UPDATE: Wends 3/17/21 – Daniel Berger has pulled out for injury.
The Florida Swing has been a happy hunting ground for European and International golfers over the years but not so much this time. The Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens is the final event of a month-long stay in the Sunshine State and in the three tournaments played so far the win count is: United States 3 Rest of the World 0. It’s the elite Americans doing the damage with wins for Major champions Collin Morikawa at the WGC-Workday Championship, Bryson DeChambeau in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Justin Thomas at THE PLAYERS Championship. However, most of the top players are ducking this week’s annual visit to PGA National for scheduling reasons so that trend is likely to be broken. Korea’s Sungjae Im hoisted the silverware last year, beating Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes. Im will look to repeat while other recent winners – Keith Mitchell (2019), Rickie Fowler (2018), Padraig Harrington (2005 and 2015) and Russell Henley (2014) – are also back for another crack. As well as the task in hand, others will be trying to smash into the world’s top 50 and secure a spot in next month’s Masters at Augusta National.
The Golf Course at PGA National
The words “tough par 70” can be thrown around somewhat lazily. But not in this case. TPC Sawgrass gets the attention but the real tough nut to crack in Florida is the Champion Course at PGA National, the host of this event since 2007. The clue is in the numbers. It’s not too common for PGA TOUR events to be won with anything worse than 10-under but the winning score at The Honda has been in single digits under par in seven of the last eight editions. That strong trend continued last year when Im edged home in 6-under. Wind, rough and the lack of par 5s all contribute to that. The par 70 was originally designed by Tom Fazio before an extensive regeneration was undertaken by Jack Nicklaus. There’s water everywhere (14 of the 18 holes) and that includes the infamous stretch of 15-17 – known as ‘The Bear Trap’ – where doubles and worse can wreck both round and tournament.
It’s a key check-in point for gamers this week given how much it shapes scores. The weather at Palm Beach Gardens suggests players will be challenged again. Wind speeds hit 17 MPH on Thursday, quieten a little on Friday (11 mph) and Saturday (13 mph) before, as if on cue, returning for Sunday’s finale (16 mph). Temperatures push 90 degrees in Thursday’s opener but drop to a still pleasant 77 by Sunday. Rain is also in the mix: thunderstorms could emerge on both Friday and Sunday.
Past Champions at The Honda Classic
One thing to note here when looking at past winners is the number of Open champions – even the funky ones such as Todd Hamilton. Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, Justin Leonard, Mark Calcavecchia and Mark O’Meara have all landed this trophy. Not always on this particular course but there are common traits between windy Florida and windy UK so it’s built on logic.
Here’s an entirely free lineup for you this week with MORE for subscribers (DraftKings Prices)
|Player #1||S. Lowry||$9,200|
|Player #2||C. Kirk||$9,000|
|Player #3||B. Steele||$8,700|
|Player #4||D. Frittelli||$8,200|
|Player #5||J.T. Poston||$7,900|
|Player #6||J. Furyk||$6,900|
Remaining cash $100
Shane Lowry ($9,200) Rediscovered his mojo with T-8 at Sawgrass before heading up to Augusta National for a two-day Masters recce: if that doesn’t put you in a good mood, then nothing will. Having noted the record of Open champions, it would be remiss to overlook the current Claret Jug holder. What’s more, he lives five minutes from PGA National and owns a 3-for-3 record at the course, including T-21 last year. His masterful short game is built for par saves.
Chris Kirk ($9,000) Was in the thick of contention at TPC Sawgrass before losing momentum and suffering a final-round slide but don’t be put off by that closing 18 holes. Kirk is in a great place on and off the course after beating a drink problem and regaining his card. He’s made the weekend in nine of his last 10 starts, including second place at the Sony Open and T-8 at Bay Hill (both Bermuda grass courses).
Brendan Steele ($8,700) To many, he’s a West Coast guy but don’t overlook him in Florida, especially at PGA National. Steele has cracked the top 15 in four of his last five visits and is 8-for-9 overall. Current form isn’t too shabby either: the Californian has made all seven cuts in 2021, including T-4 at the Sony and T-18 two weeks ago at Bay Hill. A smart play for 50-50 line-ups.
Dylan Frittelli ($8,200) Can hit a low ball which works well in Florida wind and something of a magician around the greens. Showed his class with T-5 at The Masters and reuniting with swing coach last week got him back on track after a dip. The South African’s T-22 at TPC Sawgrass was his second top 25 in three Florida starts and he also has course form via T-11 on his Honda debut.
J.T. Poston ($7,900) The man from North Carolina has plenty going for him and sub-$8,000 looks a bargain in a weak field like this. Poston boasts course form of 27-36-35 and was T-2 at the midpoint in this event 12 months ago. T-22 at THE PLAYERS was his third top 25 in five starts (T-11 in Phoenix and T-22 at Torrey Pines the other two) and ranking 9th for Scrambling this season suggests he can keep getting up and down for par – a must at PGA National.
