Honda Classic 2014: The Biggest Winners and Losers from Palm Beach Gardens
It took a four-way playoff to settle the 2014 Honda Classic, but it was 24-year-old Russell Henley who emerged victorious for his second PGA tour win.
Henley beat out Rory McIlroy, Ryan Palmer and Russell Knox by birdying the first playoff hole.
But all eyes were on McIlroy, who played great for three-and-a-half rounds, then collapsed in a way that dredged up his implosion at the 2011 Masters. After a tumultuous year, McIlroy has made a valiant comeback to prominence and looked to finalize a wire-to-wire win at a course where he won in 2012. But he was tripped up on the back nine with a befuddling bogey-filled performance.
It was a shocking end to a wild weekend in which the real winner was the notorious Bear Trap. Holes 15 through 17 at the PGA National seemed to gobble up anyone in their path.
McIlroy, who was 11 under at the final turn, needed a miraculous 245-yard fairway shot to the 18th green of the 72nd hole in order to make it to the playoffs.
Citing back spasms, Tiger Woods walked off in the midst of his round on the final day.
Henley’s win came in the most competitive field to date, as he beat a packed field of stars including Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Zack Johnson, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
On Academy Awards night, the awards for both the winners and losers at the 2014 Honda Classic go to…
Winner: Ryan Palmer
The erstwhile 37-year-old hasn’t won since 2010, but this amounts to his second second-place finish already this year. He was runner-up at the Humana Challenge.
Palmer combines length, averaging 300 yards off the tee, and an excellent ability to convert on the green, ranked 31st in strokes gained-putting.
He showed off both skills at the Honda Classic, where he shot four rounds under par and nearly edged out his competition for the win.
Loser: Charl Schwartzel
Considering that he had placed in the top 20 in his last two events, including a fifth-place finish at the Northern Trust Open, Schwartzel’s performance at the Honda was quite a letdown.
The 2011 Masters champ is surely preparing himself for a run at Augusta next month, and missing the cut in Palm Beach is not the kind of statement he probably wanted to make.
Winner: Luke Donald
Perhaps Donald is ready to make a comeback of his own.
His first three rounds were under par, placing him firmly in the top 10 going into Sunday. While he failed to make any headway on the leaders, the former No. 1-ranked player in the world appeared to be in solid command of his game.
Last year was a letdown for Donald, who had no wins on the PGA tour and scored only once in the top three.
At 36 years old, there is still time for Donald to make a run at the much-desired major, and his ability to score well at the Honda bodes well for him.
Loser: Henrik Stenson
With the way he dominated the field in 2013, we are expecting a lot from last year’s FedEx Cup winner.
But he didn’t show much in Florida, going three over on the first day and a whopping six over on the second day to miss the cut.
It is very early in the season to panic for someone as talented as Stenson, who will assuredly make the adjustments necessary to make a positive statement down the road.
Winner: Russell Knox
Don't be surprised by Knox's performance this weekend.
The Irish-born golfer has been playing very well this season, and aside from two missed cuts, he has not finished lower than 32nd in a tournament.
Knox currently ranks 16th in driving accuracy, a stat that worked well for him at the Honda Classic and at the treacherous Bear Trap, which he played under par for the tournament.
Loser: Phil Mickelson
A lot of folks may not have even known Phil was playing this week. It sure didn't look like it, either.
Playing the Honda Classic for the first time in 12 years, he went 70-71 and missed the cut.
Winner: The Bear Trap
Holes 15, 16 and 17 at the PGA National have been called the toughest three holes in golf, and they proved it on the final day of the Honda Classic.
A gut-wrenching three holes shielded by water, the Bear Trap did its job by making it exceedingly tough for anyone to have an easy win.
It gave McIlroy, for one, fits on the last day. He doubled the 16th hole, which he had birdied twice during the tournament, then bogeyed No. 17.
Fittingly, the Bear Trap gets its name from the Golden Bear himself, Jack Nicklaus, who redesigned the course in 1990.
Loser: Tiger Woods
This was not a great tournament for Tiger.
He began rather tamely with a one-over 71, then seemingly righted himself by shooting a 69 and a 65.
In most cases, we might have thought he would make a run at the top on the final day. But back spasms cut his tournament short, and he walked off on the final day.
At the time, he was five over par and well off the pace.
Winner: Rory McIlroy
For 60 holes, McIlroy was in control of the Honda Classic, and it looked like he would go wire to wire, redeeming himself at a tournament where he had left early—and infamously—just a year ago.
Regardless of the outcome, McIlroy showed us once again why he was once the No. 1 player in the world.
He tamed the course and held off a stellar field for most of the tournament, and although he was unable to hold on to the lead, he is back as a force to be reckoned with on the PGA tour.
The shot we should remember is the 245-yard fairway smack on the 18th hole of the final round that put him within 10 feet of a win. Had he made the eagle putt, it would have been a fitting end to a fantastic show of grit.
Although he failed to seal the deal, McIlroy will no doubt be a favorite going into the Masters next month.