OK, I know you’ve been dying to know my pick to win the Honda Classic, so here goes.
Sure, he may not be the biggest name in the 144-man field. It’s possible you haven’t even
heard of him, but really, were Mark Wilson, Michael Thompson and Russell Henley high on your list before they won this tournament?
Kizzire, for openers, is the only two-time winner at this early point of the PGA Tour’s 2017-18 wraparound season. He’s got four top-10 finishes in nine starts and leads the money list with $2.9 million already in the bank.
Even better, the 6-foot-5 graduate of the Web.com Tour showed the kind of toughness it takes to excel on PGA National’s Champion course when he outlasted Rickie Fowler by one stroke to win the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, Mexico in November.
Because of rain, there were 36 holes to play on Sunday and Kizzire closed with rounds of 66 and 67. Fowler, the defending Honda champion and the No. 7 player in the Official World Golf Rankings, finished 67-67 and found it wasn’t enough.
Kizzire also won a playoff with James Hahn at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
As for Kizzire’s Honda history, has tied for 26th and tied for 66th, which may not sound like much but there are a lot of missed cuts in this tournament by much more accomplished players. Kizzire shot a six-under 64 in the second round here in 2016. He can go low and he can hang tough. Eight consecutive cuts made is enough to prove that.
So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it, but just in case, is there anybody out there who can show me out to delete a blog?
[UPDATE- Tiger wrote on his website on Dec. 29 “I would love to play a full schedule in 2018” but did not announce which events he is considering.]
The Tiger Watch is officially on for the Honda Classic.
Palm Beach County’s annual PGA Tour event is 11 weeks off, with four championship rounds scheduled for Feb. 22-25, 2018 at PGA National Golf Club.
That’s plenty of time to figure out how Tiger’s back is doing. Time, too, to read the tea leaves when it comes to his schedule-making.
“We’re going to figure out what’s the best way for me to build my schedule for the major championships,” Woods said on Sunday after finished tied for ninth at his latest comeback event, the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
“What my training cycles are going to be? Play enough, but don’t play too much.”
Let me suggest going easy on the international travel, since back spasms are what ended last year’s comeback attempt at the Dubai Desert Classic in February.
So, hmmm, try this on for size.
Play the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, one of Tiger’s favorites, in late January. Then Pebble Beach in early February, unless it gets colder and nastier than usual, when a withdrawal would be in order. Then it’s the Honda, and then Bay Hill in mid-March and then the Masters in April.
Hey, that was easy. And no, I did not get this suggestion from Ken Kennerly, executive director of the Honda Classic.
It just makes sense after all the back surgeries and injuries to take it slow this time.
Tiger himself talked about building for the majors, and he needs four more of those titles to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18. Why not spread out the events a little, choosing only those that prepare him to win more majors in ways other than just the logging of scores and the making of money?
PGA National’s Champion Course fits the bill. The PGA Championship, a major, was played there in 1987, and the Ryder Cup matches have been there, too. It’s a strong test with an enthusiastic home crowd to match the numbers of many majors. So what do you say? Is it a done deal with the Jupiter Island resident?
Hardly, but one procedural quirk does work in the Honda’s favor.
Some top players skip the Honda because they don’t want to schedule that tournament and the World Golf Championship in Mexico on consecutive weeks. The WGC is a bigger deal and it takes more planning and more time to get there.
This probably does not apply to Tiger, however, since the WGC-Mexico Championship is open to the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings and the top 10 in Fed Ex Cup points. Even with his good finish at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger ranks 668th in the world rankings due to his extended absences. Also, it’s not likely that he will play enough to pile up the Fed Ex points.
Hey, it’s all up to him, but the Honda, won last year by Rickie Fowler, will always be more electric with Tiger.
Last year, if Rickie hadn’t been on top of the scoreboard, the list of contenders would not have been instantly recognizable to the general public, and Kennerly is always working to appeal to non-golf fans, too, with the concerts and fireworks and exhibits that grow each year at the Honda.
Here is Tiger’s career record at the Honda since the tournament moved to PGA National.
2012 – Tied for 2nd with rounds of 71, 68, 69 and 62. Yes, that’s right, a Sunday 62, to move up from 18th place to the runnerup spot behind winner Rory McIlroy.
2013 – Tied for 37th with rounds of 70, 70, 70 and 74.
