Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's The Honda Classic Tips 2023

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Congratulations if you were on-board Jon Rahm at a Monday best price of 15/2 with bet365 last week at the Genesis Invitational. The freshly crowned World Number 1 has now taken out 3 of the first 7 PGA Tour events of 2023 at 13/2, 15/2 and 13/2 as the tournament favourite. This early in a season these are unprecedented times, especially when you throw in Scottie Scheffler’s 14/1 win at the WM Phoenix Open. I landed a full each-way return on Collin Morikawa at 22/1 with bet365, via their Each Way Extra facility.

On to a far weaker field at The Honda Classic this week, which marks the start of the Florida Swing section of the PGA Tour. The first of 4 tournaments in the Sunshine State, we will see the Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Players Championship and the Valspar Championship, prior to moving onto Texas and then Georgia. The Honda Classic itself has always been known as a tough examination as it takes place at the Jack Nicklaus-inspired Champions Course at PGA National. The 2023 field includes Horschel, Im, Lowry, Noren, McCarthy, Willett, Wise plus defending champion Sepp Straka.

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Before we go into the detail surrounding the Honda Classic, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System. Welcome and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, +6,100 strong, private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

Course Guide: Make no bones about it, the Champions Course at PGA National is a brute. It’s an archetypical Florida golf course with water hazards, testing bunkering and tough rough aplenty. Positioned within 7 miles of the Atlantic east coast, this part of Florida is synonymous with windy conditions. This test therefore suits those with a Major temperament: players who have patience, but also those who can take advantage of key holes where birdies have to be made. The famous ‘Bear Trap’, the stretch of 15-17, is one of the hardest sets of holes in non-Major golf.

The Champions Course is best summarised by the fact that it has been the toughest non-Major Par 70 course on the PGA Tour across 6 of the past 10 seasons.

Champions Course, PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida: Designer: Tom and George Fazio, 1981 with Nicklaus re-designs in 2002, 2014 and 2018 Course Type: Florida, Technical, Short; Par: 70; Length: 7,125 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 15; Fairways: Celebration Bermudagrass; Rough: TifSport Bermudagrass overseeded with Perennial Rye 2.5″; Greens: 7,000 sq.ft average TifEagle Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimp: 12ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 71.19 (+1.19), Difficulty Rank 11 of 49 courses. 2013: 71.32 (+1.32), Difficulty Rank 5 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.41 (+0.41), Rank 17 of 48 courses. 2015: 71.83 (+1.83), Rank of 4 of 52 courses. 2016: 71.77 (+1.77), Rank 5 of 50 courses. 2017: 70.56 (+0.56), Rank 16 of 50 courses. 2018: 72.30 (+2.30), Rank 2 of 51 courses. 2019: 71.02 (+1.02), Rank 5 of 49 courses. 2020: 71.90 (+1.90), Rank 3 of 41 courses. 2021: 71.10 (+1.10), Rank 6 of 51 courses. 2022: 71.34 (+1.34), Rank 7 of 50 courses.

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

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

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

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

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 sq.ft average, putting surfaces. Said greens all featured new TifEagle Bermudagrass turf as well, replacing the old TifEagle surfaces which had been at the end of their PGA Tour standard lifespan. As with all new putting surfaces, they were firm and repelled approach shots. 3 years down the line, they have settled down considerably, but even last year were releasing nicely on Saturday. 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 on this Florida-style golf course. It’s worth noting that 2023 sees new bunkering in-play on the 13th and 16th holes, with bunker reductions on the 17th and 18th.

You can also add 26 individual water hazards into the difficulty mix, with 2023 also featuring longer 2.5″ Bermudagrass rough, up 0.5″. 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 -10/270 (Straka), -12/268 (Jones), -6/274 (Im), -9/271 (Mitchell), -8//272 (Thomas), -12/268 (Fowler), -9/271 (Scott), -6/274 (Harrington) and -8/272 (Henley) highlight a course and playing conditions which stretches these PGA Tour players.

Course experience is important, but debutants can also contend (take local rookie Daniel Berger in 2015, for instance, or Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren in 2018, the same year Wyndham Clark was 54-hole leader) 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 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.

honda classic tips

Honda Classic Winners: 2022: Sepp Straka (-10); 2021: Matt Jones (-12); 2020: Sungjae Im (-6); 2019: Keith Mitchell (-9); 2018: Justin Thomas (-8); 2017: Rickie Fowler (-12); 2016: Adam Scott (-9); 2015: Padraig Harrington (-6); 2014: Russell Henley (-8); 2013: Michael Thompson (-9); 2012: Rory McIlroy (-12); 2011: Rory Sabbatini (-9); 2010: Camilo Villegas (-13).

