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The Honda generated quality golf, an out-of-nowhere winner and the annual buzz that the Masters is just around the corner
Spring came early this year, on the last day of February, which also happened to be the first day of the Honda. In the real-life version (not the virtual one) of PGA Tour '13, Kapalua (crazy wind) and San Diego (crazy fog) and Tucson (crazy snow) are all in the Tour van's rearview mirror and fading fast. The Florida Swing is here, baby.
By Sunday an appealing mix of brand-name pros (like runner-up Geoff Ogilvy) and wet-eared newbies (like first-time Tour winner Michael Thompson) were on the big board at PGA National. It was cool and breezy for most of the week, and for the finale especially so. It was spring.
If you broke par in that fourth round—Thompson shot a final-round one-under 69 and a nine-under 271 total to win by two—you had played world-class golf. The ponds sneering at you on every hole on the Champion course can turn any round into a flat-out slog. No matter. It was all good. We're on the road to Augusta now.
This week the fellas gather down the road at Doral, at a resort now under the watchful eye of golf impresario Donald Trump. Then Tampa, where Retief Goosen makes his annual signal that he still plays tournament golf. From there to Bay Hill, the southernmost locale in the Kingdom of Arnold. Then two stops in Texas. And then the Masters. There it is, your road to Augusta.
The Honda is played at the PGA of America headquarters just off the Florida Turnpike in Palm Beach Gardens. It's in the heart of golf country. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy live nearby, among scores of other people in the game, including Rees Jones, the course architect. Jones made the point last week that the new golf year has been mired in messy things, at the expense of the joy the game is meant to provide. You know the litany. Vijay Singh and deer-antler spray. The anchored-putting debate. Too much talk about money, Phil's tax rate and Rory's Nike deal, most notably. Rory's Friday walk-off.
But in the end the Honda constituted a happy nod toward spring and the true start of a new golf season. Professional golf, you may not know, has a two-man spring welcoming committee, and it was on hand at the Honda. Scott Michaux and David Westin of The Augusta Chronicle were making the rounds at the Honda, gathering string for the dozens of Masters preview stories their paper will require.
Thompson already has a spot in the Masters, by virtue of his second-place tie at the U.S. Open last year. Ogilvy is not yet in, but his second-place Honda finish moved him up to 47th in the World Golf Ranking, and the top 50 on that list as of April 8 receive an invite. Ogilvy's play at the Honda did get him into Doral, so that should help.
"The Tour starts the first week in January in Maui, but there's a distinct we're-getting-right-into-the-season when you get to Florida," Ogilvy said on Sunday night. He was wearing a cardigan and striped socks, and even after his toils in the March winds, he was looking very fresh. "This is my first week of the year."