The Honda Classic
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It was a cracking week for us at TPC Sawgrass as our headline pick Justin Thomas delivered the goods in spades by bringing home the trophy.
At one point on Friday Thomas looked like he might be heading for a weekend off however a late rally saw him make it through to the final 36 holes on -2 and this set him up to catch fire on Saturday with a best of the week 64.
Sunday saw him continue in the sae vein with a ball striking clinic and despite some frustrating misses with the putter on the front nine he was able to make his move around the turn to eventually see off a valiant Lee Westwood and a faltering Bryson Dechambeau.
So a fantastic result for us and one that sends us on to the final leg of the Florida Swing, the Honda Classic in great spirits.
Over recent years the Honda Classic has heralded the beginning of the Florida Swing however this year following a rejigging of the schedule it finds itself wrapping up the four event stretch in the Sunshine State.
The event was first played in 1972 and was hosted at several different locations until moving to Palm Beach Gardens in 2006.
After one year in 2006 at the Country Club at Mirasol it then moved to PGA National in 2007 and has remained there ever since.
In the same year the tournament's main beneficiary became the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation, chaired by Barbara Nicklaus, wife of Jack Nicklaus, and this continues to be the case.
With the change in schedule this event is the one that has been hit hardest this this year as most of the big names take a week of before the WGC.
The market is headed up fractionally by Daniel Berger from the defending champion Sungjae Im. They are then followed by Joaquin Niemann and Lee Westwood.
PGA National was originally a Tom & George Fazio design, which has subsequently undergone redesigns from Jack Nicklaus both in 1990 & 2013.
The other Nicklaus designs played regularly on tour are Muirfield village home of the Memorial and also last years ‘one off’ Workday event and the Nicklaus Tournament Course used as part of the course rotation for the Amex. In addition the Concession Club home of the recent WGC is a Nicklaus design.
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 arguable 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.
As noted earlier PGA National is a tough nut to crack with solid ball striking being the order of the day. In addition and without stating the obvious, keeping your ball out of the numerous water hazards which populate the course is a key ingredient to success here!
PGA National is undoubtedly a tough test. Only once in the last 6yrs has the winning score been double digits under par. This was in 2017 when Rickie Fowler came home in -12 for a 4 shot victory.
The other winning scores over the past 6yrs have been -8, -9, -6, -8, -9 and -5 from Sungjae Im last year.
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.
So let’s take a look at the past 10 winners of the event;
2020 Sungjae Im
2019 Keith Mitchell
2018 Justin Thomas
2017 Rickie Fowler
2016 Adam Scott
2015 Padraig Harrington
2014 Russell Henley
2013 Michael Thompson
2012 Rory McIlroy
2011 Rory Sabbatini
As we can see the role of honour over the past 10yrs has been a bit of a mixed bag. 2015 through to 2017 saw wins for three of the games big names in the shape Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott and there have also been wins in the past 10yrs for Rory McIlroy, and a comeback win for Padraig Harrington.
In amongst this though there were maiden PGA tour successes Sungjae Im, Michael Thompson and Keith Mitchell, alongside wins for Rory Sabbatini & Russell Henley.
One should remember that while his star has waned of late, at the time of his win Sabbatini were all in the upper echelons of the game, while Im is undoubtedly headed to the very top of the game, so of these winners you could only really Thompson, Henley and Mitchell more leftfield.
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.
Rory and Harrington are past Open Champions as of course is Ernie Els who won here in 2008. 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 point of note on this roll of honour is that only five of the past ten winners hailed from the US.
From the point of view of form coming in to the week and historical course form Thomas, Fowler and Scott were as telegraphed as a winner could be having finished top ten in their previous start and all having a previous top 12 finish in the event.
This was also the case with 2012 winner Rory McIlroy.
One other of the past ten winners, Rory Sabbatini, had finished 5th in his previous start and another, the 2014 winner, Russell Henley, had finished 13th here the year before.
Beyond that though the picture gets very murky as Harrington, Thompson and Mitchell had no form coming in to speak of, and no positive history on the course, although of course Harrington had the obvious British Open link, while last years winner Im arrived here on the back of nothing better than 29th place in his previous four starts and a 51st place finish on his debut in the event the previous year.
One thing that it has historically paid dividends to take note of here is players arriving at the event who would benefit from the tour moving across to the East Coast and therefore switching from the Poa Annua greens on to Bermuda Greens. This was particularly pertinent for the past two editions with both Im and Mitchell players who had clearly indicated before that they were far more comfortable on Bermuda.
This year of course this switch will not be a factor though as the previous three events have all been contested on bermuda surfaces.
Temperatures look to be up in the high 80s for the first couple of days before cooling to the high 70s over the weekend. Tying in with this Thursday does also show the possibility of a storm as I type.
