No return for me in Puerto Rico last week, despite having all 4 of my selections in the top 12 of the leaderboard on Sunday morning. However it was good to see Viktor Hovland use Puerto Rico as his launchpad to undoubtedly bigger and better things at a best price of 12/1. All 3 of the ‘bright young things’ – namely Hovland, Morikawa and Wolff – have now captured PGA Tour titles, with both Collin and Viktor landing them at short prices at alternate events.
It was also brilliant to see my colleague Paul Williams land a 50/1 winner at the WGC-Mexico Championship in the form of Patrick Reed. In fact we had the 1-2 in last week’s podcast, but I’m not too grumpy that Reed pipped DeChambeau to his second World Golf Championship title.
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) the Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.
The Honda Classic marks the start of the PGA Tour Florida swing and the 2020 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 in 2020 sees trips to PGA National, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass and Innisbrook over the next few weeks.
2020 Majors Competition Sponsored By bet365:
Following on from the success of the last 8 annual GBS Majors competitions, bet365 have kindly offered to sponsor the 2020 edition with a massive £250 CASH prize fund! Our 2020 winner will receive £150 (or currency equivalent) in cash with additional £75 and £25 prizes for 2nd and 3rd place finishers.
Basically we want you to pick a single player for each of the 4 Majors any time before the start of the 2020 Masters and get those 4 names entered into the competition by one of the methods detailed on our rules page here. Best of luck all!
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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.
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 5 of the past 7 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. Last year saw the course play as the 5th toughest on the PGA Tour, despite relatively calm conditions. It was only outranked by Bethpage Black (PGA Championship), Pebble Beach (U.S. Open), Sheshan (WGC-HSBC Champions and Royal Portrush (Open Championship).
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 2.5″; 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.
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; 325:27 350:25.
Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:26 350:28.
Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:33; 300:29; 325:30 350:26.
TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:30; 300:28; 325:27; 350:27.
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.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Jack Nicklaus designs include:
Valhalla Golf Club (2014 PGA Championship)
Glen Abbey (2008, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2016-18 RBC Canadian Open)
Montreaux GCC – Barracuda Championship
PGA West, Tournament Course – (The American Express through 2015)
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 (The American Express through 2015)
Course Overview: 2019 saw the Champions Course in a slightly different guise than what we had seen previously. All green complexes had been re-worked, featuring larger 7,000 average, sq.ft 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. 12 months 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 26 individual water hazards. PGA National is an exposed property allowing direct access to tee boxes, fairways and green complexes for any wind. Since the Nicklaus-inspired course changes, winning totals of -9/271 (Mitchell), -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 featured soft fairways over Thursday and Friday, and relatively low levels of wind, but scoring still remained high as new greens surfaces were firm and fast.
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 in 2018) 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. 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.
Winners: 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).
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 Daniel Berger, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Jhonattan Vegas, Justin Rose, Billy Horschel, Byeong Hun An, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry.
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 (where recorded) 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) Kyle Stanley; 3) Tommy Fleetwood; 4) Corey Conners; 5) Bronson Burgoon / K.H. Lee; 7) Lee Westwood; 8) Brian Stuard; 9) David Hearn / Viktor Hovland / Ian Poulter; 12) Daniel Berger / Harry Higgs; 14) Tyler Duncan / Vaughn Taylor; 16) Jason Dufner / Doc Redman / Tim Wilkinson; 19) Ryan Palmer; 20) Adam Long / Jhonattan Vegas.
Greens in Regulation: 1) Corey Conners; 2) Tommy Fleetwood; 3) Jim Furyk; 4) Gary Woodland; 5) Harold Varner III; 6) Ian Poulter; 7) Brooks Koepka; 8) Shane Lowry / Louis Oosthuizen; 10) Aaron Wise; 11) Ted Potter Jnr; 12) Keegan Bradley / Harris English / Rickie Fowler; 15) Russell Knox / Brendan Steele / Nick Watney; 18) Stewart Cink; 19) Lee Westwood; 20) Joseph Bramlett / Joaquin Niemann.
