The Honda Classic Preview

02-21-17

The Tour returns to Florida this week which means Bermudagrass, blustery conditions and water hazards.

The Champion course at PGA National plays annually as one of the toughest on Tour.

 

The Honda Classic

 

PGA National Resort & Spa

PGA National (Champion)

Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

 

Champion

 

Yards: 7,140 per the official scorecard

Par: 70 (35-35)

Greens: Tifeagle Bermudagrass; only 5,500 square feet on average (slightly below average).

Stimpmeter: 12′.

Rough: Bermudagrass and ryegrass up to 3″.

Bunkers: 78

Water Hazards: 12

Course Architect(s): Tom and George Fazio (1981); Nicklaus Design (2013)

Purse: $6.4 million; $1.152 million (winner); 500 FedExCup Points

Defending Champion:  Adam Scott held off Sergio Garcia down the stretch to win his 12th PGA Tour event.

 

Notes:

  • 144 players; Stroke play; top 70 professionals and ties play the weekend
  • This is the 36th edition of The Honda Classic with Honda as the corporate sponsor. This is the longest running sponsor currently on Tour. #TheMoreYouKnow.

 

History Lessons

 

2016-17 Winners

 

Frys.com: Brendan Steele

CIMB: Justin Thomas

WGC-HSBC: Hideki Matsuyama

Sanderson Farms: Cody Gribble**

Shriners: Rod Pampling

OHL Mayakoba: Pat Perez

RSM Classic: Mackenzie Hughes**

SBS TOC: Justin Thomas

Sony Open: Justin Thomas

CB Challenge: Hudson Swafford*

Farmers: Jon Rahm*

WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama

AT&T Pebble Beach: Jordan Spieth

Genesis Open: Dustin Johnson

 

*First-time winner

**First-time winner AND rookie winner

 

 

The Particulars:

 

Say goodbye to Hollywood and Poa annua and say hello to Florida and Bermudagrass!

 

Gamers will notice some familiar names that disappear from the radar and some that will reappear as the Tour leaves the West Coast Swing for the Florida Swing. It’s hardly a mystery but simply some players prefer Poa annua and some players prefer Bermuda. Guys who grew up playing and learning the game on a certain grass will be obviously more comfortable applying their craft on it. Don’t forget, playing out of Kikuyugrass and Bluegrass is different than playing out of Bermudagrass and ryegrass so it’s just not on the greens!

 

This week at PGA National another element will also be reintroduced to the pros: water. No, not rain! They’ve seen plenty of that but Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Riviera (minus the Pacific Ocean) have a combined zero water hazards. As Patrick Rodgers eloquently mentioned on Twitter:

Well, that’s not entirely the case this week.

PGA National is consistently one of the toughest courses on Tour for a myriad of reasons.

Water is in play on 12 of the 18 holes this week so the grip-it-and-rip-it crowd will be on notice.

The weather in South Florida can be dicey this time of year and even the best players don’t love wind and the chance of rain lingering.

The escape shots from the rough and bunkers with the strategically placed water will influence decision making just as much as the wind.

 

Course Ratings

2016: Hardest par 70 on Tour; second hardest non-major. Only 13 players finished under par for the week.

2015: 4th-hardest (16 players).

2014: 17th-hardest overall (45 players).

2013: Hardest non-major (17 players).

2012: 7th-hardest non-major (25 players).

 

Gamers, remember that most Nicklaus designs give players room to swing it off the tee but that’s going to bring water into play. Only three out of the top 15 last year finished outside of the top 20 in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and the worst was T-36.

Another Nicklaus design feature is that the hole gets tougher the closer you get to the pin. These greens are going to make the pros earn it. There was only ONE player of the top 15 to finish in the top 20 of distance of putts made. #TwoPuttsGreaterThanThree.

This week’s formula stresses tee-to-green players who can keep the ball out of trouble, stay mentally tough and get the ball in the hole.

The wind, as of Tuesday, will blow a different direction each day of tournament play.

Experience, patience and guys who embrace the grind will be my angles for the week.