2014 – Withdrew during the fourth round after posting rounds of 71, 69 and 65. Tiger was tied for 17th through 54 holes, seven shots off the lead, but he left the course with back spasms after playing 13 holes on Sunday.
Daniel Berger, who played high school golf at William T. Dwyer, won on tour the previous week at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis. He and Koepka, a Cardinal Newman High School graduate, were teammates at Florida State, too.
Now I don’t mean to put undue pressure on Berger but the last seven of golf’s Grand Slam events have been won by first-time major winners and he looks like a good candidate to join the party in the near future.
Already this season Berger has four top-10 finishes on tour. In 2016, he tied for 10th at the Masters. He’s sneaking up on it, just like Koepka did. Brooks’ first close call at a major was a tie for fourth at the 2014 U.S. Open.
Koepka was 24 then, just like Berger is now.
Matter of fact, Berger nearly won the Honda Classic at 21. Commuting to PGA National from his Jupiter home, he forced a playoff with eventual winner Padraig Harrington by shooting a Sunday 64.
Setting aside any local bias, the best bet overall to be the next first-time major winner is Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama. He tied for second behind Koepka at Erin Hills Sunday and has been close a couple of times the last few years at the Masters and the PGA Championship.
It’s just a matter of time for 2017 Honda classic champion Rickie Fowler, too, right?
Any way you slice it, seven consecutive first-time winners in golf’s majors is the perfect demonstration of how the game is waiting for somebody to soak up all the glory in the absence of Tiger Woods. Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlory and Dustin Johnson have had their hot streaks but there are so many other great young talents pushing to win.
The last time there was a streak anywhere similar to this was nine first-time major winners in a row between the 2010 U.S. Open and the 2012 U.S. Open.
In order they were Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson.
McIlroy is the only player on that list who is ranked in the top 10 of the current Official World Golf Rankings.
Of, and if you’re wondring if any other Palm Beach County high school golfer has won a major, Mark Calcavecchia counts the 1989 British Open among his 13 career PGA Tour victories. Calc moved to the area from Nebraska as a teenager and won the state high school individual championship while playing for the old North Shore High School in West Palm Beach.
As the Florida Panthers introduce another new head coach, in this case former NHL defenseman Bob Boughner, I turn once more to the three things that were taught to me when first covering the sport in South Florida’s expansion season of 1993-94.
First, a good nickname will get you a long way in hockey. Boughner, pronounced BOOG-nur, was known as The Boogieman in his days as a player with Buffalo, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Calgary and, oh, just about every other team in the league.
Second, it’s a good thing when your goalie is standing on his head. This is hockey talk. It need bear no relation to reality.
Third, things happen in an almighty hurry in the NHL, especially when it comes to the hiring and firing of head coaches. This makes six of them in the last seven years for the Panthers, who are doing the near impossible by keeping pace with Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.
Way back in 2000, the Panthers were playing New Jersey in the first round of the playoffs and I was doing my best to appear somewhat knowledgable in preview coverage of the series. Hockey is not my sport. Having grown up in South Florida, it is barely my planet. Still, it was so far so good until the Devils fired their head coach Robbie Ftorek with eight games remaining in the regular season and the playoffs just ahead.
New Jersey was first in the Eastern Conference at the time, and Ftorek, though dealing with a late-season slump, had a two-year winning percentage of .641 as the Devils’ coach. Crazy? Yes, but so was the production of his replacement, Larry Robinson, who was behind the bench for a first-round sweep of the Panthers and, eventually, a win over the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final.
Does it really matter who is coaching a hockey team? Seems to me it’s more about developing momentum among a group of players who trust each other enough to fight together and kill penalties together and grow beards together. That, plus a whole lot of goaltenders standing on their heads.
The whole thing is a mystery to me, as strange as being in Nashville last month for a vacation and seeing “Welcome Hockey Fans” at the entrance to every honky-tonk on Broadway.
Good luck to Boughner finding that same kind of magic in Sunrise. It happened once before in Miami, with the Panthers reaching the Stanley Cup Final in only their third year of existence and briefly turning South Beach into the North Pole.
They, too, had a fiery rookie head coach, a guy named Doug MacLean, and he really had it going for a while. Two playoff appearances in two seasons, and then an abrupt firing just 23 games into the third.
Former NASCAR driver Carl Edwards recently got a Toyota Land Cruiser up to 230 mph in the kind of marketing stunt that proves very little but gets people talking.
Isn’t that the ad business in a nutshell?
