Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Cognizant Classic In The Palm Beaches Tips 2024

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Congratulations if you were on Jake Knapp at the Mexico Open at Vidanta at Monday prices of up to 50/1, like Golf Betting System Podcast colleagues Barry O’Hanrahan @AGoodTalkGolf and Paul Williams @GolfBetting – give them a Follow on X. Listeners will know the podcast has now landed the winner on consecutive weeks after Paul landed Hideki Matsuyama (80/1) at the Genesis Invitational. I landed my second runner-up of 2024 with Sami Valimaki at 100/1.

On to the freshly sponsored Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches (catchy) this week, that marks the start of the Florida Swing on the PGA Tour. The first of 4 tournaments in the Sunshine State, we will see the Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Players Championship and the Valspar Championship prior to moving onto Texas and then Georgia!

The Cognizant Classic itself has always been known as a tough examination as it takes place at the Jack Nicklaus-inspired Champions Course at PGA National. The 2024 field includes McIlroy, Fitzpatrick, Fowler, Straka, Henley, Rose, Lowry, McCarthy plus defending champion Chris Kirk.

Before we go into the detail surrounding the Cognizant Classic, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System. Welcome and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System Podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, +6,300 strong, private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

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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 7 miles 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.

Champions Course, PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida: Designer: Tom and George Fazio, 1981 with Nicklaus re-designs in 2002, 2014, 2018 Course Type: Florida, Mid-Score, Short; Par: 71; Length: 7,147 yards ; Holes with Water Hazards: 15; Number of Bunkers 60; Acres of Fairway: 25; Fairways: Celebration Bermudagrass; Rough: TifSport Bermudagrass overseeded with Perennial Rye 2-2.25″; Greens: 7,000 sq.ft average TifEagle Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimp: 12ft.

Course Scoring Average: 2019: 71.02 (+1.02), Difficulty Rank 5 of 49 courses. 2020: 71.90 (+1.90), Rank 3 of 41 courses. 2021: 71.10 (+1.10), Rank 6 of 51 courses. 2022: 71.34 (+1.34), Rank 7 of 50 courses. 2023: 70.36 (-0.64), Rank 13 of 49 courses.

Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Jack Nicklaus designs include:

  • Annandale Golf Club – Sanderson Farms Championship through 2013
  • Glen Abbey – RBC Canadian Open – 2008, 2013, 2015-2018
  • Muirfield Village – The Memorial Tournament
  • Montreux Golf & Country Club – Barracuda Championship through 2019
  • Old Greenwood GC – Barracuda Championship 2020 onwards
  • PGA West – Tournament Course – The American Express 2016 onwards
  • Sherwood Country Club – Thousand Oaks – World Challenge through 2013 + 2020 ZOZO Championship
  • Valhalla Golf Club – 2014 PGA Championship

PGA National Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the Champions Course at PGA National and how they compare to recent courses that we’ve seen on Tour:

  • PGA National: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:27 350:25.
  • Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:26 350:28.
  • TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:30; 300:28; 325:27; 350:27.
  • Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:33; 300:29; 325:30 350:26.
  • Torrey Pines South: 250 yards from the tee: 26 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:24; 350:23.
  • Pete Dye Stadium: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:26; 350:24.
  • Waialae: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:32; 300:34; 325:37; 350:34.
  • Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 59 yards wide; 275:61; 300:65; 325:60; 350:62.
  • Seaside Course: 250 yards from the tee: 42 yards wide; 275:40; 300:34; 325:31; 350:23.
  • TPC Summerlin: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:30; 350:31.
  • CC of Jackson: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:28; 300:29; 325:28; 350:25.
  • Silverado: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:26; 300:24; 325:25; 350:24.
  • East Lake: 250 yards from the tee: 28 yards wide; 275:26; 300:25; 325:24; 350:23.
  • TPC Southwind: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:29; 300:28; 325:31; 350:25.

Course Overview: 2024 sees the Champions Course in a slightly different guise than what we have seen previously. The par-4 10th, has been converted to a par-5 and slightly extended, making the course play as a 7,147 yard Par 71, with a single par-5 on the front-side and now 2 par-5s on the back-side.

This follows on from a 2018 Jack Nicklaus-inspired renovation where all 18 green complexes were re-worked, featuring larger 7,000 sq.ft. average putting surfaces. Said greens all featured new TifEagle Bermudagrass turf as well, replacing the old TifEagle surfaces which had been at the end of their PGA Tour standard lifespan. As with all new putting surfaces they were firm and repelled approach shots. 5 years down the line they may have settled down, but even last year they were releasing nicely as early as Friday. The course is also 15 yards shorter than previous, with the infamous 17th par-3 within the ‘Bear Trap’ reduced from 190 yards to 175 yards.

From a hazard perspective, bunkering on the Champions Course is difficult with 60 bunkers and naturally it’s a Florida-style golf course. You can also add 26 individual water hazards into the difficulty mix, with 15 of the 18 holes featuring water in play. 2024 sees lighter rough at 2-2.25”.

