Updated throughout each tournament week, 'The Starter' will provide key news, notes, and other nuggets prior to the first tee time on Thursday morning. Think of it as an all-in-one resource to help guide you in the days leading up to the start of the tournament, as you prepare your fantasy golf lineups and entries. As soon as we receive valuable news updates on things such as tee times, featured groups, withdrawals and other course reports we’ll be sure to post them all here.
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Jon Rahm won for the third time in 2023, becoming the fastest golfer since Johnny Miller (1975) to reach 3 PGA Tour victories in a calendar year.
Rahm became the new number-one-ranked golfer in the world (Scottie Scheffler to No. 2 and Rory McIlroy to No. 3).
Rahm has beaten or tied 98.8% of the 609 golfers he's faced across five tournaments in 2023 (per @KylePorterCBS on Twitter).
Rahm played the par-3s at Riviera at eight-under-par, which going back 40 years is the best score for any player on the par-3s at Riviera for a week (per @JustinRayGolf on Twitter).
Max Homa (runner-up) finished top-5 at Genesis for the third time in four years and top-10 at Genesis for the fourth year in a row.
Patrick Cantlay finished solo-3rd, which is his second top-5 in five starts this season.
Cantlay said he experimented a little bit with some equipment changes this West Coast Swing, including a new driver he put in the bag for Genesis.
Cantlay ranked 1st in SG: Tee-to-Green (+13.00) at Riviera.
Will Zalatoris saw a return to the ball-striking stats he showed throughout last season:
+3.90 SG: Off-the-Tee (4th)
324.8 yards average driving distance (1st)
3.95 SG: Approach (10th)
34'8" average proximity to the hole on approach shots (3rd)
65.3% Greens-in-Regulation (8th)
Sahith Theegala (T6) and Jason Day (T9) both added top-10 finishes at Genesis.
Most Top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour through Genesis: Jon Rahm (6), Sahith Theegala (5), Max Homa (4), Jason Day (4), Taylor Montgomery (4), Scottie Scheffler (4).
Collin Morikawa (T6) and Shane Lowry (T14) are two notables who missed the cut last week in Phoenix but bounced back at Genesis.
Seamus Power (T14) finished in the top 20 for the third week in a row on the PGA Tour.
Tiger Woods finished T45 and one-under-par at Genesis in what was his first non-major start since the 2020 ZOZO Championship.
Tiger's 67-73 over the weekend at Riv was a significant improvement durability-wise compared to the 78-78-79 he shot in three weekend rounds in 2022.
Tiger didn't rule out the possibility of making another start prior to The Masters. The Players Championship would be a likely destination to do so.
Thomas Pieters, Mito Pereira, Sebastian Munoz, Brendan Steele, Dean Burmester, and Danny Lee officially became the final adds for LIV Golf's 12-team, 48-golfer roster for the 2023 season that starts this upcoming week.
PGA National - Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Event #17 of the 2022-23 FedExCup Regular Season
Full-field cut event
After a month and a half out west to start 2023, the PGA Tour heads back to the east coast for the Florida Swing.
The Florida Swing features four consecutive events taking place in the sunshine state: The Honda Classic, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Players Championship, and the Valspar Championship. These tournaments definitely contrast with those we've seen out west so far this year. The grass types are different, the weather is different, and there's a much greater presence of water hazards in Florida.
While the best golfers' games travel well to all parts of the country (and the world), some of the more inconsistent PGA Tour pros can have varying levels of comfort playing in different parts of the United States. Just something to keep in mind as The Florida Swing marks a clear transition in the schedule.
The first stop is in Palm Beach Gardens for The Honda Classic.
Honda is the longest-running uninterrupted title sponsor on the PGA Tour; however, this is the final year of this partnership. It's not a major surprise to see Honda end their sponsorship of this event given the downward trend in the field quality (and the simultaneous upward trend of other elevated events).
To no fault of its own, The Honda Classic has continued to get sandwiched between some of the most prestigious tournaments on the schedule, such as The Players Championship. This year, Honda is in the middle of two elevated events with much larger prize purses (Genesis last week and API next week).
That said, reports suggest that this tournament is nearing an agreement with a new title sponsor and will remain on the PGA Tour's schedule for 2024 in some capacity.
