On the Tee: Honda Classic

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist

The windy Champion course at PGA National hijacked third-place finisher Jerry Kelly's ball in '11. (Getty Images)  
The windy Champion course at PGA National hijacked third-place finisher Jerry Kelly's ball in '11. (Getty Images)  

Everything you need to know about the Honda Classic:

Nuts and bolts

Hole by hole | Past champions | Expert Picks | TV: 3-6 ET Sat., 3-6 ET Sun.

Defending the throne

His week at the Honda Classic was easily the high point of the 2011 season for Rory Sabbatini.

After noting he’d had a battle with skin cancer and donned a Panama hat to ward off the sun, Sabbatini fought off wave after wave of pursuers last year, including the dogged Jerry Kelly and Y.E. Yang, to win his sixth PGA Tour title.

Over the next few weeks, it was learned Sabbatini had engaged in two serious on-course blowups involving other players or tournament volunteers, and he disappeared from regular tour events for a two-month span in the summer.

Though he gets overheated at times, there’s no doubt Sabbatini has been an under-rated player over the past decade. After all, not many players in the Tiger era can claim as many or more victories.

Sabbatini sealed the title with a two-foot par putt on the last hole to finish 9 under 271, winning for the first time since the 2009 Byron Nelson Championship. Yang, Honda's 2009 winner, birdied the final hole for a closing 66 to finish 8 under. Kelly, who played with Sabbatini and Yang in the last threesome, shot a 67 and took third at 7 under.

"I'm a passionate golfer," Sabbatini admitted. "I love the game of golf, and I've had my moments. I'm not proud of everything I've done out here, but I'm trying to learn. I'm trying to be a role model for my children, and I know as my wife has said to me, I wouldn't want my son doing some of the things that I've done in the past."

Or some that he would do in the near future.

Sabbatini scrambled his South African rear end off, saving par 21 times on the 25 occasions where he missed a green. In the tough Bermuda grass, the rest of the field averaged 52 percent in that regard.

Venue and you

PGA National Resort & Spa is very much open to the public and has several layouts in addition to the Champion course, which is used by the tour. Tied to the adjoining hotel, most of the advertised greens fees are bundled in with room rates. Prices vary seasonally and some hotel/golf packages require a two-day stay. This time of year, it's not cheap, at $269 per person, with double occupancy in the room and a two-night stay required. An unspecified surcharge is added to play the Champion course.

Track and field

With Tiger Woods in the field for the first time as a professional, Honda can't miss. But in truth, the data say there are three fewer top-15 players and two fewer from top 50 than there were in the 2011 field. However, as far as names go, with Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, all four of the 2011 major winners and several other international players of note, including Padraig Harrington, it has some serious heft. Hit it straight, boys.

Three whacks from short range

 You're going to hear about the three-hole stretch called the Bear Trap so often, you might wanna gouge out your eardrums with a dull golf pencil. They are hole Nos. 15-16-17, though the par-5 18th is no pushover, either. Generally, the winner just tried to hold on, as Ernie Els did in 2008 when he didn't have a birdie on the back nine. The three holes ranked first, third and fourth for the week in difficulty last year.

 There are few, if any, courses in regular use on the PGA Tour where wind is a greater part of the equation. When it lays down, the scores get interesting in a hurry, because the course isn't particularly long or punitive. When it blows, the scores head north in fast fashion. Sometimes, getting very lucky with late/early draw on Thursday and Friday makes a huge difference.

 There are 19 different players in the field this week who have won major championships, starting with PGA National's newest neighbor, Woods. Keep an eye on Keegan Bradley and Darren Clarke, who won the last two majors of 2011. They are players heading in decidedly different directions.

Odds and evens

Odds on winning, via Golfodds.com and the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino:

Rory McIlroy 8/1; Tiger Woods 10/1; Lee Westwood 10/1; Charl Schwartzel 25/1; Keegan Bradley 25/1; Kyle Stanley 25/1; Ben Crane 25/1; Justin Rose 30/1; Graeme McDowell 30/1; Robert Allenby 30/1; Y.E. Yang 40/1; Mark Wilson 40/1; Jim Furyk 40/1; Rickie Fowler 40/1; Padraig Harrington 40/1; Charles Howell 40/1; Fredrik Jacobson 40/1.


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