The Honda Classic
It was a slightly frustrating end to the week for us at the Genesis Open with Cam Smith unable to put a concerted effort together on Sunday and Phil [as was the case last week] leaving himself with just a bit too much to do in the final round.
Still, we got some e/w returns, which all but covered our stakes and in addition our ‘trader’ Aaron Baddeley performed excellently so it was a reasonable week in the end.
Congratulations to Bubba who after a very lean spell found himself back in the winners circle. His name will now be on pretty much everyone’s short list to collect another green jacket in six week’s time or so!
Moving on after its five week stint on the West Coast the PGA tour now hops across to the East Coast of the US to begin the Florida Swing.
To be honest these days with the PGA Tour calendar as it is the Florida Swing isn’t so much a full ‘swing’ but more of a ‘swinglet’, with one week in Florida now, followed by a jaunt off to Mexico, then two more weeks in Florida, before a further return to the ‘Sunshine State’ in May for TPC. This though is likely to change in the 2018-19 season when TPC returns to it’s historical calendar slot in March.
The field from a betting perspective is headed up by defending champion Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas & Sergio Garcia. Tiger Woods also continues his comeback.
PGA National was originally a Tom & George Fazio design, which has subsequently undergone redesigns from Jack Nicklaus both in 1990 & 2013.
The event has been played at PGA National since 2007.
The course is a par 70 playing to just over 7100 yards.
The greens are TiffEagle Bermuda.
The ‘signature section’ of the course is The Bear Trap, which is holes 15-17. These holes combined create the toughest part of the course and indeed arguably the toughest 3 hole stretch on regular PGA Tour events year in year out.
These holes are made up of 2 par 3’s, the 15th & 17th and the par 4 16th. If you can get through these three holes in level par you are certainly picking up shots on the field.
PGA National is undoubtedly a tough test. Only once in the last 5yrs has the winning score been double digits under par. This was last year when Rickie Fowler came home in -12 for a 4 shot victory.
The other winning scores over the past 5yrs have been -9, -6, -8 & -9.
Just how difficult the course plays is dictated by how hard the wind blows and of course if the track has been ‘softened up’ by any rain.
The role of honour over the past 10yrs has been a bit of a mixed bag. The last two years have seen wins for Rickie Fowler & Adam Scott and there have also been wins in the past 10yrs for Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and a comeback win for Padraig Harrington.
In amongst this though there has been a maiden [& only to date] PGA tour success for Michael Thompson, alongside wins for YE Yang, Camillo Villegas, Rory Sabbatini & Russell Henley.
One should remember off course that while there star has waned of late, at the time of there wins Yang, Villegas & Sabbatini were all in the upper echelons of the game, so the only one of these winners you could really call leftfield [and the only one by a previous ‘non tour winner’] was the one for Michael Thompson.
When looking at the list of past winners and players who have performed well at this event there is an obvious cross reference to the British Open
Els, Rory & Harrington are all of course past Open Champions. Scott came as close you can do without winning it and Rickie has taken like a duck to water to links golf and is an Open Champion in waiting.
This reference also goes back beyond the event being played at PGA National with Todd Hamilton winning the Honda Classic before shocking the golfing world to lift the Claret Jug.
One other glaring point of note on this roll of honour is that only three of the last 10 winners hailed from the US!
The other main point to be aware of this week is that with the tour moving across to the East Coast we see a switch from the Poa Annua greens that the last couple of events have been on to Bermuda Greens.
We should therefore be on the lookout for the East Coast/Bermuda specialists who historically don’t really perform on the West Coast but who have been ticking along under the radar these last few weeks, as this is the time these players can now spring to life.
As I write the forecast for the week up to and through the event looks dry with showers only showing as a possibility for Monday. This could off course change though!
The wind does look set to be a factor with every day of the event showing 25-30 mph gusting winds in the forecast.
If this does come to fruition we are looking at one tough week and I would imagine the winning score will be nowhere near as low as last year!
I have gone with 5 players this week as follows;
RUSSELL KNOX – 55-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED - M/C
I mentioned above that one tried and tested formula for finding the right men to go with when the tour hits Florida is to look for the East Coast specialists who have performed beyond their normal expectations during the West Coast swing and Knox is one player this year who certainly fits that mould.
