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Course(s): PGA National Resort & Spa — The Champion Course (Palm Beach Gardens, FL)
Yardage: 7,140 — Par 70
Purse: $6.6 million
Field: 156 players
Recent Honda Classic Champions
2013: Michael Thompson
2014: Russell Henley
2015: Padraig Harrington
2016: Adam Scott
2017: Rickie Fowler
What a week for Bubba Watson! On Friday afternoon and evening sports fans got to see Bubba Watson on their TV two different times in two different sports. After shooting a one-under 70 in his second round at Riviera, Bubba made his way over to the Staples Center to play in the NBA Celebrity All-Star game. He scored 2 points, gathered 3 rebounds, and got majorly stuffed by NBA Hall-of-Famer Tracy McGrady. A great week got even better as Bubba Watson picked up his first victory in two years, a time in which he considered retirement. The two-time masters champ and now 10-time PGA Tour winner mentioned in his post-round interview with Peter Kostis that he had spoken with his wife about retiring at least 10 or 12 times over the last year.
Last year, Bubba had perhaps his worst season in a decade, and you could visibly see that he had lost weight off his already slender body. He claimed that the weight loss was due to cutting out fatty foods, but it was later revealed that he had lost around 20 pounds after dealing with an undisclosed illness. He didn’t believe that he was physically where he needed to be to continue being successful on Tour.
Bubba doesn’t have the greatest reputation on Tour. He whines at times, occasionally scolds fans, and has been caught on camera breaking the unwritten rule of blaming your caddie for a bad shot. But when Bubba turns it on and contends, it’s hard not to root for the guy. His booming drives, wild-style swing, and amazing shot shaping is incredible to watch. At the end of the day, he seems like a good guy who just wants to go out and play his game, and it’s been awhile since we’ve seen any behavioral outbursts. Of course, with his rough year last year, he hasn’t been getting much camera time. We’ll see if he can keep playing well enough to stay on our TV screens.
Onward we go, as golf fans can begin to smell the Masters in the distance, the Tour heads east for the Honda Classic. The venue this week is the famed PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. This year, the course will challenge a good, but not great field of players. At the top of the pack, Rickie Fowler, will defend his title. Sergio Garcia is making his first start of the year on Tour. The other five-digit priced players this week are Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Alex Noren. Gary Woodland, Patrick Reed, Russell Knox, Brian Harman, Daniel Berger, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, and Ollie Schniederjans make up the next wave.
Tiger Woods’ DraftKings price keeps falling, but his value to these tournaments remains incalculable. In addition to Garcia and McIlroy, the Euro brigade is bringing Martin Kaymer, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Shane Lowry, and Thomas Pieters. Then today’s “upper-middle class” of PGA Tour regulars will consist of Webb Simpson, Benny An, Louis Oosthuizen, Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott, Emiliano Grillo, JB Holmes, and Russell Henley.
Year in year out, this is one of the toughest courses to host a PGA tournament. Of the courses in the regular rotation, PGA National has ranked as the third hardest over the past five seasons in combined strokes over par. We surely won’t be seeing any 20-under scores, and in some years the winner doesn’t even sniff double-digits. The course is littered with 78 bunkers and has 26 water hazards that heavily come into play. PGA National has perhaps the hardest three-hole stretch in golf known as “The Bear Trap.” In 1980, Jack Nicklaus was brought in to redesign the course. The 15th through 17th holes are made up of more water than land. Two par 3s and a par 4 where players need to strike every shot precisely just to make par.
The main ball striking categories will all come into play here. Strokes gained: off-the-tee, Strokes gained: approach, and strokes gained: tee-to-green, will all be necessary to have success at PGA National. A Par 72 for members, the course is turned into a Par 70 for Tour players. After the Par 5 third hole, players won’t see another Par 5 again until the final hole after being beaten and battered by “The Bear Trap.” That means that they better make hay on the Par 4s (Par 4 scoring). Although, the course scorecard doesn’t look particularly long at 7,140, the threat of water on so many shots forces players to lay up and approach the green from 175 and further. All four par 3s play between 175 and 230 yards as well. Approach proximity 175-200 yards will come into play at least a half a dozen times per round if not more. Players who are dialing in their five, six, and seven irons this week will finish near the top.
