Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's The Honda Classic Tips 2022

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If you like the First Round Leader market then read Paul Williams’ FRL preview and selections here.

Well done to all you Joaquin Niemann backers at a Monday best price of 75/1 (bet365). As many will know he’s one of my favourite players, so to miss him was a little painful. An undoubted high-end talent, the Chilean is up to 20th in the OWGR and is sure to win many more titles.

The Honda Classic marks the start of the Florida Swing section of the PGA Tour. The first of 4 consecutive weeks 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 Honda 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 2022 field includes Fleetwood, Fowler, Henley, Im, Koepka, Lowry, Niemann, Poulter, Rose, Westwood, Willett, Wolff and Woodland, plus defending champion Matt Jones.

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Before we go into the detail surrounding the Honda Classic, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System as the Masters approaches. 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, +6,000 strong, private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

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.

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 6 of the past 9 seasons.

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: 7,125 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 15; Fairways: Celebration Bermudagrass; Rough: TifSport Bermudagrass with Perennial Rye 2.25″; Greens: 7,000 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. 2017: 70.56 (+0.56), Rank 16 of 50 courses. 2018: 72.30 (+2.30), Rank 2 of 51 courses. 2019: 71.02 (+1.02), 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.

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 – Nicklaus Private – Humana Challenge through 2015
  • 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

Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for 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.
  • TPC 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.

Course Overview: 2019 saw the Champions Course in a slightly different guise than we’d seen previously. All green complexes had been reworked, 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. 3 years down the line they should have settled down considerably. The course was 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 and on this Florida-style golf course you can add you can add 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 -12/268 (Jones), -6/274 (Im), -9/271 (Mitchell), -8//272 (Thomas), -12/268 (Fowler), -9/271 (Scott), -6/274 (Harrington) and -8/272 (Henley) highlight a course and playing conditions that stretches the world’s best 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) 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. This will be no birdie-fest; instead 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.

honda classic tips

Winners: 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).

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

Lead Score Progression:

  • 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.

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 | Combined Stats.

Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Billy Horschel, Sungjae Im, Keith Mitchell, Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger, Joaquin Niemann, Cameron Young, Louis Oosthuizen, Alex Noren and Tommy Fleetwood.

Tournament Winners & Prices: 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 8 Renewals Average: 145/1. Overall Average: 132/1.

For a full summary of winner’s odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.

Historical Weather:

  • 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.

73mm of rain in February should see PGA National in ideal condition for the Honda this week. We’re also used to wind being a feature here, but with nothing worse than a gusting 15mph easterly wind on Thursday, conditions look unusually calm for PGA National. Temperatures are similar to last year with 25-26 degrees Celsius throughout.

Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the RSM Classic & DP World Tour Championship which includes both PGA Tour and DP World Tour events. Players’ rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Sungjae Im; 2) Keith Mitchell; 3) Ryan Palmer; 4) Lee Westwood; 5) Paul Barjon / Shane Lowry; 7) Nicolai Hojgaard / Jhonattan Vegas; 9) Joaquin Niemann; 10) Chris Kirk; 11) Billy Horschel; 12) Padraig Harrington; 13) Daniel Berger; 14) Aaron Rai; 15) Ryan Armour; 16) Brendan Steele; 17) Kevin Streelman; 18) Kramer Hickok / Garrick Higgo; 20) Trey Mullinax; 21) Alex Smalley; 22) K.H. Lee / Taylor Moore / Cameron Young; 25) Tommy Fleetwood / J.J. Spaun.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Martin Kaymer; 2) Tommy Fleetwood; 3) Shane Lowry; 4) Joaquin Niemann; 5) Russell Knox; 6) Hudson Swafford; 7) Nicolai Hojgaard; 8) Padraig Harrington / Greyson Sigg; 10) Daniel Berger; 11) Nick Taylor; 12) Christiaan Bezuidenhout; 13) Ian Poulter; 14) Lucas Glover; 15) Keith Mitchell / Austin Smotherman; 17) Ryan Palmer; 18) Charl Schwartzel / Brendon Todd; 20) Ryan Armour / Lucas Herbert / Lee Westwood; 23) Garrick Higgo / Zach Johnson / Chris Stroud.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Martin Kaymer; 2) Shane Lowry; 3) Kevin Streelman; 4) Billy Horschel; 5) Patrick Reed; 6) Satoshi Kodaira; 7) C.T. Pan / Matthias Schwab; 9) Charles Howell III / K.H. Lee; 11) Matt Jones; 12) Lee Westwood; 13) Chris Kirk / Joaquin Niemann; 15) Sungjae Im; 16) Lucas Herbert; 17) J.J. Spaun / Brendon Todd / Camilo Villegas; 20) Garrick Higgo / Taylor Moore / Michael Thompson; 23) Mark Hubbard / Lee Hodges; 25) Bill Haas.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Shane Lowry; 2) Martin Kaymer; 3) Joaquin Niemann; 4) Lee Westwood; 5) Tommy Fleetwood; 6) Keith Mitchell; 7) Russell Knox; 8) Sungjae Im; 9) Chris Kirk; 10) Padraig Harrington / Nicolai Hojgaard / Ryan Palmer; 13) Daniel Berger; 14) Charles Howell III; 15) K.H. Lee / Nick Taylor; 17) J.J. Spaun; 18) Hudson Swafford; 19) Garrick Higgo / Jhonattan Vegas; 21) Christiaan Bezuidenhout / Billy Horschel; 23) Lucas Herbert; 24) Matthias Schwab; 25) Greyson Sigg / Austin Smotherman.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Billy Horschel; 2) Henrik Stenson; 3) Lucas Herbert; 4) Mito Pereira; 5) Satoshi Kodaira; 6) Garrick Higgo; 7) Denny McCarthy; 8) Louis Oosthuizen; 9) Brian Gay / Rory Sabbatini; 11) Stewart Cink; 12) Ian Poulter; 13) Mackenzie Hughes; 14) Brooks Koepka; 15) Daniel Berger / Patrick Reed; 17) Kevin Tway; 18) Sung Kang / Martin Kaymer; 20) Brian Harman; 21) Harry Higgs / Cameron Young; 23) Sungjae Im; 24) Wesley Bryan / Padraig Harrington / K.H. Lee.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Shane Lowry; 2) Padraig Harrington; 3) Billy Horschel; 4) Sungjae Im / Lee Westwood; 6) Joaquin Niemann; 7) Keith Mitchell; 8) Tommy Fleetwood; 9) Satoshi Kodaira; 10) Martin Kaymer; 11) Daniel Berger; 12) K.H. Lee; 13) Mackenzie Hughes / Mito Pereira; 15) Garrick Higgo / Denny McCarthy; 17) Lucas Herbert; 18) Ryan Armour / Christiaan Bezuidenhout; 20) Ian Poulter / J.J. Spaun; 22) Zach Johnson / Ryan Palmer; 24) Charles Howell III  / Brendon Todd.

For a summary of the Strokes Gained Performances from this week’s field here at PGA National since 2016 click here.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends: Analysing the Strokes Gained final stats of the Honda Classic winners since 2016 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 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.
  • 2018, Justin Thomas (-8). SG Off the Tee: 13th, SG Approach: 1st, SG Around the Green: 15th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 28th.
  • 2017, Rickie Fowler (-12). SG Off the Tee: 10th, SG Approach: 16th, SG Around the Green: 37th, SG Tee to Green: 10th, SG Putting: 2nd.
  • 2016, Adam Scott (-9). SG Off the Tee: 5th, SG Approach: 2nd, SG Around the Green: 34th, SG Tee to Green: 3rd, SG Putting: 23rd.

Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:

  • SG Off the Tee: 10th, SG Approach: 6th, SG Around the Green: 17th, SG Tee to Green: 3rd, SG Putting: 26th.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the winners of the Honda Classic since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:

