It is time for the PGA Tour to head to Florida for the first time in 2018, as the players tee it up at PGA National in Palm Springs for this year’s Honda Classic.
Tiger Woods will once again be playing, making back-to-back starts for the first time since 2015, when he played the Wyndham Championship a week after the PGA Championship.
Like Riviera, this is another event that Woods has never won in his career, with a T2 finish behind Rory McIlroy in 2012 his best effort. That effort six years ago was aided by a final-round 62, a score he would love to replicate this week. Again though, expectations will have to be tempered and any rounds in the 60’s will have to be considered a success, as he continues his fightback and preparation for the Masters.
Also playing this week is Defending Champion, Rickie Fowler, 2012 winner McIlroy, 2017 FedEx Cup and PGA Championship winner, Justin Thomas and current Masters Champion, Sergio Garcia. These four spear-head a very strong field which also includes some European Tour regulars, as they look to prepare for next week’s WGC event in Mexico.
The Course and what it will take to win
PGA National (Champion Course), 7,110 Yards, Par 70
PGA National has been the host course for this event since 2007 and in that time we are still yet to see a repeat winner. Padraig Harrington recently won this event for a second time in 2015 however his first win came ten years prior, at Mirasol Country Club.
The 61 Brian Harman shot here in the second round in 2012 is still the course record and will take some beating, whilst Camilo Villegas winning score of 267 (-13), is still the best 72-hole score here.
Both Fowler (2017) and McIlroy (2012) shot 268 the week’s they won, so double-digit under-par wins can be achieved, even if it this has only occurred on 3 of the 11 occasions PGA National has hosted this event.
The weather can play a huge part in how this event unfolds, as PGA National is exposed and susceptible to some strong winds. The wind is certainly a huge defence for this course, however it is clearly a reasonably tough test regardless.
Fowler ranked 18th in Greens in Regulation when winning last year, but he was just the fourth winner in the eleven years PGA National has hosted this event, to rank outside the top-10 for Greens in Regulation. Russell Henley’s ranking of T26 the week he won is the worst of that group, however the two players he beat in the play-off, Russell Knox and Ryan Palmer tied for 1st for greens hit, so it is clearly an important statistic this week.
Good Green in Regulation numbers, an ability to play in the wind and also be able to grind out a score when the going gets tough, is the recipe for success here at PGA National.
Familiarty and success when putting on BermudaGrass greens will also be highly advantageous here, as we see the surfaces change from the Poa Annua used recently.
Rickie Fowler (9/1)
Justin Thomas (11/1)
Rory McIlroy (12/1)
Sergio Garcia (18/1)
Gary Woodland and Tyrrell Hatton (30/1)
Alex Noren 35/1 (Betfred 6 places 1/5 odds) Extra place at Coral but 33/1 1pt e/w:
Alex Noren has been in fine form over the past couple of years, winning six times since June 2015, all of course on the European Tour.
As these wins came on the European Tour, there were still plenty of religious PGA Tour-only viewers that somehow didn’t know the level he was playing at. So when Alex Noren made it to the play-off with Jason Day at Torrey Pines three starts ago, there was some surprised faces on that side of the Atlantic.
In the two starts on the PGA Tour since, Noren has finished 21st (Phoenix Open) and 16th (Genesis Open), making his fourth consecutive PGA Tour start this week in Palm Springs. Both in Phoenix and LA, Noren was only three shots shy of finishing inside the top-10 and shot four rounds of par or better on a tough Riviera last week, so it is clear he is still in good form.
Noren spends three-to-four months of his year in Jupiter, Florida working on his game, so he will know what to expect in this part of the world, and he also has a start to his name in this event. Unfortunately that week in 2013 the Swede missed the cut by a distance, but 2013 Alex Noren is not the Alex Noren of 2018. Noren was on a two-year spell without a win when playing here five years ago, so confidence was nowhere near the level it must be at now, which may well have played on his mind when teeing up on the PGA Tour.