The test run took place in California’s Mojave desert, where the blazing sun makes men do all sorts of crazy things.
Edwards, for instance, stepped away from racing in January, naming as one important reason a desire to maintain his health at the age of 37. Next thing you know he’s barreling toward what Toyota said is a world-record speed for a SUV, albeit one that was souped-up and turbocharged beyond the wildest extremes of any showroom model.
“The front end kind of wandered at about 225,” Edwards told Fox Sports, “and I thought, ‘Holy crap, I don’t know what’s coming next…Man, my heart was pounding. I’m not exaggerating. It was pretty exciting.”
Well, yeah. It’s like turning life into a video game, every teenager’s dream.
Every time you turn around there’s another reason to feel good about Adam Gase as coach of the Miami Dolphins.
Here’s the latest.
The Dolphins’ offense is far from a finished product. Didn’t keep the Dolphins from making the playoffs, of course, which is a great thought to build on, but once they got to the postseason, the most Miami could do in a 30-12 loss at Pittsburgh was one late and ultimately meaningless touchdown.
Wait, you’re screaming, Ryan Tannehill was hurt and didn’t play in that game. OK, but Matt Moore did just fine as his replacement against lesser competition at the end of the regular season, throwing for a total of six touchdowns in a couple of wins over Buffalo and the New York Jets. The playoffs are where it counts, though, and it took no more than one first-round wild card game to show how much ground must be gained.
So what happened in the 2017 NFL draft? Did Gase, who got this job because of his abilities as an offensive playcaller, insist on loading up on offense to address the problems for which he is most directly responsible?
Nope, the Dolphins used their top three draft picks on defense instead, a franchise first.
On top of that, Miami went deeper into the draft than any other NFL team before choosing an offensive player, and even then it was a guard instead of a skill position.
Of course, Gase didn’t run the draft. General manager Chris Grier does that. If the head coach were 100 percent opposed to the team going in a particular direction, however, there would be more conflict that we’re seeing now.
Gase clearly has confidence he can win with the guys he has on offense, including some Miami has re-signed (like wide receiver Kenny Stills) and some added during the offseason (like tight ends Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano and offensive lineman Ted Larsen).
He understands that it is never a totally one-sided game. Last year, for instance, New Orleans was the second-highest scoring team in the league at nearly 30 points per game but the Saints missed the playoffs just the same at 7-9.
Gase is bright enough to understand that a strong defense makes his offense better, gives his quarterback more possessions, keeps his team from constantly having to struggle from behind.
Maybe he realizes, too, that the Dolphins did themselves no favors by going so strong on offense in the 2016 draft, Gase’s first as a head coach, even though it may have made him feel better at the time.
Tiger Woods’ withdrawal due to injury last Friday surely hurt the Honda Classic’s appeal with the casual fan, and so does Rory McIroy’s expected absence while resting a sore rib, but those who follow golf more closely will still see some of the world’s hottest players in the field.
Not talking “hot” as in some kind of high-profile recognition factor with the general public but more in terms of who is playing the best at the moment.
Take Justin Thomas, 23, of Palm Beach Gardens. He was the only player in the field to shoot all four rounds in the 60’s at last year’s Honda, which earned him a tie for third place. More than that, Thomas already has three victories in the PGA Tour 2016-17 wraparound season that opened last fall, including back-to-back January wins in Hawaii.
All of this has pushed Thomas to No. 8 in the Official World Golf Rankings, and high on that same list are some Honda entrants who may not be so familiar here but are killing it on the European Tour.
Danny Willett, the defending Masters champion, you already know about, but how about Tyrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick, who also are from England?
Hatton had top-10 finishes at the British Open and the PGA Championship last year and already in 2017 he has a couple of top-three’s on the European Tour.
Fitzpatrick, only 22, won the DP World Tour event in Dubai last November and tied for seventh at last year’s Masters. He’s a former U.S. Amateur champion, too.
Getting back to the PGA Tour, five golfers who have won tournaments this season are in the Honda field.
They are Thomas (CIMB Classic, SBS Tournament of Champions, Sony Open), Brendan Steele (Safeway Open), Mackenzie Hughes (RSM Classic), Hudson Swafford (CareerBuilder Challenge) and Cody Gribble (the Sanderson Farms Championship event played opposite the elite HSBC Champions, a World Golf Championship tournament).
