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It was great to see Dustin Johnson perform so well and deservedly win for the first time at Riviera Country Club last weekend and, in the process, take the World Number 1 spot from Jason Day. Johnson was head and shoulders above a high quality field in Los Angeles and his consistency since the start of 2016 highlights just why he's climbed to the highest summit in golf: 28 tournaments: 4 wins (US Open, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, BMW Championship and Genesis Open), plus a further 6 top 3s, 4 top 5s and 5 top 10s is a performance at the highest level.
We also had a great week at Golf Betting System scooping Dustin Johnson (9/1) and Brett Rumford (50/1) across both Tours which would have returned a massive 509/1 if placed as a double. Both players were also our published Predictor Model Number 1 selections.
Sky Bet have gone 6 places each-way at full 1/4 odds at both the Honda Classic and Joburg Open this week and that should be applauded. They also have two promotions to choose from for new customers: £10 No Deposit Required or Bet £/€5, Get £20:
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Joburg Open - you can read his preview for that event here.
The Honda Classic marks the start of the PGA Tour Florida swing and the 2017 Masters is now just over the horizon as we approach the end of February. The Honda Classic has always been known as a tough examination as it takes place at the Jack Nicklaus-inspired Champions Course at PGA National. A shortened Florida Swing only sees trips to PGA National, Innisbrook and Bay Hill in 2017 with next week's first World Golf Championship event moving from Doral to Mexico City.
Course Guide: Make no bones about it, the Champions Course at PGA National is a brute. It's an archetypical Florida golf course with water hazards, testing bunkering and tough rough aplenty. Positioned within a mile of the Atlantic east coast, this part of Florida is synonymous with windy conditions. This test therefore suits those with a Major temperament: players who have patience, but also those who can take advantage of key holes where birdies have to be made. The famous Bear Trap, the stretch of 15-17, is one of the hardest sets of holes in non-Major golf. The Champions Course is best summarised by the fact that it has been the toughest non-Major Par 70 course on the PGA Tour across 3 of the past 4 seasons. It was the second toughest in 2014.
Champions Course, PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida: Designer: Tom and George Fazio, 1981 with Nicklaus re-designs in 1990 and 2013 Course Type: Florida, Technical; Par: 70; Length: 7,140 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 13; Fairways: Bermuda with Perennial Rye; Rough: Bermuda with Perennial Rye 3"; Greens: 6,400 sq.ft average TifEagle Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimp: 11.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 71.19 (+1.19), Difficulty Rank 11 of 49 courses. 2013: 71.32 (+1.32), Difficulty Rank 5 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.41 (+0.41), Rank 17 of 48 courses. 2015: 71.83 (+1.83), Rank of 4 of 52 courses. 2016: 71.77 (+1.77), Rank 5 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Champions Course at PGA National and how they compare to recent courses on the PGA Tour:
Course Overview: 2014 saw the Champions Course play to an extended 7,140 yardage with the 4th and 12th holes stretched by 30 yards. From a hazard perspective, all bunkering was re-shaped adding to the difficulty of a Florida course that features 26 individual water hazards. PGA National is an exposed property allowing direct access to tee boxes, fairways and green complexes for any wind. Since the Nicklaus-inspired course changes, winning totals of -9/271 (Scott), -6/274 (Harrington) and -8/272 (Henley) have been the highest winning totals in tournament history. Even with softer course conditions and slightly calmer wind conditions across both Saturday and Sunday last year, Adam Scott's winning score was no better than -9, with Graeme McDowell finishing 5th at -4. This is by no means an easy golf course.
Course experience is important, but course debutants can also contend (take local rookie Daniel Berger 24 months ago, for instance) and even win just like Rory Sabbatini did in 2011. Ultimately maximising birdie opportunities, especially on only 8 visits to the par-5s, but minimising bogeys on the far tougher back 9 this week will be critical in a tournament that will undoubtedly feature wind-positive players. A forecasted Wednesday deluge should soften conditions initially and relatively tranquil winds across Friday and Saturday especially should help scoring. Don't expect a birdie-fest as this course always plays tough, but we could see a double-digit under par winning total here for the first time since 2012 with the par-5s likely to make the difference. Look for those with a decent long approach game in the wind, allied to razor-sharp Bermudagrass scrambling and putting skills to levitate to the top of the leaderboard. However the ability to grind it out will naturally be paramount on this difficult golf course.