The assumption is that PGA National would continue to act as the host course. PGA National stands out more than the average tour stop given the difficulty and also the famed "Bear Trap" stretch of holes. Selfishly, I do hope this venue not only sticks around but can also figure out a way to attract the best golfers.
The Honda Classic has been played at the Champion Course at PGA National Resort and Spa since 2007.
As mentioned, PGA National is more difficult than the average tour stop. The challenge typically comes from the course's exposure to gusting winds and firm and fast conditions.
Water comes into play on 15 out of the 18 holes at PGA National, which adds to a higher scoring average and puts an emphasis on bogey avoidance.
Water is prevalent throughout "The Bear Trap," which for the uninitiated is what they call holes 15, 16, and 17 at PGA National. Since 2007, The Bear Trap is tied for the fourth toughest three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour (+0.63 avg. to Par). In 2021 and 2022, no players went bogey-free through The Bear Trap for the entire tournament.
Holes 15 and 17 are both par-3s, which along with the other par-3s at PGA National (holes 5 and 7) make up some of the most challenging holes on the course. In totality, the par-3 scoring at PGA National routinely ranks inside the top 5 most difficult on the PGA Tour.
At the 2022 Honda Classic, these holes all ranked in the top seven most difficult for the event...
5th Hole, 3.18 (+0.18) scoring avg. (4th most difficult)
7th hole, 3.16 (+0.16) scoring avg. (7th most difficult)
15th hole, 3.21 (+0.21) scoring avg. (2nd most difficult)
17th hole, 3.19 (+0.19) scoring avg. (3rd most difficult)
The cutline at PGA National has been above-par in each of the last 10 seasons.
Yards: 7,125 (Par 70)
Fairway: Celebration Bermuda
Rough: TifSport Bermuda overseeded with Perennial ryegrass
Greens: TifEagle Bermuda
Avg. green size: 7,000 sq. ft.
Sand Bunkers: 60
Number of Holes Water is in Play: 15
“Changes to the course since last year include a bunker renovation which included removal of bunkers on No. 13 and 16 and bunkerage reductions on No. 17 and 18.”
Course Scoring Stats
In 2022, PGA National (Champion Course) ranked as the 7th most difficult course on the PGA Tour (out of 38) in terms of scoring average. PGA National routinely plays as a difficult course for players to score on–4th most difficult in both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and the most difficult course for scoring during the 2018 season.
Winning Scores last ten years:
2022: Sepp Straka -10
2021: Matt Jones -12
2020: Sungjae Im -6
2019: Keith Mitchell -9
2018: Justin Thomas -8
2017: Rickie Fowler -12
2016: Adam Scott -9
2015: Padraig Harrington: -6
2014: Russell Henley -8
2013: Michael Thompson -9
Additional scoring stats last three years:
2022 Scoring Average: 71.34 (+1.34)
2021 Scoring Average: 71.10 (+1.10)
2020 Scoring Average: 71.90 (+1.90)
Winner's Profile - How Sepp Straka gained strokes on the field in 2022:
SG Total: +15.20
SG T2G: +9.02 (4th)
SG OTT: +5.04 (1st)
SG APP: +3.32 (20th)
SG ARG: +0.80 (31st)
SG PUTT: +6.00 (4th)
Sepp Straka was the first winner of The Honda Classic in the last 5 years to not rank 1st in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green for the week he won.
Field Changes (-): Patrick Rodgers, David Lipsky, Sam Ryder, Lanto Griffin.
Field Changes (-): Alex Noren and Austin Smotherman withdrew on Tuesday (2/21).
Field Changes (+): Scott Brown, Jonas Blixt, Sung Kang, Greg Chalmers.
Field Changes (+): Kevin Chappell and Grayson Murray entered the field on Tuesday (2/21).
Monday Qualifiers (+): Trace Crowe, Brett Drewitt, Ryan Gerard, Parker Coody.
Sponsor Exemptions (+): Ben Silverman, Curtis Thompson.
3 of the OWGR Top-30 are in the field (Sungjae Im, Billy Horschel, and Shane Lowry)
Davis Riley - OWGR 80th
Riley withdrew from The Genesis Invitational a few days prior to the start of the event. It's currently unclear why Riley decided to WD, though he has not been playing his best golf so far in 2023 with three consecutive missed cuts. He’s currently in the field for Honda.
