Being the first event on the Florida swing is not necessarily an advantage, as the Honda Classic tournament organizers are finding out. The event, which begins Thursday, is seeing star golfers stay away this week.
Only three of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings are playing this week. Justin Thomas, who is No. 3, will be there, and since there is a lack of highly-ranked players, he is the overwhelming 5/1 favorite. The next golfer is No. 9 Rickie Fowler at 10/1. No. 4 Brooks Koepka is at 12/1.
After the three golfers in the top 10, there are three more in the top 25 playing, and six in the top 50. They do get a boost from recognizable players such as Ernie Els and V.J. Singh, but sorely miss the strong field they had enjoyed in the past.
They are a victim of the new tour schedule. The Honda Classic used to be after the World Golf Championship event, but that changed when it moved from Doral to Mexico City. Now it is sandwiched in between that tournament and Bay Hill, and with The Players Championship now the week after, there are too many tournaments in successive weeks for golfers to play.
Tiger Close, but Staying Home
Consider the schedule of Tiger Woods. He played the Genesis Open, which benefits his charity, then Mexico. If he was to play Honda, with Bay Hill and The Players on his schedule, it would be five weeks in a row, something the 44-year-old said he wanted to avoid this season.
So despite living less than an hour from the golf course, Woods told tournament director Ken Kennerly he wouldn’t be playing in the event, where he finished 12th last year.
“Unfortunately, due to the schedule this year, I cannot play all the events I want to. I will be taking next week off and playing in the @APinv and @THEPLAYERSChamp. Sorry to miss seeing Jack and everyone at Honda,” Woods posted on Twitter.
Kennerly told Golf Digest he knew Woods wouldn’t be coming once the golfer committed to the WGC-Mexico Championship.
“Steiny (Woods’s agent Mark Steinberg) kept telling me that Tiger was torn,” Kennerly said. “I believe him. But, truth is, once he entered Mexico, I knew he wasn’t coming here. He wasn’t going to play five in a row.”
So Kennerly is working with what he has, and it’s not a terrible field, just not one that he would like.
“This is all about the schedule,” Kennerly said. “Look, I know making the schedule isn’t easy and the tour does the best it can for everyone. But this is a concern going forward. Clearly, the schedule isn’t going to change next year but 2021 is a very big year for us because the Honda contract is up after that tournament.”
One player that is looking forward to playing this week is Gary Woodland. Woodland also lives nearby and will be taking advantage of sleeping in his own bed.
“I live down here now so it’s nice to have a home week,” Woodland said. “I love this golf course for me.”