Earlier in his career Noren was plagued with injuries, but seemingly won when fully fit and in decent form but now he is winning with regularity, staying fit and taken to the PGA Tour like a duck to water this year.
We know from his wins in Scotland and Sweden, as well as performances at the Open Championship (T6 2017, T19 2008) that he is more than capable of playing in windy conditions, so that won’t phase him here either.
All in all, Noren looks the wrong price this week, given his near-miss at Torrey Pines, which has been followed by two solid showings.
Brian Harman 40/1 (SkyBet 8 Places 1/5 odds and Generally) 1pt e/w:
Harman shot 77-75 to miss the cut by plenty at Torrey Pines on his last start, bringing a run of exceptional form to an end.
Prior to his MC at Torrey, Harman had got his season off to an electric start with form figures of T5-8-T4-3-T4-T20 and he can find his way back to that this week. Following a three-week break, Harman has had chance to regroup and will come into this event knowing he has solid course form to draw upon here.
A 12th place finish on debut in 2012, which was in no small part down to his course record 61 in Round Two was followed up by an 11th place finish in 2015 and he was on his way to posting a similar result last season.
Opening 67-69 last season, Harman sat in a tie for 11th after 36-holes but struggled to keep up that level of play over the weekend and fell to a disappointing T48.
Now returning a better player, Harman is not likely to throw away such a good position and I fully expect Harman to return his form prior to that missed cut at Torrey.
Ranking 4th in Greens in Regulation, 8th in Strokes Gained: Putting and 11th in Scrambling so far this season will only aid his chances this week and on those figures alone, he would look a good bet to play well around PGA National.
Harman has plenty of form in Florida as well, with two top-17 finishes at the Arnold Palmer and a 8th place finish at the Players Championship and he’s an improved player since all of those finishes.
He has proven capable of coping on courses that can be affected by windy conditions finishing 4th at the Sony earlier this year and given his 2nd place finish in last year’s U.S. Open, he is proven himself at the very highest level, and happy to play on tough layouts.
40/1 about a player that is in the form Harman is this season is good value, made almost exceptional when you factor in his previous course form here at PGA National.
It would appear there has been a slight overreaction to his MC last time out, and whilst you could say T20-MC on his last two starts suggest he has burned out after a fast start, this is a course he clearly enjoys and there’s every chance he gets back on the wagon after a short break.
Adam Scott 66/1 (SportingBet 5 places 1/4 odds or Coral 7 places 1/5 Odds 1pt e/w:
Adam Scott has been struggling for the past year, something we cannot ignore but he enters this week at an inflated price, at a course he enjoys.
In four starts here, Scott has a win, two top-14 finishes and just one MC (on debut in 2011) so it fair to say he should be comfortable with the layout.
Scott ranked 3rd for Greens in Regulation last week at Riviera, but of course did not hole the amount of putts he needs to, to go low or in fact break par. He shots rounds of 72-72-71-71 and ranked 75th out of 76 qualifying players in Strokes-Gained: Putting, which is no surprise given he ranks 203rd in that area on Tour this season.
If his putting doesn’t improve this week, then there is no chance he is going to contend and a MC is likely on the cards but most facets of his game are in fine shape so we will see if he can improve on the short surface.
The Australian ranks 16th in Greens in Regulation and 26th in Ball Striking so far this season, which are of course the strengths of his game, and if the change in putting surface this week can give him an expected boost on the greens, the 66/1 could look ridiculously big for a player of his calibre.
Scott is inside the top-25 performers (23rd) on BermudaGrass greens since 2014 per Futureoffantasy.com and whilst his 1.822 Strokes Gained: Total is nowhere near his 2.286 expected Strokes Gained Total overall, I think the latter figure is unrealistic.
Even at the attractive price, it is a huge chance to take on someone that seemingly cannot make a putt but it is one I am willing to take on a major champion who has a strong affinity with this course, who will surely resolve his putting woes.