I’ll also lean on guys who play harder courses well as they won’t mind not having to circle 25 birdies to win this week. Par is a good score here so find guys who make plenty of them.

Finally, The Bear Trap has nothing to do with Fantasy Golf so I’ve left it out. Don’t worry, Johnny and Dan will have plenty of facts and figures on how hard it is. I’d point out, using the ratings above, that the course has more than three difficult holes. The winner this week will need to survive and hold his nerve over four days, not just three holes.

 

Previous Champions (since 2007)

PGA National became the host in 2007 so any historical course data from before is irrelevant.

 

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

2009: Y.E. Yang, -9

2008: Ernie Els, -8

2007: Mark Wilson, -5*

 

*playoff

 

Facts and Figures:

  • Tournament Record: 267, Camilo Villegas (2010)
  • Course Record: 61, Brian Harman (2012)
  • Wilson, Yang and Thompson made this event their first win on Tour.
  • Wilson and Els are the only two players to win here sight unseen.
  • Of the 10 winners at PGA National, seven have been internationals including the last two years.
  • Of those seven international winners, five are major champions.
  • The only player to defend the title was Jack Nicklaus. #Boss.
  • Nobody has won this event more than once since the permanent move to the Champion course.
  • Thompson is the only player on that winner’s list not to have multiple Tour victories. #ProTrack.
  • Justin Thomas (T-3) was the only player last year to post all four rounds in the 60’s.
  • The low round on weekend last year was 66 and 18 birdies led the field for the week.
  • The margin of victory has been one or two shots every year except the runaway win for Villegas in 2010 (five shots).

 

 

The Field

 

Favorites

In order of preference for this week and this tournament

 

Adam Scott: I don’t need a compass and protractor to sort this out. Last year he was T-10 in fairways, first in both GIR and Approach Proximity and third in SGTTG. He’s played eight rounds here and has stuck all of them at par or better. He finished T-11 last week at Riviera on the back of T-7 GIR and seventh SGP. He’ll repeat if he brings that to the other coast.

 

Sergio Garcia: He’ll enjoy the extra love in the landing areas this week off the tee and his iron game is dialed in. He finished in the top five last week SGOTT and SGTTG so that’s hardly the worry. Garcia usually thrives when par is an excellent score but, just like Scott, the putter is usually the club of frustration. He’s never MC in six chances at PGA National and he’s hit the top 10 in two of the last three years.

 

 Daniel Berger: The local fan favorite almost tasted victory here two years ago as a rookie before losing to Harrington in a playoff. He’s played this course a few times over the years and returns home after T-7 at TPC Scottsdale. His first Tour win last year came on a difficult par 70 at TPC Southwind.

 

Russell Knox: I’m not letting a MC at WMPO push him down the list as PGA National always gets his attention. He was in the four-man playoff as a rookie in 2014 and backed that up with T-3 the following year. He hasn’t MC in three tries here as he was T-26 last year. Knox plays from the middle of the fairway and the middle of the green and that formula will work wonders this week.

 

Rickie Fowler: My analysis of Fowler isn’t going to change anytime soon. He absolutely has all the tools from pegging it to picking it out of the hole. The major question with him is which weeks are going to be “the” weeks. I’m going to lean on the home-game angle this week as he’s hit the top 10 twice in his last five tries at PGA National with four of those T-24 or better.

 

Justin Thomas: It’s never easy following up back-to-back wins to start the season so MC and T-39 from his last two events aren’t highly concerning. Thomas was the only player to stick all four rounds in the 60’s here last year (T-3) under difficult conditions so his confidence should immediately return this week. The Jupiter Mafia should all be comfy at home this week!

 

Brendan Steele: Tired of seeing him in here yet?? Not me. His T-39 was disappointing last week at Riviera only in the fact that it was his worst finish of the season. Similarly to Riviera, Steele has never MC at the difficult Honda and the last two years have seen him post his best two finishes (T-11 and T-14). He’s not going to win many putting contests but it’s the tee-to-green game that plays again this week.