  • 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).
  • 2018, Justin Thomas (-8). 321 yards (1st), 55.4% fairways (60th), 65.3% greens in regulation (14th), 32’11” proximity to hole (5th), 84.0 % scrambling (1st), 1.79 putts per GIR (34th).
  • 2017, Rickie Fowler (-12). 304 yards (12th), 67.9% fairways (17th), 66.7% greens in regulation (16th), 32’6″ proximity to hole (10th), 66.7 % scrambling (9th), 1.67 putts per GIR (10th).
  • 2016, Adam Scott (-9). 306 yards (7th), 69.6% fairways (10th), 76.4% greens in regulation (1st), 29’5″ proximity to hole (1st), 70.6 % scrambling (6th), 1.76 putts per GIR (28th).
  • 2015, Padraig Harrington (-6). 293 yards (10th), 53.6% fairways (52nd), 63.9% greens in regulation (25th), 30’3″ proximity to hole (2nd), 69.2 % scrambling (6th), 1.67 putts per GIR (5th).
  • 2014, Russell Henley (-8). 298 yards (10th), 60.7% fairways (33rd), 65.3% greens in regulation (30th), 36’0″ proximity to hole (40th), 72.0 % scrambling (9th), 1.74 putts per GIR (22nd).
  • 2013, Michael Thompson (-9). 280 yards (53rd), 71.4% fairways (9th), 66.7% greens in regulation (9th), 37’0″ proximity to hole (34th), 58.3% scrambling (36th), 1.71 putts per GIR (8th).
  • 2012, Rory McIlroy (-12). 298 yards (8th), 60.7% fairways (36th), 66.7% greens in regulation (11th), 37’0″ proximity to hole (35th), 79.2% scrambling (1st), 1.75 putts per GIR (25th).
  • 2011, Rory Sabbatini (-9). 286 yards (23rd), 53.6% fairways (57th), 65.3% greens in regulation (24th), 38’3″ proximity to hole (49th), 76.0% scrambling (1st), 1.77 putts per GIR (19th).
  • 2010, Camilo Villegas (-13). 290 yards (16th), 62.5% fairways (23rd), 73.6% greens in regulation (2nd), 31’3″ proximity to hole (7th), 52.6% scrambling (37th), 1.66 putts per GIR (2nd).

Traditional Skill Set Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 17th, Driving Accuracy: 31st, Greens in Regulation: 13th, Proximity to Hole: 25th, Scrambling: 11th, Putting Average 17th.

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

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.

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 12 Honda Classic winners:

  • 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 last 12 Honda Classic winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 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.

Form of Honda Classic winners since 2010:

  • 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.

  • 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:

  • 4 – Brian Gay, Bill Haas, Billy Horschel, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed.
  • 3 – Ryan Palmer, Henrik Stenson, Camilo Villegas.
  • 2 – Daniel Berger, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Chris Kirk, Brooks Koepka, Davis Love III, Robert Streb, Hudson Swafford, Jimmy Walker.
  • 1 – Wesley Bryan, Austin Cook, Stewart Cink, Tyler Duncan, Padraig Harrington, Lucas Herbert, Jim Herman, Garrick Higgo, Charles Howell III, Mackenzie Hughes, Sungjae Im, Matt Jones, Sung Kang, Martin Kaymer, Andrew Landry, Keith Mitchell, Grayson Murray, Seung-yul Noh, C.T. Pan, J.T. Poston, Rory Sabbatini, Charl Schwartzel, Kevin Streelman, Brian Stuard, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, Brendon Todd, Jhonattan Vegas, Nick Watney, Lee Westwood, Aaron Wise, Gary Woodland.

The Honda Classic has been a case of feast or famine for short price backers here since 2010. Matt Jones, Keith Mitchell, Padraig Harrington, Russell Henley, Michael Thompson and Rory Sabbatini have won the Honda Classic at 300/1, 400/1, 300/1, 300/1, 80/1 and 80/1 respectively in 6 of the past 12 renewals. But conversely Camilo Villegas (30/1), Rory McIlroy (9/1), Adam Scott (20/1), Rickie Fowler (18/1), Justin Thomas (12/1) and Sungjae Im (35/1) have been elite winners over the same time span.

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.

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.

This is a very specialised event.

My final Honda Classic tips are as follows:

Billy Horschel 2pts EW 22/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

In a weak field, I like Billy Horschel this week who’s playing some outstanding stuff at the moment. 11th at Torrey Pines and 6th at TPC Scottsdale, ‘Billy Ho’ is the sort who favours short to medium length courses, Bermudagrass greens and winning when confident. A winner of 7 main Tour titles (6 PGA Tour & 1 DP World Tour), 6 of those victories came off a top-11 finish in his previous outing. 4 of his 6 PGA Tour victories have come on Bermudagrass greens.