Scrambling: 1) Shane Lowry; 2) Maverick McNealy; 3) Daniel Berger; 4) Tom Hoge; 5) Bud Cauley; 6) Tommy Fleetwood; 7) K.H. Lee; 8) Zac Blair / Louis Oosthuizen / Ted Potter Jnr; 11) Kiradech Aphibarnrat / Mark Anderson; 13) Keegan Bradley / Lee Westwood; 15) Sebastian Cappelen / Ian Poulter; 17) Byeong Hun An / Matthew NeSmith; 19) Harris English; 20) Rob Oppenheim.
Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Louis Oosthuizen; 2) Henrik Norlander; 3) Kurt Kitayama; 4) Luke Donald / Vaughn Taylor; 6) Brian Gay; 7) Harry Higgs / Viktor Hovland; 9) Rickie Fowler / John Huh / Matt Wallace; 12) Ian Poulter / Jimmy Walker; 14) Zac Blair / Dylan Frittelli / Brooks Koepka; 17) Ryan Palmer; 18) Sebastian Cappelen / Tom Hoge / Josh Teater.
Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 20 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which includes both PGA and European Tour events where recorded. 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:
Top 20 SG Off The Tee: 1) Grayson Murray; 2) Brooks Koepka; 3) Tommy Fleetwood; 4) Viktor Hovland; 5) Jhonattan Vegas; 6) Matthew Wolff; 7) Lee Westwood; 8) Corey Conners / Cameron Davis / Harry Higgs; 11) Shane Lowry; 12) Matt Jones; 13) Louis Oosthuizen; 14) Brian Harman; 15) Daniel Berger; 16) Sungjae Im / Harold Varner III; 18) Joaquin Niemann; 19) Kurt Kitayama / Jason Kokrak / K.H. Lee.
Top 20 SG Approach: 1)Gary Woodland; 2) Daniel Berger / Nick Watney; 4) Corey Conners / Jim Furyk; 6) Cameron Percy; 7) Kurt Kitayama / Kevin Streelman; 9) Russell Knox; 10) Tommy Fleetwood / Tyler McCumber; 11) Matthew NeSmith / Joaquin Niemann / Doc Redman / Harold Varner III; 15) Emiliano Grillo / Tom Hoge; 17) Keegan Bradley / Joseph Bramlett / Sam Burns / Stewart Cink.
Top 20 SG Around The Green: 1) Jamie Lovemark; 2) Byeong Hun An; 3) Rob Oppenheim; 4) Tommy Fleetwood; 5) Cameron Davis / Luke Donald; 7) Jason Dufner; 8) Bo Hoag; 9) Kramer Hickok; 10) Si Woo Kim / Rory Sabbatini / Charl Schwartzel; 13) Padraig Harrington; 14) Lee Westwood; 15) Grayson Murray / Kevin Streelman; 17) Russell Henley / Justin Rose; 19) Brian Stuard; 20) Joaquin Niemann.
Top 20 SG Tee to Green: 1) Tommy Fleetwood; 2) Grayson Murray; 3) Brooks Koepka; 4) Cameron Davis; 5) Daniel Berger; 6) Kevin Streelman; 7) Shane Lowry; 8) Corey Conners / Lee Westwood; 10) Byeong Hun An; 11) Louis Oosthuizen; 12) Kurt Kitayama / Joaquin Niemann; 14) Maverick McNealy / Doc Redman; 16) Russell Knox; 17) Gary Woodland; 18) Keegan Bradley / Rob Oppenheim; 20) Jason Dufner / Harold Varner III / Jhonattan Vegas / Tim Wilkinson.