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

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

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

Lead Score Progression:

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

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 | Event Stats | SG 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:- Sungjae Im, Byeong-Hun An, Cam Davis, Denny McCarthy, Shane Lowry, Harris English, Matt Kuchar, Taylor Pendrith, Joseph Bramlett and Jhonattan Vegas.

Honda Classic Winners & Prices: 2022: Straka 125/1; 2021: Jones 80/1; 2020: Im 35/1; 2019: Mitchell 300/1; 2018: Thomas 12/1; 2017: Fowler 16/1; 2016: Scott 20/1; 2015: Harrington 400/1; 2014: Henley 300/1; 2013: Thompson 300/1; 2012: McIlroy 9/1F; 2011: Sabbatini 80/1; 2010: Villegas 30/1. Past 9 Renewals Average: 143/1; Overall Average: 131/1.

Historical Weather:

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

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

It’s been relatively dry around PGA National across early 2023, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see firmer conditions in play this week as we saw at Riviera Country Club last week. We are also used to gusting winds being a feature here, but with nothing worse than gusting 15mph south-easterly winds across the week, conditions look unusually calm for the Champions Course. Temperatures step up a level from California, similar to last year with 26-27 degrees Celsius (79-81 Fahrenheit) throughout.

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

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Jonas Blixt; 2) Adrian Meronk / Jhonattan Vegas; 4) Cameron Percy; 5) Hayden Buckley; 6) Garrick Higgo; 7) Austin Eckroat / Fabian Gomez; 9) Dylan Frittelli; 10) Min Woo Lee; 11) Brent Grant / Aaron Rai; 13) Joseph Bramlett / Trevor Cone / Vincent Norrman; 16) Cam Davis; 17) Brandon Matthews; 18) Erik van Rooyen; 19) Sam Stevens / Adam Svensson; 21) Erik Barnes; 22) Jim Herman / Richy Werenski; 24) Marty Dou / Sungjae Im / Michael Kim / Carson Young.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Min Woo Lee; 2) Sung Kang; 3) Chris Kirk; 4) Russell Knox / Jhonattan Vegas; 6) Kyle Westmoreland; 7) Kevin Roy; 8) Satoshi Kodaira / Ryan Palmer; 10) Adrian Meronk; 11) Nick Hardy / Chris Stroud; 13) Joseph Bramlett / Ryan Moore; 15) J.T. Poston; 16) Eric Cole / Robby Shelton / Adam Svensson / Erik van Rooyen; 20) Carson Young; 21) Garrick Higgo; 22) Austin Cook / Padraig Harrington; 24) Ben Griffin / Ben Martin / Greyson Sigg.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Chris Kirk; 2) Matt Wallace; 3) Zac Blair / Brian Stuard; 5) Sean O’Hair; 6) Eric Cole / Erik van Rooyen; 8) Sungjae Im; 9) Sung Kang; 10) Matt Kuchar; 11) Ben Silverman / Jhonattan Vegas / Danny Willett; 14) Adam Schenk; 15) Billy Horschel / Min Woo Lee; 17) Jonas Blixt / Camilo Villegas; 19) Jimmy Walker; 20) William McGirt / Adam Svensson; 22) Christiaan Bezuidenhout; 23) Henrik Norlander / Aaron Wise; 25) Jason Dufner / Kramer Hickok / Michael Kim / Augusto Nunez.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Min Woo Lee; 2) Jhonattan Vegas; 3) Adrian Meronk; 4) Chris Kirk; 5) Sung Kang; 6) Erik van Rooyen; 7) Sungjae Im; 8) Joseph Bramlett; 9) Ryan Palmer; 10) Adam Svensson; 11) J.T. Poston; 12) Stephan Jaeger / Carson Young; 14) Hayden Buckley / Augusto Nunez; 16) Garrick Higgo; 17) Ben Martin; 18) Kyle Westmoreland; 19) Austin Cook / Michael Kim; 21) Austin Eckroat / Dylan Frittelli / Nick Hardy; 24) Satoshi Kodaira / Matt Wallace / Aaron Wise.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Zach Johnson; 2) Ben Crane; 3) Alex Noren; 4) Luke Donald; 5) Min Woo Lee; 6) Harry Hall / S.H. Kim / Matti Schmid; 9) Justin Suh; 10) Denny McCarthy / Seung-yul Noh / Henrik Norlander; 13) Anders Albertson / Taylor Pendrith; 15) Chris Kirk; 16) Padraig Harrington / Harry Higgs / Matt Kuchar; 19) Peter Malnati / Chad Ramey / Trevor Werbylo; 22) Doc Redman; 23) Ben Silverman; 24) Sungjae Im; 25) Kelly Kraft.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Min Woo Lee; 2) Chris Kirk; 3) Sung Kang; 4) Sungjae Im; 5) Jhonattan Vegas; 6) Matt Kuchar; 7) Adrian Meronk; 8) Austin Eckroat; 9) S.H. Kim / Alex Noren / Adam Svensson; 12) Thomas Detry / Erik van Rooyen; 14) J.T. Poston; 15) Padraig Harrington; 16) Ben Griffin; 17) Ben Martin / Denny McCarthy / Justin Suh / Aaron Wise; 21) Satoshi Kodaira; 22) Joseph Bramlett; 23) Matti Schmid; 24) Dylan Frittelli / Ryan Palmer.