Jim Furyk ($6,900) Don’t shy away from Gentleman Jim this week as his veteran smarts still count for plenty. The 50-year-old has cashed in all three starts on the PGA TOUR in 2021, taking T-47 at the Sony Open, T-21 at Pebble Beach and T-26 at Riviera. Add in T-9 at this course two years ago and you’ve got yourself a bona fide bargain with a bunch of reliability.
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Here’s A More Risky, Top-heavy Lineup For The Honda Classic
|Player #1||J. Niemann (replaces Berger)||$10,400|
|Player #2||T. Gooch||$9,300|
|Player #3||D. Ghim||$8,800|
|Player #4||P. Kizzire||$7,500|
|Player #6||T. McCumber||$6,400|
$500 leftover salary
J. Niemann – ($10,400) With Daniel Berger out with hurt ribs (how much for one rib?) cut making master Joaquin Niemann could be a good fill in with an average 88.8 fantasy points. He’s not chopped liver especially considering how weak this week’s field is overall. (Publisher’s note)
I took the extra money in my lineup and upgraded McCumber to Jim Furyk who while “old” is has a perfect cut record this year. I like McCumber too but I couldn’t stand to see $500 sitting there. Use the money as you see fit. (Publisher’s note)
HURT!!!! WD before the event
Daniel Berger ($10,800) is a no-brainer this week. Berger is a Florida local, made his name in this tournament as a rookie in 2015 when taking Padraig Harrington to a play-off and added another top four last year. He returns in the form of his life. Berger has topped 100 fantasy points in four of his last eight starts and added another healthy haul when T-9 at last week’s PLAYERS Championship.
Talor Gooch ($9,300) Not really on the radar for the average golf fan until the last year or so but Gooch is now the World number 64 and one big week away from qualifying for a Masters debut. He took a big stride with T-5 at Sawgrass last week, building on February’s T-12 at Riviera. Course form? Yep. He’s posted T-38 and T-20 at PGA National the last two years and made seven of his last eight cuts in Florida. No surprise for the Oklahoma kid who knows how to play in the wind.
Doug Ghim ($8,800) Many will swerve the former U.S. Amateur runner-up after his Sunday meltdown at THE PLAYERS but, playing alongside winner Justin Thomas, Ghim got a front-row seat of how to get it done. Strong Sawgrass Scrambling figures and impressive SG: Tee to Green numbers should be noted. And let’s recall that he’s been in the top seven after 54 holes in the last two Florida events so is doing far more good than bad.
Patton Kizzire ($8,300). After spending most of 2019 and a chunk of 2020 putting his feet up on weekends, Kizzire now can’t stop making cuts. His current streak is 12, with three top-11 finishes thrown in. A T-35 at Sawgrass continued the good work and he’s a nice, reliable mid-range option to balance a team with. Kizzire is 3-for-5 at PGA National.
Adam Long ($7,100) An under-the-radar type, who can make solid contributions. Long has four finishes inside the top 30 in his last six Florida starts and landed in the top 25 at THE PLAYERS after firing an impressive 5-under on the weekend. A strong driver of the ball, he held firm at PGA National last year to deliver T-27.
Tyler McCumber ($6,400) It was a pretty special week for the Jacksonville resident at TPC Sawgrass as he shot all four rounds in par or better to finish T-22 in an event won previously by Dad, Mark. That’s four cuts in the last six for McCumber Jr, and a second place at the Corales Puntacana followed by sixth at the Sanderson Farms Championship back in the Fall shows he can string two good weeks together.
Other Alternative Picks…
• Lee Westwood has finished runner-up the last two weeks but there were signs he was running on fumes in round four at Sawgrass. PGA National is a good course for him in normal circumstances but this could be a tournament too far. A pre-event WD would come as no surprise so keep a close eye if you can’t resist taking the Englishman.
• Preference, if paying top dollar, would be defender
• Sungjae Im at $11,000. The Korean, a runner-up at Augusta National, just keeps on keeping on and is getting better each week in Florida with 28-21-17 across The Concession, Bay Hill and Sawgrass.
• I have Shane Lowry in my 50-50 line-up and could easily add him in all formats. The Irishman ($9,200) is running into some form again and, as stated, lives nearby.
• Adam Scott is tricky to assess. As a past Honda champion and multiple winner in Florida, he has the pedigree but the Aussie is plodding along rather than posting big finishes so there seem better ways to disperse the $10,100 you’d be paying to get him on board.
• The Rickie Fowler comeback hasn’t reached Elvis in ’68 proportions just yet. I’m keeping a suspicious mind for now.
Withdrawals are always possible in golf (hey Louis Oosthuizen) but COVID-19 adds to the likelihood so keep an eye out on the PGA TOUR Twitter feed/other respected sources and be prepared to make late changes.
Go win your lineups and then tell us how you did. Twitter (@FantasyDFSX) is a good place for that.
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