2018 Honda Classic: Preview and picks

Honda Classic

 

The PGA Tour travels east to PGA National at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida for the 2018 Honda Classic.

144 players will tee off Thursday on one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour, ranking as the 12th toughest (outside of majors) in 2017.

PGA National’s Champions course is a par 70 and 7,140 yards long. The Bear Trap, holes 15-17, one of the toughest three hole stretches each year on tour, makes this event exciting each year as the leaders try to survive this three hole stretch on Sunday afternoon.

Field notes

• 15 of the top 30 in the current FedExCup standings, led by No. 1 Patton Kizzire.

• 18 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, led by No. 4 Justin Thomas.

• Seven different winners of the FedExCup; Tiger Woods (2007, 2009), Vijay Singh (2008), Jim Furyk (2010), Brandt Snedeker (2012), Billy Horschel (2014), Rory McIlroy (2016) and Justin Thomas (2017).

• Nine past champions of The Honda Classic; Rickie Fowler (2017), Adam Scott (2016), Padraig Harrington (2005, 2015), Russell Henley (2014), Michael Thompson (2013), Rory McIlroy (2012), Rory Sabbatini (2011), Camilo Villegas (2010), Luke Donald (2006), Vijay Singh (1999).

Tiger Woods will make his fifth start in The Honda Classic; 2014/WD, 2013/T37, 2012/T2, 1993/MC (Weston Hills-as an amateur). Of Woods 79 wins, 16 have been in Florida, and eight of those at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Weather

One of the biggest obstacles players face each year is the weather. The last four years the average wind speed is 15 mph, in the top five on tour. Add rain to that and you have very difficult conditions on an already difficult course.

This week’s forecast is calling for wind gusts up to 20 mph, and an average wind of 8-15 mph. Temperatures will be in low 70’s to low 80’s. No heavy or extended rain forecasted but small periods of showers could be expected.

The Course

Most players will welcome the Bermuda greens after playing on Poa Annua on the west coast swing.

Players must avoid the big miss and keep the ball in the fairway and avoid heavy thick rough to have any success this week.

Bombers off the tee will have much less of an advantage, with many leaving their driver in the bag most of the week. In 2017 the average driving distance on 13 of 14 driving holes was 282 yards.

Players with a good short game, in particular from 30-40 yards in will have a key advantage.

The Bear Trap, holes 15-17: Golfers are a combined 2973-over-par on the Bear Trap since 2007 when the course started hosting.

Favorite Picks

Sergio Garcia

• 2017 Masters champion making 2017-18 PGA TOUR debut.

• Making eighth career start at The Honda Classic; finished runner-up finish to Adam Scott in 2016 Honda Classic. Also finished inside the top 10 in 2014 (T8).

• A 10-time winner on the PGA TOUR, has collected 30 worldwide wins. Most recently won the 2017 Andalucia Masters in October.

Garcia loves to play in the wind. One of the best shot makers in golf, he enjoys the creativity of making difficult shots against the wind, which the Honda has plenty of.

“It’s a big week, a tournament that I’ve always enjoyed playing, a great golf course, really, really a ball-striker’s kind of golf course, which I’ve always enjoyed,” said the 11th ranked player in the OWGR.

“So, yeah, starting the season here a little bit later than usual, but you know, I’m really looking forward to it. Obviously we had a good start of the year in Singapore and Dubai with all the new equipment and Callaway and everything. I’m looking forward to it.”

Garcia switched from TaylorMade to Callaway this winter and won the Asian Tour’s SMBC Singapore Open. Garcia said the change was almost seamless.

“Fortunate enough, it was very easy” he said. “It was very easy I think for a couple of reasons. One of them, I moved to a great company that makes great equipment, and second of all, usually I get used to new equipment quite easily, even in my old brand. I used to be one of the first ones to change the new equipment,” Garcia told the media.

“I really love the golf ball. I think the golf ball, I think for me it’s been a step forward from last — from the past years.

You know, the equipment is top shape. So I’m really excited about some of the things I’ve seen with practice and the beginning of the year and everything. So I’m looking forward to it”

Rickie Fowler

 

The 2017 winner and defending champion is a favorite to repeat as champion this year.

Coming into last year’s Honda Classic, his fourth start of the 2016-17 PGA TOUR Season, Rickie Fowler had already collected a pair of top-10 finishes (T6/World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, T4/Waste Management Phoenix Open). After back-to-back, 4-under 66s in rounds one and two, Fowler posted a 5-under 65 in round three to build a lead of four strokes over Tyrrell Hatton at 13-under 197. Despite a 1-over 71 in Sunday’s final round, Fowler won by the same amount over local resident Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland.

• Following his win at last year’s The Honda Classic, his fourth on the PGA TOUR, Fowler would go on to claim an additional seven top-10 finishes on the PGA TOUR, bringing his season total to 10 (in 21 starts). The 10 top-10 finishes matched his record for most in a season (2014).

• En route to a seventh-place-finish in the FedExCup standings, Fowler advanced to the TOUR Championship for a fourth time (2017, 2015, 2014, 2012).

• Fowler is poised to make his ninth start in The Honda Classic. Prior to last year’s victory at PGA National, he claimed top-10 finishes in 2016/T6 and 2012/T7.

• So far this season on the PGA TOUR, Fowler has collected two top-5 finishes in four starts (2/OHL Classic at Mayakoba, T4/Sentry Tournament of Champions). In his last start before this week, he finished T11 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Fowler has hit more fairways than than the field in six of his last eight starts, a key stat for success at PGA National.

Fowler is also known for his excellent wind play which he will put to the test all four days of the Honda Classic.

Experience at PGA National is a key factor for anyone contending on the weekend. Fowler’s previous eight starts will give him a big advantage in defending his 2017 title.

“This is a golf course I love to play, especially on days like this. It’s a tough golf course without wind, and when it picks up, it’s even more so. I feel like it’s a place that it demands your full attention at all times. There’s never really a pushover shot. Yet, like I said, demands your full attention,” said Fowler.

“So you need to drive the ball well. There’s enough rough here that with the greens as they dry out, you won’t — most greens you won’t be able to hold out of the rough. So you need to be playing out of the fairway to at least give yourself a chance at making some stress-free pars, throwing some birdies in there.

But no, that’s why I said, I enjoy playing this golf course because of the challenge that it presents and the amount of focus that it kind of requires out of you,” the seventh ranked player in the OWGR told the media.

One negative stat for Fowler, Jack Nicklaus (1977-78) is the only player to successfully defend his title at The Honda Classic

Gary Woodland

Woodland was a co-runner-up last year, and he’s just a couple weeks removed from a huge win in Phoenix.

While he missed the cut at Pebble Beach, Woodland’s early season has been otherwise solid and he also tied for sixth at PGA National back in 2011.

No. 26 in OWGR, Woodland has never miss the cut in five starts at the Honda Classic.

 

 

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