New course will prove tough test at Honda Classic
The Honda Classic moves around almost as much as major championships, with the Sunrise Course at Mirasol the fifth location in the last 10 years.
And only at majors do players fret so much about a golf course before the tournament even starts.
``I think at the end of the week, you're going to see a lot more guys spent than guys having fun,'' Fred Couples said Wednesday.
During a practice round, defending champion Justin Leonard hit his tee shot about 10 feet to the right of the flag. It landed safely, trickled to the right, then disappeared. A few seconds later, and about 15 yards away, the ball emerged from behind a mound and continued rolling.
Jeff Sluman hit a 4-iron from 183 yards into the wind to a front pin on the par-3 eighth. It landed 20 feet to the right, even with the pin, but not for long. It went down a steep slope into the rough. He hit what he thought was a good chip, only to see the ball roll slowly past the hole and keep going, some 30 feet off the green.
``It's hard,'' Couples said. ``I wouldn't know where to start. It's in fantastic shape. It's just very, very hard. It doesn't matter what the wind does. It's hard to put any spin on a ball when you've got to hit it in one certain area, and if you don't, it just rolls ... am I saying anything different than anyone else?''
Most guys aren't saying anything at all, perhaps not wanting to find a letter from the PGA Tour in their locker informing them of a fine for disparaging comments.
``Are we off the record?'' was a popular refrain leading up to Thursday's opening round at Mirasol.
Leonard was among the more diplomatic about the Tom Fazio design when he said that ``a couple of the greens are a little severe, but everybody is going to have to get through those holes.''
What did he mean by severe?
``Well, I think (No.) 3 is pretty severe for a 245-yard par 3,'' he said. ``The right side of the green just goes up and down. It looks like something I skied down a couple of months ago.''
Still, everyone will be playing the same 7,468-yard course. And everyone will be chasing the $900,000 prize.
``It will be interesting to see the comments over the course of the week,'' Davis Love III said. ``I think the lower your score, the better your comments will be, as usual.''
The Honda Classic, which gets under way on Thursday, has had trouble finding a permanent home in recent years.
It was played on the TPC at Eagle Trace near Fort Lauderdale in 1996 for the ninth and final time. That location was notable for the year Kenny Knox shot 80 in the third round and still won the tournament.
With so many water hazards, and so much wind in south Florida this time of the year, Greg Norman once referred to Eagle Trace as ``carnival golf.''
It switched to the TPC at Heron Bay for the next six years, and the course was so bland the players couldn't remember the holes. The tournament moved to Mirasol last year and was played on the adjacent Sunset course, which was deemed too easy for a PGA Tour event.
Leonard won at 24-under par, and the next dozen guys behind him were at 20-under or better.
The next stop is the Sunrise course, for at least the next three years (with an option through 2010).
The intrigue about this Honda Classic is that no one has every played the Sunrise course in tournament conditions, and yet everyone seems to know what to expect.
``I watched last year and they were in the 20-unders,'' Couples said. ``This would be one way of stopping that, to build a course like this. I think 75, if they put the pins in spots, is going to be a mediocre score.''
Because of the shaved slopes around the greens that spill into deep collection areas, there have been some comparisons to Pinehurst No. 2.
The grass is so tightly mown beyond the green that it's difficult to hit a flop shot with a sand wedge up the mounds. Instead, several players were using fairway metals to putt, or chipping with a 6- or 7-iron.
``It looks like someone tried to make it look like Pinehurst, and overdid it,'' Brad Faxon said.
Pinehurst, where the late Payne Stewart won the '99 U.S. Open, was a Donald Ross creation with his vintage turtleback greens. The greens at Mirasol look like the back of a humpback whale.
The ninth green is the most peculiar, stretching some 50 yards diagonally, with large slopes front and back. The green has so many contours it looks like the fairways at Royal St. Georges.
``If we went and played Pinehurst next week, it would be a piece of cake,'' Couples said.
The Honda Classic might resemble a major in one other aspect -- it's going to require a lot of patience when bad things happen to good shots.
``I kind of like this,'' Faxon said. ``Because it's going to get a lot of guys (upset). And it's a $5 million purse.''
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