It’s time for the PGA Tour to move east. After the best part of two months in Hawaii, Californina and Arizona on the West Coast Swing there is a jump across the country for the Florida Swing. There have been times, down the years, when the first stop at this stage of the season would have been a nice cosy introduction to the Sunshine State’s formula of resort golf with Bermuda grass greens and blustery winds. But this year the TOUR has PGA National’s Champion Course first up and it is no picnic. Beware the tough tee-to-green test and also the Bear Trap.
Last time out
What a week for Joaquin Niemann who raced clear of the field through the first 36 holes and then negotiated the difficulties of playing with a big lead in neat fashion over the weekend. Mixed returns for our selections. Frustrating because, not for the first time in 2022, the methods were sound and stood the test, but the actual picks didn’t perform.
Here’s are some entirely FREE suggestions for you this week with MORE for subscribers (DraftKings Prices)
|A list||S. Im||$11,000|
Sungjae Im ($11,000): The Korean has a superb course record that began with a second round 64 in 2019 that gave him a share of the halfway lead. He couldn’t hang on and drfited back to T–51 but a year later he won and he was T–8 on defence last year. He is also just very good at playing golf in Florida, ticking off nine top 30s (and just one missed cut) in 11 starts, a run that includes two top four finishes at Bay Hill and one at Innisbrook. In 12 of his last 13 starts he has finished T–33 or better.
Michael Thompson ($7,500) The 2013 champion is 8-for-10 at making the cut on the course and has finished top 25 in three of the last four editions. He’s missed his last two cuts this season, but before that went 10-for-12 with good showings at El Camaleon and Waialae, which bodes well for this week. .
Brooks Koepka ($10,100) There is an element of risk attached to this because anyone who wins four major championships is quite obviously capable of winning anywhere. But although he was second here three years ago, he’s missed the cut before and after that effort, and has just one top 20 in six appearances. He also finished one shot outside the playoff at the WM Phoenix Open. But it’s his only top 20 in his last 12 PGA TOUR starts and four of those last six starts were missed weekends.
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The Champion Course at PGA National
Opened in 1981, the Champion Course at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens was thrust into the limelight very early in its existence, hosting the 1983 Ryder Cup and also the 1987 PGA Championship. Early in the 21st century it was given an expensive renovation in order to bring it up to modern expectations and since 2007 it has become the home of this previously itinerant event.
It’s a George and Tom Fazio design, with Jack Nicklaus taking charge of the redesign. The former created narrow fairways (with no less than 15 of the holes defended by water hazards). The latter narrowed not the landing areas from the tee box, but the focus on approach shots; it’s a design note that repeats at all of his layouts.
Nicklaus has also been granted the honor of the 15th, 16th and 17th holes being renamed The Bear Trap; it’s a brutal stretch of holes which demands much of the golfer and can decide the fate of the trophy late on Sunday.
So far in 2022 we have witnessed a glut of low-scoring, but it would be a real surprise if that is maintained through this week. The course frequently ranks the most difficult scoring event outside the major championships and avoiding bogey can be a smart play.
2019 winner Keith Mitchell gave a simple explanation for how to win here. “You cannot be aggressive or go at flags,” he said. “I almost hit it in the same spot on every green on purpose for four days no matter where the flag was. So many times we never even looked at the yardage of the pin. It was almost irrelevant to look where the pin was unless we were inside 120 yards because you don’t aim there because your miss is so tiny. That was the thing I did best this week – manage my game.”
Simple to say, not so straighforward in practice. As with all Florida golf, those brought up in the south-east have the advantage which many Californians had when on Poa Annua. And don’t forget this factor, as described by Cameron Tringale: “The wind out here is always the biggest defense. With all the run-offs, it’s a second-shot golf course.”
The weather forecast for Palm Beach Gardens, Florida might gift the field yet another easier-than-normal week of golf. Temperatures are set fair for the mid-70s, humidity in the mid-60s and there is little chance of rain. Thursday will be sunny, the rest of the week a little cloudy. But wind, as so often, makes this course, prompting volatility. And while Thursday might see around 15mph, the rest of the week will be 10mph. Keep an eye on it, but also hope for more.
Past Winners of The Honda Classic
We’ll stick to the PGA National years and there are two distinct trends within the list of names on the winner’s board. The first is a host of major championship winners. That includes Ernie Els (2008), Y.E. Yang (2009), Rory McIlroy (2012), Padraig Harrington (2015), Adam Scott (2016) and Justin Thomas (2018).
Four of that six won on blustery linksland in the Open, one of the the others (Yang) is solid in the wind. Of the other winners Michael Thompson (2013) and Rickie Fowler (2017) have both gone mighty close to victories in majors. So the fighting-for-par factor is real.