Strokes gained: off-the-tee
Strokes gained: approach
Strokes gained: tee-to-green
Par 4 Scoring
Approach Proximity 175-200 yards
Gary Woodland ($9,700) — Don’t look now, but Gary Woodland may be on the verge of a career year. Woodland already has a win in the bank (Waste Management Phoenix Open) that came in the middle of a stretch in which he logged three straight finishes of 12th or better. Don’t be scared off by the high price tag or the fact that he missed the cut at Pebble Beach two weeks ago. Pebble Beach neutralizes his distance advantage and just really isn’t his style of golf course. The way Gary Woodland is swinging, he should be ready to rip up “The Bear Trap.” Woodland is within the Top 25 on Tour in all five of my key statistics this week. That would be Par 4 scoring, approach proximity 175-200 yards, and strokes gained: off-the-tee, approach, and tee-to-green. In his two tournaments prior to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he averaged 8.5 shots better than the field from tee-to-green and over five shots better in strokes gained: approach. On top of that, Woodland has had a hot putter lately and finished T-2 here last year.
Tommy Fleetwood ($9,400) — I’m thinking Tommy Fleetwood’s lack of exposure in the United States has him underpriced this week. This guy is just as talented as the other $10K-plus players. That should play into your favor in GPPs in which he should be lower-owned than the surrounding players in his price range. Fleetwood is a Top 25 machine. Until last week (T-37), Fleetwood had made the Top 25 in 10 straight tournaments worldwide, including a victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in which he beat out a field that included Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Matt Kuchar, Brandon Grace, Tyrrell Hatton, and a host of other great golfers from Europe.
Martin Kaymer ($8,000) — Martin Kaymer made his way over the pond last week to play in the Genesis Open where he finished T-53. This week, Kaymer should fare better at the Honda Classic. He’s ranked as the third best-value according to Dailyroto.com’s optimization tool, and the best value among anyone in the $8K-9K range. Kaymer finished tied for fourth last season in this event and has made his last three cuts at the Honda Classic. As evidenced by his two major victories and Players Championship victory, Kaymer excels on the hardest courses the game has to offer. His three PGA victories have come at Whistling Straits, Pinehurst, and TPC Sawgrass. This may not be a major, but PGA National Resort & Spa plays every bit as hard as one, and with a weaker field too.
Adam Scott ($7,700) — We’re all waiting for the real Adam Scott to show up. At age 37, there’s no way he’s past his prime yet, but it’s been a struggle recently. Just like last week when Bubba Watson came back from the dead at a course where he’s comfortable, I’m looking for Scott to do the same this week. He won here in 2016, and finished T-14 here last year. When looking at Scott’s statistics this year he’s actually hit the ball very well, which can only mean one thing has hindered him. Putting. Scott has lost about an entire stroke per round on the greens this year. He ranks fifth on Tour in strokes gained: approach, 14th in tee-to-green, and 23rd off-the-tee. It’s hard for a player of his caliber to putt that poorly for that long, and the fact that he’s won here should really boost his confidence. Dailyroto.com’s optimizer agrees as well, as Scott is ranked as the fourth best value this week.
Charles Howell III ($7,300) — I don’t know what it is about the $7,300 range but there are a whole bunch of quality players that you can get for this price. I chose two of them with the first being Charles Howell III. Howell hasn’t moved the needle much, but his consistency has been terrific this year. In his last eight starts he’s finished outside the Top 40 just once. Howell III is listed as the second best value this week with only Rafa Cabrera-Bello ranked higher according to Dailyroto.com’s value optimizer. Howell III is 16th this season on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green. In his last two events he’s averaged over five shots gained from tee-to-green. He’s been solid off-the-tee and on the approach as well, gaining on the field in both the Genesis and the Farmer’s.
Scott Piercy ($7,300) — Scott Piercy is playing some very solid golf this year. Piercy has finished in the Top 25 in three of his last four starts. He ranks 22nd in Par 4 scoring this season, 15th in strokes gained: tee-to-green, 8th in strokes gained: approach, and 13th in approach proximity from 175-200 yards. Early in the year, these stats can be fluky based on the small sample sizes, but Piercy has played 26 competitive rounds this season. He’s hit 37 shots from the 175-200 range. Only two of the twelve players ahead of him in that category have hit more shots in from that distance. At age 39, Piercy is playing some of his best golf. If his average putting doesn’t fall below mediocrity, he should have a great chance at another Top 25 finish.