Bud Cauley 90/1 (UniBet) 0.5pt e/w:
Bud Cauley had a positive year on the PGA Tour in 2017, finishing inside the top-10 on six occasions and reminding us, that the potential he showed when first bursting on the PGA Tour scene in 2011 is still very much there.
Two of those top-10’s last year also translated into top-5’s, finishing T3 at the CareerBuilder Challenge and T5 at the Byron Nelson and the Florida resident will be looking to make an impact here this week.
In his first two starts at this event he missed the cut on both occasions, shooting opening rounds of 75 and 73 in those starts, but showed he can play well round this course with second rounds of 67 and 69 respectively. His efforts in the second round on those two weeks were not enough to see him make the weekend of course, but they were a step in the right direction and after a four-year absence, Cauley finally returned to this event last season.
His week got off to a familiar start 12 months ago, shooting over par for the third straight opening-round here (72), but made the weekend and finished T27. This was thanks to his 66-67 on Friday and Saturday, but a final-round 73 stalled his progress once more.
It appears that Cauley can get his ball around this course fairly well, but only in fits and starts so far. If he can find form for all four-rounds for the first time in this event, then there is a good chance he finds himself in contention on Sunday and I think he priced fairly to do that.
Cauley has finished inside the top-20 on 50% of his starts this season, including top-10’s at the Safeway Open and RSM Classic, as well as finishing T20 at Riviera last week.
Although he is not hitting as many greens as I would like for someone playing at this event, he did finish T38 in Greens in Regulation last week, which is far superior to his year-long ranking (93rd) and that was a decent showing, given how much he struggled to find the fairway. Cauley posted a photo on his Instagram after Riviera with the comment “One of the few times I was in the fairway this week! Scrambled well to shoot what I did. Always love playing Riv”.
Cauley wasn’t wrong about his struggle to find fairways last week, hitting just 41.07% of them for the week, with only Luke Donald (39%) hitting less of those that made the cut.
Whilst it is not essential to hit fairways this week, if he can find more than he did last week, his chances of hitting enough greens is going to improve and that is what is important here.
At 90/1 I am happy to chance that Cauley can find some of his early-season form at what is somewhat of a home event for the Floridian and contend here.
Billy Horschel 110/1 (Bet365 5 places 1/4 odds or Betfred 6 places 1/5 odds) 0.5pt e/w
Billy Horschel has finished 4th and 8th on his last two starts in this event, following a spell which saw him miss three of his first four cuts in this event.
Whatever it is that Horschel has found at this event over the last couple of years clearly works and I am happy to chance a repeat performance of last year, at long odds.
Last year when finishing 4th, he was coming into the week off the back of some pretty poor form, missing the cut at the Genesis Open the week before and form figures of 24-64-68 in the three starts prior to Riviera as well.
It is a similar story this year, missing the cut again at Riviera last week and Pebble the week before capping off a slow start to the year altogether. Horschel finished 11th at the Tournament of Champions to start 2018, before finishing 54th at Torrey Pines and 43rd in Phoenix, so nothing to particularly shout about so far but that doesn’t concern me too much.
Horschel tends to play better as the calendar goes on, perhaps taking a while to get into the swing of things (excuse the pun), with all of his wins coming in April or later, and the majority of his top-5 finishes coming in March or later, so I am not too concerned by his average form so far. He is also a better Bermuda putter than he is on other surfaces, ranking 20th in Bermuda Specialists on Futureoffantasy.com
With such strong ties to the Florida area, the only surprise so far at this event is how long it took him to find form here, but now he has, I expect it to be a favourite stop of his for years to come.
Horschel is a player that can get hot at any time, and then stay like that for a number of weeks, so I am keen to be ahead of the curve whilst he is still a three-figure price.
At 110/1 you are getting a player who was born, raised and educated in Florida, has four Tour wins to his name and has also posted two top-8 finishes in his last two starts here. He is fondly known as “Alligator Billy” due to being a Florida Gator at College level, and the fans will surely be on side this week if he’s in contention down the stretch.
Total Points staked this week: 8
Profit/Loss for 2018: -29.4