Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's The Honda Classic Tips 2019

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No return for me in Puerto Rico last week as Martin Trainer, with not even a PGA Tour top 20 to his name, landed a career-changing win. He landed as big as 125/1 with a bookie or two – such is the rub with PGA Tour alternate events.

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Before we talk through my Honda Classic tips, the number of new visitors to Golf Betting System is increasing in the inevitable build-up to The Masters. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) our Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here. Masters lovers will also enjoy our Ante-post Masters Podcast.

The Honda Classic marks the start of the PGA Tour Florida swing and the 2019 Masters is now just over the horizon as we approach the end of February. The Honda Classic has always been known as a tough examination as it takes place at the Jack Nicklaus-inspired Champions Course at PGA National. The Florida Swing expands in 2019 with trips to PGA National, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass and Innisbrook; The Players Championship moving from May to March.

Course Guide: Make no bones about it, the Champions Course at PGA National is a brute. It’s an archetypical Florida golf course with water hazards, testing bunkering and tough rough aplenty. Positioned within a mile of the Atlantic east coast, this part of Florida is synonymous with windy conditions. This test therefore suits those with a Major temperament: players who have patience, but also those who can take advantage of key holes where birdies have to be made. The famous ‘Bear Trap’, the stretch of 15-17, is one of the hardest sets of holes in non-Major golf.

The Champions Course is best summarised by the fact that it has been the toughest non-Major Par 70 course on the PGA Tour across 4 of the past 6 seasons. It was the second toughest in 2014, whilst soft and tranquil conditions in 2017 saw the course play the easiest it ever could – ranking 6th toughest of 13 non-Major Par 70s. Rickie Fowler won at -12/268. The wind was back in 2018 and the Champion Course showed its true teeth, ending the season as the 2nd hardest course on the PGA Tour; more difficult than Carnoustie, Augusta and Bellerive Major venues.

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: 13; Fairways: Bermuda with Perennial Rye; Rough: Bermuda with Perennial Rye 3″; Greens: 6,400 sq.ft average TifEagle Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimp: 11.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 71.19 (+1.19), Difficulty Rank 11 of 49 courses. 2013: 71.32 (+1.32), Difficulty Rank 5 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.41 (+0.41), Rank 17 of 48 courses. 2015: 71.83 (+1.83), Rank of 4 of 52 courses. 2016: 71.77 (+1.77), Rank 5 of 50 courses. 2017: 70.56 (+0.56), Rank 16 of 50 courses. 2018: 72.30 (+2.30), Rank 2 of 51 courses.

Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for PGA National and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:

  • PGA National: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:26 350:25.
  • Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:29; 300:25; 325:27 350:27.
  • Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 41 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:34 350:30.
  • TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:30; 300:29; 325:29 350:29.
  • Torrey Pines South: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:25 350:23.
  • TPC Stadium: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:30; 300:29; 325:29; 350:27.
  • Waialae: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:32; 300:33; 325:37; 350:34.
  • Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 54 yards wide; 275:58; 300:62; 325:57; 350:61.
  • Seaside Course: 250 yards from the tee: 39 yards wide; 275:38; 300:33; 325:29; 350:23.
  • TPC Summerlin: 250 yards from the tee: 32 yards wide; 275:30; 300:26; 325:25; 350:24.

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

  • Valhalla Golf Club (2014 PGA Championship)
  • Glen Abbey (2008, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2016 RBC Canadian Open)
  • Montreaux GCC – Barracuda Championship
  • PGA West, Tournament Course – Desert Classic
  • Muirfield Village Golf Club – The Memorial
  • Sherwood Country Club – Thousand Oaks – (World Challenge through 2013)
  • Annandale Golf Club – (Sanderson Farms Championship through 2013)
  • PGA West – Nicklaus Private (Humana Challenge through 2015)

Course Overview: 2014 saw the Champions Course for the very first time play to an extended 7,140 yardage with the 4th and 12th holes stretched by 30 yards. From a hazard perspective, all bunkering was re-shaped adding to the difficulty of a Florida course that features 26 individual water hazards. PGA National is an exposed property allowing direct access to tee boxes, fairways and green complexes for any wind. Since the Nicklaus-inspired course changes, winning totals of -8//272 (Thomas), -12/268 (Fowler), -9/271 (Scott), -6/274 (Harrington) and -8/272 (Henley) highlight a course and playing conditions which stretches the world’s best players. Softer turf conditions and calmer wind strength across both 2016 and 2017 saw winning totals lower slightly. 2019 potentially sees soft and receptive conditions in-play with much less wind than we usually see here.

