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
PGA Core Plays – WGC Mexico Championship
February 20-23, 2020
By Derek Hill
The beloved west coast swing is now behind us and we head south of the border for a week before heading to Florida for the next month. The WGC-Mexico Championship is being hosted at the Club de Golf Chapultepec for the 4th consecutive year. It is a really fun and unique event. A solid field of 72 players will all get 4 rounds to try to bring home the title as there is no cut this week.
The course sits at an elevation of 7,500 feet which brings a lot of added distance to these players who already hit it a mile. This week the course will be playing at 7,345 yards and par 71. The course has smaller than average greens and has trees lining the fairways. That means that ball striking and SG:Tee-to-Green will be important this week. Just for reference, here are some notable players in the field this week who rank in the top 10 in SG:Tee-to-Green. Don’t be surprised to see these names at the top of the leaderboard.
Here are the guys I like this week:
Top-End Pick: Dustin Johnson
There’s not much not to like about DJ this week. In the 3 WGC-Mexico Championship events held at Club de Golf Chapultepec he has finished 1st, T7, 1st. His victory last year was completely dominant. Rory had an amazing week and still finished 5 strokes behind DJ. For reference, the 3rd place finishers were 10 shots behind DJ. In his 12 rounds at this course, he has shot 66 or better 5 times. While he hasn’t won so far in 2020, he has 3 top 10s in 4 starts.
Other guys I like:
Justin Thomas: While he missed the cut last week at Riviera, that doesn’t change the fact that he has been playing extremely well. Regardless of how he is playing, his track record at Club de Golf Chapultepec makes him a good pick this week. He holds the course record of 62 which he has shot on 2 separate occasions. He has made 64 birdies in 216 holes. He has finished inside the top-10 in all 3 starts on this course. Ranks 6th in SG: Tee-to-Green.
Rory McIlroy: Rory is looking to complete his WGC slam by winning the last of 4 WGC events. Last year he led after the first round when he shot a scorching 63. He led the field in birdies. Unfortunately he just made more bogeys (or worse) than DJ. He also had a top 10 here in 2017. Although he faded last Sunday, he still finished in the top 5 for the 5th consecutive start. Ranks 1st in SG: Tee-to-Green.
Others to consider: Xander Schauffele, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama
Mid-Tier Pick: Tommy Fleetwood
I know he is a bit of an expensive mid-tier pick, but there are a lot of top-end plays with a smaller field and many of the top ranked players in the world. That being the case, I would consider Fleetwood more of an upper Mid-Tier pick rather than a cheap top-end. We haven’t seen him play an official PGA Tour event since the WGC-HSBC Champions event last November. However, he has been playing, and playing well. He has a win, 2 seconds, and a T11 in worldwide competition. He has 3 top-20 finishes at this course including a 2nd place finish in 2017. He has gone low frequently here with 5 of his 12 rounds coming in at 64 or better.
Other mid-tier guys I like:
Sergio Garcia: Garcia has been good here, and has gotten better each year. He finished 12th here in 2017 then followed that up with a 7th and 6th place finish over the next 2 years.
Tyrrell Hatton: Similar to other international players, it has been a while since he has played a tour event. Hatton has a strong track record on this course. He has finished 10th, 3rd, and 19th at this event since it moved to Mexico. 11 of his 12 rounds here have been under par.
Others to Consider: Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Colin Morikawa
Value Play: Carlos Ortiz
A common pick for me lately largely due to his consistent play. He has only missed 1 cut in his last 10 starts on tour. Not only does he get to play in his native Mexico this week, but the course fits him pretty well as he is a solid player from tee to green. I like his chances in his first appearance at this event.
Other guys I like:
Cameron Smith: Smith has been a rollercoaster as of late. Had a win in January and followed it up with 2 consecutive missed cuts in February. Has the short game to convert on birdie chances if he is hitting fairways.
Others to consider: Danny Willett, Branden Grace, Kurt Kitayama, Lucas Herbert
Derek Hill Grew up in rural Utah. Married my his wife, Krista in 2010. Derek and Krista have 2 young daughters. Derek earned an undergrad degree from UVU, a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Weber State University, and Masters in Nursing Anesthesia from Samford University. Derek