Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's The Honda Classic Tips 2021

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The Honda Classic marks the end of this section of the PGA Tour Florida swing, although we will return to Florida for the Valspar Championship in late April. 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 2021 field includes Berger, Burns, Fowler, Henley, Kaymer, Kirk, Lowry, Mickelson, Niemann, Scott, Westwood, Woodland and defending champion Sungjae Im.

Before we go into the detail surrounding the Honda Classic, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System as we work our way towards April and The Masters.  Welcome to you all 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, 5,800+ 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 5 of the past 8 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. 2019 saw the course play as the 5th toughest on the PGA Tour despite relatively calm conditions, and last year with 16-18 mph wind in play for the full 4 days of competition, only Bay Hill and Muirfield Village were sterner tests.

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″; 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.

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.
  • TPC Sawgrass: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:32; 300:30; 325:28 350:20.
  • Bay Hill: 250 yards from the tee: 32 yards wide; 275:33; 300:33; 325:39 350:29.
  • 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:

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

Course Overview: 2019 saw the Champions Course in a slightly different guise than what we’d seen previously. All green complexes had been re-worked, featuring larger 7,000 sq.ft average, putting surfaces. Said greens all featured new TifEagle Bermudagrass turf as well, replacing the old TifEagle surfaces which had been at the end of their PGA Tour standard lifespan. As with all new putting surfaces, they were firm and repelled approach shots. 24 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 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 -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 which 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. 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: 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).

Lead Score Progression:

  • 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 Daniel Berger, Joaquin Niemann, Sungjae Im, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler, Russell Henley, Jim Furyk, Lee Westwood, Keegan Bradley and Luke List.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the American Express / Abu Dhabi Championship, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Ryan Moore; 2) Jim Furyk; 3) Kevin Streelman; 4) Steve Stricker; 5) Brice Garnett; 6) Mark Hubbard / Satoshi Kodaira; 8) Sungjae Im; 9) Ryan Armour; 10) Brian Stuard; 11) Keegan Bradley; 12) Chez Reavie / Vaughn Taylor; 14) Michael Thompson; 15) Doug Ghim; 16) Rafa Cabrera-Bello / Lucas Glover / Kramer Hickok; 19) Adam Hadwin / Matthew NeSmith; 21) Tyler Duncan / Russell Knox; 23) Martin Kaymer / Denny McCarthy; 25) Henrik Norlander / Rory Sabbatini.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Jim Furyk; 2) Roger Sloan; 3) Cameron Percy; 4) Brandon Wu; 5) Shane Lowry / Joaquin Niemann; 7) Lee Westwood; 8) Aaron Wise; 9) Cameron Tringale; 10) Matthew NeSmith; 11) Harold Varner III; 12) Hank Lebioda / Kevin Streelman; 14) Sam Ryder; 15) Henrik Norlander; 16) Bo Hoag / Graeme McDowell; 18) Patton Kizzire / Scott Stallings; 20) Chez Reavie / Michael Thompson; 22) Bronson Burgoon; 23) Keegan Bradley; 24) Doug Ghim /  Brendan Steele.
  • Scrambling: 1) William McGirt; 2) Adam Schenk; 3) Zach Johnson; 4) Scott Stallings; 5) Luke Donald; 6) Dylan Frittelli; 7) Daniel Berger; 8) Bo Hoag / Sungjae Im / Erik van Rooyen; 11) Brendan Steele / Nick Taylor; 13) Adam Hadwin; 14) Rafa Cabrera-Bello / Kevin Chappell / Doug Ghim; 17) Lucas Herbert / Lee Westwood; 19) Austin Cook / Jim Furyk; 21) Henrik Norlander / Matt Wallace; 23) Chris Kirk; 24) Satoshi Kodaira; 25) John Huh / Russell Knox / Sean O’Hair.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Brandon Wu; 2) Wesley Bryan; 3) Kevin Chappell; 4) Adam Scott; 5) J.T. Poston / Ted Potter Jnr; 7) Sungjae Im; 8) Hunter Mahan; 9) Robby Shelton; 10) Daniel Berger; 11) Ryan Armour / Stewart Cink / Lee Westwood; 14) Mark Hubbard; 15) Keith Mitchell; 16) Wyndham Clark / Patrick Rodgers / Steve Sticker; 19) Rafa Cabrera-Bello; 20) Scott Brown / Luke List; 22) Joaquin Niemann; 23) Richy Werenski; 24) Matt Jones / Rob Oppenheim / Rory Sabbatini.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the American Express / Abu Dhabi Championship, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Daniel Berger; 2) Lucas Herbert; 3) Brendan Steele; 4) Ryan Moore; 5) Sungjae Im / Joaquin Niemann; 7) Roger Sloan; 8) Luke List / Jhonattan Vegas; 10) Lee Westwood; 11) Lucas Glover / John Huh; 13) Grayson Murray; 14) Shane Lowry; 15) Rafael Campos; 16) Henrik Norlander; 17) Adam Long; 18) Matt Wallace; 19) Patrick Rodgers; 20) Charl Schwartzel; 21) Kevin Streelman / Michael Thompson; 23) Cameron Davis / Bo Hoag / Tyler McCumber.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Jim Furyk; 2) Kelly Kraft; 3) Wesley Bryan; 4) Keegan Bradley; 5) Henrik Norlander / Rob Oppenheim; 7) Doug Ghim / Scott Stallings; 9) Harry Higgs; 10) Cameron Davis; 11) Daniel Berger; 12) Chez Reavie; 13) Cameron Tringale; 14) Kevin Chappell / Matthew NeSmith; 16) Shane Lowry; 17) Peter Malnati / Roger Sloan; 19) Talor Gooch / Kevin Streelman; 21) Hank Lebioda; 22) Padraig Harrington / Bo Hoag; 24) Stewart Cink / Chris Kirk / Michael Kim / Sam Ryder.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Rickie Fowler; 2) Sean O’Hair; 3) Adam Hadwin; 4) Adam Scott; 5) Jim Furyk / Joaquin Niemann; 7) Chris Kirk; 8) Vaughn Taylor; 9) Steve Stricker; 10) J.B. Holmes / Ted Potter Jnr; 12) John Huh; 13) Daniel Berger / Wyndham Clark / Nate Lashley; 16) Shane Lowry; 17) Ryan Armour; 18) Dylan Frittelli / Brendan Steele; 20) Rafa Cabrera-Bello / Matt Wallace; 22) Byeong Hun An / Charl Schwartzel; 24) Brian Gay / Robert Streb / Richy Werenski.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Jim Furyk; 2) Keegan Bradley; 3) Shane Lowry; 4) Cameron Tringale; 5) Chris Kirk / Joaquin Niemann; 7) Daniel Berger; 8) Cameron Davis / John Huh / Henrik Norlander / Matt Wallace; 12) Kevin Streelman; 13) Brendan Steele; 14) Bo Hoag / Doug Ghim;  16) Ryan Moore; 17) Matthew NeSmith / Michael Thompson; 19) Roger Sloan; 20) Scott Stallings / Aaron Wise; 22) Luke List / Chez Reavie / Richy Werenski / Lee Westwood.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Sungjae Im; 2) Kevin Chappell / Mackenzie Hughes; 4) Adam Scott; 5) Lee Westwood; 6) J.T. Poston; 7) Lucas Herbert; 8) Rafael Campos; 9) Ryan Armour / Adam Hadwin; 11) Daniel Berger / Martin Kaymer / Patrick Rodgers; 14) Matt Jones; 15) Talor Gooch; 16) Wesley Bryan / Rafa Cabrera-Bello / Will Gordon / Mark Hubbard; 20) Zach Johnson; 21) James Hahn; 22) Russell Henley / Bo Van Pelt; 24) Joaquin Niemann / Matt Wallace.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Jim Furyk / Sungjae Im; 3) Daniel Berger; 4) Doug Ghim; 5) Joaquin Niemann; 6) Matt Wallace; 7) Brendan Steele; 8) Adam Scott; 9) Chris Kirk / Lee Westwood; 11) Bo Hoag / Matt Jones; 13) Wesley Bryan / Luke List; 15) Cameron Davis; 16) Shane Lowry; 17) Cameron Tringale; 18) Talor Gooch / Lucas Herbert; 20) Rafa Cabrera-Bello; 21) Adam Hadwin / Mark Hubbard; 23) Keegan Bradley; 24) Ryan Armour; 25) Michael Thompson.

Winners & Prices: 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 7 Renewals Average: 154/1. Overall Average: 137/1.

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

Historical Weather:

  • 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.

A relatively dry February (33mm) and early March (12mm), plus a low chance of rainfall pre-tournament this week, should see a firm golf course come Thursday morning. A 15-20mph northerly on Thursday should keep them honest, with Friday undoubtedly easier. Saturday should see 15 mph winds from the north-east, with typical Honda Classic winds on Sunday where a 20-30 mph north-easterly looks set, which will make this a tough affair. Temperatures are up from last year with 27-28 degrees Celsius Thursday and Friday, prior to 22-23 degrees Celsius for the weekend.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 11 winners of the Honda Classic since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:

  • 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).