 

Russell Henley: He didn’t mess around with any of the Poa stops on the West Coast swing so he should be mentally fresh and ready to roll. His last six starts on Tour have included five T-24 or better finishes and a MC. The 2014 champ followed his title up with T-44 and MC but those involved playing the West Coast event the week before. Not this year…

 

Rafael Cabrera-Bello: The last time he missed the cut anywhere in the world was last year at THE PLAYERS. Before that it was the 2015 British Masters. He’s fifth on the European Tour in GIR and that translates everywhere in the world. The big disadvantage to the non-Tour player is usually the breaks in the greens but that’s out the window this week.

 

Kevin Kisner: Gamers who’ve been around the block know the guys who love the Bermuda and Kisner qualifies. He currently sits second in both SGATG and SGTTG plus ninth in SGT. He enters the week with two top 10’s and a T-25 from three starts in 2017.

 

Thomas Pieters: He demonstrated his class at the Ryder Cup last fall and perked up the ears of all gamers last week as he finished T-2 at Riviera. His fantastic week included T-1 in birdies and T-2 in GIR. He needs just over 13 FEC points to lock up Special Temporary Membership (unlimited starts) for the rest of the season.

 

Tyrell Hatton: He didn’t seem to have much problem with Baltusrol at the PGA Championship as he racked up T-10 in his first event in the States. He’s kicked off 2017 in style with T-13 and T-3 in the Middle East before heading Stateside. His game and swing travel and he should be fresh and ready to paint fairways and greens.

 

Charles Howell, III: His streak of nine years in a row making the cut here ended last year. His streak of playing terribly for a decade at Riviera ended last week. He’s leapt the Riviera hurdle so the last three years of T-55, T-44 and MC here aren’t going to put me off! He’s T-15 or better in SEVEN STRAIGHT!

 

Luke Donald: My annual “pick of regret” but I go know where the numbers tell me to go. Donald has peeked inside the top 10 the last two weeks before cooling late for T-23 at Pebble and T-17 at Riviera. His course form will have drool all over it as well as he hasn’t missed at PGA National in six tries and four of those are top 10’s. His winter home is right around the corner so it’s hardly a surprise. Gamers “saving” him for Conway Farms, his summer home and home course in Chicago, should be reminded that he’ll need to be No. 70 or better on the FEC points list for the BMW Championship. He’s currently No. 121.

 

Gary Woodland: He finished 67-65 on the weekend at Pebble Beach for T-5 last time out so he had to keep it in play off the tee! His T-6 in 2011 is his best finish from all four weekends he’s played and he should probably be higher up this list.

 

 

 

Next Tier

Form plays, eye-catchers who make great support staff, not in order

 

William McGirt: This will be his seventh consecutive season at PGA National. He’s played six weekends and his last two are his two best finishes (T-22 and T-8).

 

Ollie Schniederjans: No hat to worry about blowing away this week or any week! He hit the top 10 at Torrey and Riviera which also don’t qualify as “easy” courses. His last 24 rounds on Tour are par or better.

 

Louis Oosthuizen: I’m not crazy about his solo third in Phoenix followed by his solo fifth in Perth plus a flight to Florida. I’ll point out that travel shouldn’t and doesn’t bother him and when you’re hitting it that good, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not like he’s flying coach!

 

Scott Brown: Course form meets current form! T-2 last week at Riviera and T-10 here last year.

 

Sean O’Hair: He’s made six weekends in nine tries here but the kicker is that five of them are T-24 or better. He’s made his last six in a row on Tour and currently ranks No. 18 SGT.

 

Brooks Koepka: Something SHOULD give this week as the homebody needs to break out of his 2017 slump. Like Berger, he’s played plenty of rounds here including 12 as a pro and has never missed a cut. If I’m going to take a chance on the breakout, these friendly confines make more sense than Riviera.

 

Patrick Rodgers: He’s feasted on the small greens of the West Coast swing with T-4 at Torrey Pines and T-22 at Riviera. Keeping it out of the drink this week will be the key as he’ll have no problem finding greens.