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 -14/266 (Kirk), -10/270 (Straka), -12/268 (Jones), -6/274 (Im), and -9/271 (Mitchell) highlight a course and playing conditions which stretches these PGA Tour players.

Course experience is important, but debutants can also contend (take local rookie Daniel Berger in 2015, for instance, or Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren in 2018, the same year Wyndham Clark was 54-hole leader. Tequesta, Florida rookie Eric Cole made a play off with Chris Kirk last year and Rory Sabbatini won 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. It’s never a birdie fest here. Look for those with a decent long approach game, 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.

cognizant classic tips

Cognizant Classic Winners: 2023: Chris Kirk (-14); 2022: Sepp Straka (-10); 2021: Matt Jones (-12); 2020: Sungjae Im (-6); 2019: Keith Mitchell (-9); 2018: Justin Thomas (-8); 2017: Rickie Fowler (-12); 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).

  • 2023: Chris Kirk 69-62-66-69 -14/266
  • 2022: Sepp Straka 71-64-69-66 -10/270
  • 2021: Matt Jones 61-70-69-68 -12/268
  • 2020: Sungjae Im 72-66-70-66 -6/274
  • 2019: Keith Mitchell 68-66-70-67 -9/271
  • 2018: Justin Thomas 67-72-65-68 -8/272
  • 2017: Rickie Fowler 66-66-65-71 -12/268

Path to Victory: Below are end of round positions for the Cognizant Classic winners since 2010:

  • 2023 – Chris Kirk: Round 1: 27th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2022 – Sepp Straka: Round 1: 65th, Round 2: 6th, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2021 – Matt Jones: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2020 – Sungjae Im: Round 1: 63rd, Round 2: 9th, Round 3: 5th.
  • 2019 – Keith Mitchell: Round 1: 20th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2018 – Justin Thomas: Round 1: 3rd, Round 2: 7th, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2017 – Rickie Fowler: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2016 – Adam Scott: Round 1: 23rd, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2015 – Padraig Harrington: Round 1: 3rd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2014 – Russell Henley: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2013 – Michael Thompson: Round 1: 16th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2012 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2011 – Rory Sabbatini: Round 1: 20th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2010 – Camilo Villegas: Round 1: 3rd, Round 2 1st, Round 3: 1st.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the Cognizant Classic winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament since 2010:

  • 2023 – Chris Kirk: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 2 ahead.
  • 2022 – Sepp Straka: Round 1: 7 back, Round 2: 5 back, Round 3: 5 back.
  • 2021 – Matt Jones: Round 1: 3 ahead, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 3 ahead.
  • 2020 – Sungjae Im: Round 1: 6 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2019 – Keith Mitchell: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2018 – Justin Thomas: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2017 – Rickie Fowler: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 4 ahead.
  • 2016 – Adam Scott: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: level.
  • 2015 – Padraig Harrington: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2014 – Russell Henley: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2013 – Michael Thompson: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: level.
  • 2012 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 2 ahead.
  • 2011 – Rory Sabbatini: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 5 ahead.
  • 2010 – Camilo Villegas: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 3 ahead.

OWGR of Cognizant Classic Winners: 2023: Kirk 47; 2022: Straka 176; 2021: Jones 83; 2020: Im 34; 2019: Mitchell 161; 2018: Thomas 4; 2017: Fowler 14.

Cut Line: 2023: +1; 2022: +2; 2021: +1; 2020: +3; 2019: +2; 2018: +5; 2017: E.

Lead Score Progression:

  • 2023: Round 1 -5; Round 2 -10; Round 3 -13; Round 4 -14.
  • 2022: Round 1 -6; Round 2 -10; Round 3 -11; Round 4 -10.
  • 2021: Round 1 -9; Round 2 -12; Round 3 -10; Round 4 -12.
  • 2020: Round 1 -4; Round 2 -5; Round 3 -5; Round 4 -6.
  • 2019: Round 1 -6; Round 2 -6; Round 3 -7; Round 4 -9.
  • 2018: Round 1 -4; Round 2 -3; Round 3 -7; Round 4 -8.
  • 2017: Round 1 -6; Round 2 -9; Round 3 -13; Round 4 -12.

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 | Combined Stats.

My published predictor is available here. Top 10 of my published predictor are: Rory McIlroy, Russell Henley, Byeong Hun An, Sungjae Im, Eric Cole, Denny McCarthy, Taylor Pendrith, Jake Knapp, Stephan Jaeger and Cameron Young.

Our brand new predictor model is running alongside, where you can build your own rankings in live time using the variables listed on the left hand side.

