Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in the world further boosts Honda Classic’s reputation

Honda Classic champion Justin Thomas almost made it back-to-back victories on the PGA Tour, finishing second to Phil Mickelson Sunday in a playoff for the World Golf Championship event in Mexico.

What does this mean? Well, JT is red hot, for one thing, and he’s earned a break after three top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in the space of three weeks. Thomas is skipping this week’s Valspar Championship near Tampa, an event that otherwise is loading up on more stars than usual with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth in the field.

Justin Thomas reacts to winning the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on February 25, 2018. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

In the longer view, the upward trend in Thomas’ game seems to have no end.

Two wins already this season, including October’s CJ Cup in South Korea. Seven wins in the last 33 events. Seven top-10 finishes in the last 13. Second behind Dustin Johnson in the Official World Golf Rankings.

This is looking every bit as dominating as the run that first lifted McIlroy to No. 1 in the world. The year was 2012 and Rory followed up a Honda win with three more Tour victories, including the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

McIlroy was 22 when he won that Honda and first climbed to No. 1 in the process.

Thomas, 24, is every bit as ambitious. The way he’s going, he’ll be a threat to win at the Masters, where a tie for 22nd is his previous best. Overall, there’s no reason to think that JT won’t eventually match McIlroy’s running total of four major championships.

To have both of these young men based in Jupiter is a gift to the Honda Classic. Now if we can just get world Dustin, another local, to return to PGA National. Haven’t seen him in the Honda since a missed cut in 2015.

Top-ranked golfers and Palm Beach County’s PGA Tour stop really should go together. Since the Honda moved to PGA National in 2007, three players who at one point topped the world rankings have won the tournament. They are McIlroy, Ernie Els and Adam Scott.

Thomas figures to make it four, either this year or soon thereafter, when he makes it to No. 1 as well.

[Kevin Love opens up on The Players’ Tribune, a Derek Jeter project]

[Jim Kelly astonished a Boca Raton crowd with his cancer story]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training camp 25 years ago was a blast]

If Tiger decides to play Honda it will mean playing in back-to-back events, and that’s a real challenge

Time for our weekly round of speculation on Tiger Woods and the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. It’s a match that, to me at least, looks less likely to happen now that the early part of his schedule is beginning to come together.

No official word from either side just yet but by Jan. 4 of last year Tiger had already committed to play the PGA Tour event in his home county. He ended up withdrawing because of a round of back spasms that ruined his 2017 season before it ever really got started, but at least the publicly-stated intention was there.

Tiger Woods gestures watches his shot from the third tee during the final round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament at Albany Golf Club in Nassau, Bahamas, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Dante Carrer)

Right now it’s a full week deeper into the 2018 calendar year and Tiger has only committed to play the Farmers Insurance Open near San Diego Jan. 25-28 and the Genesis Open in Los Angeles Feb. 15-18, with two weeks off in between.

There’s a potential problem there since the Feb. 22-25 Honda immediately follows the Genesis. That would require 72-hole tournament play on consecutive weeks, a real stretch for a 42-year-old athlete still testing his physical limits.

It also would mean a cross-country flight from California to South Florida between the events. Tiger was going to give that a try last year, scheduling the Genesis and the Honda back-to-back, but was forced to withdraw from both and eventually had spinal fusion surgery in April, 2017.

Tiger hasn’t had an official PGA Tour start since the 2017 Farmers, where he missed the cut with rounds of 76 and 72. He played well and looked strong at the unofficial Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

It’s a minute-to-minute mystery, both for the Honda and for the 14-time major champion. He wrote in a Dec. 29 blog on his personal website, “I would love to play a full schedule in 2018. What that entails, including back-to-back events, I don’t know. I just have to continue to work on my body and game and see where I pan out.”

Nothing to do but wait. If Tiger plows through the San Diego event without any problems, he might just feel spunky enough to flesh out his schedule more with a return to PGA National. If not, he’ll need to relook everything, again.

The Honda will have another strong field either way, with Rickie Fowler as the defending champion.

A Tiger commitment sure would make a difference, however, for fans who are on the fence about buying a weekly pass in advance.

The only certainty is that he’ll want to be sharp for the Masters, where he hasn’t played since a tie for 17th in 2015.

[Wow! A national title win by Alabama that actually came as a surprise]

[Richt’s task now is to surpass his Season 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]

It’s OK to start wondering again if Tiger Woods will return to the Honda Classic

[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.

Tiger Woods watches his shot from the third tee during the final round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament at Albany Golf Club in Nassau, Bahamas, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Dante Carrer)

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

My unscientific method for predicting who will contend for Honda title this week

Here are the names I’m expecting to make some noise at the Honda Classic this week.