 

Matthew Fitzpatrick: Too many good results in the last six months to ignore but he seems to throw in a clunker at odd times. His MC last year means he’s played two more tournament rounds than some others.

 

Camilo Villegas: The 2010 winner was also defeated in a playoff in 200, the first year at PGA National. After three seasons in a row of MC he’s bounced back the last three years with T-41, 16th and T-14. The last time he played on this coast he lost in a playoff at RSM.

 

Keegan Bradley: All-or-nothing this season. All-or-nothing at this event.

 

Jhonattan Vegas: He’s made 18 of his last 19 on Tour and was T-12 here in 2014.

 

Lucas Glover: Here’s another who’s racking up weekends with six in a row and has a big finish (T-4, 2013) here recently. His ball-striking numbers should translate well this week.

 

Branden Grace: This will be his third go around. His first time playing he shot 65. His other five rounds are TWENTY FOUR OVER PAR. He’s T-13, T-13 and T-22 in his last three full field events.

 

Ryan Palmer: His wife is battling breast cancer and he hasn’t fired on some of his early season favorites. He’s obviously distracted but he did break a streak of MC with T-49 at Riviera. He’s T-26 or better in five of the last six years and was in a playoff in 2014. He hasn’t MC in that stretch.

 

 

 

Off the Beaten Path

Course horses, long shots, cheeky picks, DFS last call, red herrings

 

Graeme McDowell: In the last six years he’s hit the top 10 four times.

 

Blayne Barber: His last two top 10’s are podium finishes here last year and at the RSM last fall.

 

Freddie Jacobson: He’s made seven of his last eight tries here with nothing worse than T-29. The caveat is that he hasn’t teed it anywhere professional since the TPC Boston last September at the DBC. Massive risk/reward play this week.

 

Billy Hurley, III: If you didn’t catch his piece at The Player’s Tribune, I’d suggest you do. I’m not sure if it freed him but his bogey-final round at Riviera caught my attention. His solo fifth here two years ago with all four rounds at par or better is another angle.

 

John Huh: He’s three of four here and the last two have been T-17 and T-14. Opened and closed bogey-free at Riviera so there’s something brewing.

 

Ian Poulter: He’s five from five and should have won in 2015 before a final round 74 slowed him down.

 

Brian Harman: He owns the course record. He’s also posted 64. The one stat fantasy gamers will love? He’s never hit the top 10 here so he’s in play this week. Remember, he has 16 top 10’s in his career and they are all at 16 different courses. I can’t make that up.

 

Stewart Cink: Stick him at No. 5 or No. 6 and forget it as he’s never missed here in six tries.

 

Martin Flores: Panning for gold turned up Flores who has put six of his last eight at par or better here. With five of those rounds under par, it’s easy to see why he finished T-12 and T-17 in those two events. I’d point out he was T-28 at Torrey and T-14 at Pebble but then your mom is even going to play him.

 

Alex Cejka: “Jacobson Lite” on this track but his recent results aren’t inspiring.

 

Rory Sabbatini: The 2011 champ has tossed in T-11 in 2015 but a couple of clunkers as well. The reason the old guys get a look this week is they have the experience to get it around in the difficult conditions.

 

Trey Mullinax: His West Coast Swing was T-57, T-50, T-49 and T-14, his best finish in his young career on Tour. #LongBaller.

 

Patton Kizzire: Backed up his 75 with 64 and 74 with 68 in his maiden voyage last season. #Information.

 

 

Fades

Injured, rusty or not the track this week

 

Martin Kaymer: Gamers know that if he’s not firing in the Middle Eastern desert that something is off. His T-44 in 2015 is his best finish in three tries here.

 

Zach Johnson: Four tries, nothing better than T-30 and has MC the last two seasons.

 

Jimmy Walker: In six tries he has played five weekends and has zero rounds under par.

 

 

 

 

Coming Later This Week:

 

Wednesday I’ll present my gaming angles for the week so keep your eyes peeled at mikeglasscott.com and @MikeGlasscott for more information.

 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through Twitter or email me mikeglasscott@gmail.com. If you would like to join my mailing list, send your email to the address above!

 

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