Over recent years Russell has either not bothered with the West Coast or performed patchily at best, in fact the last year before this that he had a top 20 on the West Coast was 2015 and he went on to finish 3rd at the Honda Classic.
Similarly the previous year to that he performed creditably on the West Coast before starting the Florida swing with a 2nd place finish at the Honda.
The message therefore is simple, if Russell’s game looks in decent shape coming of the West Coast watch for him kick in to turbo drive in Florida.
With the wind set to blow this week I am looking to stick with players who are proven in the wind or/and are renowned ‘ball strikers’ and Knox certainly ticks those boxes.
Knox’s renowned ball striking strengths had dipped over the 2016/17 period but his 2018 stats show that he is back on track as he currently lies 38th in Driving Accuracy and 6th in GIR.
All that’s been holding Russell back so far this year is the putter and I am hopeful that a return to Bermuda greens on a course he obviously loves will see an upturn on that front, and if this is the case I am sure he will have a big week.
ALEX NOREN – 40-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED 3rd
If you’re looking for an inform ball striker who has a pedigree of performing well in links/windy conditions you don’t have to look much further than Alex Noren.
Noren is a nine time winner on the European tour with 5 of those coming in the past two years and he currently sits 16th in the OWGR.
It was therefore with some amusement that those of us on this side of the pond watched the US lead coverage from Torrey Pines 3 weeks ago, during which we were treated to interviews and commentary that portrayed Alex as a complete rookie, who would potentially react like a rabbit in the headlights when faced with the possibility of winning on US soil!
Whilst the Swede ultimately came up short on that occasion in a play off to a resurgent Jason Day, he showed enough in that week he will have no issues adjusting to the PGA Tour.
Alex spent his college time in the US at Oklahoma State so adapting to life in the US should not be an issue for him.
One other important point on this front is that the Swede has a home in the Florida golfing mecca of Jupiter, so whilst he has only one start to date at PGA National, [which was a missed cut in 2013], he should have had plenty of opportunity to play the course and this week will basically be a home game for him.
Since his near miss at Torrey Pines Noren has had two more steady weeks on the PGA tour with top 25 finishes at both Phoenix and Riviera and I am confident he will go well again this week.
TOMMY FLEETWOOD – 33-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED 4th
By now it should have become apparent the direction in which my preview is heading this week and next on my list of quality international ball strikers is Tommy Fleetwood.
It’s funny to think that, all bar one week, this time last year I was backing Tommy at 200-1 in the WGC Mexico. Roll on twelve months and those sorts of fancy prices on the Southport native have long since vanished.
At the start of this year I readily admit that I thought 2018 might be a tough year for Tommy. After all 2017 was such a spectacular year for him both on and off the golf course you’d have forgiven him if he’d had a slight ‘mental let down’ and understandably got side tracked by the inevitable distractions of having a new young family.
Very impressively though that doesn’t appear to be the case at all and Tommy has picked up in 2018 right where he left of in 2017 by defending his title in Abu Dhabi.
Next on Fleetwood’s itinerary is a stint on the PGA Tour starting at last week’s Genesis Open running through to the Masters and things got off to a promising start with a solid 37th finish in Los Angeles.
It was nice to see Tommy getting the respect his status in world golf now deserves from the PGA Tour as he was paired up in one of the ‘featured groups’ at Riviera with Phil Mickelson, and as you would expect he had no issues in producing a good performance in the environment that comes with playing in a group with Phil in California and with Tiger in the group just ahead.
Tommy’s GIR stats have been off the radar over the past 12 months plus and assuming it is ‘normal service’ from him this week I would expect the test offered by PGA National, particularly this week, to play right to his strengths and I am happy to jump on board the ‘Fleetwood Express’.
GRAEME MCDOWELL – 80-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED - M/C
GMac this week is one of those selections that is so blatantly obvious that if you don’t back him and he performs, you’ll be left scratching your head as why on earth you weren’t on. In other words I feel obligated to back him!