First, look to the guys are playing well at the moment. Scott Brown, Thomas Pieters, Wesley Bryan, Ollie Schniederjans and Cameron Tringale all had top-8 finishes last week in Los Angeles. They’re the hotshots.

Sergio Garcia reacts to putting his drive in the fairway on the 6th hole during the final round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on February 28, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Sergio Garcia reacts to putting his drive in the fairway on the 6th hole during the final round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on February 28, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Next, look to the players who had top-10 finishes at the Honda last year, guys like Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia, the 2016 champion and runnerup, plus Blayne Barber and Justin Thomas and Graeme McDowell and Rickie Fowler. They’re the Honda hardheads.

Brown, who tied for 10th here last year, is the only one who belongs in both groups. I’ll circle his name, then, and keep a close eye on his opening round, which starts at 12:55 p.m. on the No. 10 tee.

Hey, it’s all guesswork in the end. Justin Thomas has been hot as a firecracker, for instance, and this morning he is missing fairways all over the place and scrambling to keep it together – 3 over par through 11 holes. That’s especially dicey since the morning rounds figure to be lower than the afternoon, when the wind normally picks up.

 

Honda Classic won’t have Tiger but many young lions remain, and they’re plenty dangerous

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.

HONOLULU, HI - JANUARY 15: Justin Thomas of the United States celebrates winning on the 18th green after the final round of the Sony Open In Hawaii at Waialae Country Club on January 15, 2017 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
HONOLULU, HI – Justin Thomas of the United States celebrates winning on the 18th green after the final round of the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club on January 15, 2017 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

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.

[List of must-have autographs for PB County’s four spring training teams]

[Some warmed-over Super Bowl LI nuggets that still pack a punch]

[Astros owner surely won’t be sunk by spring training stadium cost overruns]

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.

Try Jack Nicklaus’ weight-loss plan by running between shots

Jack Nicklaus was great during a Honda Classic interview session that lasted nearly an hour Sunday afternoon. Maybe you’ve already read what the Golden Bear said there about Tiger Woods, who since 2008 has been stuck on 14 major championships in pursuit of Jack’s record 18.

“I’ve told Tiger many times,” Nicklaus said, “and I told him again the other night, I said, ‘You know, Tiger, nobody wants their records to be broken but I don’t want you not to have the ability to have that opportunity to do so because of your health.

“ ‘So I wish you well and I hope you get healthy, hope you get to play, hope you get out there as soon as you feel like you can play, and I hope you do well.’ “

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Golf legend Jack Nicklaus accepts the Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda March 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Nicklaus was lauded by family, friends and politicians for his many sports achievements and his philanthropy. Last month Nicklaus his wife, Barbara, pledged $60 million for the Miami Children's Health System through their Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – Jack Nicklaus accepts the Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda March 24, 2015. Nicklaus was lauded by family, friends and politicians for his many sports achievements and his philanthropy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Tiger was at the Nicklaus home in North Palm Beach a week ago to enjoy a dinner with principals of the U.S. Ryder Cup team and a group of young players hoping to play their way onto the roster. Jack and Barbara were gracious as always, and that shows again in the words Nicklaus delivered directly to Tiger.

Years ago, when Tiger had just exploded onto the scene, I was shouted down during a speaking engagement at an area men’s club for suggesting that you could never predict or even expect any young superstar to match Nicklaus’ unflagging drive and discipline and determination over the course of a long career. I was talking about lots of things there, with health and burnout among them, but nobody in that room wanted to consider the possibility that Tiger would hit any significant speedbumps on the way to 20 major titles or more.

Every now and then Nicklaus, 76, says something that reminds us of his uncommon focus and adaptability through the decades. At that Sunday conversation with the media at PGA National, he did it again, talking about a spontaneous decision, at the age of 29, to shed a significant amount of weight and to do it quickly.

Remember, he already had seven major titles in the bag at that point. There was nothing wrong with his game. Feeling a little fatigued, however, after returning from the 1969 Ryder Cup matches in England, Jack got serious about making a rapid change and followed through on it with his customary success.

“I always worried about losing weight,” Jack said, “whether it would affect my play, my distance, things that I would do. But I didn’t want to be tired, either. So I came home and went on the Weight Watchers diet. I remember I called Hart Schaffner and Marx the day I started. I asked if they could have a tailor down in three weeks because I was going to lose 20 pounds.

“I said ‘Can you have somebody down because I’ll need all new clothes. Those three weeks I did the Weight Watchers diet and I went and would put my Bermuda shorts on and I would carry four or five clubs and I would go run around the golf course as I played. Sure enough, I lost 15 pounds at the end of the three weeks and I lost the next five the next week.”

