This week we are in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida for the start of the East Coast swing. Last week we witnessed Dustin Johnson win a weather-delayed, Genesis Open and as a result climb to World No.1 for the first time in his career.
Last year, Adam Scott won his first of two events in Florida winning here and then at the WGC Cadillac a week later. The WGC will be in Mexico this year (Trump haters rejoice!) but players will still be keen to peg it up here at the Honda Classic this week.
The field is nowhere near as stacked as it was last week, but Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia, who battled it out this time last year, join Justin Thomas as the representatives from the world’s top-10 this week. All in all 12 of the top-25 in the world will tee it up here at PGA National.
PGA National (Champion Course), 7140 yards, Par 70
The big change this week is the putting surface. The players will be putting on Bermudagrass as opposed to the Poa Annua used in recent weeks. With that in mind, it is worth looking up those that perform well on these greens. It is no coincidence that certain players play well during different parts of the schedule. A helpful tool for checking this is to look at futureoffantasy.com. Josh Culp (@futureoffantasy on Twitter) compiles excellent stats on his site and it is well worth checking out.
The Bermudagrass stats are up to date as far as November 2016, but there has been a limited amount of play on Bermuda since so the stats will still remain relevant.
After the tough test of Riviera, players could be excused for wanting an easier test. That will hardly be the case this week however, with PGA National being one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour schedule.
This played as the 5th toughest course in 2016 and the 4th toughest in 2015. Since the inaugural staging in 2007, this course has only been outside the top-10 in terms of difficulty twice (11th in 2012 and 17th in 2014).
How to win the Honda Classic
A good all-round game will be required again this week. Greens in Regulation has been a key statistic in the past, and Scott lead the field in greens hit en-route to victory last year.
I think the ability to putt well on Bermudagrass plus the game to cope in windy conditions are also highly important factors. It often gets windy here at PGA National and with water in play on 13 holes, this can cause quite an issue.
Since 2007 (inaugural staging of Honda Classic at PGA National), only Camilo Villegas (5 strokes) has won by a bigger margin than 2 strokes at this event. There have been three play-offs in this time, whilst four other winners have won by a solitary stroke so it should be a tight affair.
This event also has a strong international feel. Scott became the seventh International winner of this event since 2007 last year whilst Spaniard, Garcia finished runner-up.
With all this in mind, here are my picks for the 2017 Honda Classic.
Russell Knox 33/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Knox loves these short, fiddly courses especially PGA National. In three starts here he has two top-3’s and a T26 finish.
When making his debut in 2014, Knox was one of three to lose out in a play-off to Russell Henley, Rory McIlroy and Ryan Palmer the other two casualties.
A year later Knox finished in a tie for 3rd behind play-off participants, Padraig Harrington and Daniel Berger. Last year he was slightly less impressive finishing T26, however 71 is still the worst score he has posted here, thru 12 rounds. He has posted that score three times, whilst shooting 70 or better in the other 9. In 2014 he shot four rounds in the 60’s so it is clear the Jacksonville University graduate likes the layout.
In six events this season, Knox has three top-10’s all of which came in his first three events. His best finish was a 3rd at the OHL Classic of Mayakoba.
To start 2017, Knox finished T17 at the Tournament of Champions and T11 at the Sony Open, in the Hawaii double. He missed the cut in Phoenix three week ago but at a course he loves I expect him to do a lot better this week.
His most recent of two PGA Tour wins came at the Travelers Championship which is played at TPC at River Highlands, another short Par 70 (6,844 yards).
Whilst his recent form doesn’t jump off the page, it is still more than solid barring his hiccup in Phoenix and I am confident he can get his third PGA Tour win at a stop he clearly enjoys.
Daniel Berger 35/1 (Bet365 & BetVictor) 1pt e/w:
Berger is enjoying a decent 2016/17 PGA Tour season so far, with a 2nd and a further top-10 to his name already in his first six events.
The 2nd came at the WGC-HSBC Champions, whilst the other top-10 came on his last start, finishing T7 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He also finished T9 at the Frankie Templeton Shootout, but as this is an unofficial event it seems silly to count it.
Whilst Berger has hardly made a blistering start to the season, it has been steady enough and I am hoping he will build on that T7 finish last time out.
On his debut at this event, Berger finished 2nd (lost in a play-off) to Padraig Harrington back in 2015. Berger shot a final-round 64 to tie Harrington at -6 on the week, who could only manage a final-round 70. Of course all that matters is that Harrington got it done when it counted.
Berger, who was born and educated in Florida would have been hoping for a successful return in 2016 however he failed to make the cut, with opening rounds of 73-72. Leading into the event last year, Berger’s recent results read MC-58-MC-42, so it was perhaps not a surprise he missed the cut.