Nailing my colours to the mast I am a big fan of GMac’s first and foremost as I was on him at 150-1 when he won at Pebble Beach. In addition when he’s ‘on’ he has the heart of a lion and you just know he’ll make every 10ft putt he needs to coming down the stretch.
The problem off course is that GMac hasn’t been ‘on’ for a considerable period of time now and the suspicions were that his best days were behind him as he got distracted by family life and a successful restaurant business.
It also wasn’t hugely encouraging to hear GMac talking somewhat negatively toward the back end of last year about the modern game having left him behind.
Roll on several months though and there are more encouraging signs from Graeme and anyone who has heard his interviews over the recent weeks at the ‘Sky Cart’ will have heard him saying that the work he has been putting in was beginning to pay off and that his game was feeling good. It was also good to hear him last week talk about how he has added 20yds off the tee, which will certainly help him to be more competitive again.
There is though only so long you can spend saying “the game is good & results are coming” before you actually need to deliver and for three days at Riviera things finally came good for Graeme.
Unfortunately, but perhaps slightly understandably, being his first time in contention for a long while, Sunday was a tough day for GMac in LA as he wilted to a final round 77. However the signs were there for the first three days that the hard work is starting to pay off.
GMac now moves on to a course where he has had a great amount of success with 5 top 15 finishes in his last 7 visits and at 80-1 I’m happy to take a chance that he can build on last week’s good work.
DOMINIC BOZZELLI – 350-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 13th
Having filled most of our team this week with high pedigree international players from the front end of the market for my final pick I am going to throw in a curve ball in the form of two time All-American Auburn Tiger Dominic Bozzelli.
Bozzelli came to the PGA Tour in 2016-17 on the back of a winning season on the Web.com tour in 2016.
He made a slow start to life on the PGA Tour missing three of his first five cuts and only mustering a best placed finish of 37th.
Dominic then sprung in to life with a 5th place finish at the CareerBuilder Challenge which included an opening round of 64 on the tough Stadium Course.
After that Dominic managed a 3rd place finish at the tough Valspar Championship venue and a 10th place at the Fedex St Jude before his season was cut short by injury in July.
Fortunately Dominic had done enough by then to wrap up his card for 2018 and he returned to the tour in January at Hawaii.
Understandably after 5 months off it was a slow start to the year for Bozzelli however he turned in his best performance of the season so far at last weeks Genesis Open with a 26th place finish.
Dominic’s stats for the week in LA were promising in that he finished 21st in DA and 27th in GIR with the putter holding him back. Hopefully a return to Bermuda Greens will see an improvement in this department this week.
What also catches my eye this week is that Bozzelli has ‘previous’ on PGA National in that he finished 4th here in 2015 in the Web.com Q School Finals to earn his Web.com card, so despite missing the cut here last year he has shown he can play the course and should have positive vibes on his return.
I’m therefore happy to take a roll of the dice at 350-1 that Bozzelli can build on last weeks showing and give us a good run at a massive price.
UPDATED 20th FEB
TRADER - BEN SILVERMAN FINISHED - M/C
Canadian Ben Silverman played his way on to the PGA Tour largely through a purple patch from July through to August last year on the Web.com.
This four week stretch saw him register 4 consecutive top 10 finishes including a win at the Price Cutter Charity Championship.
Transition to the PGA Tour initially did not seem a problem for Ben as he notched two top ten finishes in his five starts in the Fall events.
This included a 9th place finish at the RSM Classic, which is played at the windy coastal Sea Island resort in Georgia.
Silverman spent his college time in Florida and now resides in the Sunshine State so it's not surprising that his form has tailed off a bit early in 2018 on the West Coast.
Recognised as a quality ball striker the Canadian's game seemed in reasonable order last week at the Genesis Open where he ranked 13th in Driving Accuracy.
I am sure he will now be raring to get back to Florida to play on greens he will be far more comfortable on and my hope is he can build on last weeks decent performance.
It is also worth noting that Ben will have positive vibes from PGA National as he finished 9th here in Web.Com Q School in 2015 to earn his Web.Com card.
Currently trading 450+