PALM BEACH GARDENS -- Revenge was sweet for the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa.
After playing around par for the first three days of the Honda Classic, the average score on the course was 71.8, nearly two full shots more than par 70 the track played at this week. The main culprit — the wind gusts blowing in out of the east at almost 15 mph that had the flags on the pin standing at attention.
“It’s hard [in general],” fifth-place finisher Billy Hurley III said of the course. “It’s real hard in the wind. There’s a disaster on almost every hole waiting for you.”
The course was firmer Sunday than it had been the first three days, and the greens were far less receptive, which made trying to get close to the flag a trying task. To make life even more demanding, the greens were faster Sunday as witnessed when Rory McIlroy’s bunker shot on the first playoff hole rolled right off the green.
The most difficult stretch on the course, the final four holes, played extraordinarily tough in these conditions. Three out of the four pins were placed just off the right edge of the green and with the wind coming from right to left on those locations, most players were unable to get it close to the flag from long distances.
“The pins are tucked and the only way to get to them is to maybe ride the wind in there,” said Derek Fathauer, who shot 5-over-par Sunday after playing the first three days at 2-under. “Those last few holes, you can’t really go pin hunting, you got to hit it in the middle of the green and take your 30-footer.”
As the wind blew, the leaderboard shifted dramatically. There were 16 players inside the top 10 and ties at the end of Saturday and only eight finished there Sunday. Two players who finished in the top 10, David Hearn and Sergio Garcia, finished their rounds shortly after the final group teed off and sat at least nine shots back when play started. There were only 17 rounds under par all day, 15 of which came from players from the bottom half of the leaderboard, and 13 of those players finished in the top 25.
From bad to worse
Five holes cost Nicholas Thompson his second-career top-5 finish.
Thompson, who grew up in Coral Springs, arrived at the ninth tee at 7-under for the tournament and 1-under on the day. By the time he was staring down the 14th fairway from the tee box, he had lost five strokes. He was unable to get anything back down the stretch and finished the tournament in a tie for 33rd at 2-under.
“Every nice shot I hit turned average, every marginal shot turned crappy and the one maybe poor shot I hit turned beyond bad,” Thompson said. “It can get going very wrong out here very fast.”
After three bogeys in four holes, Thompson arrived at the par-4 13th and made a mess of it. After missing the fairway off the tee, he flew his ball over the green with his approach. He overshot the green again from the rough behind the flag and followed that with two putts to card a double bogey.
“That hole bites me in the rear end every year,” Thompson said. “One day out of four it gets me. I just usually hope it’s just a bogey; [Sunday] it wasn’t.”