Wind as is normally the case here will be a factor to a certain extent with gusts around 15mph mark forecast for the first three days with the possibility of them increasing to 20mph+ on Sunday.
As I always so though this could all change!
Before we get started with this weeks picks just another reminder to take a look at what’s on offer at our partners Sounder Golf. Just follow the link below and the 10% discount will automatically be applied to any purchases you make.
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
SHANE LOWRY – 28-1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 36th
As noted above one of the best pointers to this event over the years has actually been the Open Championship and from that point of view the first name that leaps off the page to me is the current holder of the Claret Jug, Shane Lowry.
Since his life changing victory at Portrush in 2019 Lowry has perhaps understandably struggled to push on and the 2019/20 season was mostly a disappointing one for him.
The new season on the PGA Tour though while not delivering any really big results yet has seen Shane start to find some more consistency in his game as he has only missed two cuts in nine starts.
Last weekend at TPC Sawgrass Lowry delivered his best performance so far this campaign to finish eighth and his final round of 68 on Sunday was particularly impressive as it saw him gain over three shots from tee to green and over two in approach play.
Lowry moved his family out to Florida a couple of years ago or so and is now based literally five minutes down the road from PGA National so this week is very much a home game for him. The Irishman also talked after his strong performance at Sawgrass as to how much he likes the course here and after a trip to Augusta at the beginning of this week he should be raring to go come Thursday.
Looking at Shane’s history in the event and he has improved on each of his three visits posting a best of 21st last year. Furthermore delving deeper in to that result in 2020 Shane managed that performance whilst ranking a lowly 89th in approach play for the week so if he can sharpen up his irons this time around there is plenty of scope for improvement.
PGA National has proven to be a very tough test for the players over recent years and with the wind set to be a steady constant throughout the week I expect a similar scenario this year. From that point of view there aren’t many in in the field better equipped than the Open Champion and I expect him to make a big push to a return to winning ways.
WYNDHAM CLARK – 50-1 – 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
The second man who I can’t get away from this week is Wyndham Clark.
Clark has been steadily progressing since he joined the PGA Tour full time in 2018 and he came as close as he has done to bagging his first tour title by the coast in Bermuda last fall before losing out in a play-off to Brian Gay.
Since that agonising loss Clark has continued to play well and he was again right in the hunt at the Genesis Invitational three starts ago.
Since his trip to Riviera Wyndham has seemingly gone off the boil somewhat missing the cut both at the API and The Players, however both Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass in particular are courses where experience counts and with the former being a venue he has not played well at on either visit yet and last week being his debut at the latter I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Instead then I will focus on the obvious plus for Clark this week, which is his course history as contrary to his trips to Bay Hill he appears to have taken to PGA National like duck to water.
Going back two years and Wyndham actually held the 54 hole lead here before perhaps understandably feeling the pressure of trying to post such a big win so early in his PGA Tour career and in the end a closing 72 saw him slip down to seventh. Last year he then returned here and again produced a really strong week to finish 11th.
Clark is clearly getting more and more comfortable on the PGA Tour all the time and with a maiden win surely on the horizon this looks a perfect opportunity on a set up he likes for him to grab it this week.
KYOUNG-HOON LEE – 66-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Another player who has history here is KH Lee.
Lee like Clark has also been on the PGA Tour full time since 2018 and coincidentally he tied Clark for seventh spot here in 2019 when also right in the hunt.
Moving on to the 2019/20 season and the South Korean posted three top twenty finishes in the campaign with two of them a fifth and a 14th coming at the RSM and in Puerto Rico, so we see a clear pattern developing of him liking coastal tracks.
After starting the new season slowly before Christmas Lee has pushed on again in 2021 and February saw him post his best finish to date on tour, a second place at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Looking at Lee’s performance last week at TPC Sawgrass and whilst a 41st place wasn’t exactly earth shattering he posted all four rounds at level par or better and he also finished third for the week in strokes-gained-off-the-tee and 18th in Driving Accuracy so the long game is clearly in good order.
Twenty nine year old Lee has four international wins to his name and similarly to Clark he seems to be trending clearly towards one on the PGA Tour. This week he returns to a track he has performed well on before and with his fellow countryman Sung Jae Im the defending champion this may just give him the inspiration to bag his maiden tour title this week.
BO HOAG – 150-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
In an event which lacks strength in depth in the field I shall finish this week with three big priced each way plays of which the first is Bo Hoag.
After a slow start to his second season on tour Hoag has quietly started to put some solid results together posting seven top 40 finishes in ten starts since the back end of last year.
On the other three occasions Hoag has missed the cut and this was the case at TPC Sawgrass last week. Interestingly though despite heading home on a total of +2 after two days he was actually second off the tee and eighth in Driving Accuracy with the putter letting him down.