Cognizant Classic Winners & Prices: 2023: Kirk 25/1; 2022: Straka 125/1; 2021: Jones 80/1; 2020: Im 35/1; 2019: Mitchell 300/1; 2018: Thomas 12/1; 2017: Fowler 16/1; 2016: Scott 20/1; 2015: Harrington 400/1; 2014: Henley 300/1; 2013: Thompson 300/1; 2012: McIlroy 9/1F; 2011: Sabbatini 80/1; 2010: Villegas 30/1. Past 5 Renewals Average: 113/1; Overall Average: 124/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2023: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 84. Wind SE 8-14 mph, with gusts to 18 mph. The first round was suspended due to darkness at 6:18p.m. ET with 12 players left on the course. Friday: Partly cloudy. High of 84. Wind E 6-12 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny. High of 85. Wind ESE 8-12 mph, with gusts to 16 mph. Sunday: Mostly sunny. High of 86. Wind ESE 6-12 mph, with gusts to 15 mph.
  • 2022: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 80. Wind ESE 18 mph, with gusts to 22 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy. High of 80. Wind ESE 10-15 mph, with gusts to 18 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 81. Wind ENE 10-15 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 81. Wind SE 10-15 mph. Heavy rainfall to conclude the final round.
  • 2021: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 86. Wind SSW 15-20 mph, gusting to 30 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 83. Wind WNW 10-15 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy with a high of 78. Wind NW 6-12 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 77. Wind W 7-14 mph.
  • 2020: Thursday: Mostly sunny with a high of 64. Wind NW 8-18 mph. Friday: Sunny with a high of 65. Wind NW 8-16 mph. Saturday: Sunny with a high of 69. Wind NW 8-16 mph. Sunday: Sunny with a high of 72. Wind E 7-18 mph.
  • 2019: Thursday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 83. Wind NE 5-10 mph. Friday: Mostly cloudy, with a high of 83. Wind ESE 6-12 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 84. Wind ESE 8-12 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 84. Wind SSE 12-20 mph.
  • 2018: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 83. Wind E 15-25 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy. High of 82. Wind E 15-25 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 82. Wind ESE 12-22 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 82. Wind SE 10-18 mph.
  • 2017: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 79. Wind NNW 8-15 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 80. Wind NNE 7-14 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 85. Wind SSE 7-14 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 81. Wind NNE 15-20 mph.
  • 2016: Weather: Thursday: Sunny and windy, with sustained winds of 20 mph and gusts to 30 mph. High of 70 degrees. Due to darkness, play was suspended for the day at 6:35 p.m., with three players remaining on the course. Friday: The first round resumed at 7:45 a.m. Friday and ended at 7:51 a.m. Sunny, with a high of 70 degrees. Wind NW 12-22 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 70 degrees. Wind N 10-15 mph, with gusts to 20 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 74 degrees. Wind E 10-18 mph.
  • 2015: Thursday: Mostly cloudy, with a high of 86. Wind WSW at 15-25 mph. Friday: Cloudy, with rain throughout the day. High of 73 with NNE wind at 10-20 mph. Due to a dangerous weather situation, officials delayed the second round for 2:08, from 8:23-10:31 a.m. Officials suspended play for a second time, at 10:55 a.m., due to lightning. The second round resumed at 12:31 p.m. The second suspension lasted 1:36. Due to darkness, officials suspended the second round for the day at 6:12 p.m., with all the afternoon groups remaining on the course. Saturday: Overcast, with severe wind and thunderstorms throughout the day. High of 73, with variable winds peaking at 60 mph. Due to a dangerous weather situation, officials suspended the third round at 12:51 p.m. Officials called play for the day, at 2:51 p.m. Sunday: Partly cloudy and breezy, with a high of 79. Wind E at 15-25 mph. Monday: Temperatures reached the lower-80s, with E wind at 8-15 mph.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Palm Beach Gardens, Florida is here.

It’s been wet around PGA National across early 2024 so I wouldn’t be surprised to see softer turf conditions than we’re used to here in play this week. We’re also used to gusting winds being a feature here, but with nothing worse than gusting 20mph south-easterly winds across the week, wind strength looks similar to 12 months ago. Temperatures step up a level from the west coast swing, and are similar to last year with 25-26 degrees Celsius (77-79) throughout.

Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to The Sentry which includes both PGA Tour and DP World Tour events, where recorded. Player rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Cameron Young; 3) Cameron Champ; 4) Corey Conners; 5) Min Woo Lee; 6) Keith Mitchell; 7) Carl Yuan; 8) Byeong Hun An; 9) Akshay Bhatia; 10) Rasmus Hojgaard / Kevin Yu; 12) Vincent Norrman; 13) Rico Hoey / Sungjae Im; 15) Sepp Straka; 16) Doug Ghim / Russell Henley / Chris Kirk; 19) Tom Kim / Alex Smalley; 21) Daniel Berger / Luke List; 23) Erik van Rooyen; 24) Nick Hardy / Adam Svensson.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Christiaan Bezuidenhout; 2) Bud Cauley; 3) Tom Hoge; 4)    Thorbjorn Olesen; 5) Victor Perez / Scott Stallings / Erik van Rooyen / Cameron Young; 9) Corey Conners; 10) Matthieu Pavon / Davis Thompson; 12) Justin Lower; 13) Rory McIlroy / Carson Young; 15) Luke List; 16) Lucas Glover / Russell Henley; 18) Greyson Sigg; 19) J.T. Poston / Brandon Wu; 21) Eric Cole / Tom Kim; 23) Max Greyserman; 24) Adam Svensson; 25) Chris Kirk.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Chase Johnson; 2) Thorbjorn Olesen; 3) Lucas Glover / Russell Henley; 5) Ryo Hisatsune; 6) Francesco Molinari; 7) Austin Eckroat / Brendon Todd; 9) Byeong Hun An; 10) Aaron Baddeley / Rory McIlroy; 12) Troy Merritt; 13) Hayden Buckley / J.T. Poston; 15) Denny McCarthy; 16) Doug Ghim / Beau Hossler / Matt Kuchar; 19) Sepp Straka; 20) Rasmus Hojgaard / Camilo Villegas; 22) S.H. Kim; 23) Ben Griffin; 24) Jorge Campillo / Shane Lowry / Maverick McNealy / Adam Schenk.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Corey Conners; 2) Russell Henley / Rory McIlroy; 4) Cameron Young; 5) Keith Mitchell; 6) Doug Ghim / Rasmus Hojgaard; 8) Byeong Hun An / Bud Cauley; 10) J.T. Poston; 11) Lucas Glover / Tom Kim / Thorbjorn Olesen; 14) Mathieu Pavon; 15) Carl Yuan; 16) Christiaan Bezuidenhout / Erik van Rooyen; 18) Chris Kirk; 19) Carson Young; 20) Victor Perez; 21) Tom Hoge; 22) Luke List / Justin Lower; 24) Stephan Jaeger / Scott Stallings / Adam Svensson.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Rasmus Hojgaard; 2) Matthieu Pavon; 3) Brendon Todd; 4) Thorbjorn Olesen; 5) Aaron Baddeley / Justin Rose; 7) Denny McCarthy; 8) Tom Hoge; 9) Nick Dunlap; 10) Ben Griffin / Rory McIlroy; 12) Pierceson Coody / J.T. Poston; 14) Billy Horschel; 15) Christiaan Bezuidenhout / Adam Schenk; 17) Jorge Campillo / Taylor Montgomery; 19) Maverick McNealy / Davis Thompson; 21) Nick Hardy / S.H. Kim / Peter Malnati / Chad Ramey; 25) Beau Hossler / Cameron Young.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Rasmus Hojgaard; 2) Matthieu Pavon; 3) J.T. Poston / Thorbjorn Olesen; 5) Rory McIlroy / Keith Mitchell; 7) Christiaan Bezuidenhout / Cameron Young; 9) Russell Henley / Beau Hossler; 11) Tom Hoge / Denny McCarthy; 13) Erik van Rooyen; 14) Byeong Hun An / Eric Cole / Brendon Todd; 17) Stephan Jaeger; 18) Chris Kirk / Carson Young; 20) Billy Horschel; 21) Aaron Baddeley / Corey Conners / Mark Hubbard; 24) Doug Ghim / Adam Schenk.

Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the Strokes Gained Stats of the Cognizant Classic winners post Nicklaus course re-design in 2018 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2023, Chris Kirk (-14). SG Off the Tee: 15th, SG Approach: 8th, SG Around the Green: 37th, SG Tee to Green: 5th, SG Putting: 9th.
  • 2022, Sepp Straka (-10). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 20th, SG Around the Green: 31st, SG Tee to Green: 4th, SG Putting: 4th.
  • 2021, Matt Jones (-12). SG Off the Tee: 10th, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 2nd, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 25th.
  • 2020, Sungjae Im (-6). SG Off the Tee: 11th, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 5th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 38th.
  • 2019, Keith Mitchell (-9). SG Off the Tee: 12th, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 6th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 38th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:

  • SG Off the Tee: 10th, SG Approach: 9th, SG Around the Green: 16th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 23rd.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of Cognizant Classic winners post Nicklaus course re-design in 2018 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this tough Florida golf test:

  • 2023, Chris Kirk (-14). 296 yards (54th), 62.5% fairways (35th), 75.0% greens in regulation (7th), 30’2″ proximity to hole (4th), 66.7 % scrambling (20th), 1.65 putts per GIR (3rd).
  • 2022, Sepp Straka (-10). 310 yards (13th), 83.9% fairways (1st), 76.4% greens in regulation (1st), 34’3″ proximity to hole (17th), 76.5 % scrambling (3rd), 1.78 putts per GIR (27th).
  • 2021, Matt Jones (-12). 315 yards (15th), 64.3% fairways (15th), 72.2% greens in regulation (5th), 40’0″ proximity to hole (56th), 65.0 % scrambling (17th), 1.71 putts per GIR (5th).
  • 2020, Sungjae Im (-6). 292 yards (40th), 67.9% fairways (10th), 69.4% greens in regulation (2nd), 36’8″ proximity to hole (11th), 68.2 % scrambling (5th), 1.78 putts per GIR (29th).
  • 2019, Keith Mitchell (-9). 306 yards (8th), 58.9% fairways (54th), 62.5% greens in regulation (22nd), 39’7″ proximity to hole (50th), 77.8 % scrambling (2nd), 1.71 putts per GIR (18th).