[Dee Gordon brings most momentum to Marlins’ spring camp]

[Zo taught Pat Riley all he needs to know about waiting for answers on Chris Bosh]

[Dolphins thought they had their very own Von Miller when they drafted Dion Jordan]

From 210 pounds to 200 in a flash, and he did it his way. Didn’t hurt Jack’s game much, either. He won his next tournaments and was runnerup in the third.

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner at Jack and Barbara’s house a bonding moment for U.S. Ryder Cup team

 

Plenty more to come in my Saturday morning column at mypalmbeachpost.com but here’s a quick taste of the hot topic from the Honda Classic’s second round.

At the invitation of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and some other people you may have heard of, like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, got together for dinner on Thursday night.

Signage for the 2016 Ryder Cup at a press conference to announce Davis Love III as the 2016 Ryder Cup captain at PGA of America Feb 24, 2015, in Palm Beach Gardens. (Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post)
Signage for the 2016 Ryder Cup at a press conference to announce Davis Love III as the 2016 Ryder Cup captain at PGA of America Feb 24, 2015, in Palm Beach Gardens. (Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post)

The gathering was at the Nicklaus home in North Palm Beach and the idea was to a little Team USA bonding prior to the 2016 Ryder Cup matches in September and October at Hazeltine. Europe has won far too many of these competitions for anybody’s taste, so Love got Jack’s help in starting the adrenalin engine a little early for guys who have played in the Ryder Cup and rising young stars who have not.

There can only be 12 players on the U.S. team, so about half of the players at the dinner won’t make it. Didn’t stop anybody from wanting to be there, however, listening to Jack tell his stories.

Tiger, still rehabbing from multiple procedures on his back, made the drive down from Jupiter Island. He’s a vice captain with hopes that he might be back playing later this year.

Another vice captain, Jim Furyk, came from Jacksonville. Another, Tom Lehman, flew in from Phoenix. Dustin Johnson, who is skipping the Honda Classic, showed up. Jordan Spieth, who is not playing in the Honda, was one of the few notables who did not make the pilgrimage to Jack and Barbara’s house. Rickie Fowler tweeted out a photo of himself eating ice cream with Nicklaus.

“We asked Jack questions and yes, he held court,” Love said. “We asked about preparing for major championships and about being nervous, how he handled pressure, things like that, and just him telling stories.

“His memory is just phenomenal. He remembers every shot, every hole, every situation that he was in, and he’s always honest, whether it’s about how well he played or how poorly he played.”

Many of Team Europe’s leading stars are in the Honda and playing well, as usual. One of them, defending champion Padraig Harrington, was unfailingly honest, too, when asked about the Ryder Cup vibe and the U.S. longing to get a better handle on it.

“We have made the U.S. guys care, and they really care,” Harrington said after shooting a Friday morning 68. “I saw the guys after the last loss. The older guys were seriously devastated. I can’t tell you how much you could see the devastation of losing. It is a huge deal to Phil and Jim Furyk and guys like that. Wow, were they cut up about losing.”

Sounds like another great Ryder Cup showdown coming up, with dinner at Jack and Barbara’s as the appetizer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No first-round leader has ever won Honda Classic at PGA National and one of them missed the cut

Jim Herman prepares to start his round late in the afternoon on the tenth tee during the second round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on February 27, 2015. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Jim Herman of Palm City was the first-round of the Honda Classic last year with a 65 but finished tied for seventh, three shots out of the playoff between Padraig Harrington and Daniel Berger. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

There were three 67’s in the morning group Thursday and there may be better scores in the afternoon, but no guarantees ever come with the Honda Classic first-round lead.

Matter of fact, no Thursday leader has ever won the tournament since the Honda moved to PGA National in 2007. Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald came closest, with each playing to runnerup finishes.

Camilo Villegas is the saddest story of all. He opened with a 64 to take the first-round lead in 2013 and missed the cut with a second-round 77.

It’s a major challenge stringing together subpar rounds on the Champion. Last year Padraig Harrington was the 36-hole leader but shot a 71 on Saturday to fall three shots behind 54-hole leader Ian Poulter. Eventually Harrington won the tournament in a playoff with Daniel Berger, but an even-par 70 is all he could manage in the final round.

Here’s a chart of Honda first-round leaders over the last nine tournaments and how they finished.