Coming in this week off the back of a T7 on his last start might just give him the confidence he needs to get over the line in his home event. Also giving him confidence will be the fact he comes into this event as a PGA Tour winner for the first time.
Berger won the 2016 FedEx St.Jude Classic, beating Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker by 3 strokes. The St.Jude Classic is played at TPC Southwind, another short (7,244 yards) Par 70 course.
2016 was a big year for Berger who got his first win and also finished T10 in his first ever Masters performance, highlighting his obvious ability.
Given the fact he now has a win under his belt, a past good performance here and is a Florida man through and through, I think 35/1 is an appealing price.
Ollie Schniederjans 70/1 (Betfred & StanJames) 1pt e/w:
Ollie Schniederjans is an exceptional talent who now looks to have settled into life on the PGA Tour.
In 9 events this season, he has made 6 cuts, finishing in the top-10 on three occasions. Since missing his first three cuts of the season, Schniederjans has not looked back, especially in his last three events where he has two top-10’s and finished no worse than T24.
He finished T8 at the Genesis Open last week to add to his T9 a the Farmers Insurance Open and T24 in Phoenix and I am hoping he will build on that this week. Torrey Pines and Riviera are two very tough courses, so to top-10 at both of them has to count for an awful lot.
Schniederjans played in this event last year, missing the cut. He opened with a first-round 69, but a second round 76 put to sword his chances of playing the weekend.
Interestingly, he has played here twice before, firstly back in 2009 as an amateur, winning the 2009 Polo Golf Junior Classic. Whilst this was eight years ago and a completely different level of event, it can only bring back good memories. More recently, he played here in the 2015 Web.com Tour Q-School final, finishing T9 out of 152 runners. The course was set up as a Par 72 that week.
He won another amateur event in 2009, the Jones Cup Junior Invitational. Again whilst this was a long time ago but this win came on the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club, another short (7,005 yards), Par 70.
His only professional win came at the Air Capital Classic on the Web.com tour in 2016 and that was again a Par 70, which was just shy of 7,000 yards. He also lost out in a play-off to Brad Fritsch last year at the Servientrega Championship, which despite being a Par 72 was still only 7,135 yards.
It is fair to say, Schniederjans likes a shorter course and given his current form and all these other factors considered he looks a great bet here.
He has shown he is capable of playing in windy conditions, finishing top-12 at the Open Championship at St.Andrews in 2015 and T27 at the Sony Open earlier this year. At the Sony Open, he shots two 66’s and a 67 in the first three rounds.
Until his form dips, Schniederjans is worth a look most weeks, especially when 70/1 on a course he has played and shown some form (opening round 69) at.
Mackenzie Hughes 225/1 (Bet365) 0.5pt e/w:
Hughes is a bit more of a long-shot but 225/1 about a player that has already won this season looks good value.
Not only has he won this season but he won the RSM Classic, which was played at Seaside Course, Sea Island Golf Club. Like PGA National, this is a short (7,005 yards) Par 70 course and he can go well this week to.
Whilst Hughes missed the cut last week at the Genesis Open he has been playing pretty well for most of the season. His T10 at Pebble Beach two weeks ago was his sixth finish of T27 or better in 11 events this season.
His form has been a bit up and down for most of the season but he has only missed two cuts thru his first 11 events as a PGA Tour member, which cannot be grumbled at.
Hughes played in the same Q-School event as Schniederjans in 2015, finishing 21st.
It is tough to see Hughes wining twice in his first full season on Tour but I think he represents good value at 225/1, as he has proved he is suited to these sort of courses already this season.
Luke Donald to finish in the top-10 7/1 (BetVictor) 2pts
Donald was 200/1 to win last week at the Genesis Open, so despite his good week I am not that inclined to take him at 70/1 this week.
It is important to remember that Donald has not won anywhere since 2013 (Dunlop Phoenix Open in Japan) and not won in America since the Transitions Championship (now Valspar Championship) in 2012.
Whilst there is no doubting Donald’s ability, he is still an excellent golfer I would still like to see more from him before backing him to win when he’s less than triple-figure odds. I can live with him winning at 70/1 if I do miss the boat this week, but I wanted to have him onside in some capacity.
In six appearances in this event since 2007, Donald has never missed the cut and has four top-10’s. He was 2nd here in 2008, followed by 10th in 2011, 8th in 2014, 7th in 2015 and 61st last year. Although he’s been very good here, he has still only finished inside the top-5 once, making the top-10 bet the obvious way to go.
A side note – Donald also has a residence in Jupiter, Florida so he also has local ties to the course.
Total points staked this week: 9
Profit/Loss for 2017: – 9