The Honda Classic has always been very much a Florida event. When it was first founded as the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic and for over a decade after, the tournament was hosted at Inverrary Country Club. Thereafter a series of name changes and new host venues followed before the Honda Classic settled on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort and Spa.
In those early days, the tournament was one of the most lucrative on the PGA Tour. It is no longer a standout event in that regard but it remains a very well regarded event capable of attracting strong fields. It takes place in late winter when the PGA Tour heads west for the ‘Florida Swing’ in search of temperate conditions.
2023: Chris Kirk
The 2023 edition of one of the most demanding tournaments on the PGA schedule marked one more step in the resurgence of Chris Kirk. A four-time winner on the PGA Tour between 2011 and 2015, and previously inside the world's top 16, Kirk's battles with sobriety had taken him to the brink of losing it all. However, it seems clean living suits the Knoxville native and, whilst it may have taken a while, this fifth success must surely be one of the sweetest of the 37-year-old's career – although it certainly didn't come easy.
A 72-hole score of 14 under par marked a tournament record for the Champion Course, but even that wasn't enough to get Kirk over the line, as he couldn't quite shake off rookie Eric Cole. Starting the day two shots back, Cole briefly took the lead at the 13th and had a chance to win it at the 18th when Kirk fired his approach into a wall. However, Cole could only make par himself, meaning the tournament headed into a playoff.
One hole was all it took, however, Kirk leaving himself with a mere tap in for birdie, whilst Cole faced a 10-footer having found the greenside bunker. Cole came close to extending the contest, but his birdie effort lipped out, leaving Kirk to seal the deal.
It was a big result for Kirk who bagged $1,512,000 in prize money and booked his Masters ticket. The all-US look to the top of the leaderboard was completed by Cole in second and Tyler Duncan two shots back in third. Ryan Gerard meanwhile put in a remarkable display to finish in solo fourth, having only made it into the event via a qualifying playoff completed on Tuesday afternoon.
2022: Sepp Straka
The Honda Classic has not thrived in recent years as much as tournament host Jack Nicklaus would have hoped. The tournament has an awkward position in the golfing calendar and PGA National is not everybody’s cup of tea so field strength has gradually declined. That does provide an opportunity for relatively unheralded players, an opportunity that Sepp Straka grabbed with both hands as he won for the first time on the PGA Tour.
As for most PGA Tour winners, Straka needed a certain amount of luck along the way. That luck came in the shape of a horrible final round from Daniel Berger. Berger had a commanding five-shot lead at the end of play on Saturday but he endured a nightmare day. Straka and Shane Lowry did all they could to burst through the door that Berger had left ajar. Lowry came up just one shot short of forcing his way into a playoff and it was Straka celebrating on the 18th green.
“I had a good feeling,” Straka said about his hopes for the final round. “My brother text me right before the round and he said that he had a good feeling about this one.” Straka and his brother were proven correct as the 28 year old became the first Austrian to win on the PGA Tour.
2021: Matt Jones
Recent editions of The Honda Classic have tended to be tight affairs with multiple players in the running during the final round. Matt Jones broke that trend in 2021, winning the tournament by five shots from Brandon Hagy.
As a star of Australian golf, Hagy has had to put the miles in to follow his dreams of succeeding in the professional ranks. This was his fourth professional win. Two of those came on home soil in the Australian Open and two of them have come on the PGA Tour. Each of those wins was special in their own right, this one because it marked the end of a tough road in which his best golf was a long way away.
“Sorry, I’m pretty emotional,” Jones said during his post-tournament interview. “Seven years [between PGA Tour wins], I’ve had some tough times in between that and now.” It took a lot of work to get back to a point where he could be competitive against this calibre of opposition, let alone close out a two-shot 54-hole lead. With this win, Jones is assured of his status on the PGA Tour for the next two years and gets one of the final places remaining in the 2021 Masters.
2020: Sungjae Im
The Honda Classic crowned a first-time winner in Keith Mitchell last year and it was more of the same 12 months on. Sungjae Im, who has amassed tremendous popularity since joining the PGA Tour, broke his duck with a one-shot win over Mackenzie Hughes. Having been named the rookie of the year last season, Im had already announced himself on the PGA Tour but there is nothing like a win to confirm that this is the level at which you belong.
Much of Im’s popularity stems from his aggressive style of golf. It was ironic then that his first win was secured in very different style. PGA National is a tough test at the best of times but with the cooly, blustery conditions that the players were presented with for much of the tournament, Im had to simply keep his head above water at times.
Scoring was easier on Sunday and four of Im’s six shots under par came during the final round. While he took steps forward during his final round, Tommy Fleetwood went backwards. The Englishman couldn’t break par on Sunday, opening the door for Im to stride confidently through.
2019: Keith Mitchell
If you’re going to prove that you belong on the PGA Tour, seeing off the challenge of Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka to win your maiden tournament is a hell of a way to do it. Keith Mitchell knew that he would need his best golf and a lot of mental fortitude to win at PGA National. It all clicked for him when he needed it most, pipping those two multiple PGA Tour winners by a single shot.
You need all of the shots to win at PGA National. Mitchell showed tremendous skill to navigate the potential pitfalls that lay ahead of him but he was perhaps happiest with the way that he never looked like a rookie when the pressure was turned on. Even when the inevitable mistakes occurred he didn’t beat himself up. His bogey on the 11th hole was a great case in point. Rather than worrying about opening the door to his rivals, Mitchell put the bogey firmly behind him with birdies on his next two holes.
As well as Mitchell was playing, he just couldn’t shake Fowler and Koepka off. He stood on the 18th hole knowing that a par would take him into a playoff against the two stars. A par looked like it would be a great score after Mitchell hooked his drive but he got himself back into position and then got up and down courtesy of a good wedge shot and an excellent putt from 15 feet to make birdie and become a PGA Tour winner for the first time.
2018: Justin Thomas
When golf tournaments run over the scheduled time you’ll often hear the commentators remark that the course is actually darker than the cameras make it look. Justin Thomas’s win at the 2018 Honda Classic was a great illustration of this.
During his playoff against Luke List, Thomas his a five wood over water and completely lost it in the dark. “All I was looking at was the water to see if it splashed,” Thomas said after the round had finished. It didn’t. His ball flew the water, missed the bunkers lurking around and found the green. Two putts secured a birdie which was enough for the win as List could only make a par.
The playoff saw a continuation of Thomas’s aggressive play from late on in the round. He knew he had to go flag hunting to have a chance of winning and nearly holed out with a wedge for eagle on the 72nd hole of his tournament. It was not to be and List, who was playing aggressively himself, got into the playoff. Thomas prevailed though and the win moved him to number three in the world and closer to his ultimate goal of topping the world rankings.