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

Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the Strokes Gained Stats of the Honda Classic winners since 2016 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2022, Sepp Straka (-10). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 20th, SG Around the Green: 31st, SG Tee to Green: 4th, SG Putting: 4th.
  • 2021, Matt Jones (-12). SG Off the Tee: 10th, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 2nd, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 25th.
  • 2020, Sungjae Im (-6). SG Off the Tee: 11th, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 5th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 38th.
  • 2019, Keith Mitchell (-9). SG Off the Tee: 12th, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 6th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 38th.
  • 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: 8th, SG Around the Green: 19th, SG Tee to Green: 3rd, SG Putting: 22nd.

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

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

Tournament Skill Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 19th, Driving Accuracy: 20th, Greens in Regulation: 8th, Proximity to Hole: 34th, Scrambling: 7th, Putting Average 20th.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rickie Fowler: “I love it that it’s a ball-striker’s golf course. You’ve got to drive the ball well to give yourself an opportunity to get a ball close on the greens. Yeah, putting can save you, but you’ve got to be solid tee-to-green here. I feel like it brings out some of the guys that are hitting the ball the best that week. I don’t like all the water. I’ve got to try and stay away from that. No, it’s a good test of golf here. Like I said, you’ve got to be on point tee-to-green. You can’t fake it around here. It’s a good test, and especially when we get the kind of standard 10- to 20-mile-an-hour winds.

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

Padraig Harrington: “On a windy day, if things are going well for you, you do tend to be able to make a few birdies coming home. If you’re a couple over par early on, you don’t see any way out, but thankfully as I said, got a decent start which is so important. There’s a lot of tough shots, a lot of tough tee shots. A couple of tee shots that you’re really under pressure to hit the fairway in a strong wind. You just have to man up and hit the shots, that’s it. We are going to hit a few bad ones but you’ve just got to stand there and try to hit the right shot at the right time and accept your fate.

Russell Henley: “I think it might have something to do with getting back to the bermudagrass. I feel like whenever I play Riviera, I’m uncomfortable. I’ve made the cut one time there of the three times. I love the course. I love the atmosphere. I want to play well there obviously. But I’m just not super comfortable on that course yet. But you know, those West Coast tournaments can be brutal. I feel like those greens are really hard to putt on, and they are not easy courses. Torrey Pines is not easy, and I’d say Pebble with the weather, usually predicts what the scores are going to be. When I played it last year, it was really tough. I think those courses are just ones I’m still trying to get comfortable on, and then when I come over here to some bermudagrass, I look down and feel like it’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. Maybe I just get a little bit comfortable. That’s the best explanation I have for you.

Ben Crane: “This is one of the toughest golf courses we play all year. It’s in perfect shape but it’s so nice to get to these Bermuda greens because the ball just stays on line. But I played great today. Made a lot of birdies, and you’re going to have to make a lot of birdies on this golf course in order to score because you’re going to make some bogeys. You’re going to drive the ball in the rough and if you don’t get the ball up and down from a hundred yards you’re going to make bogey. It’s a great test of golf. I know a lot of guys really love this golf course.

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 13 Honda Classic winners:

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

Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 13 Honda Classic winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

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

Incoming Form of Honda Classic winners since 2010:

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

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

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

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

  • 4 – Brian Gay, Bill Haas, Billy Horschel, Zach Johnson.
  • 3 – Matt Kuchar, Ryan Palmer, Camilo Villegas.
  • 2 – Ben Crane, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner, Harris English, Fabian Gomez, Chris Kirk, Webb Simpson, Robert Streb, Jimmy Walker.
  • 1 – Ryan Armour, Aaron Baddeley, Jonathan Byrd, Austin Cook, Tyler Duncan, Cody Gribble, Padraig Harrington, Jim Herman, Garrick Higgo, J.B. Holmes, Sungjae Im, Satoshi Kodaira, Andrew Landry, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Seung-yul Noh, Sean O’Hair, J.T Poston, Rory Sabbatini, Sepp Straka, Brian Stuard, Adam Svensson, Jhonattan Vegas, Aaron Wise.