Course experience is important, but debutants can also contend (take local rookie Daniel Berger in 2015, for instance, or both Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren 12 months ago) and even win just like Rory Sabbatini did in 2011. Ultimately maximising birdie opportunities, especially on only 8 visits to the par-5s, but minimising bogeys on the far tougher back-9 this week will be critical in a tournament that will undoubtedly feature wind-positive players. A softer course and less wind than 12 months ago should see the scoring ease just a little, but this will no birdiefest. 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. 2019 will also see a course which plays 15 yards shorter at 7,125 yards. The infamous par-3 17th has been reduced from 190 yards to 175 yards, probably on the basis that it was the hardest hole on the course 12 months ago, playing over half a stroke over par.

honda classic tips

Winners: 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).

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 Justin Thomas, Sergio Garcia, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Brooks Koepka, Luke List, and Jim Furyk.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Jim Furyk; 2) Kevin Streelman; 3) Scott Langley / Ben Silverman; 5) Rickie Fowler; 6) Russell Henley; 7) Gary Woodland; 8) Daniel Berger / Emiliano Grillo / Hunter Mahan; 11) Brooks Koepka; 12) Andrew Landry / Brendan Steele / Michael Thompson; 15) Tyler Duncan / Jason Kokrak / Hank Lebioda / Graeme McDowell; 19) Ryan Armour / Adam Long / Brian Stuard.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Graeme McDowell; 2) Justin Thomas; 3) Jim Furyk; 4) Brooks Koepka; 5) Webb Simpson; 6) Jason Kokrak; 7) Sergio Garcia; 8) Rickie Fowler; 9) Johnson Wagner; 10) Harold Varner III; 11) Bud Cauley / Gary Woodland; 13) Scott Piercy; 14) Emiliano Grillo; 15) Martin Kaymer; 16) Lucas Bjerregaard / Danny Lee; 18) Nate Lashley; 19) Russell Knox; 20) Kevin Streelman / Brendan Steele.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Justin Thomas; 2) Wyndham Clark; 3) Cameron Smith; 4) Brooks Koepka; 5) Freddie Jacobson / Patton Kizzire; 7) Matt Wallace; 8) Billy Horschel; 9) Nate Lashley / Michael Thompson; 11) Webb Simpson; 12) Adam Scott; 13) Scott Langley; 14) Ryan Blaum; 15) Joel Dahmen / Brian Gay / Curtis Luck / Rory Sabbatini; 19) Rickie Fowler / Sergio Garcia / Vaughn Taylor.

Winners & Prices: 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 9/1; 2011: Sabbatini 80/1; 2010: Villegas 30/1. Past 5 Renewals Average: 150/1; Overall Average: 130/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 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. A relatively wet February (109mm), and very likely rainfall across Tuesday (70% chance) and Wednesday (90% chance) nights should see a lush, if not soft and receptive golf course come Thursday morning. Rainfall during the tournament looks unlikely and temperatures of 26-29 degrees Celsius will see the course quicken throughout. But the main situation to take note of looks like the relative lack of wind. Thursday through Saturday looks tranquil, with 15 – 20mph winds set for Sunday only.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 9 winners since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this:

  • 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).

Tournament Skill Average:

  • Driving Distance: 15th, Driving Accuracy: 33rd, Greens in Regulation: 15th, Proximity to Hole: 20th, Scrambling: 11th, Putting Average 17th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 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: 9th, SG Approach: 6th, SG Around the Green: 29th, SG Tee to Green: 5th, SG Putting: 18th.

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

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 9 Honda Classic winners:

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

  • 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.

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

  • 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.