Of other champions, Mark Wilson (2007), Camilo Villegas (2010), Russell Henley (2014) and Keith Mitchell (2019) all have good records on Bermuda greens and at breezy tracks. In fact, all have played Waialae very well at times.
Sungjae Im triumphed in 2020 and he has a superb record in Florida while Matt Jones thumped the field by five blows last year – the Aussie has a sensational record in his home Open, often played in very windy spots.
A resilient nature is a must. We’ll look for a good record in Florida and/or also proven ability on Bermuda greens in the wind. This is a track where a player can perform well having struggled before (and since). Those narrow fairways and the abundance of water can rack up a big score quickly. It makes for volatile returns which are reflected in course log books.
Here’s A Line-up of Core Picks For The Honda Classic
|A list||T. Fleetwood||$9,900|
|B list||K. Mitchell||$9,100|
|B list||D. McCarthy||$7,800|
|Value||C. Howell III||$7,300|
|Deep dive||H. Buckley||$6,600|
Tommy Fleetwood ($9,900) The Englishman made a bit of a mess of 2020/21 and ended up losing his full playing status so every opportunity this year will be attacked and the early signs are that it has acted as a wake up call. Straight after the blow he returned to Europe and started playing better. Moreover, it transferred to his early starts in 2021/22 (including T–7 at the ZOZO Championship). He arrives off two top 15s in the Middle East and has a fine Florida record: 11-for-13 with seven top 10 finishes. He’s played the event twice: He was T–4 on debut in 2018 and T–3 in 2020 (when the 54-hole leader).
Keith Mitchell ($9,100) We’ve already read Mitchell’s thoughts on how to succeed at PGA National and he is now in the best form of his life. Admittedly a second win is yet to materialise, but this sweet-swinger has never been more consistent. He’s on a run of 7-for-8 which includes T–12 at Sea Island, T–7 at Waialae and T–10 last time out at TPC Scottsdale. All good pointers.
Denny McCarthy ($7,800) We tend to bang on about this quite regularly but it bears repetition and he keeps earning us points because of it: McCarthy performs better on grainy greens. In fact, of his 24 PGA TOUR top 20s no less than 20 have been in such circumstances. Even better, five of the six he has landed this season alone have been on Bermuda or similar. In fact, five of his last seven starts have been top 15 and he was third in this tournament last year. He was also a winner in Florida on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Lucas Glover ($7,400) A test that primarily focuses on the long game always should favor past U.S. Open champion Glover and so it has proved in recent times. In fact, four of his last five starts in the event have reaped results of T–21 or better. He was also T–4 back in 2013. He’s sneaky good in Florida (16-for-20 with 11 top 30 finishes) and is on a spell of 8-for-10 including T–5 at Waialae.
Charles Howell III ($7,300) Happiest when playing a steady test on Bermuda greens and is usually rock solid in Florida (he’s made 27 of his last 32 cuts there). He’s also 7-for-9 at the course (and narrowly missed the weekend those two other times). He’s no mug, playing most of his golf this season on courses that suit him, and he made five cuts ahead of an early exit at TPC Scottsdale. That can be excused somewhat after a fuss was made of his 600th start on the circuit.
Hayden Buckley ($6,600) Going low demands some truffling and Buckley offers hope of a good week. He was a winner in Florida last year on the Korn Ferry Tour, a week after thrashing a 65 in the state at Orange County National. He secured status for this year on the PGA TOUR and two of his best results read well for this week: T–4 at Jackson in the Sanderson Farms Championship and T–12 at Waialae in the Sony Open.
Other Player Options For The Honda Classic
• Ryan Palmer’s veteran wiles have landed him eight weekends in his last nine visits to the tournament, six of them top 30s including a second and fourth.
• If you forgive appalling form South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel has a nice tournament record. It’s a case of five top 20s at PGA National (in eight starts) versus seven failures to land a top 30 since the start of the season (including two visits to the DP World Tour).
• Lee Hodges briefly threatened to win The American Express earlier this season and might a return to resort golf (albeit tough resort golf) be a reviver? He’s landed five top 30s (four of them T–11 or better) in six second tier starts in Florida.
COVID-19 and Injury Warning:
Pro DFS players know it makes sense to stay up-to-date on Twitter, DraftKings, FanDuel and-or subscribe to any number of email feeds and whatever to remain up to speed with injuries or COVID-19 withdraws. Players that don’t make the cut are tough enough. Players that don’t play all four rounds (even when pulling out at the last minute) make for a pretty weak lineup.
Go win your lineups and then tell us how you did. Twitter (@FantasyDFSX) is a good place for that.
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