The Honda Classic has been a case of feast or famine for short price backers here since 2010. Sepp Straka, Matt Jones, Keith Mitchell, Padraig Harrington, Russell Henley, Michael Thompson and Rory Sabbatini have won the Honda Classic at 125/1, 300/1, 400/1, 300/1, 300/1, 80/1 and 80/1 respectively in 7 of the past 13 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. With a weaker field than we used to see here, the last 3 renewals have been won at 125/1, 80/1 and 35/1.

It’s worth noting that McIlroy and Villegas won at a time when the World Match Play Championship was played the week before this tournament and both arrived in Florida in great nick after strong efforts in Arizona. Adam Scott, on the other hand, arrived in hot form directly from Los Angeles where he’d played very nicely in finishing runner-up to Bubba Watson. Rickie Fowler had last been seen at TPC Scottsdale where he had finished 4th, powered by a fast finishing -6/65. And Justin Thomas arrived directly from Riviera, where he had landed his first top 10 of 2018. Sungjae Im was a little more under the radar, only cracking the top 10 once in 2020 at The American Express prior to winning this at 35/1 – he was 10th in the betting.

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:

Harris English 1.5pts EW 33/1 (8EW, 1/5*) with bet365

With Masters and WGC Dell Match Play Official World Golf Ranking cut-offs looming over the horizon, a successful week at PGA National could seriously open doors. That is certainly true of Harris English who, at 73rd in the World, currently sits on the cusp of qualification to the Match Play and in contention for an Augusta spot, if he can perform well in Florida.

Whether that’s on his mind or not, it was noticeable that Harris played some nice golf at Riviera last week. A 12th place finish included a Thursday 66 and a Sunday 65, with Harris recording his best finish on the PGA Tour since the season-opening Fortinet Championship back in September.

So we return to Bermudagrass greens this week – a surface upon which the 33 year-old has won 2 of his 4 PGA Tour titles. And his record here is decent enough. His first visit here as a Tour rookie in 2012 saw the University of Georgia graduate in 2nd place heading into Sunday, powered by a pair of Thursday and Saturday 66s. As you might expect, in only his 6th PGA Tour start it all got too much on Sunday where he carded a 77, plummeting to 18th spot. Since then he’s finished 12th in 2019 and on his last visit here in 2020 he finished 17th after being the joint First Round Leader at 70/1.

A win at TPC Southwind (2013) works nicely with recent PGA National winners like Adam Scott, Justin Thomas, Matt Jones and Sepp Straka; as does form at correlating courses such as Corales GC (5th 2018) and GC of Houston (4th 2019). RESULT: MC

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Taylor Pendrith 1.5pts EW 33/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Canadian golf is flying on the PGA Tour this season. Mackenzie Hughes started all of this back at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October, winning from my selection Sepp Straka at 110/1. From there Adam Svensson captured the last PGA Tour event of 2022, the RSM Classic, at 150/1. 2023 has seen no let-off, with Nick Taylor almost winning the WM Phoenix Open when finishing runner-up to Scottie Scheffler at 250/1, whilst Adam Hadwin has also been playing some very nice golf. This momentum hopefully spreads to Taylor Pendrith this week.

Into his second full season on the PGA Tour, Pendrith’s rookie season was notable. 5th (1st heading into Sunday) at Port Royal, 16th at Torrey Pines, 13th at TPC Sawgrass, 2nd (1st heading into Sunday) at Detroit Golf Club, 13th at Sedgefield and 8th at Wilmington Country Club, Pendrith made a cool $2.33m and also made Trevor Immelman’s International President’s Cup team. Some achievement for a Tour rookie.

Now into a fresh season, Taylor has started to play some better stuff again of late. 15th (6th going into Sunday) at the RSM Classic to end 2022, he was 7th at Pebble Beach at the start of this month. The sort who despite his prodigious length off the tee, plays better on shorter golf courses, Pendrith also likes challenges by the coast, so PGA National should suit. 26th here last year on course debut, only a Saturday 74 kept him out of the each-way paying places. RESULT: T42

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Adam Svensson 1.5pts EW 33/1 (8EW, 1/5*) with bet365

Talking of Canadians, Adam Svensson as highlighted above is also playing some great stuff in season 2022/23. 12th at the Fortinet Championship preceded his maiden PGA Tour win at the RSM Classic in November, which naturally qualified him for his maiden Masters start in April. His next target must be a place in the WGC Dell Match Play and a spot in the OWGR top 50 is definitely within reach for a guy who currently sits 58th in the world rankings.

