Well you can't argue the fact that recent tips Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Chris Stroud haven't given us a run for our money. However that elusive 2nd win of the season is still out there and PGA National is a happy hunting ground after Sabbatini delivered a great 80/1 EW return for us in 2011. As GBS followers know, I'm not one for overly bold predictions but in this case I wouldn't back 'Sabba' this week with anyone's money
This will be the 6th renewal of the Honda Classic played at the tough Par 70 at PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. That's right the Florida Swing starts here, with Doral, Copperhead and Bay Hill leading up to the big one at Augusta. PGA National is probably Jack Nicklaus's toughest design worldwide. To back up that statement, this strict Bermuda-greened Par 70 played as the 2nd hardest course on the whole of the PGA Tour in 2011 behind Royal St George's. PGA National boasts the infamous 'Bear Trap' holes 15 to 17, where 2 incredibly tough Par 3s sandwich the 16th which was the toughest non-Major Par 4 in the whole of 2011.
The positioning of the Honda Classic between the 2 WGC events means a high quality field assembling in Palm Beach Gardens, although the lack of top-line Americans highlights the fact that PGA National is uncharacteristically non-Florida or non-US in it's setup. Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, YE Yang, Louis Oosthuizen, Robert Karlsson, Ian Poulter and even Darren Clarke all take the opportunity to grab a PGA Tour appearance this week.
The lack of the top world ranked Americans in itself highlights Tiger Woods 'surprise' entry as something that should be applauded and which no doubt adds an intriguing element to proceedings this week. Woods has never played PGA National in competition and has only played the Honda Classic once in 1993 when the tournament was played at Weston Hills and he delivered a Missed Cut. So Tiger adding the Honda Classic to his schedule highlights that he recognises he needs to compete on tough, technical courses to be competitive. Woods is a fascinating proposition this week and I wouldn't worry about the lack of course knowledge which I'm sure will have been topped up since his early exit in Arizona last Thursday. Remember Rory Sabbatini won here on course debut last season, as did Ernie Els in 2008. 12/1 anybody?!
Three other important elements need to be factored in this week. The first is wind which won't be Mayakoba strong but will certainly be gusting across Friday and Saturday. At the time of writing, late Thursday / early Friday starters would seem to have the advantage if the forecast is to be believed. The second element is the timing of the tournament. Naturally there is a WGC event next week at Doral, so I have my doubts about the level of focus that some of the top guys will give this. I'm also concerned about the transition from fast bent in Arizona to relatively slow Bermuda carpet in Florida. I said there were three elements and the third has to be Ladbrokes who continue their 6 places Each Way proposition on selected PGA Tour tournaments. On a number of quality Par 70/Bermuda positive players this week at larger prices it just makes perfect sense to get on-board with a £50 free bet for all new accounts - click here for full Ladbrokes prices for the Honda Classic.
Tiger splits opinions between pundits and punters alike, but for me this is a 'must back' price on the former world number 1 who, in my opinion, is going to win his first PGA Tour tournament since Cog Hill 2009 very soon. Remember I tipped him at Pebble Beach when he was 11/2 and although Westwood and McIlroy are both in Palm Beach, Tiger in my eyes has done little wrong this year. So I'm both delighted and struggling to see why his price has doubled since Pebble Beach but don't worry, I'll take it! Let's rewind here. His seasonal debut at Abu Dhabi on Bermuda greens was impressive. He then went to Pebble and after 54 holes everything was on track. However the golfing gods decreed he be paired with “Hurricane Lefty” and the rest is golfing legend! So let's get this straight, 2 stroke play appearances in 2012 have both resulted in contending Sunday performances. It's hardly disastrous is it and if you keep knocking on the door……Then we take in Tiger's Florida record: Doral: Winner 05-06-07, TPC Sawgrass: Winner 2001 Magnolia: Winner 96-99 Bay Hill: Winner 00-01-02-03-08-09. It's also worth noting that Tiger's domination of Bay Hill was when it played as an incredibly tough and wind-swept Par 70. I'll finish with Woods' season to date game statistics: 4th Driving Accuracy, 7th Greens in Regulation, 8th Scoring Average, 1st Sand Saves. Incredibly Tiger's weakness is the putter, but at PGA National that won't be such a disadvantage especially on his home Florida Bermuda greens. Also available at 11/1 with Bodog with 6 places each way. RESULT: T2
