PGA Core Plays
The Honda Classic
By Derek Hill – @derekhill87
PGA Core Plays
The tour heads to Florida for the next 4 weeks and presents a very tough test this week at PGA National for the Honda Classic. As was mentioned in my weekly “Playing the Tips” segment, we are missing many of the top ranked players on the tour this week at they begin to strategize how to peak at Augusta. It is becoming such a popular thing that many of the players skipping this week are essentially skipping a home event as they live in the area.
Even with many top players skipping this week, the field is still loaded with talent. There is a long list of guys who could bring home the trophy this week. Let’s get started in evaluating the course and who has the best chance at winning.
PGA National Champions course is known as one of the toughest on tour. The winning score last year was 9 under par. That is actually a pretty impressive score when you consider that 14 of 18 holes played over par last year. There are several really tough holes that will produce plenty of double bogey or worse scores. The famous stretch is the “Bear Trap” named after Jack Nicklaus who redesigned the course and made these holes more challenging. They are shorter holes that require a lot of precision and course management skill. The players will have to judge the wind and hit good shots to avoid ending up in the water. It requires guys to keep their nerves under control as they come down the stretch. It should be fun to watch the leaders manage these holes on Sunday. Winds may be strong over the weekend, so don’t be surprised if you see a couple guys falter on the closing holes.
You may be wondering what makes PGA National so tough. The fairways are wide with generous landing areas. There are big Bermuda grass greens. However, there is long, overseeded, Bermuda grass rough that can make it almost impossible to get the ball close to the pin. There are also really lengthy par 3s and 4s. The ones that are not short are exposed to significant winds that bring all sorts of trouble (water and bunkers) into play. Ball striking and the ability to control the ball are crucial this week.
There are just so many holes on this course that can produce bogeys (or worse), that avoiding big numbers as much as possible is important to win this week. Keith Mitchell won last year because he didn’t make a single double bogey. He wasn’t great in any one category, but he avoided mistakes.
When considering what stats are important this week. The ones that come to mind are:
Proximity to Hole on Approach
Birdie or Better: 200+ (as well as 150-175)
The top-end plays are limited this week, but the mid-tier section is loaded. Get as many of those guys as you can in your lineups this week.
I also wanted to try something new starting this week: If you are unsure of why I like a guy in the “others to consider” category, reach out to me on twitter @derekhill87. I would love to share my thoughts.
These are the guys that have the best shot:
Top-End Pick: Rickie Fowler
This is just a course that fits Rickie well. Controlling the ball in windy conditions is a strength of his. He is the all-time earnings leader at PGA National. Since 2012 he is 7 for 8 in cuts made with 4 top 10s, including a win in 2017 and 2nd last year. Ranked 14th in Birdie:Bogey Ratio.
Other guys I like
Tommy Fleetwood: This could very well be the week that Fleetwood gets his first win on the PGA tour. It is long overdue for such a talented player. He would almost surely have a win if he played more frequently. Great form as of late with his worst finish being T18 in his last 5 worldwide starts. Has only appeared here once but finished an impressive 4th. Had 4 rounds of par or better last year. Similar to Fowler, he plays well in the wind and controls his ball very well. Ranked T7 in Birdie or better 150-175 yards.
Gary Woodland: There are a lot of stats that support Woodland playing well this week. 5th in bogey avoidance, 9th in Birdie:Bogey Ratio, 2nd in ball striking, 14th Birdie or Better 200+ yards, 11th GIR, T2 in 2017. 7 for 7 in cuts made. Another strong candidate to win.
Others to consider: Brooks Koepka (good chance if truly healthy), Justin Rose (good results but first time playing in 5 years), Louis Oosthuizen
Mid-Tier Pick: Billy Horschel
Born and raised Florida guy. Well acquainted with Bermuda Grass. Strong history at PGA National including 2 top 10s and a 16th last year. Horschel is one of the hotter players on tour coming off of back to back T9 finishes. 16th in SG: Putting.
Other mid-tier guys I like
Harris English: I really like Harris this week. Having a much better season than last year when he placed T12 at the Honda Classic. 8 for his last 9 in cuts made including 4 top 10s. Also had a T16 at the Waste Management. On top of that, the stats point toward a really good week. He leads the tour in Bogey Avoidance, 4th in Birdie: Bogey Ratio. Has improved his finishes at PGA National each of the last 3 years.
Wyndham Clark: 12th in Birdie or better: 200+, 19th in SG: Putting, led after 54 holes in his lone appearance in 2019 ending in a 7th place finish. Had 2 top 20s on the west coast swing.
Others to Consider: Corey Conners, Daniel Berger, Lucas Glover, Ryan Palmer, Emiliano Grillo, Russel Knox, Charl Schwartzel
Value Play: Talor Gooch
Contending at Riviera is no joke. It means you can play tough courses with the best of the best. It was not an outlier either as Gooch has made his last 10 cuts. Finished 20th last year.
Other guys I like
Kyoung-Hoon Lee: T13 and T14 in his last 2 starts. 7th place finish last years. 15th in proximity to the hole from the rough. Co-led in GIR and par 4 scoring last year on this course.
Matthew NeSmith: First timer at PGA National, but has the resume to be a successful debutant. Matthew has the accuracy and putting to avoid big numbersT14 in GIR, 17th in Birdie:Bogey Ratio, 24th in SG:Putting. He has made 7 consecutive cuts and finished T6 last week in Puerto Rico.
Others to consider: Jim Furyk