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International Invasion at the 2011 Honda Classic at PGA National
Is the international dominance in golf back? Remember when Nick, Seve, Woosie, Bernhard, Sandy and Jose-Maria ruled the roost in the late '80s and early '90s? Well now the top four golfers in the world are all European and if Rory McIlory wins the 2011 Honda Classic at PGA National this week, they'll have the top five. The Europeans are back with a vengeance.
The 15th Green at the Champion Course
Joining McIlory for the start of the "Florida Swing" are international players Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and defending champ Camilo Villegas. Throw in Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, both from lands afar, and it's a heck of a global field.
Another big star this week is the course itself. 2005 Honda Classic winner Padraig Harrington says, that outside the major championship venues, the Champion Course at PGA National is "the best course we play on Tour," and says the three-hole stretch - Nos. 15, 16 and 17 - called "The Bear Trap" is "nasty."
We caught up with several Tour stalwarts to get opinions on the Champion and "The Bear Trap."
Australian Robert Allenby, considered one of the best ball-strikers on the PGA Tour, says, "On Sunday when the pin is in the back right on No. 17, this is the hardest hole we play on Tour." The final act of the famous "Bear Trap" and the penultimate hole on the stout Champion Course, the 190-yard par-3 demands a precise shot over a watery grave into a green smaller than a landlord's heart.
In his Wednesday press conference, Jack Nicklaus says, "Playing the Bear Trap is all about guts at the end of the round. Can you finish those holes to win the tournament?"
Wine connoisseur and all-around nice guy Duffy Waldorf also considers the 17th on Champion at PGA National the hardest par-3 on Tour. He says, 'It's hard because you have no options on where to miss it."
Stylish PGA Tour player Brett Quigley says, "The two Bear Trap par-3s at PGA National - the 15th and 17th - are the two most demanding we face."
While "The Bear Trap" receives much acclaim for its industrial strength trifecta, the Champion Course at PGA National is chockablock with demanding holes. PGA Tour veteran Alex Cejka says, "While No. 17 from the back is tough, the par-4 sixth here at PGA National is brutal." Converted from a par-5, the sixth has alligator-infested water lurking left, score-ruining bunkers right, and a tiny three-level green that makes putting a nightmare under warm south Florida skies.
By the way, one of the great aspects of the Honda Classic is the players stay right at the resort, allowing fans to get up close and personal. In the past day, in the lobby, we've seen Boo Weekly working his chew and Blackberry while lazing on a couch, Westwood and McIlory enjoying a cool drink after a long day of practice, and Paul Goydos watching sports while enjoying a steak at iBAR.
We watched the Wednesday 12:40 p.m. pro-am group of Jack Nicklaus, Kenny G, Jason Taylor and Tim Tebow. The "Gator Nation" was out to see Tim and Jack. Word on the street is that the Miami Dolphin cheerleaders were on the course as well. Life could be worse. We'll return with a full report.
In addition to writing on golf and travel, author and noted speaker David Wood has made several appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman" as well as dozens of other television shows. His book - "Around the World in 80 Rounds" - was just released in paperback on www.Amazon.com. Currently he works in public relations with Buffalo Communications in Vienna, Va. His website is www.DavidWoodSpeaking.com.
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