He also likes water surrounded risk-reward holes and Florida-style golf courses. It makes sense on the basis that Billy was born in Grant-Valkaria, 90-odd miles up the coastline from Palm Beach Gardens. His maiden victory came at the 2013 Zurich Classic of New Orleans played at TPC Louisiana. Open and flat, that course features plenty of holes with water in play. He’s gone onto finish 1st (2018) and 4th (2021) in New Orleans, with Scott Piercy and Sam Burns respectively. 11th (2013), 9th (2020) and 6th (2021) at TPC Scottsdale; 2nd (2013) at the Golf Club of Houston; 2nd (2021) at Concession Golf Club (Florida); plus 8th (2016), 4th (2017) and 16th (2019) here at PGA National. All of those courses also feature some form of Bermudagrass greens.

1st for Strokes Gained Putting in this field over the past 8 weeks, Billy finally found his Tee to Green game in Arizona, ranking 11th for SG Off the Tee and 17th for SG Tee to Green. And with Mark ‘Fooch’ Fulcher on his bag this week, who has caddied Justin Rose to 3rd (2010) 5th (2012) and 4th (2013) here at the Honda Classic, I’m expecting big things from the 35 year-old. RESULT: T16

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Keith Mitchell 1.5pts EW 35/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

A form horse and course winner, we’ve followed Keith Mitchell across 2022. 12th (RSM Classic), 7th (Sony Open), 12th (AT&T Pebble Beach) and 10th (WM Phoenix Open) across his past 5 tournaments, ‘Killer Keith’ is hot right now and returning to Florida where he’s always a force. The 2019 Honda Classic winner where he held-off no less than Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler (OWGR No.9 at the time), Keith has also finished 6th (2019) and 5th (2020) at Bay Hill. He undoubtedly likes TifEagle Bermudagrass.

Keith has also played well at the classical, Major-hosting Par 71 at Quail Hollow finishing 8th (2019) and 3rd in 2021. That course features Champion Bermudagrass greens. Additional top 10s at TPC Louisiana (4th in 2021 teamed with Brandt Snedeker) and Trinity Forest (4th in 2018) highlight that the 30 year-old University of Georgia graduate can undoubtedly roll the rock on Bermudagrass, no questions asked.

Across my 8-week Strokes Gained tracker, in this field he ranks 2nd for Off the Tee, 6th for Tee to Green and 7th for Stokes Gained Total, plus he also ranks 6th in this field for Strokes Gained Total on Short Courses so far in season 2021/22. RESULT: T9

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Matthew Wolff 1.5pts EW 40/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Matthew Wolff is also another I like on a course where Major Championship performers have come to the fore. That makes sense on a real beast of a course where bogeys come with a higher frequency rate and forgetting the last hole can be very important. Geoff Ogilvy, Padraig Harrington, YE Yang, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler and even the likes of Honda winners Michael Thompson (2013) and Camilo Villegas (2010) have had U.S. Open top-10 performances prior to winning here.

So Wolff, who has already finished 4th and 2nd at the 2020 PGA Championship and U.S. Open, makes plenty of sense at this price. 2nd (Shriners Open), 5th (Mayakoba) and 11th (Houston Open) to close 2021, Matthew came back to life at the Saudi International a fortnight ago where he finished 6th. 7th for Total Driving, 10th for Greens in Regulation and 4th for Ball Striking, the Edmond, Oklahoma-based 22 year-old was 3rd after 36 holes.

When he drives well, Matthew is a real force and if he plays as well as he did in Saudi off the tee here at PGA National, I like his chances on a risk-reward set-up which has definite similarities with TPC Twin Cities, where he won his maiden Tour title back in 2019. RESULT: MC

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K.H. Lee 1pt EW 66/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Y.E. Yang and Sungjae Im have won here since 2009, and Byeong-Hun An has finished in the each-way places at PGA National. So I’m drawn to K.H. Lee this week who is the kind of all-rounder I like for this stern test.