Not exactly headliners but remember the 2014 Honda Classic, where Russell Henley, a one-time winner on the PGA Tour, beat McIlroy and three others in a playoff.
You never know what’s going to happen in a sport ruled by 20-something’s.
Australian Adam Scott is the defending Honda champion. He went nine-under for 72 holes on PGA National’s Champion course. That was one stroke better than Sergio Garcia, who also is back last year and on a hot streak himself. Just two weeks ago the Spaniard won the Dubai Desert Classic by three strokes.
Players have until Friday night to confirm their participation in the Feb. 23-26 Honda field, which means there could still be a few big names to come.
We don’t get to hear from Lane Kiffin that often, at least outside of tweets and videos and such. So far he has addressed the South Florida media twice, on the December day he was introduced as Florida Atlantic football coach and again for Wednesday’s announcement of the Owls’ 2017 signing class.
It’s important, then, to get the best questions in first, such as what does he think about De’Andre Johnson, the quarterback who was dismissed by Florida State in 2015 after being caught on security video punching a woman at a Tallahassee bar.
A plea deal followed, with probation plus a fine and 10 days in a sheriff’s work program to put those legal issues behind him. Johnson, a former four-star recruit, played last year at East Mississippi Junior College, a program featured as “Last Chance U” in a Netflix documentary, and signed with FAU a few days before Kiffin was hired there.
“I’ve had a chance to be around him a little bit,” Kiffin said Wednesday, “and also to see him around our recruits. Every weekend that we’ve been here, he’s opened his door and showed our recruits where he stays. He’s hosted guys every weekend.
“He’s a very humble kid, and I also got to go to his junior college because we ended up signing a player from there (defensive end Tim Bonner) and go to meet with the people there. Not just the head coach but the president of the university. The way they talked about him, he’s a really special kid that had a really bad decision that he made and has really learned from it and he’s moving forward, so I’m excited that he’s being given this opportunity.”
Kiffin went heavy on the signing of junior-college transfers, including wide receiver/tight end DeAndre McNeal. He played for Texas as a true freshman but was dismissed for an unspecified violation of team rules. UCLA and Missouri were among the teams offering 2017 scholarships to McNeal but Kiffin won out.
“DeAndre was a tough get,” Kiffin said. “He did some major offers. Kind of at the last minute it came down to us and UCLA. That was kind of tough for him because he had west-coast ties from playing junior college out there (at Fullerton College).
“We had some background with him, which is why I hire coaches, because they have backgrounds. So he had been in our camp at Alabama and I had worked with him there and had a plan for him there and we ended up signing him for that reason. He’d always been a guy that I had a plan for, how we’d play him. We always wanted him every time I saw him. Now he can come play in the offense here and work with (offensive coordinator) Kendal Briles, who has been successful with receivers.
“It makes it pretty easy to recruit receivers if you’ve been fortunate to have a lot of really good receivers. Myself and Kendal have coached a lot of good receivers.”
Briles, who will handle FAU’s playcalling, is another scrutinized addition because he last worked at Baylor. Kiffin declined comment when asked about an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual assault by Baylor football players against women between 2011 and 2014.
“We obviously have a policy of not discussing any allegations at any other university,” Kiffin said. “Today’s focus is on our signing class, and we’re excited about that class and we’re excited about our coaching staff. I thought we brought a very dynamic coaching staff here and, as you can see, guys are excited about playing for them.”
It won’t every be boring with Kiffin in Boca Raton. Most major recruiting sites ranked his first FAU signing class as the best in Conference USA. Some of these junior-college transfers will surpass the talent level commonly found in the league. Now it’s a matter of getting everybody on target with everything from grades to discipline to motivation.
If Kiffin wishes, he can relate to things he learned about tightening down on those goals while working for Nick Saban at Alabama. Or he can forge his own path. Again.
A bit of perspective on the Miami Heat’s eight-game win streak, which might stretch longer but stretches the imagination either way.
The Heat only topped this streak five times during the Big Three era.
One of those times they absolutely crushed it, ripping off 27 wins in a row in February and March of 2013, but the rest of their runs were more in line with what Dion Waiters, Goran Dragic and the fellas are doing now.
Twelve in a row a couple of times for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company, plus single streaks of 10 and nine games each.
I don’t have to tell you that those Heat teams were worlds better than this one. Four straight trips to the NBA Finals. Two championships. Yeah, worlds better than the 2016-17 crew, which against all odds has pushed the record all the way up to 19-30, still outside the wide playoff net.