Winners: 2016: Adam Scott (-9); 2015: Padraig Harrington (-6); 2014: Russell Henley (-8); 2013: Michael Thompson (-9); 2012: Rory McIlroy (-12); 2011: Rory Sabbatini (-9); 2010: Camilo Villegas (-13).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Honda Classic predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Adam Scott (No.1), Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen and Jimmy Walker.
DraftKings Predictor Model: For those of you who play DraftKings there's now a dedicated predictor model available here.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the DP World Tour Championship / RSM Classic and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Scott 20/1; 2015: Harrington 400/1; 2014: Henley 300/1; 2013: Thompson 300/1; 2012: McIlroy 9/1; 2011: Sabbatini 80/1; 2010: Villegas 30/1; Average: 163/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Palm Beach Gardens, Florida is here. The build up to the tournament has been particularly dry, but firm and fast conditions are likely to be initially dampened by the potential for rain on Wednesday. Some cut will therefore be available across the opening 36 holes and wind conditions look breezy, but nowhere near as strong as we've seen in previous renewals.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners of this event since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Let's take a view from players as to how Champions Course at PGA National sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Russell Henley: "I think it might have something to do with getting back to the bermudagrass. I feel like whenever I play Riviera, I'm uncomfortable. I've made the cut one time there of the three times. I love the course. I love the atmosphere. I want to play well there obviously. But I'm just not super comfortable on that course yet. But you know, those West Coast tournaments can be brutal. I feel like those greens are really hard to putt on, and they are not easy courses. Torrey Pines is not easy, and I'd say Pebble with the weather, usually predicts what the scores are going to be. When I played it last year, it was really tough. I think those courses are just ones I'm still trying to get comfortable on, and then when I come over here to some bermudagrass, I look down and feel like it's what I've been doing my whole life. Maybe I just get a little bit comfortable. That's the best explanation I have for you."
Padraig Harrington: "On a windy day, if things are going well for you, you do tend to be able to make a few birdies coming home. If you're a couple over par early on, you don't see any way out, but thankfully as I said, got a decent start which is so important. There's a lot of tough shots, a lot of tough tee shots. A couple of tee shots that you're really under pressure to hit the fairway in a strong wind. You just have to man up and hit the shots, that's it. We are going to hit a few bad ones but you've just got to stand there and try to hit the right shot at the right time and accept your fate."
Ben Crane: "This is one of the toughest golf courses we play all year. It's in perfect shape but it's so nice to get to these bermuda greens because the ball just stays on line. But I played great today. Made a lot of birdies, and you're going to have to make a lot of birdies on this golf course in order to score because you're going to make some bogeys. You're going to drive the ball in the rough and if you don't get the ball up and down from a hundred yards you're going to make bogey. It's a great test of golf. I know a lot of guys really love this golf course."
Rickie Fowler: "I love it that it's a ball-striker's golf course. You've got to drive the ball well to give yourself an opportunity to get a ball close on the greens. Yeah, putting can save you, but you've got to be solid tee-to-green here. I feel like it brings out some of the guys that are hitting the ball the best that week. I don't like all the water. I've got to try and stay away from that. No, it's a good test of golf here. Like I said, you've got to be on point tee-to-green. You can't fake it around here. It's a good test, and especially when we get the kind of standard 10- to 20-mile-an-hour winds."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Jack Nicklaus designs include:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass green PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
The Honda Classic has been a case of feast or famine for short price backers here since 2010. Padraig Harrington, Russell Henley, Michael Thompson and Rory Sabbatini have won the Honda Classic at 400/1, 300/1, 300/1 and 80/1 respectively in 4 of the past 6 renewals. But conversely Camilo Villegas (30/1), Rory McIlroy (9/1) and Adam Scott (20/1) have been elite winners over the same timespan. It's worth noting that McIlroy and Villegas won at a time when the World Match Play Championship was played the week before this tournament and both arrived in Florida in great nick after strong efforts in Arizona. Adam Scott, on the other hand, arrived in hot form directly from Los Angeles where he'd played very nicely in finishing runner-up to Bubba Watson.