Tournament Skill Averages:

Driving Distance: 17th, Driving Accuracy: 33rd, Greens in Regulation: 14th, Proximity to Hole: 22nd, Scrambling: 10th, Putting Average 18th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 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: 19th, SG Tee to Green: 3rd, SG Putting: 26th.

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

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 winners of the Honda Classic since 2010:

  • 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.

From the Lead: Below are the shots from the lead during the tournament of the Honda Classic winners since 2010:

  • 2019 – 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 winners since 2010:

  • 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.

  • 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 – Jim Furyk, Brian Gay, Zach Johnson.
  • 3 – Henrik Stenson, Camilo Villegas.
  • 2 – Daniel Berger, K.J. Choi, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Phil Mickelson, Scott Piercy, Adam Scott, Robert Streb, Jimmy Walker.
  • 1 – Ryan Armour, Keegan Bradley, Wesley Bryan, Austin Cook, Tyler Duncan, Adam Hadwin, James Hahn, Padraig Harrington, Jim Herman, J.B. Holmes, Mackenzie Hughes, Sungjae Im, Martin Kaymer, Patton Kizzire, Satoshi Kodaira, Andrew Landry, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Graeme McDowell, Keith Mitchell, Grayson Murray, Seung-yul Noh, C.T. Pan, Pat Perez, J.T. Poston, Rory Sabbatini, Charl Schwartzel, Scott Stallings, Kevin Streelman, Steve Stricker, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, Jhonattan Vegas, 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 11 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’d 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:

Joaquin Niemann 2pts EW 22/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

First off I’m taking the ‘Wunderkind’ Joaquin Niemann at this week’s Honda Classic.

In this field he’s the highest ranked for Scoring Average (5th), Birdie Average (3rd), Strokes Gained Total and sits behind only Keegan Bradley in the Strokes Gained Tee to Green categories. 6th at the CJ Cup, 2nd at the Tournament of Champions and 2nd a week later at the Sony Open, Niemann was one of the hottest players on the planet at the turn of the year before he took a month off to rest, recuperate and catch up with his family and friends in Chile.

Post break he came back hard at the Genesis Invitational shooting 67/68 to be 2nd after 36 holes, but a 78 on Saturday put paid to his chances. But in the highest grade of competition, the 22 year-old has still finished 43rd at the Genesis, 28th at the WGC-Workday Championship and 29th at The Players.  The Honda Classic is an undoubted step down or three this week.

And this for me is the perfect level of competition for Joaquin who broke his Tour maiden at the weak 2019 Greenbrier Classic at 28/1. He’s undoubtedly due a second PGA Tour title and he’s one of those rare players these days who actually thrives on Par 70s. 5th (2018) and 1st (2020) at Old White TPC, 2nd at Waialae (2021), 8th at Colonial (2018), 5th at TPC River Highlands (2019) and 3rd at Olympia Fields (2020 BMW Championship) have all come on courses with only 8 looks at par-5s. And that finish behind Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson was notable on the basis that conditions were firm and very tough for the most part.

That kind of ability to grind this week will be critical and despite 2 pretty unsuccessful visits here in 2019 (59th) and 2020 (MC), PGA National remains on the schedule and maybe that’s a liking for the TifEagle bermudagrass greens. After all coastal courses featuring TifEagle have already seen him finish 5th (2020) and 2nd (2021) at Kapalua and 3rd (2020) at Harbour Town. RESULT: T25

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Shane Lowry 1.5pts EW 28/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

With 20 mph winds on Thursday and 30+ mph winds on Sunday, Open Championship heritage is not a bad angle to look at this week, and in Honda Classic champions like Camilo Villegas, Rory McIlroy, Michael Thompson, Padraig Harrington, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas, they all had U.S. Open success prior to lifting the trophy here.

So I very much like Shane Lowry who landed his first PGA Tour top 10 at The Players last week since August, when he was 6th at the WGC-St Jude Invitational. 11th for Greens in Regulation, 24th for Stokes Gained on Approach, 4th for Scrambling and 11th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green, Lowry actually made some putts on the Stadium Course, with his upturn with the flat stick a result of changing grip to a conventional set-up, “I’ve been left hand low my whole life and I’ve gone right hand low this week and I did it for a couple of rounds. I did it the final round at Concession and had the best putting round of my season so far. And I know I’m a good chipper and I know I’ve got good hands, so I kind of figured that if I can stand up and just putt like how I chip, and putt with a bit for feel and kind of react to the line as opposed to trying to get everything so perfect, it’s nice.”