Tournament Skill Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 26th, Driving Accuracy: 23rd, Greens in Regulation: 7th, Proximity to Hole: 28th, Scrambling: 9th, Putting Average 16th.

Let’s take a view from players as to how the Champions Course at PGA National sets up and what skill sets the course favours:

Chris Kirk (2023): “Yeah, it was definitely the conditions that lent itself to being able to be a little bit more aggressive, being able to dial in kind of carry distances and stuff like that with irons and wedges better. Usually we’re playing for 15, 20 plus yards of hurt going into the wind shots, and 15, 20 yards of help on downwind shots. So it’s really difficult to get those just right when it’s really windy. But today there was hardly a breath most of the round, and so it became a little bit more target practice.

To make eagle it was a good tee ball and a 5-wood. I think it was 249 or so and hit a 5-wood to about maybe just inside 20 feet or so and made it. That was kind of the first — after not making anything yesterday, it was awesome to see that one just kind of go right in the middle, perfect speed, and really got me going.

Probably my iron play was the strength today. That was kind of a strength for me at Sony and Amex where I played so well, and has been a strength most of the year this year. I made a couple really good driver swings kind of towards the end of my round today, especially on 18. I didn’t quite catch it in the middle on 18, but was the exact shape, right where I wanted it. I feel like that’s going to be an important thing for me tomorrow, to go out and drive it well.

But I feel good about where my golf swing is, and if I can do a good job reading these greens — the greens are so tricky to read. You get a lot of putts out here where the grain is fighting the slope a little bit, and you’ve got to pick one.”

Sepp Straka (2022): “Yeah, it’s definitely one of the tougher ones we play all year, but it’s right there in front of you. I mean you basically try not to hit it in the water. You just pick your safe targets and you hit an aggressive shot at your safe targets and that’s kind of the key. I knew that I’d been putting really well all week. I had been reading, at that point I had been reading the greens great. We’d been putting a lot of good rolls on it. It’s just one of those things where when the greens get as fast as they are here, it gets windy, you’re going to have some misses. So you do have to kind of try to get over it and try to make the next one.”

I feel like historically there’s been a lot of guys who have come from behind to win here, just because not only is every shot you hit really demanding and really tough, I mean, you add the nerves and the pressure on top of that, it just makes it really hard and just so easy to make mistakes.”

Matt Jones (2021): “I started off really good. I hit it close the first five holes. 6 is always a tough hole and then I hit a really good shot on 7. It was a very good ball-striking day for me with my irons, especially with being able to control trajectory and shot shape was good. It’s not a terrible wind for me. You’ve just got to trust that it’s going to do what you think it’s going to do. I had started it on the right, I hit a really good shot, probably 15 or 20 foot, then 16 to an inch or two inches and 17, if you watch the coverage this afternoon 17 is not going to be a fun hole at all. If anyone hits that green, they’re going to be doing well. I got lucky to hole it from off the green from 30 feet. It was a good day. I struck it really nicely.”

Yeah, actually my rookie year I think I finished fourth here. I think I was tied for the lead for a long time, and I thought about that while I was out there playing. Someone sent me a screenshot of that leaderboard yesterday, so it was good to see that. It’s just a difficult golf course. If you’re off a little bit you can’t get away with it around here. It was good to make birdies and get away with it. It was good to make birdies and get away with it.”

“Yeah, playing it in those Australian Opens where I won two, it was windy, so I’m quite comfortable in the wind. So, yeah, growing up in Australia we’re used to the wind and hopefully we can just keep managing the game. In the wind I probably played a little safer. I don’t go at pins. I like to try and control my ball flights in the wind, so I probably take the speed off a lot of the time. But, yeah, it’s not lowering expectations, it’s just playing a little more conservatively is a better way to put it.”

Sungjae Im (2020): “In between 15 and 17, 15 is probably the hardest hole out here in my opinion, and just going into that hole the past few days, I was a little tentative and didn’t really hit my lines. But going into today, I had the right club, the wind was in the right spot, and just felt like I had everything to attack the pin the way I did and just had the right club and was comfortable with the wind. That way I just was aggressive and saw my shot, and glad it worked out the way it did. I’ve been good out of the bunkers all week. I really like the bunkers around here, and once I got up and saw my ball and saw that it was a good lie, I knew that it was just an ordinary, everyday bunker shot. I went up there and I was pretty confident with it, and glad that the ball came out the way it did.”

Keith Mitchell (2019): “This golf course you’ve got to stay so patient. I played Q-school here in the final stage and I played last year, and Q-school on this golf course is probably the most stress there could ever be in your career because either it’s all or nothing. I mean, just having that experience in the back of my mind out here is good, and we know – and I know a couple holes out here you’ve just got to — you don’t even look at a flag. You just hit it in a certain spot on the green, and it doesn’t matter where the flag is, you’ll be all right. That works when you’re hitting it well. So thankfully the last couple days I’ve been hitting it pretty good.