So we’ve established Hoag arrives here in solid form then however as interesting to me this week is the fact that Bo has strong ties to Jack Nicklaus through his family connection with Muirfield Village and you would think on that basis that he would feel very comfortable on a Nicklaus design.
For those unaware Hoag’s late grandfather Robert was a close friend of Jack Nicklaus’ with their paths first crossing when Nicklaus was 13. As a result a friendship was born, which resulted in Robert Hoag being involved in the construction and planning for Muirfield Village. Furthermore along with Jack Nicklaus and two others he played the first round at Muirfield Village before becoming the Club Chairman for many years.
Bo’s Grandfather sadly passed away in 2013 however the affinity to Jack Nicklaus is obviously there and after Hoag won the Portland Open in 2019 to wrap up his PGA Card one of the first calls he received was from Jack.
A win for Hoag here this week would obviously be a big shock however with the really steady run of form he has been on this year it would not take much for him to step up from finishing in the 30s to getting right in to the mix and there is every possibility in my mind that he could be inspired to do that this week on a Nicklaus layout.
TYLER McCUMBER – 200-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 33rd
One man who really enjoyed his time at TPC Sawgrass last week was local Ponte Vedre resident Tyler McCumber who inspired by the home support posted his best finish of 2021 so far, an excellent 22nd place.
There is always a danger that a week in front of friends and family like Tyler just had leaves him mentally drained however I will take a different view and hope that his much improved performance gives him the momentum to push on.
If this is the case and the son of the former Players Champion and ten time tour winner Mark McCumber can build on a week that saw him finish fifth in strokes-gained-off-the-tee then despite missing the cut on his only previous visit here I do think PGA National should be to his liking.
A native of Florida McCumber should certainly be most at home on bermuda greens and as one of the biggest hitters on tour he certainly fits the profile of self-confessed bermuda greens lover Keith Mitchell who won here in 2019.
One further striking connection to Mitchell is that prior to his win here Keith’s best finish on tour had come by the coast at the Corales Puntacana where he finished second in 2018 and this is the event that Tyler came close to winning last fall before finishing second.
Finally, picking up on McCumber’s performance at the Corales and rather than suffering a let down the following week he came straight back out and finished sixth at the Sandersons and this to me is another big plus in that he can ride the wave of a high intensity week on to the next.
All in all in an event that has been known to throw up some big priced shocks over the years I am happy to chance McCumber this week for the reasons noted.
CHASE SEIFFERT – 150-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 3rd
For my final roll of the dice I am going to chance another Floridian at big odds, Chase Seiffert.
Apart from an assumed comfortability in his home state there are two lines, which lead me to Chase this week.
Firstly we have his recent form, which has seen him post two top fifteen finishes in his past four starts with the most recent one coming in windy conditions in Puerto Rico last time out. Clearly then Seiffert should arrive here in good spirits.
Secondly in his short time on tour, by far and away Chase’s best result came at the Workday Charity Open last year at the Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village, which links well here.
Seiffert’s undoubted strength is in his tee to green game and although he missed the cut here last year he was actually solid enough here with his long game with the putter letting him down.
This to be honest sums up the weakness in the 29yr old’s game, the flat stick, however like all poorer putters a better week in that department can lead to big things. The hope then is that Chase can build on his recent solid form and deliver a stronger putting week, something which with ten each way places on offer could reap us dividends come Sunday.
UPDATED 16th MARCH
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - SCOTT BROWN - DK VALUE $6500 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 33
For my first sub $7K pick this week I'll chance Scott Beown.
Brown is a player who often saves his best for coastal tracks with his record at Puerto Rico particularly impressive.
At PGA National he has lived up to this billing over the years making five of his seven cuts and posting two top 20 finishes with a best of tenth.
After a poorer run of form Scott has rallied more recently to make his last three cuts and on his week at TPC Sawgrass was actually pretty solid and was only ruined to a certain extent on Sunday with three holes that cost him eight shots! From a positive view though his putter was strong for the week and he ranked 11th in this category.
In a week where grinding a score out could will be the order of the day I expect another solid performance from Brown this week.
PICK 2 - JAMIE LOVEMARK - DK VALUE $6400 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 20.5
For my second pick this week I'm going to chance Jamie Lovemark.
Lovemark who lives locally in the area has found PGA national to his liking over the years finishing 27th and seventh on his last two visits.
In need of some big results to satisfy his MME Jamie has started to show some signs of improvement this year playingly solidly in two of his four starts on tour this year while last time out on the Korn Ferry Tour he played strongly over the opening two days before a bad Saturday disrailed his week.
This week represents a big opportunity for Jamie in a 'home game' on a course he knows well and I am expecting a solid cut making showing from him.