Putting has undoubtedly been holding Lowry back of late, as in this field across my 8-week trackers he ranks 5th for Greens in Regulation, 14th for SG Off the Tee, 16th for SG on Approach, 3rd for SG Tee to Green and 16th for SG Current form, and with some confidence returning on the greens I think the stern nature of the Champions Course test will be right up the World Number 40’s street. Living 10 minutes down the road from PGA National, this is now a home game for Shane and his form here reads 53-49-21 which is encouraging.

The 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational winner on a fiery Firestone South golf course, Shane has finished 9th at Chambers Bay and 2nd at Oakmont across 2015 and 2016 U.S. Opens. He can most certainly grind and we won’t mention Royal Portrush in 2019! He openly admits that sterner tests motivate him and I think that Lowry will want to build on last week’s positive result and give it a real go here at the Honda Classic. RESULT: T36

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Brendan Steele 1pt EW 40/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Coral

In Cheltenham Festival week, Brendan Steele is a true ‘horse for a course’ and his liking for these technical, tough Florida-style golf courses is clear to see.

A perennially strong driver of the golf ball, Brendan has no issues when it comes to hanging around on these style of golf courses. Take his Le Golf National record when he has made the journey to the Open de France: 7th (2011), 7th (2012) and 6th (2015) highlights a player who thrives on one of the European Tour’s toughest and water-filled golf courses, and that form transfers very well to the Champions Course. Across his past 5 visits to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, the Californian has finished 11th (2015), 14th (2016), 14th (2017) and 4th (2020).

Since the start of 2020, the World Number 78 (up from 122 at the turn of the year), has gone close to his 4th PGA Tour victory on a number of occasions. At the windswept 2020 Sony Open he led throughout but eventually allowed Cameron Smith to take the title in a play-off. 4th here 12 months saw Brendan go out in the final group with Tommy Fleetwood. The Travelers Championship last June saw Steele finish strong to grab 6th behind Dustin Johnson and even in 2021 Steele had a close call with the winners circle. January’s Sony Open at Waialae again saw Brendan leading after 54 holes with a 2 shot lead – he finished 4th. Playing well enough to be a serious factor this week. RESULT: T3

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Keegan Bradley 1pt EW 50/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Keegan Bradley is another I like this week. Both a Major and WGC winner, Bradley has won 4 times at the highest level including the FedEx Cup PlayOffs event, the 2018 BMW Championship. That’s a lot of back-class in a field this weak. And things have certainly been percolating for the 34 year-old this season. 6th at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October was his best finish on the PGA Tour since his near miss to Chez Reavie at the 2019 Travelers. 15th at the RSM Classic in November featured a fast start and that continued into 2021, where he was 2nd after 36 holes at TPC Scottsdale – eventually finishing 22nd. Rounds of 69 (Thursday) and a best of the day 64 (Saturday) put him in the mix at Bay Hill a fortnight ago, before finishing 10th and last week at TPC Sawgrass a solid 29th place finish.

But with 3 of his wins coming at -3/277, -8/272 and -13/267, I think Bradley is suited to a technical test where Tee to Green is critical, and Florida is as likely a location as any. 8th (2012) and 7th (2013) at Doral; 3rd (2013), 2nd (2014) and 10th (2021) at Bay Hill; 7th (2018) at TPC Sawgrass; plus 12th (2012), 4th (2013) and 12th (2014) here at PGA National – undoubtedly the local Jupiter, Florida based Keegan loves playing in the Sunshine State. 7th for Strokes Gained Approach and 10th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green so far this season is elite level stuff and his balky putter has actually been +1.4 and +2.3 Strokes Gained positive so far on the Florida Swing. Throw-in a 4th place finish at the 2014 U.S. Open and Keegan Bradley fits the Honda Classic winning mould pretty well this week. RESULT: T30

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Jim Furyk 1pt EW 125/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Jim Furyk only plays a part-time schedule on the main PGA Tour these days, but he’s still competitive enough on the shorter courses. 47th at the Sony Open, 21st at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and 26th at the Genesis Invitational are decent enough efforts, especially at the latter which was effectively Major-strength. Jim was 19th after 36 holes and was mixing it with some of the best talent.

But his numbers are too good to ignore this week. Across my 8-week trackers he sits in this field 2nd for Driving Accuracy, 2nd for Greens in Regulation, 1st for SG on Approach, 5th for SG Around the Green, 1st for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 1st for SG Current Form. 9th here 2 years ago, on a short course with technical-level scoring, I still think that Jim can be a factor for an each-way score and let’s not forget that Steve Stricker delivered exactly the same thing at the Phoenix Open a few weeks back when he finished 4th at 400/1. Playing regular across both PGA and Champions Tour, we just need a slightly positive week from the putter from Furyk at PGA National for him to become a factor, especially when the wind blows on Thursday and Sunday. RESULT: MC

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