With course and conditions at PGA National notoriously difficult, it's no real surprise therefore to see that Adam Scott (4th 2015 and 9th 2014), Padraig Harrington (3 top-5 finishes across 2000, 2006 & 2012), Russell Henley (16th 2010 as an amateur), Michael Thompson (2nd 2012), Rory McIlroy (1st 2011) and Camilo Villegas (9th 2008) all had a U.S. Open pedigree prior to capturing the title here. This is a very specialised event.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below. New customers can also get a free £10 no deposit required bet with Sky Bet - perfect for covering off one of the favourites this week:
My selections are as follows:
It was only 13 months ago that there was talk of the 'Big 4'. No mention of Dustin Johnson or for that matter Hideki Matsuyama. Instead Rickie Fowler had just won his 4th big tournament in 9 months in Abu Dhabi and was sitting very much in the slipstream of Jordan Spieth (World Number 1 at the time), Jason Day and Rory McIlroy. Wins across The Players Championship (TPC Sawgrass), Scottish Open (Gullane), Deutsche Bank Championship (TPC Boston) and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship had certainly proved the doubters wrong. But undoubtedly the 17th hole at TPC Scottsdale on Sunday at TPC Scottsdale when Fowler was odds on to capture the Waste Management Open - and make another huge jump in the rankings - hit Rickie far harder than he admitted in public and from that point to this he hasn't won a golf tournament.
Now as we know winning golf tournaments on the PGA Tour isn't easy and, since Scottsdale last year, Fowler has had close calls at Quail Hollow and Bethpage Black. But for me he's the type of elite player who wins the Honda Classic this week, on the basis he has the perfect CV, a little positive momentum and importantly the hunger to take this week seriously and see it as a big opportunity to capture his first PGA Tour title for 18 months.
Since his final round capitulation at Bethpage Black, Fowler has won 2 vital points including a great singles win over Justin Rose at the Ryder Cup. He's finished 6th and 3rd at the WGC-HSBC Champions and Hero World Challenge, when not playing stellar golf, and also finished 2nd at the World Cup of Golf with Jimmy Walker. But after starting 2017 slowly at Abu Dhabi and Torrey Pines, his recent outing at TPC Scottsdale was clean (it featured a field best of just 2 bogeys) and importantly built positive momentum as his Sunday 65 featured 4 birdies in the closing 6 holes. It's certainly not all bad for Rickie right now and a record that includes 7th (2012), 13th (2013) and 6th (2016) here suggests to me that he could definitely be a factor this week. RESULT: Winner
Louis Oosthuizen has always been a streaky player and certainly one to follow when he's playing at his confident best. 5th last week in Perth (he was 2nd after qualifying strokeplay), the South African World Number 25 is striking the ball at his authoritative best right now and that makes him a danger this week at PGA National. I think Louis has unfinished business in Presidents Cup year as fellow South Africans Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel both won in the United States last year. That can only be a motivator for the 34 year-old who's won 7 European Tour titles and whose PGA Tour title was the 2010 Open Championship. A first victory in the United States is always a huge deal for overseas players and it was interesting in Scottsdale that Louis when interviewed stated, "I wanted to play this event a few times for my sponsor, Ping. I always thought of the Middle East, the Dubai events. This year I'm focusing more on PGA Tour. Made sense to start it early and come and join the guys here."