The greens have been recently re-surfaced. Well, the grain is still there. It’s not perfect because they’re still growing in a little bit, but the majority of the grain is still there. Once I have a decent read on the slope, you just double check the grain, and it either confirms it or makes you hit it straight. When you’ve done it your whole life, it’s a little bit easier. I don’t think there’s a number on this course. A lot of times pars are a good score. I started the day tied for first, shot even, now I’m tied for second. I don’t think you can play aggressive out here. If you do, I think it will eat you because this golf course is tough. I played it in Q-school, and I didn’t make it through a lot of guys that came down the stretch with all that pressure. It’s tough. We’re just going to try to hit it to maybe a flag or two, be aggressive, but I’ll tell you what, almost all of them I’ll play conservative.”

Justin Thomas (2018): “If you’re driving it well, you can – like Rickie did last year, you can play this course well and make a lot of pars and sprinkle in some birdies and you’re going to beat a lot of the field. But if you’re not playing well, it’s hard to shoot a good number. You can grind it out at around par, if you’re not driving it great, but if you’re driving it bad, it’s a tough place to play well. It’s very difficult. This course presents such a challenge in itself with just the amount of hazards out there, the amount of difficult holes. It’s a place for a handful of holes, if you drive it well, you have some birdie opportunities. Some of those holes, you’re just kind of holding on for dear life. The greens aren’t very Bermuda-like this week. They are a little bare in terms of there’s not a lot of grain. They roll great and they can get fast downhill. They roll true but there’s not like new fresh bermudagrass. The good thing coming off poa annua, most things are going to seem easier to putt on.

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.

Adam Scott: “Yeah, it just always seems to blow around here no matter what direction. And always plays tough, even with the amount of rain in the last couple days, it’s not easy to get the ball if good spots out there when it’s blowing this hard. I thought there were some pretty challenging pins out there, as well, in back corners of greens that made it tougher, because it made it quite long, a few of those holes. Yeah, I played really great today tee-to-green. It was exactly what you want to do around this kind of golf course, in a little bit of wind; and also in the afternoon when the greens are just not quite as smooth playing 7:45 in the morning. So much can happen, especially at a golf course like this. There’s trouble waiting on every misjudgement or poor swing. I’m just going to try and play that solid round of golf and give myself as many opportunities as I can.

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.

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.

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.

Incoming Form of Cognizant Classic winners since 2010:

  • Chris Kirk: MC TPC Scottsdale/3rd PGA West/3rd Waialae/MC Sea Island.
  • Sepp Straka: 15th Riviera/66th TPC Scottsdale/16th Torrey/49th PGA West.
  • Matt Jones: 55th TPC Sawgrass/MC Bay Hill/8th Riviera/34th Pebble.
  • Sungjae Im: 29th Mexico/MC Riviera/34th TPC Scottsdale/36th Torrey.
  • Keith Mitchell: MC Riviera/MC Pebble/MDF TPC Scottsdale/MC Torrey.
  • Justin Thomas: 9th Riviera/17th TPC Scottsdale/14th Waialae/22nd Kapalua.
  • Rickie Fowler: 4th TPC Scottsdale/MC Torrey/36th Abu/3rd World Challenge.
  • Adam Scott: 2nd Riviera/56th Waialae/10th World Challenge/2nd Aus Open.
  • Padraig Harrington: 56th Riviera/MC Pebble/MC Torrey/MC TPC Scottsdale.
  • Russell Henley: MC Riviera/52nd Pebble/MC TPC Scottsdale/MC Torrey.
  • Michael Thompson: MC Riviera/MC TPC Scottsdale/78th Torrey/MC Waialae.
  • Rory McIlroy: 2nd WMP/5th Dubai/2nd Abu Dhabi.
  • Rory Sabbatini: 5th El Camaleon/MC Riviera/15th Pebble/22nd TPC Scottsdale.
  • Camilo Villegas: 8th Phoenix/3rd WMP/9th Qatar/19th Abu Dhabi.

First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.

  • 2023 – Bramlett / Horschel / Carson Young – 2AM/1PM Split -5/65 – 70/1, 66/1 & 350/1.
  • 2022 – Kitayama – AM -6/64 – 225/1.
  • 2021 – Jones – AM -9/61 – 80/1.
  • 2020 – English / Lewis – AM/PM Split -4/66 – 70/1 & 90/1.
  • 2019 – Vegas – AM -6/64 – 100/1.
  • 2018 – Noren / Simpson – AM/PM Split -4/66 – 50/1 & 80/1.
  • 2017 – Bryan / Gribble – Both AM -6/64 – 100/1 & 200/1.
  • 2016 – Garcia / M Thompson – Both PM -5/65.
  • 2015 – Herman – AM -5/65.
  • 2014 – McIlroy PM -7/63.
  • 2013 – Villegas – PM -6/64.
  • 2012 – Love III – AM -6/64.
  • 2011 – Levin – AM -3/67.
  • 2010 – Connell – PM -5/65.