Top 20 SG Putting: 1) Louis Oosthuizen / Patrick Rodgers; 3) Matthew NeSmith; 4) Matt Wallace; 5) Tom Hoge / J.T. Poston; 7) Sebastian Cappelen; 8) Beau Hossler; 9) Zac Blair / Ian Poulter; 11) Denny McCarthy / Keith Mitchell; 13) Erik van Rooyen; 14) Mark Anderson; 15) K.H. Lee / Maverick McNealy / Kristoffer Ventura; 18) John Huh / Peter Malnati; 20) Zach Johnson / Gary Woodland.
Top 20 SG Total: 1) Tommy Fleetwood; 2) Daniel Berger; 3) Shane Lowry / Louis Oosthuizen; 5) Matthew NeSmith; 6) Kurt Kitayama; 7) Maverick McNealy; 8) Tom Hoge / Brooks Koepka / Gary Woodland; 11) Lee Westwood / Tim Wilkinson; 13) Harold Varner III; 14) Corey Conners / J.T. Poston; 16) Sungjae Im / Patrick Rodgers; 18) Ian Poulter; 19) Jim Furyk; 20) Brian Harman / Joaquin Niemann / Erik van Rooyen.
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. A relatively wet February to date (73mm), and very likely rainfall on Wednesday (75% chance) should see a lush, if not soft and receptive golf course come Thursday morning. A 15-20mph northerly on Thursday should keep them honest, but Friday and Saturday looks relatively calm for PGA National. Typical Honda Classic winds on Sunday, where a 15-25 mph north-westerly looks set, will make this a tight and tough affair for the leaders. Temperatures are also down on last year with 18-20 degrees Celsius, prior to a relatively chilly 15 degrees Celsius for the final round.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 10 winners of the Honda Classic since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:
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).
Tournament Skill Averages:
Driving Distance: 15th, Driving Accuracy: 35th, Greens in Regulation: 15th, Proximity to Hole: 23rd, Scrambling: 11th, Putting Average 17th.
Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:
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: 12th, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 23rd, SG Tee to Green: 4th, SG Putting: 23rd.
Let’s take a view from players as to how PGA National sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
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 10 Honda Classic winners:
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, Zach Johnson.
3 – Brian Gay, Billy Horschel, Davis Love III, Ryan Palmer, Camilo Villegas.
2 – Daniel Berger, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner, Matt Every, Rickie Fowler, Fabian Gomez, Russell Henley, Si Woo Kim, Chris Kirk, Justin Rose, Jimmy Walker.
1 – Ryan Armour, Keegan Bradley; Austin Cook, Tyler Duncan, Harris English, Padraig Harrington, Charles Howell III, Mackenzie Hughes, Patton Kizzire, Satoshi Kodaira, Brooks Koepka, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Keith Mitchell, Grayson, Murray, Seung-yul Noh, Sean O’Hair, J.T. Poston, C.T. Pan, Rory Sabbatini, Charl Schwartzel, Scott Stallings, Robert Streb, Kevin Streelman, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Michael Thompson, D.J. Trahan, 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. 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 and 80/1 respectively in 5 of the past 10 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 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.
With the 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:
Gary Woodland 2.5pts EW 22/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral
At a track where U.S. Open-positive players thrive, Gary Woodland makes lots of sense this week. One of a rare breed of American players who like a grind, the Champions Course at PGA National is a regular stop-off for the Delray Beach native.
Gary has based himself in Florida for a long period of time and has had plenty of success in the Sunshine State. His first PGA Tour win came in 2011 on the tough and technical Copperhead Course in Palm Harbour, which he backed up with 8th in 2014. But it’s PGA National where Woodland has come the closest to his second victory in the state he now calls home. 6th here in 2011 in the year we landed Rory Sabbatini at 80/1, the World Number 17 was also runner-up to Rickie Fowler here as recently as 2017. Indeed Woodland has ranked in the top 10 twice and the top 20 an additional couple of times for Strokes Gained Tee to Green in his last 6 visits to the Honda Classic.
