PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — This edition of the Honda Classic has been like a Beethoven symphony.
Beautiful? Harmonious? Lyrical?
The Honda Classic has dragged on like a filibuster at times but Monday morning, fingers crossed, it will finally go in the books. It was destined for a Monday finish ever since a Saturday afternoon hurricane swept through that dropped five inches of rain, blew over tents, sank the Honda’s traditional floating scoreboard (c’mon, that’s just mean) and had fans running for the nearest ark.
Sunday saw the return of the Florida sun and humidity and the completion of the third round. The final round was not completed but the leaders got through seven holes.
Here’s how it stands: Paul Casey and Ian Poulter share the lead at seven under par, one ahead of Patrick Reed. Five players are three shots back: Daniel Berger, Jeff Overton, Russell Knox, Brendan Steele and — hey! — Phil Mickelson.
Ten players are still within five shots so a lot of things could still happen. Let’s rank the players who look most likely to win:
1. Paul Casey. The Englishman is back on his game after a couple of years off battling injuries. He lost in a playoff last week at Riviera but remember, he was a rising star on Europe’s Ryder Cup team not so long ago. Of all the players in the field, he was probably the most disappointed that darkness halted play because he had the hottest hand, pouring in four birdies for a front-nine 31, a nice run after a third-round 68 in which he played well tee-to-green but couldn’t buy a putt.
Casey hasn’t won in the U.S. since 2009, but he’s on a roll.
“I think I’m playing as well or better than I have in the past,” he said. “I’m not usually one to look backward but my confidence feels like it did back in ’09 and ’10.”
His game-plan for Sunday night was to do the same thing he did Saturday night. “I ate a lot of cookies,” Casey said with a smile. “My host, she baked homemade cookies. So same thing tonight.”
2. Patrick Reed. He looks more like a young Raymond Floyd every time you see him in action — tough, fearless and merciless. Reed hadn’t gotten anything going early in the final round until the par-5 fifth hole, where Poulter had a three-shot lead but suddenly shanked a 6-iron off a cart path into the lake right and made a double bogey. Seeing Poulter in trouble, Reed pounced. He decided to use putter from the rough just short of the green and rolled his ball through the fringe, onto the putting surface and into the cup as it glanced off the flagstick. That birdie, combined with Poulter’s double, tied him for the lead. Reed had the lead by himself a hole later when Poulter hooked his drive into a lake and bogeyed the sixth. Reed hasn’t done much since his Hyundai Tournament of Champions win in Hawaii, but he’s a rising star.
“Anytime you have a chance to win,” Reed said, “it’s always good.”
3. Ian Poulter. It looked like Poulter’s tournament to win until he hit in the water two holes in a row on the fifth and sixth, then he stepped up and stiffed an iron shot close on the par-3 seventh to get back into a tie for the lead. Poulter, who surged into the 54-hole with a third-round 66, is probably the best putter on the leaderboard, which means he’s got a chance. He’s never won a full-field stroke-play event in the U.S., so this would be a big one for him.
4. Daniel Berger. This Florida State alum and local hero — he’s from nearby Jupiter, is only 21 and left FSU after his freshman season — is a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. He’s been on the verge of contention several times, has five top-25 finishes already, and made a move here Sunday. Berger birdied the ninth hole to get back to three under par and then holed an unlikely pitch from the swale below the 10th green for another birdie just before play halted. He loves Bermuda grass and knows this course. He’s the sleeper pick on this board.
5. Phil Mickelson. Lefty gave the crowd a thrill at the start of the final round, pulling out driver and going for the green on the opening hole, all Arnie-like. Mickelson hit a 332-yard drive just short and right of the green, pitched it 12 feet past and made the birdie putt. He birdied the par-5 third hole, too, but had a putting mishap at the sixth, missing a four-foot par putt, and gave a shot back. The mid-range putt still looks like a chink in Phil’s armor but he’s got the length to reach the par-5 18th in two and, if he needs to, make a last-second eagle. In other words, reports of Phil’s demise are greatly exaggerated, but he’s got some ground to make up on the back nine.
6. Brendan Steele. He’s a solid player who admitted earlier in the week that he’s playing the best golf of his life. Steele ranks 11th in greens hit this week, but he needs to make a few more putts as he makes the transition from belly putter to conventional style. He parred the first eight holes in the final round and is lurking if he can get something going or if the leaders start going backwards.
7. Russell Knox. No one is paying much attention to this Scot, whose sister is a widely known radio personality-disc jockey in Scotland. His only U.S. win came on the Web.com Tour in 2011 and he’s off to a decent start in the 2015 season, finishing third at Las Vegas in the fall season and 15th in Phoenix. He’s the wild card in this scenario.
8. Padraig Harrington. Darkness couldn’t come too fast for this former British Open champ. He bogeyed the fourth, doubled the sixth and dropped back to four shots off the lead in ninth place. Harrington didn’t look comfortable with his putting Sunday, and he was four over par for the 25 holes he played. Maybe he can turn it around after a night’s sleep.
9: Joost Luiten. He’s five shots back with four holes left to play. He’s not going to win, barring a miracle, but anytime you can work the name Joost Luiten (sounds like Juice Newton) into a story, you’ve gotta do it.
Which player do you think will win the Honda Classic? Join the conversation in the comments section below.