The Honda Classic assembles early season’s top field at Jack Nicklaus-redesigned Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa

SEE ALSO: World Golf Hall of Famer Jack Nicklaus previews the par-5 3rd hole at PGA National (Champion) in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, home to the Honda Classic.

This week’s Honda Classic field is arguably the strongest of any PGA Tour event in 2014 outside of a World Golf Championship, with seven of the top nine players in the World Golf Ranking. Add in the demanding and spectacular Jack Nicklaus-designed Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and The Honda Classic has the feel of a major championship.

The Honda Classic unfolds just minutes from the North Palm Beach home of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus. Proceeds benefit Children’s Healthcare Charity, which awarded a record $2.13 million to South Florida children’s charities in 2013, and has as its primary beneficiary the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation.

A week ago, The Honda Classic had the top eight players in the world, but with a reshuffling of the World Golf Ranking this week and the withdrawal of No. 6 Justin Rose due to a shoulder injury, the field now boasts seven of the top nine—still a feat unmatched by any regular PGA Tour event held this year. The first stop in the Florida Swing will feature world No. 1 and Jupiter Island resident Tiger Woods, No. 2 Adam Scott, No. 3 Henrik Stenson, No. 5 and first-time Honda Classic participant Phil Mickelson, No. 7 Zach Johnson, No. 8 and 2012 Honda Classic winner Rory McIlroy, and No. 9 Sergio Garcia.

The Honda Classic airs Thursday and Friday on the Golf Channel from 2 to 6 p.m. The tournament airs Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. on the Golf Channel and from 3 to 6 p.m. on NBC. The Golf Channel will also feature “Spotlight Coverage” of the Bear Trap (holes 15 through 17) from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. All times listed are Eastern Standard Time and subject to change.

"This is an exciting time for The Honda Classic," Executive Director Kenneth R. Kennerly said. "We have worked tirelessly for the past seven years to make this a memorable event for the best players in the World as well as the golf fans of South Florida, and the presence of the top players has allowed us to reach even higher than we ever thought imaginable.

This week will have a strong Nicklaus tie-in, as the world’s best players will be challenged by the Champion Course, which Jack re-designed in 1990 and has continued to improve upon in recent years. In September, Golf Digest named the “Champ” the Toughest Course (Non-Major Division) on the 2013 PGA Tour schedule. According to the magazine, the three-hole stretch of Nos. 15-16-17—affectionately and appropriately known as The Bear Trap—was a big reason why the course played to an average of 1.318 over par.

"Looking back on last year, it still kind of stuns me that I won this event," said defending champion Michael Thompson. "This is probably one of the strongest fields we have all year on the PGA Tour. All the big-name players come to play this event on a really difficult golf course. Fortunately for me, I’m really good on difficult golf courses."

Other players committed include Robert Allenby, 1997 Honda winner Stuart Appleby, Angel Cabrera, two-time Honda winner Mark Calcavecchia (1987 and 1998), Stewart Cink, Darren Clarke, Erik Compton, Rickie Fowler, Retief Goosen, 2005 winner Padraig Harrington, 2000 Honda winner Dudley Hart, Charles Howell III, Trevor Immelman, Davis Love III, Martin Kaymer, Sean O’Hair, 2011 Honda winner Rory Sabbatini, 1999 Honda winner Vijay Singh, 2010 Honda winner Camilo Villegas, Nick Watney, Boo Weekley, Mike Weir, 2007 Honda winner Mark Wilson and 2009 winner Y.E. Yang.

“It’s not about length; it’s about precision,” said the Golden Bear. “It’s about guts. It’s about what you have in your heart that allows you to finish those holes.”

"When you get a magnificent field like this,” Kennerly added, “it is great for the players who love to compete against the best, it is great for the spectators who get to watch the elite players in the world and it ultimately is good for the children of our community who benefit from the success of the tournament."

Grounds tickets, Bear Trap tickets and other hospitality tickets and packages for The Honda Classic are on sale at or by calling 1-866-846-6328.

Barbara Nicklaus, Chairman of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, shares with Steve Sands and the NBC audience thoughts on the amazing impact The Honda Classic has had on the Foundation and pediatric healthcare in Palm Beach County.

Jack joins Curt Byrum (left) and Randy Moss in the Golf Channel’s “spotlight studio” on the 16th hole in the jaws of The Bear Trap.

Jack joins the NBC team of Johnny Miller (left) and Dan Hicks during Sunday’s final round of The Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., minutes from the North Palm Beach home of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus.

Jack meets with media during Sunday’s final round of The Honda Classic.

The Bear Trap at The Honda Classic has grown into one of the most popular places for spectators to watch the tournament. Located at the 16th Green, the Bear Trap also provides viewing of both the tee and green of the signature par-3 17th hole at the Jack Nicklaus-redesigned Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa.

PGA National – Champion Course

We didn’t just change the golf course, we basically designed a new one. For the most part, we kept the previous routing in tact because most of the original land…

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