Yr     Player                  1st Rd           Finish         Winner

2007 Charlie Wi               65               T13             Mark Wilson (1st-rd 72)

2008  Luke Donald           64               2nd               Ernie Els (1st-rd 67)

2009   Robert Allenby    66               T5               Y.E. Yang (1st-rd 68)

2010   Michael Connell   65               T6               Camilo Villegas (1st-rd 66)

Nathan Green       65               T12

2011   Spencer Levin         67             T14             Rory Sabbatini (1st-rd 71)

2012   Davis Love III           64             T21             Rory McIlroy (1st-rd 66)

2013   Camilo Villegas       64             MC             Michael Thompson (1st-rd 67)

2014   Rory McIlroy           63               T2               Russell Henley (1st-rd 64)

2015   Jim Herman           65               T7                 P. Harrington (1st-rd 67)

[An educated guess at the winning score in this week’s Honda Classic]

[Dee Gordon brings the most momentum into Marlins’ spring training camp]

[Dolphins thought they had their very own Von Miller when they drafted Dion Jordan]

 

 

 

What will be the winning score at the Honda Classic?

 

Only four men have ever pushed their 72-hole scores into the double digits under par since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

It’s that kind of course, and PGA Tour officials set it up in that kind of way.

030710 (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post) Final round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa...Camilo Villegas lines up a putt on the 12th hole. Villegas sank the putt for a birdie.
2010 Honda Classic champion Camilo Villegas lines up a putt during the final round of the tournament on the way to a 13-under-par 267. (Palm Beach Post photo by Alan Eyestone)

So what should we expect to be the winning score this week, remembering that par on the Champion is 70?

There are some clues.

Six-under 274 got Padraig Harrington and Daniel Berger into a playoff last year, but that wouldn’t have good enough most years.

The average score to win or at least qualify for a playoff in Honda Classics played on the Champion course is nine-under 271.

What really tells the story, however, is the weather. When the wind is blowing hard from the east, like it did in 2011, that’s big trouble for everybody everywhere, but especially on the Bear Trap.

That year 65 balls wound up in the lake at No. 17 alone, which amounts to 15 percent of all shots made there. No other par-three on the PGA Tour had that many splashdowns that year.

[Honda Classic spectator’s guide]

[Full schedule of events for 2016 Honda Classic]

[Here’s a quiz to test your knowledge on the Honda Classic]

Since the forecast this week is generally mild, I’ll predict a winning score of 10-under. Don’t know whether anyone will flirt with a record single round, like the 61 that Brian Harman shot in the second round of the 2012 Honda, but it figures that somebody can string together some 67s and 68s.

Here’s the list of those who got it to double digits here and how they finished.

Name                     Yr             Score         Result

Camilo Villegas     2010           -13             Won

Rory McIlroy         2012           -12             Won

Tiger Woods         2012           -10             T-2nd

Tom Gillis               2012           -10             T-2nd

Villegas played great, of course, and won by five shots, but he had the best of it with the weather. Four days of decent springtime weather, with the most blustery day in the third round with 12 mph winds gusting to 22.

 

 

 

 

 

Honda Classic gets both Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama fresh off emotional playoff duel at Phoenix

Rickie Fowler’s fan base is already huge. It’s because of the way he plays (booming 300-yard drives with a 5-foot-9 body) and the way he looks (bright colors and big smiles) and the way he wins (The Players Championship, Abu Dhab, etc.).

Rickie Fowler on the 16th hole during the final round of the Phoenix Open golf tournament, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rickie Fowler on the 16th hole during the final round of the Phoenix Open golf tournament, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

If it’s possible, the Jupiter resident will have even more supporters now when he plays in the Honda Classic Feb. 25-28, and all because of the way he reacted to a devastating defeat.

Fowler lost a playoff on Super Sunday to Hideki Matsuyama, another of the world’s rising stars, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

That was after making a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation to force a playoff, and after making a 12-foot putt to save par on the third extra hole. Disaster struck twice on the 17th hole, however, when Fowler hit a drive into the water in regulation and did it again on what was the fourth playoff hole.

All of that Rickie could handle, but he was overcome by emotion in the press room afterwards at the thought of letting down family members, including a grandfather, who had come to see him win. Here’s the video from PGA.com.

That’s an authentic reaction and one that was difficult for Rickie to show in front of the cameras. Easier to blow off the postgame talk, or to make not real effort at expressing his thoughts, like Cam Newton after the Super Bowl.

This kind of thing appeals to anyone who wonders if our sports stars are in any way like the rest of us.

Fowler is real enough to worry that he might have let somebody down, and moved to tears by it even on a day that somebody handed him a $702,000 check for second place.

Matsuyama is in the Honda field, too, and it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to pair him with Rickie in the opening rounds. Matsuyama, who will turn 24 during tournament week at PGA National, is No. 12 in the World Golf Rankings. Fowler is No. 4.

Matsuyama’s only previous Honda appearance was in 2014, when he shot an opening 70 but withdrew with a wrist injury prior to the second round.