  • 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 – Jim Furyk, Bill Haas, Zach Johnson, Justin Thomas.
  • 3 – Ernie Els, Brian Gay, Billy Horschel.
  • 2 – Daniel Berger, Ben Crane, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Ryan Palmer, Scott Piercy, Adam Scott, Jimmy Walker
  • 1 – Ryan Armour, Aaron Baddeley, Jonas Blixt, Austin Cook, Harris English, Cody Gribble, Padraig Harrington, Mackenzie Hughes, Martin Kaymer, Patton Kizzire, Satoshi Kodaira, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Graeme McDowell, Grayson Murray, Sean O’Hair, Rory Sabbatini, Charl Schwartzel, Webb Simpson, Cameron Smith, Robert Streb, Kevin Streelman, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, Jhonattan Vegas, Johnson Wagner, Nick Watney, Gary Woodland.

The Honda Classic has been a case of feast or famine for short price backers here since 2010. Padraig Harrington, Russell Henley, Michael Thompson and Rory Sabbatini have won the Honda Classic at 400/1, 300/1, 300/1 and 80/1 respectively in 4 of the past 9 renewals. But conversely Camilo Villegas (30/1), Rory McIlroy (9/1), Adam Scott (20/1), Rickie Fowler (18/1) and Justin Thomas (12/1) have been elite winners over the same timespan. It’s worth noting that McIlroy and Villegas won at a time when the World Match Play Championship was played the week before this tournament and both arrived in Florida in great nick after strong efforts in Arizona. Adam Scott, on the other hand, arrived in hot form directly from Los Angeles where he’d played very nicely in finishing runner-up to Bubba Watson. 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.

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. This is a very specialised event.

My final Honda Classic tips are as follows:

Sergio Garcia 2pts EW 16/1

Naturally defending champion Justin Thomas has a massive chance of winning this and he’s successfully defended in the past, although nobody has successfully done so on the Champions Course. Bermudagrass has delivered 4 of his 9 PGA Tour titles, but the bookmakers are taking no chances with a 11/2 price point. Rickie Fowler at 10/1 holds no appeal and Brooks Koepka at 12/1 should look forward to a tough U.S. Open-style track, but the price just doesn’t set the pulse racing, so Sergio Garcia heads my line-up for the Honda Classic.

The 2017 Masters champion is playing some great stuff at the moment and he must be looking forward to appearing this week at a course where he’s performed well in the past. 13th in 2009, 8th in 2014, 2nd in 2016 and 14th in 2017, Sergio has always got on well with this tough track. 2nd (2014), 1st (2016) and 4th (2017) for Strokes Gained Tee to Green across 3 of his last 4 visits, Sergio arrives in Florida in 2019 off the back of 8 top-9 finishes in his last 10 appearances. Yes Saudi Arabia was not a high point, but a win as recently as October around Valderrama, 2nd at the Nedbank Challenge, 6th at the Hong Kong Open and 3rd at the Dubai Desert Classic is top-notch form for anybody.

I always look to the U.S. Open for inspiration here as patience and a grinder’s mentality is always critical: 4th (2002 – Bethpage Black), 3rd (2005 – Pinehurst Number 1), 10th (2009 – Bethpage Black), 7th (2011 – Congressional) and 5th (2016 – Oakmont) tell you all you need to know about Sergio and in Mexico last week the Spaniard shot 69-65 Thursday/Friday to get into contention. His week statistically included 5th for SG Approach, 10th for SG Tee to Green, 13th for SG Putting and 5th for Putting Average. When Garcia has confidence in his putter the rest starts to flow and it’s also worth noting his form in the Sunshine State: The 2008 Players Champion, Sergio has also finished 4th (2002), 2nd (2007), 3rd (2014) and 2nd (2015) at TPC Sawgrass. A couple of 3rd place finishes (2007 & 2013) allied to other great results at Bay Hill and Copperhead all add-up to a 19.3% top-5 finish percentage in Florida. With momentum on his side, the Spaniard will be gunning for a 11th PGA Tour title this week. RESULT: T9

Daniel Berger 1.5pt EW 40/1

When we head to warmer climes and Southern State grasses, Daniel Berger has to be a real consideration. A 14/1 favourite last week in a low-quality Puerto Rico Open, I really like the look of the 25 year-old Floridian this week, who must be taking a lot of motivation from fellow Jupiter residents and close friends Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler of late. He finished like a train on Sunday shooting a -6/66 to jump from T15 to T2 and must arrive at what he classifies as a home game in fine spirits.

