Rickie Fowler will meet an old friend Thursday when he tees off in the first round of the Honda Classic.
That friend, or potentially enemy, would be The Bear Trap, three of the most difficult consecutive holes in professional golf. Those holes are 15 through 17 on the Champion Course at the PGA National Resort & Spa.
Fowler, Honda’s defending champion, was asked what he would be thinking as he prepares to take on The Bear Trap on Thursday through Sunday in defense of his 4-stroke 2017 triumph.
Without hesitation, Fowler gave a two-word answer: “Stay dry.”
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Although he is the defending champion and is considered one of the PGA Tour’s most popular players, Fowler knows he will be the second-most followed player in the tournament. Most certainly the fans will flock to get a glimpse of Tiger Woods.
Woods’ late entry this past Friday should give the tournament a huge fan boost, either for two or four days, depending on whether he makes the cut.
Unlike the fans, Fowler will not be doing much Tiger watching.
Any and all of his concentration will be directed at the difficult course and the extra-difficult Bear Trap.
Despite the challenges the course presents, Fowler said, “I love playing this golf course … it’s a very good test. The best satisfaction playing here is beating the golf course better than anyone else. You can’t fall asleep. You have to stay on your toes. It’s a true test.”
Fowler, age 29 with four PGA Tour championships, knows things can get rowdy at The Bear Trap.
“People have a few drinks and they are close to you,” Fowler said. “As long as they are respectful, it’s fun to have that type of energy and atmosphere. It also helps that a lot of the fans are on my side.”
As you enter The Bear Trap, just off the 15th tee, you are greeted by a looming statue of a bear.
Fowler was asked whether he was afraid of the full-sized bear replica.
He smiled and responded, “Nah, he can’t move.”
Next to the menacing bear is an ominous sign that warns: “You are now entering The Bear Trap. It should be won or lost right here.”
The holes are called The Bear Trap because they were designed by the person generally considered golf’s greatest player — Jack Nicklaus, who is nicknamed The Golden Bear.
Nicklaus even has some advice to players taking on the three holes. “It’s not about length. It’s about precision. It’s about guts.”
How tough is The Bear Trap? Since 2007, the Honda fields have been 2,973 over par on the three-hole stretch. Holes 15 and 17 are watery par-3s and the 16th presents a treacherous green that has created 191 three-putts or more since 2007.
In winning a year ago, Fowler negotiated The Bear Trap in impressive fashion, traversing it in 2-under-par for the four days.
Nevertheless, Fowler sums up The Bear Trap by saying, “No cushion is safe enough when you come to No. 15.”
Woods is entering the tournament at the beginning of a comeback from multiple back injuries and surgeries, and Fowler considers Tiger’s presence a welcomed event.
“It’s great to see him healthy and pain-free,” Fowler said. “Pretty cool. I don’t see why he can’t win on the Tour.”
THE HONDA CLASSIC
▪ When: Thursday through Sunday.
▪ Where: PGA Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens.
▪ Purse: $6,600,000; $1,188,000 to winner.
▪ Course: Champion Course (7,140 yards; 35-35 par 70).
▪ Top 2017 finishers: 1. Rickie Fowler, -12/268; 2. (tie) Morgan Hoffman, Gary Woodland -8/272.
▪ Past five winners: Fowler (2017), Adam Scott (2016), Padraig Harrington (2015), Russell Henley (2014), Michael Thompson (2013).
▪ Players to watch: Fowler, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood, Gary Woodland.
▪ Tickets: Go to thehondaclassic.com or call 1-888-846-6328. Kids under 15 years of age accompanied by an adult with a ticket get in free.