9th last week at Riviera Country Club was a superb finish in the Major-strength Genesis Invitational field, and he must be confident having played in the second from last group on Sunday with Patrick Cantlay and Gary Woodland. Svensson shot 69 to Cantlay’s 67 and Woodland’s 71, at the same time matching Jon Rahm’s 69 from the final group. Such details shouldn’t be overlooked.

Undoubtedly Bermudagrass green positive – Svensson has a TifEagle Bermudagrass victory at the Landings Club on the 2021 Korn Ferry Tour to go alongside November’s Sea Island PGA Tour victory – Adam must be looking forward to sleeping in his own bed this week as he lives just down the road from this week’s course in Palm Beach Gardens. Plus the Honda Classic has been good to the Canadian 29 year-old across his 2 appearances here. In 2019 a Friday 64 saw Adam in 4th place going into the weekend in his rookie season; he eventually finished 59th. And last year saw Svensson shot 69-65 to again go into the weekend in 4th spot – this time he hung around for a top 10 finish. RESULT: T49

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Byeong Hun An 1pt EW 60/1 (8EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Byeong Hun An has the game shape to be competitive this week at the Honda Classic and I think he will welcome a move to Bermudagrass greens in his home state of Florida.

2nd in this week’s Predictor Model,An has a great history here at PGA National and below the surface in 2023 with his limited opportunities he’s been playing great golf in patches. 4 pay cheques from 4 starts is excellent as he arrives at what must be one of his favourite golf courses. 12th at the Sony Open featured closing rounds of 65-66-67. 41st at The American Express saw a Saturday 63.  An was 9th heading into Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open before a calamitous 83 saw him drop to 62nd. And last time out on his AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am debut he finished 39th overall. Take Pebble Beach on its own and he was 13th for Strokes Gained Total.

But pure Poa Annua greens have never been An’s real forte, where he prefers Bermudagrass. In reality he also performs best on short formats. 2nd at TPC Louisiana (2016), 7th at Harbour Town (2018), 3rd at Sedgefield (2019), 3rd at CC of Jackson (2019) and 8th at PGA West (2021) highlight a player comfortable on Bermuda. Throw in 5th (2018) and 4th (2020) here at PGA National and you also start to get a Jack Nicklaus design angle. That continues with 2nd at the 2018 Memorial Tournament where he lost to Bryson DeChambeau in a play-off (we were on-board DeChambeau) plus 2nd at the 2018 RBC Canadian Open hosted at Glen Abbey.

14th (2018) and 10th (2019) at Bay Hill continue the Florida/Bermudagrass positive vibes, as does the fact that Ben ended his 6 and a half year professional win drought on the Korn Ferry Tour back in February last year where he won the LECOM Coast Classic in the Sunshine State. That is played at Lakewood National Golf Club, a course which also features TifEagle Bermudagrass greens similar to the Champions Course here at PGA National. RESULT: T21

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S.H. Kim 1pt EW 70/1 (8EW, 1/5*) with bet365

I have been mightily impressed by S.H. Kim since his promotion from the Korn Ferry Tour last year.

His first 13 PGA Tour appearances have generated only 4 missed cuts, with a 4th (Shriners), 12th (Sony Open), 13th (Sanderson Farms) and 20th (Farmers Insurance Open) amongst 9 pay cheques. Even more impressively, he was in the top 10 going into Sunday across all of these tournaments, with a number of those being far deeper fields than we have this week.

More importantly, I think the Champions Course will suit at PGA National this week on his tournament debut. Long and relatively straight off the tee, Seonghyeon is a talented sort with the flat stick who can win at tougher tracks. Still yet to win in the United States, the 24 year-old has wracked up 3 professional wins in Japan and South Korea. Those wins have come at -10 (2019 HEIWA PGM Challenge), -5 (2020 KPGA Championship) and -13 (2021 Japan PGA Championship, highlighting a player that can grind and hang around on tougher courses which aren’t birdie fests.

Interestingly the upwardly-mobile World Number 135 has only ever played once in Florida, last year on the Korn Ferry Tour at the LECOM Coast Classic. Played at Lakewood National Golf Club’ which features TifEagle Bermudagrass greens, he finished 2nd to Byeong Hun An who, as we know, has finished 5th (2018) and 4th (2020) here at the Honda Classic.

33rd last week at the Genesis Invitational saw him rank 2nd for Driving Accuracy, 3rd for Total Driving and 4th for Strokes Gained Putting. RESULT: T63

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:20GMT 20.2.23 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.