Winless since his U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach last June, Gary must feel positive after his best WGC stroke play finish of 12th last week in Mexico City. Always in the top 15 on the leaderboard, a -6/65 on Saturday was Woodland’s best ever round at a Chapultepec layout where high-class putting ultimately is decisive. But for me a technical and wind-affected test at PGA National suits Woodland far more.
Truth is though that Gary has putted positively across Kapalua, TPC Scottsdale and Chapultepec in 3 of his 4 outings in 2020 and his record on Bermudagrass greens has always been good enough. Outside of Florida, Woodland has finished 2nd (2019) and 7th (2020) on the TifEagle Bermudagrass greens of Kapalua, 3rd (2015), 6th (2017) and 7th (2018) at Waialae, 2nd (2011) at PGA West, 4th (2015) at Quail Hollow and 5th (2018) on the TifEagle Bermudagrass greens at Kuala Lumpur G&CC.
Ranks in my 8-week tracker in the top 20 in this field for SG Tee to Green, SG Putting and SG Total, so I think he’s a great shout this week in Palm Beach Gardens. RESULT: T8
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Billy Horschel 2pts EW 33/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet
Another player who’s in good nick and loves tough tests and Bermudagrass in general is Billy Horschel.
Born in Grant, Florida, the University of Florida graduate loves the Champions Course at PGA National. 8th (2016), 4th (2017) and 16th (2019) in his last 4 appearances highlights everything you need to know about Billy’s love for this Jack Nicklaus design and it’s easy to forget that Horschel is a 5-time PGA Tour winner. He’s also a 3-time Bermudagrass green winner capturing his first PGA Tour victory at TPC Louisiana in 2013 and backing that up with his famous 2014 victory at East Lake where he won the FedEx Cup into the bargain. His last win which he shared in 2018 with Scott Piercy again came at TPC Louisiana.
2020 form of MC(PGA West)-68(Torrey Pines)-9(TPC Scottsdale)-9(Chapultepec) is solid enough and it’s interesting to note that 4 of Billy’s previous wins have come off 9th, 2nd, 1st and 11th place finishes. Yes it’s true that Billy tends to hold form and telegraph his wins.
To date the U.S. Open has undoubtedly been Horschel’s best Major with a 4th place at Merion in 2013 being backed up with 2 top-25 and a further 2 top-35 finishes across 6 appearances. And I’m a believer that Billy will be buoyed by his second World Golf Championship top-10 last week in Mexico where he ranked 1st for Total Driving, 1st for Ball Striking, 2nd for Greens in Regulation and 11th for SG Tee to Green.
3rd and 17th for SG Putting across his past 2 outings, the World Number 35 has always been one to follow when the putter is warm and I love his chances this week. RESULT: T42
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I will finish with Lee Westwood who seems a value bet at 80/1.
9th (2010), 29th (2011), 4th (2012), 9th (2013) and 25th (2015) are his best finishes here across 6 appearances, and if we’re looking for U.S. Open pedigree then 7th in 1998, 5th in 2000, 3rd in 2008, 3rd in 2011 and 10th in 2012 tells you all you need to know about Lee’s pedigree and experience.
A winner at TPC Southwind back in 2010, Lee also has a good record in the Sunshine State with 9 top-10 finishes across here, Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass. Back in the World’s Top 30 – hence why he’s playing this week – and the Honda Classic offers up a relatively weak field as far as the PGA Tour is concerned. So it’s another opportunity to rack up big qualification points for his bid to qualify for the Ryder Cup.
22nd last week at WGC-level at Chapultepec was an excellent effort – his best since 2015 – and across my 8-week trackers in this field he’s 7th for SG Tee to Green, 14th for SG Around the Green, 8th for SG Tee to Green and 11th for SG Total.
6th (1996), 5th (2008), 2nd (2009) 11th (2016) and 10th (2017) at Le Golf National in Paris works well as a European Tour correlating course cross-check, and I like his TifEagle Bermudagrass green record which is great on both the United States and the European Tour Gulf Swing. RESULT: T4
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