Berger jumped into most punters’ minds back here in 2015 when he was in a play-off with eventual winner Padraig Harrington. 29th here 12 months ago, he was actually 7th at halfway and 9th going into Sunday. A 2-time PGA Tour winner at the tough, technical and humid course at TPC Southwind across both 2016 and 2017, Berger made the 2017 Presidents Cup team and has been in the heat at Major championships. 10th at Augusta National in 2016, many of you will recall Berger finishing 6th at last year’s U.S. Open. Indeed he went out in the final group on Sunday with Tony Finau after catching a rather timely break with weather conditions on the Saturday. He also finished 12th at Bellerive in August at the PGA Championship. Undoubtedly Daniel is a quality player who can grind it out when required and I think the conditions will suit him this week after finishing 2nd last week in gusting 20-25 mph winds for 4 days. 1st for Putting Average and 11th for All-Round, Berger could well feature this week. RESULT: T36

Kiradech Aphibarnrat 1pt EW 66/1

I’m pleasantly surprised to see Kiradech Aphibarnrat at this price and I simply can’t resist! Clearly the advantage we have with the World Number 36 is that he’s only played 26 tournaments in the United States and this is only his second as a fully-fledged PGA Tour member, but let’s have a look at what he’s produced to date: 25th at the 2013 PGA Championship, 6th at Bay Hill in 2015, 6th at Bay Hill in 2016, 15th at Augusta National in 2016, 13th at Muirfield Village and 15th at the Shinnecock Hills-hosted U.S. Open, both in 2017. You may remember that Kiradech was 7th going into Sunday at Shinnecock and for me a player whose equal best finishes in Majors are at both Augusta National and a U.S. Open is well worth exploring this week. You see I always had the 29-year-old down as a low scoring track bully, but his 2 strokeplay wins on the European Tour have come with scores of -13 and -12 respectively and since the start of 2018 his best strokeplay finishes have come at the WGC-Mexico Championship (5th -13), BMW PGA Championship (5th -13), WGC-HSBC Champions (4th -8) and last week’s WGC-Mexico Championship (3rd -11). Huge tournaments on stretching golf courses, Aphibarnrat also made the Quarter Finals in last year’s WGC-Dell Match Play Championship on the TifEagle Bermudagrass greens of Austin Country Club, losing to eventual winner Bubba Watson. So with the advantage of actually playing at PGA National 12 months ago, in most likely soft conditions and no-wind, I think he could well thrive on the Champions Course. 8th for Driving Accuracy, 3rd for Ball Striking, 2nd for Greens in Regulation, 12th for SG Approach, 1st for Scrambling and 5th for SG Tee to Green, the Thai’s game looks in rude health and he’s always been one to follow in terms of linking results together. RESULT: MC

Russell Knox 1pt EW 66/1

I always make a note that the Honda Classic and the Champions Course at PGA National is a very specialised test. It’s demanding and requires metronomic long iron or wedge approach play. So Russell Knox looks slightly overpriced at 66/1 this week. 2nd (2014), 3rd (2015) and 26th (2016), Russell has always played well in the Sunshine State, where he resides. Knox lost to Russell Henley in a 4-man playoff in 2014 which featured Rory McIlroy no less and 12 months later he finished a shot behind Padraig Harrington and Daniel Berger; Knox was level with Paul Casey and Ian Poulter. And this is the point with the 33 year-old, a player who can mix it with the very best. The 2015 WGC-HSBC Champions winner at Sheshan International, Knox won the 2016 Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. His best performances come on short golf courses, often when conditions are soft and his wins have come after a few appearances where he has peppered the Greens in Regulation statistics. 26th for Greens in Regulation when finishing 10th at TPC Scottsdale of all places, he was 16th for Greens in Regulation when finishing 14th at Pebble Beach and last week saw him finish 6th for Greens in Regulation at Chapultepec. 38th for Proximity from +200 yards, 11th for Sand Saves and 6th for Proximity from the Fairway, Russell’s putting will benefit from a return to the Bermudagrass greens he practices on day-in and day-out. A Major Championship best of 12th at Shinnecock Hills last year, Russell also finished runner-up at the Open de France, played at the tough, technical inland links of Le Golf National. Winners there include PGA National specialist Graeme McDowell, plus Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren. Many of you will recall both of those Europeans being right in the mix here 12 months ago, ultimately both finishing in the full each-way places. RESULT: T51

Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:45GMT 25.2.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.

Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel

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