Ensconced in the top 25 of my 8-week Strokes Gained tracker for Off the Tee, Around the Green, Tee to Green and Putting, the 30 year-old ranks 12th in this field for Strokes Gained Current Form. 3rd (2019) at TPC Louisiana (teamed with Matt Every), 2nd (2021) at TPC Scottsdale and 6th (2021) at TPC Twin Cities, highlights a player who can go well on risk-reward courses featuring water and he has a strong enough record here. 7th on course debut in 2019, he was also around the top 20 throughout in 2020, eventually finishing 38th. A PGA Tour winner at the AT&T Byron Nelson last May, Kyoung-Hoon must have his sights set on the OWGR top 50 as he is 77th right now.

A Jack Nicklaus design winner in Japan and a 36-hole leader at Muirfield Village in 2019, he’s far more mentally equipped these days and I fancy his chances to go well this week. RESULT: T48

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Chris Kirk 1pt EW 66/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Chris Kirk was hanging around the upper echelons of the Phoenix Open leaderboard last time out. 13th after 36 holes at TPC Scottsdale after a -Friday 5/66, the Georgia Bulldog played nicely over the weekend to finish 14th – his best finish going back to the CJ Cup in October. Strokes Gained-wise, Chris was 19th for Off the Tee (31st season to Date), 18th for Tee to Green (23rd season to date) and he ranked 6th for Greens in Regulation, which in my mind isn’t really Kirk’s forte. Indeed that was his best Greens Hit rank since the 2021 Valero Texas Open.

The sort who undoubtedly goes best on shorter courses, he’s a 4-time PGA Tour winner and a 3-time Korn Ferry Tour winner, with his last win coming 240-odd miles up the Atlantic Florida coast at the 2020 King & Bear Classic, played on a short Par 72 at the World Golf Village in St Augustine. In this Honda Classic field there aren’t too many with more winning experience.

29th (2011), 12th (2014) and 25th (2021) here at PGA National across 10 appearances is not exactly stellar form, but Chris plays the Honda most years and his PGA Tour results in Florida are fairly impressive. 13th (2014), 13th (2015), and 12th (2017) at TPC Sawgrass is excellent against top-line competition and I had forgotten that Kirk was 3rd and 8th at The Players last year after 36 and 54 holes, before falling away on Sunday. Visits to Bay Hill have also been profitable with 16th (2013), 12th (2016), 13th (2018), 15th (2019) and 8th (2021) helping to generate $857,000 of prize money. Undoubtedly the 36 year-old can play windswept, Florida-style courses with water everywhere nicely enough.

Undoubtedly Bermudagrass greens are his preference over recent times and 3 of his 4 PGA Tour wins came at -14/266 (2013 Sea Island), -15/269 (2014 TPC Boston) and -12/268 (2015 Colonial) totals, so this week should be right up his street. RESULT: T7

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Sung Kang 0.5pt EW 200/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Sung Kang is a total enigma, but we have seen a penchant for big price winners here from virtual obscurity. Mitchell at 300/1, Harrington at 400/1, Henley at 300/1 and Thompson at 300/1. It happens, so adding a big price to the staking plan is no bad thing this week.

Sung-Hoon is now an experienced sort on the PGA Tour who has been putting brilliantly so far in 2022. Indeed he ranks 18th in this field for Strokes Gained Putting across my 8-week tracker. However my attention was grabbed last time out at TPC Scottsdale, where Kang finished 26th – his best finish since the Wyndham last August. A closing round -6/65 was the best of the day in firm conditions and for a player who has struggled with his approach play, the 34 year-old ranked 7th for Approach and 22nd for Tee to Green.

A winner on Bermudagrass greens at the 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson played at Trinity Forest, Kang has finished 6th (2019) and 9th (2020) at Bay Hill and was 10th here in 2016, so he can play on these Florida-type courses. 2nd at the 2017 Houston Open played at the Golf Club of Houston also makes sense as it features a number of water surrounded risk-reward holes. 6th at the 2017 Valero Texas Open (TPC San Antonio), 3rd at the 2018 Quicken Loans National (TPC Potomac), 7th at the 2019 PGA Championship (Bethpage Black) and 2nd at the 2020 Genesis Invitational (Riviera Country Club) all came on difficult, high-scoring golf courses. The sort who could surprise at PGA National. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:55GMT 21.2.22 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.