For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

  • 8 – Rory McIlroy.
  • 4 – Billy Horschel, Zach Johnson, Chris Kirk, Ryan Palmer, Camilo Villegas.
  • 3 – Kevin Kisner, Brandt Snedeker.
  • 2 – Daniel Berger, Rickie Fowler, Lucas Glover, Russell Henley, Justin Rose.
  • 1 – Aaron Baddeley, Cameron Champ, Corey Conners, Tyler Duncan, Nick Dunlap, Matt Fitzpatrick, Lanto Griffin, Nick Hardy, Padraig Harrington, Garrick Higgo, J.B. Holmes, Sungjae Im, Tom Kim, Patton Kizzire, Luke List, Peter Malnati, Keith Mitchell, C.T. Pan, J.T. Poston, Davis Riley, Scott Stallings, Sepp Straka, Kevin Streelman, Adam Svensson, Brendon Todd, Jhonattan Vegas, Gary Woodland.

The Cognizant (nee Honda) Classic has been a case of feast or famine for short price backers here since 2010. Sepp Straka, Matt Jones, Keith Mitchell, Padraig Harrington, Russell Henley, Michael Thompson and Rory Sabbatini have won at 125/1, 300/1, 400/1, 300/1, 300/1, 80/1 and 80/1 respectively in 7 of the past 14 renewals. But conversely Camilo Villegas (30/1), Rory McIlroy (9/1), Adam Scott (20/1), Rickie Fowler (18/1), Justin Thomas (12/1), Sungjae Im (35/1) and Chris Kirk (25/1), have been elite (OWGR top 50) short-price winners over the same time span. With a weaker field than we used to see here, the last 4 renewals have been won at 25/1, 125/1, 80/1 and 35/1.

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. Rickie Fowler had last been seen at TPC Scottsdale where he had finished 4th, powered by a fast finishing -6/65. And Justin Thomas arrived directly from Riviera, where he had landed his first top 10 of 2018. Sungjae Im was a little more under the radar only cracking the top 10 once in 2020 at The American Express, prior to winning this at 35/1 – he was 10th in the betting.

Defending champion Chris Kirk arrived off a MC at TPC Scottsdale, but prior to that he’s started 2023 on fire finishing 3rd at the Sony Open in Hawaii and The American Express across consecutive weeks on Bermudagrass-base greens.

With course and conditions at PGA National notoriously difficult, it’s no real surprise therefore to see that Justin Thomas (9th, 2017), Rickie Fowler (10th, 2013 and 2nd, 2014), 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. Im had no U.S. Open pedigree but had shown that he could definitely grind in Florida with 3rd at Bay Hill and 4th at Copperhead in his rookie season on Tour. Kirk was very similar to Im having shown Florida course grit across Bay Hill (8th 2021 and 5th 2022) plus here at PGA National where he finished 7th in 2022.

My final Cognizant Classic tips are as follows:

Cameron Young 2pts EW 20/1 (8EW, 1/5) with bet365

It’s great to see a higher-quality entry for the freshly entitled Cognizant Classic this week at one of the PGA Tour’s toughest courses. Where last year Sungjae Im and Shane Lowry heading the market at 8/1 and 14/1 respectively, 2024 sees Rory McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tom Kim from the world’s top 15, supported by 14 more from within the OWGR top 50.

When we used to see better, stronger fields here, the likes of Rory McIlroy (2012), Padraig Harrington (2015), Adam Scott (2016), Rickie Fowler (2017) and Justin Thomas (2018) won here on the Champions Course. 2022 also saw Sungjae Im take his maiden PGA Tour title here in Palm Beach Gardens. I make that 4 Major Champions with 10 Majors between them and 2 Major Championship runners-up. This Champions Course at PGA National can certainly sort the wheat from the chaff.

Taking this line of attack takes me to Cameron Young, who despite still unbelievably being a Tour maiden is undoubtedly Major Championship material. Not many players finish 3rd at the PGA Championship and 2nd at the Open Championship in their rookie season (2022), and Cameron went on to land 7th at The Masters and 8th at the Hoylake-hosted Open Championship last year. 4 top-8 Major Championship finishes in his last 7 Major appearances tells us all we need to know about the 26 year-old from Scarborough, New York.

From a Florida perspective, 13th (2022) and 10th (2023) on his first 2 visits to Bay Hill, Cameron’s history here specifically on the Champions Course at PGA National is interesting. A winner of the 2013 AJGA Polo Golf Junior Classic, Young was beaten by Matthew Wolff in the Quarter-Final the following year. Wolff went on to win the event. Cameron has also played here once on Tour in 2022, finishing 16th whilst firing rounds of 68 (Thursday) and 66 (Sunday).

3rd on the TifEagle Bermudagrass greens at the Emirates Golf Club in January behind one Rory McIlroy, Cam arrives here in strong form having finished a career best 8th at TPC Scottsdale and 16th at the Genesis Invitational where he ranked 3rd for Off the Tee and 6th for Approach. RESULT: T4

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J.T. Poston 1.5pts EW 28/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

On short courses I always look out for J.T. Poston.

