PGA Tour Honda Classic preview and predictions
It may still officially be winter on the yearly calendar, but the spring swing in golf is in full force. The Masters is a little more than a month away, so golfers are furiously fine-tuning their games in preparation for the first major of the season. A handful of the most well-known players in the world are not too far away from Augusta this week, having taken their talents near South Beach for the Honda Classic.
Where: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Course: PGA National (Champions course)
Prize money: $7 million ($1.22 million to the winner)
Defending champion: Keith Mitchell
Top players in the field (by world ranking): Brooks Koepka (3), Tommy Fleetwood (12), Justin Rose (13), Gary Woodland (17), Louis Oosthuizen (18), Rickie Fowler (25)
Brooks Koepka +1200
Tommy Fleetwood +1300
Rickie Fowler +1300
Gary Woodland +2100
Justin Rose +2100
Billy Horschel +2300
Louis Oosthuizen +2600
Viktor Hovland +2600
Horse for the course
The PGA National is famous for its “Bear Trap,” a brutal stretch of holes 15, 16, and 17 that often determines the champion on Sunday afternoon. Water can come into play on just about every shot, which is why scores on the Bear Trap have been utterly ridiculous over the years. Among non-major tournaments, the Bear Trap ranks as the third-toughest three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour with an average of 0.644 shots over par. That trails only holes 16, 17, and 18 at Quail Hollow (+0.873) and holes 8, 9, and 10 at Pebble Beach (+0.673).
The key, of course, is to keep the ball in the fairway. That goes for not only the Bear Trap but also for the entirety of PGA National. It is a course that demands accuracy and general tee-to-green grinding. Solid ball-striking has always been rewarded and will likely get similar treatment this week. Recent winners of the Honda Classic (in chronological order starting last year) are Keith Mitchell, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Padraig Harrington, and Russell Henley. Sure, Scott can hit it a long way—but he is a ball-striker through and through. The last real bomber to lift the trophy was Rory McIlroy in 2012.
That is why tee-to-green masters such as Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Billy Horschel, and Louis Oosthuizen should be expected to contend this weekend.
Tommy Fleetwood (+1300) – Fleetwood is coming off a T18 performance at last week’s World Golf Championship in Mexico. The Englishman, who looks poised to capture his first major title sometime in 2020, played all four of his rounds at either 69 or 70. He is as solid as they come, and a similar performance amidst a not-quite-as-strong field in Palm Beach Gardens could be enough to triumph. Fleetwood finished fourth at the Honda Classic in 2018, two strokes behind Thomas.
Justin Rose (+2100) – Rose is quite simply the best player in this field. To be clear, Brooks Koepka is the best when he is 100 percent—but the American is by no means 100 percent right now and will likely show signs of rust this week like he did in Mexico. But back to Rose…. You can get him at +2100 because his current form is lackluster. Getting Rose at +2100—especially at a non-major—is almost impossible to pass up.
Viktor Hovland (+2600) – The 22-year-old Norwegian won in Puerto Rico last Sunday for the first PGA Tour victory of his career (check out the Norwegian announcers’ enthusiasm!). He enjoyed his breakout on tour last season and is clearly set to explode in 2020. Hovland is quite comfortable in the United States, having played college golf at Oklahoma State and winning the U.S. Amateur title in 2018.