Webb Simpson - OWGR 162nd
Simpson withdrew from The Genesis Invitational field shortly after the field was announced. He was still playing in the WM Phoenix Open when he decided not to play Genesis, finishing T57 at TPC Scottsdale. It appears that he's fine, but it's worth mentioning that Simpson dealt with some neck issues last season and so his status will be one to monitor going forward.
Andrew Landry (right shoulder) - OWGR 593rd
Landry withdrew during the second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am a few weeks ago, citing a right shoulder injury. He was able to play in the WM Phoenix Open two weeks ago but missed the cut at +9.
NOT IN FIELD
Matt Fitzpatrick (neck) - OWGR 13th
Fitzpatrick plans to get scans for his injured neck, per Dan Rapaport. After missing his second cut in three weeks at The Genesis Invitational, Fitzpatrick will look to find answers for his nagging neck issue. Fitzpatrick first mentioned he was dealing with a neck injury prior to playing at Pebble Beach three weeks ago. Rapaport added that the injury has been lingering for a while and "has gotten worse recently" for Fitzpatrick. The Arnold Palmer Invitational is the next time Fitzpatrick is expected to tee it up on the PGA Tour, but it will be important to monitor his health status until then.
Alex Noren (undisclosed) - OWGR 40th
Noren withdrew from The Honda Classic on Tuesday. At this moment, no reason has been provided for Noren's decision to pull out of the event. We will monitor his status moving forward.
Maverick McNealy (left shoulder) - OWGR 68th
McNealy withdrew during the second round of the WM Phoenix Open due to a left shoulder injury. This was the second week in a row that McNealy was forced to WD from an event because of this injury. McNealy attempted to play through this issue at TPC Scottsdale, but shot 76 (+5) in the opening round and then continued to struggle at the start of the second on Friday.
McNealy pulled out of the Genesis Invitational field shortly after it was announced and remains sidelined once again this week for the Honda.
Patrick Rodgers - OWGR 140th
Rodgers withdrew from The Honda Classic on Monday; no reason was provided for the WD.
David Lipsky - OWGR 170th
Lipsky pulled out of the field for The Honda Classic shortly after completing the final round at Genesis on Sunday. No reason has been provided for Lipsky’s decision to not play this week.
John Huh (elbow) - OWGR 183rd
Huh withdrew from the WM Phoenix Open a few days prior to the event. He’s yet to make a start in 2023 due to elbow tendonitis.
Lanto Griffin (chest/back) - OWGR 198th
Griffin withdrew during the second round of The Genesis Invitational. He originally cited a rib injury for the WD but later posted on his personal Instagram account that the x-rays came back negative for a rib fracture and that he had actually just pulled a muscle in his chest and back area.
Griffin withdrew from The Honda Classic on Monday.
Austin Smotherman (undisclosed) - OWGR 355th
Smotherman withdrew from The Honda Classic on Tuesday. There's currently no insight as to why Smotherman pulled out of the event, though with five missed cuts in a row, it's possible he's either injured or just simply does not feel his game is in a good place to compete right now.
The Honda Classic golfers with the highest “True Strokes Gained” (avg. adjusted strokes gained) at PGA National (min. two starts):
Byeong Hun An +1.80 (14 rounds)
Sepp Straka +1.64 (14)
Sungjae Im +1.60 (14)
Luke Donald +1.28 (38)
Shane Lowry +1.28 (20)
Cam Davis +1.16 (12)
Aaron Wise +1.08 (14)
Matt Kuchar +1.08 (16)
Harris English +1.00 (24)
No one in this week’s field has amazing course history at PGA National. The golfers listed above pretty much all have a mix of great and not-so-great performances at The Honda Classic.
Byeong Hun An finished T4 in 2020 and T5 in 2018; missed the cut the last time he played in this event in 2021.
Sepp Straka obviously won here in 2021; T33, T27, MC in the three years prior.
Sungjae Im is another past winner of the Honda; missed the cut in 2021.
Luke Donald has missed the cut in three of his last four starts at PGA National; he also won here in 2006 and finished runner-up in 2008.
Shane Lowry finished runner-up at Honda last season after not finishing better than T21 in his four previous starts at PGA National.
Cam Davis has a T8 finish in 2020 sandwiched between a T59 (2021) and T33 (2019) finish in 2019 and 2021.
Aaron Wise’s best finish at PGA National is T13 in 2021.
Notables playing PGA National for the first time this week:
Min Woo Lee