mouthwatering prospect.
Rickie becomes the fourth US player to win the Honda Classic since its move to PGA National in 2007 (Wilson 2007; Thompson 2013; Henley 2014) and just the fifth player in that entire eleven year period to shoot -10 or better for the tournament. It is one of the more punishing layouts on Tour and for Johnny Miller to somehow try and find a way to undermine the manner of Rickie’s victory is daft beyond words. Rickie was on course to break Camilo Villegas’s 2010 tournament record of -13 before bogeying the last two holes, but can be forgiven for these lapses after an exacting week and difficult final day in breezy conditions. Tyrell Hatton, not known on The European Tour for having a laid back temperament, fought back well from his early setbacks to shoot -1 on the back nine. A superb tee shot on the 17th looked to have set up a certain birdie and allow him a shot at solo 2nd going down the par five 18th, but a miscue from short range, put down rightly or wrongly to a spike mark, infuriated the Englishman and left him cursing his way to a par on the 18th and a T4 finish. That fire is still there, but it would be wrong to suggest that it is holding him back, as his golf since last summer has seen him shoot up to 18th in the OWGR and he looks right at home in the company of the Fowlers of this world.
The Scrambler Pick of the week for a relatively long-odds windfall was Luke Donald at 55/1. Luke was handily placed going into the final round but a Sunday 73 dropped him to T27, five shots back of the each way payout. An improvement this week is required – see below.
Scrambler Pick – WGC Mexico Championship @ Club de Golf Chapultepec: Against the political background of Trump’s America still in its early days, it is a highly ironic twist that has led to the Florida Swing’s WGC event being diverted from The Blue Monster at Trump Doral in Miami to Mexico City this week. It will be the first time since this WGC event was moved to Doral in 2007 that the championship has been taken elsewhere and it will also in fact be the first time since 1962 that Doral will not have hosted a PGA Tour tournament. The golf course is not at all new to professional golf and has hosted The Mexican Open on the PGA Tour LatinoAmerica in recent years. The course is a mature tree-lined parkland that is quite narrow in places, with interesting challenges to shot shapes and lines imposed by awkwardly positioned trees, doglegs and fairway bunkering on several holes. Some of the greens look quite tricky but until we know how fast they will run it is difficult to predict. Whilst there are two par fives over 620 yards, a couple of very long par fours and three par threes over 200 yards, the course also offers a generous selection of shorter or more strategic holes and length is somewhat negated by the altitude. The par five 6th hole looks an absolute gem as does the par three 17th. I think a fine combination of accuracy, mid/short iron distance control and flatstick prowess will prevail here rather than an overpowering approach, which steers me more down the path of a Spieth than a DJ. But who am I kidding, any of the listed players above can get it done around here if they turn up. So to the pick – my shout for an each way return is Louis Oosthuizen at 50/1. Fresh off a 5th place finish at the not too dissimilar looking Lake Karrinyup CC in Perth a couple of weeks ago, which came between strong weeks at Phoenix (solo 3rd) and last week at Honda (T21), it should not surprise anyone if Oosthuizen was to take off this week and I for one will be waiting to benefit from such an outcome. Forget the each way, he is sure to win!