Previous poor performances here mean little to me as Oosthuizen used the Honda Classic in the past purely as a Doral warm-up; instead it's logical that the South African will thrive on the Champions Course when fully focussed on that week's performance. He has a house at Old Palm Golf Club, which is a 3 minute drive from PGA National, and must have played the course regularly in the past. Oosthuizen has a coastal track record which is top notch and he was 2nd at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay - make no mistake, he can grind and plays well in the wind. His TifEagle Bermudagrass green form across Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doral and the Earth Course is excellent and he has very real correlative United States course form links across Doral, Copperhead, GC of Houston, Harbour Town, Firestone, TPC Boston and Sea Island. The putter is warm and the South African is a frequent flyer so I have no concerns over him travelling back from Perth. RESULT: T21
Kevin Kisner ticks a lot of boxes this week on his favourite Bermudagrass putting surfaces. 2nd in Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, 2nd in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 15th in Strokes Gained Around the Green and 1st in Proximity to Hole in the 2016/17 PGA Tour skill categories make for excellent reading at PGA National. Let's not forget that Kisner won his first PGA Tour title in gusty conditions at Sea Island 14 months ago and he also has some U.S. Open history as he finished 12th at Chambers Bay in 2015. Current form is decent enough as Kisner finished 4th at Waialae - a result which featured a 3rd Round -10/60, 25th at PGA West and 10th at Pebble Beach last time out. Things look positive for the World Number 49 and we learnt from 2015 that when he's playing well he strings contending performances together. 6th at Quail Hollow (2014), 2nd at Harbour Town (2015), 2nd at TPC Sawgrass (2015), 5th and 10th at Colonial (2015 & 2016), 8th at Muirfield Village (2015), 13th at TPC Southwind (2012) and 12th at TPC Boston (2015) all make sense from a correlating course form perspective and Kisner's win at Sea Island was preceded by a 4th in 2014. The South Carolinian is both Bermudagrass and Par 70 positive and if the Wednesday rain hits, he also likes more receptive conditions. RESULT: T48
Ex-World No.1 Luke Donald looks nicely priced this week at a tournament where he's grossed $2.1m across 9 appearances. A winner of the Honda Classic at previous host course English Turn in 2006, World Number 87 Donald has also finished 2nd (2008), 10th (2011), 8th (2014) and 7th (2015) on the Champions Course. Nowadays Luke sits outside of the exclusive OWGR top 50 'club' which he resided in for so many years and to that extent he has no invitations to any of the World Golf Championships or Majors in 2017 as it stands. But let's see that as a motivational positive this week as a recent switch to some new Mizuno JPX900 Tour model irons has seen Luke start to hit Greens in Regulation. 24th and 19th in GIR at Pebble Beach and Riviera led to encouraging 23rd and 17th place finishes. A return to Bermudagrass greens should only be viewed as a positive for Luke who practices at the nearby Bear's Club in Jupiter and it has to be remembered that Donald was 8th in the U.S. Open as recently as Merion in 2013. He can grind and he can also mix it when in contention on the PGA Tour as 2nd at Harbour Town (TifEagle Bermudagrass) and 2nd at Sedgefield last year, both short courses featuring Bermudagrass greens, highlights perfectly well. RESULT: T27
David Lingmerth is a Nicklaus course specialist who deserves support this week in his home state of Florida. Strong from distance with his approaches and putting well enough in 2017, Lingmerth finished 13th at the recent wind-swept Qatar Masters, so he's playing decently. 2nd at PGA West in 2013 (featured Nicklaus Private course), 2nd at PGA West again in 2016 (featured Nicklaus designed Tournament Course), 8th here in 2014, 1st at Muirfield Village in 2015 and 12th at Glen Abbey in 2013 highlight just how well the 29 year-old plays Jack Nicklaus designs and the World Number 80 plays well in the Sunshine State as well. Runner-up to Tiger Woods at TPC Sawgrass in 2013 was an eye-opener, but Lingmerth has also finished 3rd (2011) and 6th (2014) on the next door Dye Valley course. So this week is a huge opportunity for the Swedish-born Lingmerth who can definitely grind. 17th at Merion in 2013 and 12th at Oakmont last year in his only U.S. Open appearances highlight a player who values par, as does 6th and 7th at Firestone across the past 2 seasons. Could surprise. RESULT: MC
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel