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Honda Classic preview


This week the players arrive in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida for the Honda Classic, after spending three weeks straight in California.

PGA National has been the host course for this event since 2007, and in that time not one player has managed to win this event on multiple occasions, and the event has also become a lot more difficult to win. What’s also quite interesting as unlike many a PGA Tour event, the winners list is by no means dominated by American players, with 5 of the last 8 winners coming from outside of the U.S.

This won’t necessarily have any bearings on my picks this week, but I just find it interesting that since the move to PGA National there has been an international winner here over 60% of the time.

It is well-known that this is very much a ball-strikers course, and an emphasis can most definitely be placed on accuracy this week. Last year, Russell Knox and Ryan Palmer, both of whom made the play-off, led the field in Greens in Regulation alongside the 2013 champion, Michael Thompson. Rory McIlroy and Russell Henley, the other two participants in the play-off both ranked T26.

In fact, only Henley last year and Rory Sabbatini in 2011 have won here, without placing inside the top-10 for Greens in Regulation for the week, so it’s fair to say it is a huge aspect when looking for a winner this week.

Another thing worth noting is players’ form in general, in Florida. Players often have a favourite part of the Country to play in, and that can be for a number of reasons. Some players play well in their home states purely because it’s familiar and they may have extra support, others however may just like a certain type of surface, especially around the greens.

Like most courses in Florida, PGA National is Bermuda Grass and if a player constantly pops up in events held in the “Sunshine State” then it may well be down to their familiarity and comfort level with the Bermuda surface.

Of the last eight winners, three of them (Camilo Villegas, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy)  have or do reside here in Jupiter/Palm Beach, Florida, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the local boys this week.

This is a strong field, and as a result there is definitely some value to be had. World No.1 and 2012 champion, McIlroy returns after narrowly missing out on winning this event for a second time in 2014, losing to Henley in the four-man play-off and he will certainly be looking to avenge that loss this week.

It is no great surprise that McIlroy is clear favourite at 4/1 this week, but it is definitely more open behind him. Next in the betting is Dustin Johnson at 18/1, followed by Justin Rose (22/1), Sergio Garcia (28/1) and Keegan Bradley (30/1).

I am happy to let McIlroy win at his odds, there is no denying he has far and away been the best player in the World since coming 2nd here last year, but this event is very tough and as a result I don’t want to side with someone at such short odds, not even the World No.1.

Dustin Johnson is slightly more difficult to rule out, because even after a 6-month absence it looks like he has never been away. He missed the cut by just one stroke in his first event back (Farmers Insurance Open), but considering Torrey Pines is a difficult track at any time, it’s no real shame to miss the cut there after going without competitive golf for as long as he did.

Since then, Johnson has finished T4 at Pebble Beach and narrowly missed out on victory last week at the Northern Trust Open, when he lost out in a play-off to first-time winner, James Hahn. Johnson looks very comfortable on and off the course at the moment, and he should feel right at home this week.

Johnson used to live locally to this event, so I find it strange that he has only ever played this event once, back in 2013. He finished a modest T46, although he opened up the week with a 66, but he progressively got worse over the week, shooting rounds of 71, 74 and 75, thus failing to capitalise on his great opening round.

I expect him to perform much better this time around, after making such a strong start to the season and at 18/1 I certainly don’t think he represents bad value at all.

In five appearances at PGA National, Justin Rose has finished inside the top-5 three times, 15th and missed one cut so it’s easy to make a case for him this week. He missed his last cut, at the Famers Insurance Open, and apart from that has not played State-side in 2015, but he managed to grind out good finishes in both events he played in the Middle-East in January finished T12 and T13 so in my opinion there is no reason for concern.

At 22/1, I like Rose’s chances a whole lot better than Sergio Garcia who I am very happy to leave alone at 28/1. Garcia blew up on the final hole at the Northern Trust Open on Sunday after hitting an awful drive, and duffing the chip that he needed to hit close in order to get up-and-down to make the play-off.

Garcia did finish 8th here last year, and 13th in 2009, both impressive finishes, but after last week’s collapse I just think it may be a stretch too far for him to bounce back mentally and win, especially on a course as tough as this. He has looked in better shape mentally over the past year, and his results around the World have certainly been impressive, but he is not for me this week.

To round off those at the head of the betting, it’s time to look at Keegan Bradley at 30/1. Bradley, has finished 12th, 4th and 12th on his last three starts here and only missed the cut on his debut, so he looks very comfortable with the layout, however his problems have come on Sunday at this event.

He has never broken par in round 4 of this event, shooting 73 in 2014 and 2012 and 71 in 2o13. Even if he had shot level par on any of those three occasions, he would have been at least one short of winning/making it into the play-off, so it’s not as if he’s blown it here, he’s just not got close enough.

After a T4 finish at Riviera last week, he will be keen to return to the winners’ circle for the first time since August 2012. He tends to play the Northern Trust Open and this event very well, and it may help his cause that the two come back-to-back on the schedule this year, rather than either side of the WGC Match-Play event. At 30/1 he should at least come under consideration.

Here are my picks for the 2015 Honda Classic.

Justin Rose 22/1 (General + PaddyPower 6 places) 1pt e/w: I cannot look too far past Justin Rose at 22/1 and as a result I have made him my headline selection this week.

There’s not much left to say that has not previously been mentioned about his chances this week. He finished T4 in 2013, after finishes of T5 and 3rd in 2012 and 2010 respectively so he very clearly likes the set-up here at PGA National.

He had to withdraw through injury before the off last year, otherwise he may well of added to those string positive results here, and I for one think he will continue that trend this week.

He has not played a lot of golf in 2015, especially in America and on his last start he did miss the cut, but this event should be the perfect way to kick-start his PGA Tour season.

Despite his lack of starts in 2015, he did looks good on the European Tour back in January when he played in two of the three Middle East events, finishing top-15 in both.

His lack of events so far this year may be of concern to some, but I am confident he will be ready to make a run at the trophy here again this year, even if it is based primarily on previous course form.

For the last few years, Rose has been one of the most consistent performers in the World, and has only slipped outside the top-10 in the World Rankings for one week since the end of 2012.

Rose is now a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, since his win at the Quicken Loans National in June last year, but he will be keen to quickly add another win, as he still only has two wins Worldwide since his 2013 U.S Open triumph, despite some brilliant and consistent golf.

Even if he doesn’t win, at 22/1 there is definitely some each-way value at the very least, as I cannot see any reason why he can’t make it four top-5’s in six appearances.

Nick Watney 50/1 (General) 1pt e/w: Nick Watney has been in wonderful form thus far in 2015, and hopefully that continues again this week.

Watney has had his struggles over the last couple of years, but he has threatened to work his way back into the winners’ circle on numerous occasions since his last win at The Barclays in 2012, most notably two weeks ago, when he finished 2nd at Pebble Beach.

He has missed the cut just once since the turn of the year, but other than that his lowest finish is T22 in 2015 and that was last week at Riviera, a course has never particularly excelled at.

Last year, Watney played this event for the first time since it was hosted by PGA National, and he put in a very respectable effort, finishing T24.

What is particularly positive is not only did he finish in the top-25 on his course debut, but he also ranked T4 in Greens in Regulation and top-25 in Driving Accuracy, so he certainly looked comfortable striking the ball around this track.

He has improved his putting of late, which has been a big contributing factor to his resurgence in form, and hopefully that continues round here. Even when finishing T24 here last year, he ranked almost last (66/69) of those that made the cut in Putting Average, so an improved week around the greens could lead to another very positive week for him.

At 50/1 I think he offers great value, considering the form he is in, and hopefully he can make it three career wins in Florida. I like the fact he has already won twice in this part of the country, plus I also really like the fact he finished inside the top-25 on his first look here, and I can only see improvement this time around.

Will Mackenzie 200/1 (StanJames) 0.5pt e/w: Will Mackenzie has played very well at this event in recent years, and prior to a recent lay-off which has seen him watch the Tour from home since November, he was playing some great golf.

So far in this 2014-15 season, Mackenzie has finished 2nd (lost in a play-off at the McGladrey Classic), T52 at the CIMB Classic, and T9 at his last event the OHL Classic.

Robert Streb beat him at the McGladrey Classic in a play-off, in what would have been his first win since 2008, and his 3rd overall.

His form figures here are very impressive, and that is why even with this being his first event since November, I am happy to take a chance at what looks a very big price.

Last year, Mackenzie finished T6, shooting three under-par rounds and a level-par round on the final day. He finished just two shots shy of the play-off. That finish last year was his second best since being held at PGA National, and was also part of a consistent set of results.

He finished T12 back in 2010, T5 in 2009, T65 in 2008 and T22 in 2007, so he’s made every cut, and more impressively not finished outside the top-12 on his last three starts here.

Hopefully his clear affinity with the course will give him a chance to settle into his return very quickly, and I can definitely see him putting in a good week, and pushing for another top-5 finish here.

It was a hand injury that has kept him out since the tail-end of November, and there is no telling how fit he will be when he tees it up here on Thursday but hopefully any pain he was suffering is gone and he can play his game without restriction.






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