OK, so PGA National is a tight, technical test in Florida where wind will be a factor and where putting for birdies won't be the vital statistic. I'll draft in Sean O'Hair this week on that basis. I tipped O'Hair up last time out at Pebble Beach and the result was a half-decent 29th finish. My reasoning behind the tip was the fact that the Pennsylvania-based O'Hair loves classical and technical golf tests and is a wind positive player. The fundamental reasoning behind my Pebble tip hasn't disappeared the only thing that has changed is his price which has jumped from 50/1 to 66/1! That's crazy for a player who has always thrived in the state of Florida where a proportion of his golfing education took place. It's also crazy when you build in the fact that he currently sits 2nd in Bounceback and 4th in Bogey Avoidance season to date categories on the PGA Tour. The Nicklaus designed PGA National will be perfect for Sean this week and interestingly he finished 24th here last year on course debut when he was suffering his biggest slump in form. Current Bermuda form is 45(Phoenix)-2(Sony)-15(Seaside)-19(TPC Sawgrass) and his win at the technical Shaughnessy Par 70 last July simply highlights that O'Hair will thrive this week on his favoured Bermuda carpet. Florida has always been the happiest of hunting grounds for O'Hair who won at Copperhead in 2008 and finished 3rd/2nd at Bay Hill in consecutive seasons behind one Tiger Woods. RESULT: T44
I'll always remember watching the closing holes at TPC Four Seasons last year when Ryan Palmer, who I'd tipped at 80/1, went down the stretch with this unknown rookie from Jupiter, Florida by the name of Keegan Bradley. The wind was howling Texas style and Bradley plotted a closing 68 around the technical Par 70 to take Palmer to a play-off where he eventually triumphed at 200/1….typical! Naturally he then went on to seriously contend at Firestone (technical Par 70), before shocking the world the following week by defeating a chunking Jason Dufner in another playoff at Atlanta Athletic Club at 175/1. For the record, AAC was a tough technical Par 70 on Bermuda greens. Now I rate Bradley extremely highly (like Bill Haas) and instead of dining out on the victory he has started 2012 as a form horse. He began at Kapalua with 16th on course debut, then 13th at Waialae (finished 68th 2011/ Bermuda greens), 22nd at Torrey (25th '11), 15th at TPC Scottsdale (course debut / Bermuda greens) and 2nd around the tight confines of Riviera. This guy, in my opinion, is the real deal and a 2nd Round exit to Miguel Angel Jimenez after knocking out Geoff Ogilvy was no disgrace last week on debut at the World Match Play. Back in Florida where he will be able to sleep in his own bed, on a windy technical Par 70, I think Bradley is a must cover this week. Also available at 25/1 with Ladbrokes with 6 places each way. RESULT: T12
Jim Furyk fits like a glove this week at a very backable Each Way price. Furyk, who lives up the coast in Ponte Vedra Beach, has a superb playing record in the Sunshine State. His resume contains Florida wins at Doral (00) and Copperhead (10) plus other wins at windswept/tough Bermuda greened courses Waialae (99), Kapalua (01), Hilton Head (10) and East Lake (10). You can also throw in a Nicklaus design win at Muirfield (02) plus 2 wins at the Canadian Open (06 & 07) traditionally played on technical courses. Jim has only played PGA National once when he finished 31st in 2007, simply because the tournament always sits between Dove Mountain and Doral in the schedule. Now with his World Ranking at 59, Furyk needs to Top 3 this week to get into the WGC tournament at Doral next week and that for me will take Furyk into contending territory at a PGA National course that's sure to suit. Jim has recently shown that his 2011 slump is coming to an end and recent form is progressive 11(Riviera)-40(Pebble)-6(Thousand Oaks)-62-11(Seaside)-22(Cog Hill)-6(TPC Boston). Back in home territory on Bermuda greens and with the wind set to blow, I can see a focussed Furyk delivering this week. The Pennsylvanian also sits 5th in Driving Accuracy, 8th in Bogey Avoidance and 9th in Scrambling season to date categories on the PGA Tour....skills that will be imperative this week. Also available at Ladbrokes at 40/1 with 6 places each way. RESULT: M/C
Ladbrokes aren't the only bookmaker offering up 6 places Each Way this week at the Honda Classic. In fact Bodog are currently offering 6 places every week on both the PGA and European Tours in tandem with an account opening promotion of a £10 free bet if your first bet loses - click here for T&Cs. So I'll finish with a speculative Bodog Top 6 Each Way punt on Marc Leishman who we all know is a tremendous wind positive, technical and classical course plotter. He almost delivered a return for us last time out at Riviera where rounds of 70-69 resulted in a Top 6 position after 36 holes and, although he faltered on Sunday, his 17th place finish backed up another 19th at the 'alien' TPC Scottsdale the previous week. Leishman likes it tough so on a course where anything better than -9 could well win I can see this 4th-season PGA Tour member going extremely well in a state that delivered a magnificent 3rd at Bay Hill last season behind Martin Laird and Steve Marino. His last 2 appearances at PGA National have delivered a couple of 17th place finishes. If he finds the fairway a little more this week, his accurate wedge play should see him able to hit greens and attack accessible pins when opportunities present themselves. RESULT: M/C
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!