A 2-time winner on the PGA Tour, Poston’s wins have come at the 2019 Wyndham Championship and the 2022 John Deere Classic at Sedgefield Country Club and TPC Deere Run respectively. Those aren’t bad correlating courses when looking at the likes of recent winners here in the form of Sungjae Im, Matt Jones and Sepp Straka. 7th (2019), 6th (2023) and 11th (2024) at PGA West also links together nicely in that regard.

Now set in the OWGR top 50, J.T. has already finished 5th at The Sentry, 6th at the Sony Open and 10th at the Genesis Invitational in 2024. Plus in my eyes he has a little unfinished business here at PGA National. Rewind to 2020 and Poston shot rounds of 67 and 69 to be 2nd heading into the weekend. 8th heading into Sunday, J.T. fell away on Sunday, but marked our cards that PGA National was a course that suited.

4 years down the line and with 8-week tracker Strokes Gained rankings in this field within the top 12 for Putting, top 10 for Tee to Green and top 3 for Current Form, I could see St Simons Island, Georgia, resident going very well this week in Palm Beach Gardens. RESULT: 66th

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Luke List 1.5pts EW 50/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Luke List is perennially underestimated and comes to PGA National fresh from a strong runners-up finish at the Genesis Invitational where he grossed a cool $1.8 million. List has won twice on the PGA Tour over both 2022 and 2023 and his game is clearly in great nick right now, with a return to the OWGR top 50 for the first time since 2018 available with another top finish.

List’s Florida form-book also encourages our support this week. Bay Hill form of 7th (2018) and 10th (2019) is encouraging, as is 1st at the 2020 Korn Ferry Challenge played on the Dye’s Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass.

Actual PGA National form also peaks my interest. 10th (2016) and 2nd (2018) here at the Honda Classic, we were on board Justin Thomas in 2018 when he defeated Luke in a play-off. 4th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 9th for Strokes Gained Putting here that week, List was 14th for Tee to Green and 1st for Strokes Gained Putting at Riviera Country Club just a fortnight ago. RESULT: MC

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Christiaan Bezuidenhout 1pt EW 70/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

It’s President’s Cup year so having an International on board at PGA National makes plenty of sense. Wins here for McIlroy, Harrington and Straka bring a European feel to the champions list here, but Els (2008), Yang (2009), Villegas (2010), Sabbatini (2011), Scott (2016), Im (2020) and Jones (2021) have all won this since 2008, very much highlighting an International team heritage as well.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout has really stepped up his game of late and is undoubtedly a name that could be in the frame for International team captain Mike Weir. A 3-time winner on the DP World Tour, ‘C-Bez’ is yet to win on the PGA Tour, but of late has started to move closer to his maiden victory. 6th at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October was then followed by 2nd at The American Express, where Saturday and Sunday 65s saw the South African finish a shot back of Nick Dunlap.

Since then top 28 finishes at Pebble Beach, TPC Scottsdale and Riviera Country Club have followed in fields much stronger than this, and that translates to my 8-week Strokes Gained trackers where in this field Bezuidenhout ranks in the top 20 for Tee to Green, top 15 for Putting and top 10 for Strokes Gained current form.

Well versed in this part of Florida after spending much time in the company of Ernie Els, Christiaan has decent form in the Sunshine State. 18th (2020), 7th (2021) and 20th (2022) at Bay Hill; 13th (2023) at TPC Sawgrass; plus 25th (2022) and 42nd (2024) here at PGA National. Bezuidenhout has never arrived here at the Champions Course in better form or confidence.

He’s also a Bermudagrass winner on the DP World Tour having won the 2020 Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek GC on Champion Bermudagrass greens with a winning score of -14/274. Link to that his 2019 Andalucía Masters win at Valderrama which came at -10/274 and you get a player who can go well when scoring is tougher. RESULT: MC

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Ben Griffin 1pt EW 90/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

We’ve already worked out that Ben Griffin is undoubtedly a player to watch on Bermudagrass agronomy golf courses. That makes plenty of sense for a player who grew up in North Carolina, went to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and lives on St Simons Island in Georgia. The sort who logically should flourish as the Tour moves from west coast to east, Griffin has masses of Junior Amateur pedigree across the state of Florida, and here specifically at PGA National across multiple Polo Junior Classic events.

And a look at his blossoming PGA Tour career to date highlights a huge spike in results on his favoured Bermudagrass golf courses. 4th at Sedgefield and 3rd in Bermuda in 2022; last year saw him finish 12th at Waialae, 2nd at Jackson Country Club and 8th at Sea Island. 2024 has already seen him finish 9th on the Bermuda/Poa Trivialis greens at PGA West.

Florida-specific results as a professional have also been encouraging. 2nd at the 2022 Suncoast Classic played at Lakewood National GC on the Korn Ferry Tour, behind Byeong Hun An – who has finished 4th and 5th here on the Champions Course – Griffin’s first Florida Swing in 2023 saw him finish 21st here and 14th at Bay Hill. I love Ben’s chances this week at a short course with TifEagle Bermudagrass greens. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 13:40GMT 26.2.24 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.