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Honda Classic preview


This week we start the Florida Swing on the PGA Tour, with our first stop coming at PGA National, home of the Honda Classic.

Ever since staging the event for the first time in 2007, there has not been a multiple winner here, and it looks to be a wide open week, highlighted by the recent winners list. Of the six winners, since being held at PGA National, only two are American (Mark Wilson and Michael Thompson) who won the first and most recent Honda Classic’s held at this venue.

This is quite unusual for a PGA Tour event, and it will certainly give hope to the foreign players this week, that they can add to the ever growing list of different nationalities that are represented on this trophy. So far at PGA National, two South Africans, a Colombian, a Northern Irishman and a South Korean have won here, so this event definitely has an international feel.

PGA National (Champion course), Par 70, 7,241 yards. This is a course that so far, in it’s short time as the host venue, has rewarded both great Greens in Regulation, and Scrambling performances. Every winner, at PGA National, bar Rory Sabbatini has finished inside the top-10 for Greens in Regulation, so accuracy and good approach play will be key. Last year, the scoring average here was 71.318, making it the toughest par 70 course on the PGA Tour, excluding the majors.

Also important here, is the ability to scramble, getting up and down, when those greens have been missed and that is backed up fully by statistics. Since 2008, the player to rank 1st in Scrambling on the week, has finished 2nd, 5th, 12th, 1st, 1st and 9th, so if you do that well, you should definitely put yourself in contention.

“The Bear Trap”, aptly named due to the re-design of the course from Jack Nicklaus in 1990, holes 15, 16 and 17 are the danger holes on the course, and includes two par-3s and a par 4. If a player can navigate these holes without a blip, they are going to hold an advantage over several players, as many shots are dropped over this three-hole stretch.

The two market leaders for this event, are fairly self explanatory, but I shall let you know anyway. Nothing separates World No.1 Tiger Woods, and World No.8 Rory Mcilroy at the head of the betting this week, as both come in at a best price of 10/1. Adam Scott, after a long lay off, is tucked behind the two at 20/1, whilst Charl Schwartzel, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia all come in at 22/1. It is 25/1 and bigger the rest, with Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson both coming in on the money at 25s.

When you consider how much of a surprise some of the  recent winners of this event would of come as, this week is a lot more wide open than you would think, but this is the strongest field for quite some time here, so that may be about to change. I certainly will be giving some outsiders a chance this week, but there are some players at the top of the market, that I feel can go really well. On that note, it was regrettably announced today, that Justin Rose who has an incredible record here, has had to withdraw with a shoulder injury

Here are my picks for the 2014 Honda Classic.

Zach Johnson 25/1 (BetFred, PaddyPower, SkyBet and ToteSport all 6 places) 1.5pts e/w: At the tail-end of 2013 and the start of 2014, Zach Johnson was one of, if not the best player on the planet, and despite a four week lay off before the Match Play last week, I think he will be good to go well again, here at PGA National.

I do think Johnson’s price is inflated, for two main reasons, but his loss in the first round of the Match Play to Richard Sterne may well of been a factor too.

After a four week break, everyone is wary about how a player will perform, especially considering the sort of hot streak Johnson was on, in the last few months, and I feel that may be a big reason as to why we can get 25/1 about him this week. Another factor is his lack of playing time at PGA National.

Johnson has only made one start here, back in 2008, finishing in a tie for 30th, and for whatever reason has not returned. I always question why I player tends to avoid a particular event, whether it’s down to the course, or a scheduling decision, but as he is making an appearance this week, I cannot fathom as to why he has not played here more often.

It may be that Johnson didn’t like the course, maybe he thought it was somewhere he couldn’t make an impression on in the past, but may fancy it this time around as he’s in great form. For me though, I do think this is a course that will suit Johnson’s game, and hopefully that proves true, come Sunday.

As aforementioned, there is a premium on accuracy here, and when that’s a key element to winning the golf tournament, Zach Johnson is always one to consider.

Last year, Zach Johnson ranked 8th in Driving Accuracy and 15th in Greens in Regulation, and in 2014 currently ranks 1st and 3rd respectively in this category, so he’s certainly one to favour in that department. This is is a key reason why I fancy him to do well here, at PGA National, despite little course form to go by.

If I was too find one negative in Johnson’s game, and it is being picky, considering the way he’s been playing, but I do think he can improve in Scrambling this year, and this would be the perfect week to do so.

His recent form figures, prior to the Match Play of, T3, T8, 1st and 1st if you include the Northwestern Challenge (Tiger Woods’ event) is pretty astonishing, by anyone’s standards, and that is why I cannot leave him out here, at 25/1.

 Slightly overpriced, has only made one start here (2008) and finished 30th. In the form of his life, and before the match play had finished 3,8,1 and 1 on his last four starts.

Rickie Fowler 35/1 (PaddyPower, 6 places) 1.5 pts e/w: I have been waiting, patiently for Rickie Fowler to show signs of improvement, ever since joining up with Butch Harmon at the end of last year, and last week, for me he showed something.

Harmon is one of the most renowned coaches in the game of golf, and plenty of successful players have visited him in the hope he can improve their game, most notably Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

Since Fowler has been working with Harmon, his swing has looked a lot tidier, and although this wasn’t natural to Fowler to start with, he looked more at ease with it last week. It was always going to take time to adjust to swing changes, and that is why he missed three straight cuts going into the Match Play, but he looked good last week, and hopefully that continues.

One thing that should improve from working with Harmon, and will be key for Fowler, is consistency, consistency in his setup, his swing and his play in general, and hopefully last week was the beginning of that.

Last week, in the WGC Match Play, Fowler took down Ian Poulter, Jimmy Walker and Sergio Garcia, and Jim Furyk in order to win his bracket and set up a semi-final match, with eventual winner Jason Day.

He was very impressive in all four matches, before playing Day, showing steely resilience, and really he just lucked out drawing the best player on the week. His match with Furyk really tested him, and his attitude as he started in quick fashion, taking the lead early, but Furyk managed to fight back and go 1up with two to play. Fowler won the last two holes in order to progress to the next round, and that is the sort of determination I have come to expect from this lad.

He didn’t play badly against Day, he just couldn’t get close to him, as the Aussie refused to give Fowler too many chances to get back in the game. Had he of putted as well as he did thru the first four days, it may well of been a tighter affair, but in the end, Day deserved the win.

On the face of it, stats wise, Fowler doesn’t look to fit the bill here, as he ranks low in Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation, but his Approaches in all the ranges between 100-175 are pretty impressive, ranking in the top-10 for most. He showed his impressive putting ability last week, and I can see that continuing here this week.

Even if you choose to ignore how he played in the Match Play last week, and expect him to play differently in a stroke-play event, he has a good record here in his past two outings, despite missing his first two cuts in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, Fowler finished 7th, and followed that up with a 13th placed finish here just 12 months ago, so hopefully he can carry the momentum over from last week, into an event he has enjoyed in recent years

Teaming up with Harmon was a smart play from Fowler, in my opinion as I think it was only a matter of time before he needed more guidance on his swing. It’s been reported that Fowler had not employed a swing coach, after his former instructor Barry McConnell, died in 2011. This means he was probably playing of natural feel, which to be fair to him wasn’t disastrous, as he proved when getting his first win at the Wells Fargo Championship in 2012, but now under the watchful eye of Harmon he may just become a lot tidier, and in turn may become a better player.

I can definitely see him adding to his sole win on Tour, and I am happy to take chance on him doing it here, at the Honda Classic. Fowler is not adverse to tough challenges, which he proved when finishing T5 in the 2011 Open Championship. He posted a third round 68, which was tied lowest with Dustin Johnson, in what was terribly wet and windy conditions at Royal St.Georges.

A win here, would really put him in the picture for the Ryder Cup team, in my opinion and he will be keen to impress captain Tom Watson, after failing to make the team at Medinah two years ago. He may well of made the team in 2012, had he not of suffered from injury ahead of the captain’s picks, and after getting the taste for it at Celtic Manor in 2010, I am sure he would love to make the trip to Gleneagles this time around.

He won’t be far from home, as a Jupiter, Florida resident, and I am happy to take a chance at 35/1 that he’s put the worst of his swing change transitions behind him, and can go well here once again.

Brooks Koepka 100/1 (BetFred, ToteSport, 6 places) 1pt e/w :  European golf fans may well be familiar with Brooks Koepka, who won three times on the Challenge Tour last year, to gain full playing rights for the European Tour.

This time, instead of him making the journey around the world to impress, he will be hoping to do it, right on his doorstep, at PGA National. Koepka was born in Wellington, Florida and attended Florida State University, so this is well and truly a home game for him this week, as he looks to rub shoulders with the big boys once again.

Koepka has been trying to play at this event for years, it has always been a aim of his, and now he’s got the sponsor’s exemption he’s been looking for, I fully expect him to take this opportunity with both hands, play well and in turn try to secure his PGA Tour playing rights.

He led the second and third round of the Frys.com Open, and had he of held on for the win, would of got his card, but instead finished in a tie for third. I was on him that week, and seeing him finish +1 on the last day was a huge disappointment, but it did start the Jimmy Walker saga, as that is where he got his 1st Tour win, and first of three this season.

I am hoping that Koepka has put that behind him, and his T3 finish Dubai Desert Classic at the start of the month, may well suggest he has done just that. He went toe-to-toe with Rory Mcilroy in round three there, and for the most part looked the better player, so I have no doubts he can play under that pressure.

He has plans to play on the PGA Tour, just like any ambitious young player would and this may be the best time for him to secure that right. In an interview he stated that he had played the course “about 30 times” in the past, and Claude Harmon III (Butch’s Son) posted a picture on Twitter of Koepka playing the 6th hole, so I decided to tweet him. I asked Claude “how’s BK looking this week, Claude? Should know the course pretty well I’m guessing? Expecting a big week”. Claude’s response was simple, but effective. “BK is playing well. And is a home game for him this week!”. I know he’s bound to say those sort of things, as he needs to show confidence in his players, but I get the impression he and Brooks are confident of a big week.

At 100/1 he was big odds, for a player who clearly has the winning pedigree, and this course looks as good as any, as the venue for the first of Koepka’s first PGA Tour wins. I say this because I do not see him going without a win on the PGA Tour in his career, he has just looked too impressive, so early on, and I think it’s a matter of time. Some of the young players are coming straight out of college more fearless, and ready than ever before, and I definitely include Koepka in that list.

Brian Harman 125/1 (General) 1pt e/w: Harman, not to be confused with the aforementioned Harmon’s, impressed on his last start, in the Northern Trust Open, at Riviera, finishing 3rd.

Although he has yet to fully find his feet on Tour, Harman has looked good on multiple occasions, never more so than two weeks ago.

He looked great in contention, and had a very good week with the putter, which I think is the difference between him performing an not. He could of easily collapsed under the pressures put on by the likes of eventual winner Bubba Watson, and multiple winner Dustin Johnson, but he held firm, playing his own game and shared third place with Jason Allred, who Monday qualified.

Harman has had six top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, and currently in his third year, he has secured three of them this season. He finished T7 at the Frys.com Open, the first event of this wraparound season, and followed that with a T10 at the McGladrey Classic, before of course finishing 3rd two weeks ago.

So far in 2014 he ranks 11th in Strokes Gained- Putting and if we compare that to, 67th last year and 74th in 2012, you can see why he has improved. If he can keep making putts, as he is currently, he will find himself in good positions all year round, and will be knocking on the door for his first win.

Hopefully he will start by the knocking the door here, at PGA National, where in 2012, he did a lot more than knock, he smashed his way through the door, when he broke the previous course record by three shots, shooting 61 in round 2. He finished the week in 12th place, and hopefully he can feed off that memory this time around. He did miss the cut here 12 months ago, but he is definitely improved as a player since his last two starts here, and at 125/1, I can see him going well.

If you prefer the six places on offer this week, you can bet Harman at Betfred, SkyBet and ToteSport, at 100/1. I myself would rather take the chance that he finishes one place higher, and hopefully reap the rewards.

*Extra Bet*

Matteo Manassero to be to Top European 40/1 (General) 1pt e/w: So I spent best part of Tuesday lunchtime beating the Matteo Manassero drum on Twitter, and if you were to ask me why, I wouldn’t be able to give you an straight answer, I just did!

Manassero of Italy is well established on the European Tour, and has been ever since he joined at the age of 17 in 2010. Since joining the Tour, he has managed a win every year, something that shouldn’t be forgotten. Yes we have had the pleasure of seeing Jordan Spieth turn up the hear on the PGA Tour and both them at the age of 20, have an incredible knack of getting in contention.

You can argue that Spieth has done it on the bigger stage, winning the John Deere Classic, in his first year as a proffesional, but both players are the same age, and the Italian current;y sits 4-1 up on Spieth in terms of wins.

Manassero does need to start playing well on U.S soil, as so far he has been pretty poor, but that is bound to change in the future, and I am happy to take a chance (sort of!) that it happens here, at the Honda Classic.

He played here 12 months ago, and managed to finish in a tie for 29th, a respectable finish on his first start, and I am hoping on second visit to the course, he can improve on that.

When you are the Low Amateur at both the Masters (T36 in 2010) and the Open (T13 in 2009),  you must have a tonne of ability, and that is what this kids got. It may be a bit of stretch to pick him to win here this week, although I think he’s plenty capable, so instead I have opted for a more conservative route.

I don’t often add these sort of bets, but I couldn’t resist adding him at 40’s hoping that he finishes as one of the top four Europeans on this week’s leaderboard. 40/1 is the sort of odds you would get about him winning a European Tour event, and although I know it’s all relative, I thought he was worth chancing.

Total Points Staked on the PGA Tour this week: 13

Totalm Points Staked this week (inc European Tour): 23

Profit/Loss for 2013: +222.95

As stated in my Tshwane Open preview, this for me is a great betting week, and the Honda Classic will no doubt make for great viewing. The field is stronger than ever before, which has helped, in a way keep the prices fairly appealing on my selections. If you have any feedback or questions, or just fancy sharing your thoughts, my Twitter is @TJacobsGolf.

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