The PGA Tour returns stateside this week, as the Florida Swing kicks off at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens. The event, at PGA National Resort & Spa, will begin a four-week stretch of tournaments in the Sunshine state. Fresh off a scorching hot final round of 62 in Mexico City, Justin Thomas returns to the Champion course as the defending champ after outlasting Luke List in a playoff a year ago.
The field at this year’s Honda is certainly feeling the effects of the new PGA Tour schedule, as just three of the top 15 players in the world will be competing. Even players that live just down the street from PGA National, such as Tiger Woods, have chosen to skip the Honda to rest up for Bay Hill and the Players.
The Champion Course, most prominently known for “The Bear Trap” (holes 15, 16, and 17) is traditionally one of the most difficult layouts on tour. The golf course can transform into a beast when the Florida winds kick up a notch. Statistically, those who have had success at the Honda are long off the tee and hit a solid amount of greens in regulation throughout the week.
Nuts and bolts
Course: PGA National Resort & Spa (Champion) (7,125 yards, par 70)
Defending champ: Justin Thomas: (272, -8)
Weather forecast: Partly Sunny, Highs in the low 80’s
*Disclaimer…I like defending champ Justin Thomas and his “Screw it, we’re hitting driver everywhere” attitude this week, but we can’t pick JT every week.
Rickie Fowler (9/1, $11,900)
Following a T36 in Mexico, Rickie returns to Florida for a home game near his Jupiter residence. The 2017 Honda Champ missed the cut in his title defense last year, but had thrived in his previous two starts at PGA National with a win and T6.
Fowler ranks 23rd in driving distance and 33rd in greens in regulation percentage so far this year. The form has been there since his win at the Waste Management, and expect more of this same at the Honda.
Sergio Garcia (14/1, $11,200)
Sergio seems to have steadied the ship after his epic meltdown in Saudi Arabia. A T37 at the Genesis followed by a T-6 at the WGC-Mexico shows he’s moved on. He returns to the Honda where he’s experienced moderate success, with top-15 finishes in 3 of his last 5 starts at PGA National, including a second-place finish in 2016. His game is traditionally long enough, and more than accurate to tackle PGA National.
Billy Horschel (33/1, $9,900)
Horschel has put together a mixed bag track record at this event but when he’s on, he’s on. Top-10 finishes in 2 of the last 3 Hondas including a T4 in 2017. Horschel ranks inside the top 40 in GIR% and aside from a second-round 76 in Mexico, he played pretty solid golf at the WGC.
Jason Dufner (200/1, $8,700)
A major champion, who has finished inside the top 20 in 3 of his last 4 Hondas, coming in at 200/1? Yes please! To be fair, Duf’s form has not been great as of late, missing consecutive cuts, but after a week off he returns to a course he can navigate very well. Worth a flyer.
Padraig Harrington (200/1, $7,800)
The 2015 Honda Champ has been spending more time promoting his Ryder Cup captaincy than working on his game. This is Paddy’s first event since the RSM Classic in November as he’s returning from a broken bone in his wrist, that he suffered in January.