That’s what blows your mind. Eight straight wins are exceedingly tough to get in any major sport. What’s needed is a highly talented group on a hot streak, not a roster running on fumes.
Here is a listing of the most recent streaks of eight wins or longer for South Florida’s other pro franchises.
Miami Dolphins – Eight wins in a row, 1985. That team was quarterbacked by Hall of Famer Dan Marino and played in the Super Bowl the previous season. The streak included seven in a row to end the regular season plus a playoff win over Cleveland.
Miami Marlins – Nine wins in a row, 2008. We’re going back to the old football-stadium days here and a Marlins payroll that was the lowest in the major leagues. Still, there was a talented group of players on the roster, like Hanley Ramirez and Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson and Dan Uggla, and the final record of 84-77 showed that.
Florida Panthers – Twelve wins in a row, 2015-16. According to Elias Sports Bureau, this streak was the longest ever for a team that didn’t qualify for the playoffs the previous season. The Panthers had plenty of talent, though, enough to win the Atlantic Division and reach the postseason for just the fifth time in franchise history.
Does Erik Spoelstra have a playoff team at the moment, or a team that should surpass .500 by season’s end, or a team led by a Hall of Famer? Certainly not, but the Heat have won eight in a row just the same.
South Florida fans have seen some astonishing win streaks, of course, like 34 in a row by the Miami Hurricanes from 2000-02 and 18 in a row by the dynastic Dolphins (17-0 in 1972 and a win to open the next season).
Can’t let this current Heat run get lost in the shuffle, though. It shouldn’t be happening. No matter the quality of the competition during the streak, from Golden State to lowly Brooklyn, it shouldn’t be happening. The franchise, left behind by LeBron and Dwyane, is making something uncommon happen with a fairly common cast of characters, a specialty of Pat Riley’s organization for some time.
I have two confident predictions for Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge on Thursday.
First, Tiger will easily post a top-18 finish, providing his back allows him to play all four rounds. (The reason for my high confidence is that there are only 18 players in the select field.)
Second, at some point Tiger will go low, making the Albany Course in the Bahamas look like a resort track. (That’s because 26-under won there last year for Bubba Watson and there were only rounds above par for the entire field all week long. )
Let’s face it. This is the perfect tournament for Tiger to make some birdies and build a little confidence in his return to golf after 15 months on the shelf because of back problems.
The Golf Channel will televise it all on Thursday and Friday with help from NBC on the Saturday and Sunday rounds. Tiger goes off at noon on Thursday with Patrick Reed as his playing partner. Good, bad or indifferent, everybody will by eager to get a look at the 14-time major champion. That’s Tiger, in case you have gone to sleep on the game in his absence, and not Reed.
It’s a great field, featuring Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and more. Tiger gets in as tournament host with proceeds going to his foundation. Going by the Official World Golf Rankings alone, he wouldn’t belong inside the ropes. Tiger is 898th on a list that he once led for an astounding total of 683 weeks.
World No. 1 Jason Day isn’t in the tournament. He’s still enjoying his offseason and apparently doesn’t feel he needs the $1 million in unofficial money that goes to the winner. Doesn’t much need the points, either, though the Hero World Challenge does award world points.
Golf Digest reports that Tiger could climb about 150 spots on that list simply by finishing the tournament. That’s because of the elite nature of the competition.
Overall, this no-cut event is much better for Tiger’s return than grinding through the Safeway Open in October. That was his original plan but he withdrew prior to the tournament, not feeling quite ready for prime-time.
Brendan Steele won the Safeway title in Napa, Calif., with an 18-under total of 270. The field was so strong that Phil Mickelson shot rounds of 69-69-69-67 and tied for eighth place. Meanwhile, notables like Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan and 2014 Honda Classic champion Russell Henley missed the cut altogether.
If Tiger had missed the cut in his first event back, just like he missed the cut at four of his last five majors, that would have been a severe psychological blow.
Anyway, I’m guessing they’ll have the tournament on at Tiger’s restaurant in Jupiter if you’re looking to share the experience with others who care deeply about the results.
If you’re simply interested in the full-on PGA Tour, the next stop on that schedule is the Tournament of Champions from Hawaii, January 5-8.
No need to be smug, though. Everybody cares about how Tiger does. Everybody on tour. Everybody who plays or enjoys golf.