The PGA Tour Kicks Off The Florida Swing With The Honda Classic At PGA National

Mike Ehrmann. Getty Images.

PGA Tour can't stop won't stop. The Florida Swing kicks off with a trip to Palm Beach Gardens at PGA National.

Much like Riviera last week, this is one of the more underrated stops on Tour. There's so many courses out there that these guys just turn into birdiefests - this isn't one of them. PGA National is a challenge every single year and the leaderboards reflect that.

But it gets lost in the shuffle of a lot of great tournaments this time of year. Unfortunately given where it is on the schedule (and it's in a new spot as they shuffled the order of the Florida Swing around a bit), this field is weak comparative to the tournaments around it. It's just really hard for guys to fit in all of Scottsdale, Riviera, Bay Hill, Sawgrass, and a guaranteed payday at the WGC Match Play on their way to Augusta. The Honda has unfortunately become a bit of a red-headed stepchild on the Florida swing, especially since THE PLAYERS moved back to March. It's a shame but somebody's gotta be last in line and it's either the Honda or Valspar.

As if that's not enough of a downer, let me tell ya about the 2021 Honda Classic - it was a dud. Probably the most forgettable tournament of the pre-Masters stretch of last year. Australian Matt Jones fired an opening round 61 to open a commanding lead. Brandon Hagy gave him a bit of a push on Friday with a 62 of his own, but stumbled with a Saturday 76. Jones was able to coast to an easy 5-shot win that was never threatened. The only real drama was the race for 2nd, as Hagy did manage to go birdie-birdie on the last 2 holes to claim it alone. 16 players were within 3 shots of Hagy, so there was a lot of jostling down the stretch for FEC points and big bucks. The leaderboard, along with recent winners…

2021 Leaderboard

Recent Winners

The Course

PGA National is an absolute bear of a golf course. Little Jack Nicklaus pun there for ya. The Honda Classic has been contested here since 2007, which coincides with Jack's 2006 re-design of this original Fazio track. For us mere mortals this is a par 72 measuring 7,048 yards from the tips. For these guys, it's a par 70 at about 7,150.

It's one of the most challenging tracks on Tour. Every year the cut line is well over par, usually something around +3 or +4. Only 4 times in the 15 Honda Classics at PGA National has the winner been double digits under par.

The main attraction here is the water. It's a factor on 15 holes. There's also a whole mess a bunkers. 78 to be exact. While it's not a terribly long course by yardage (even by par 70 standards), there are numerous hazards that encourage (or even force) players to hit less than driver off the tee, thereby making their approach shots longer and more challenging. The existence of all the water also means there's a ton of wind that swirls and wreaks havoc, so keep an eye out for that. 

The Bear Trap is something you'll hear a ton about this week. Those are holes 15-17 - a par 4 sandwiched between two challenging par 3's. On average the field plays 279 over par on the Bear Trap every year. Holes 5-7 are laid out in the same way and are similarly difficult, but don't get the shine that the Bear Trap does. The key takeaway is that the par 3's are where the big numbers are made, so par 3 scoring average will be a betting focus of mine.

Best Hole - 15th, Par 3 179 yards  

Sam Greenwood. Getty Images.

I suppose I could have picked any one of these holes (or even all of them), but I'll just take the first hole of the Bear Trap. Statistics may show that the 17th is a smidge more challenging than the 15th, but it's the notion of "The Bear Trap" that sticks with me here. It's everlooming presence during the course of a round is just so ominous. It'll fuck your day up.

Imagine you've got yourself a good little round going. Maybe even potential for a personal low. 

You can sense it a little bit on the front, but you're really just out there getting a little loose, enjoying yourself with the boys. You know you're playing well, but your ears start to perk up when you jot your number at the turn. 

We might have something here, guys

Maybe instead of a hot dog or two at the halfway house, you opt for a banana and a nature valley bar.

Aye fellas I gotta tell ya, a little potassium never hurt anybody

You birdie 11 and 13. You're on fire. The cart girl comes around. You battled off the shakes from last night's hangover out on the driving range pre-round and the opportunity is there to get back on the horse. The rest of the group is already 2 deep from the turn and they're going for 2 more each. No thanks. You choose a Gatorade delicious BodyArmor. Strawberry Banana. 

Think today might be the day here, boys. First round on me if I can get this thing in the clubhouse.

The nerves start to set in. You step up to the 14th tee. Snap hook. You punch it out of the trees and hit a pretty good pitch out to about 12 feet to save par. You bury it. 

Whew. Crisis averted huh??

You take off towards the 15th tee box gleaming with confidence and pride, knowing you're one step closer to those delicious celebratory beers and 3-4 clubhouse dogs you're craving because you KNOW that granola bar didn't hold you over when SUDDENLY…

Mike Ehrmann. Getty Images.

This motherfucker stops you right in your tracks. 

You're rattled. 

You're shook. 

You see the plaque and you read the words and the diagrams, but really all you see is blue. You can feel the wetness on your brow. You set your tee in the ground and next thing you know you're tapping in a triple on 17 with a ball that came out of a new sleeve you had to open back on that tee box. Your round is shot. Kaput. Finito.

That's what can happen to any of these guys at the Bear Trap. Rounds can go completely sideways in a heartbeat. No matter how well you're playing, you're never safe until you get past these 3 holes. It's the kind of danger you try not to think about for the first 14 holes, but there's no avoiding it once you get there. When you're tracking your guys in this tournament, whether it be win bets, finishing positions, or head-to-heads, the time and the place to watch is when they get to 15 tee.


The Weather

Gotta love the consistency. And a bit of wind.

TV Coverage

Since we're back on the East Coast, we're back to tee times at the buttcrack of dawn. If you're in any pools, playing DFS, or laying pre-tournament bets, make sure to either get em in before you go to bed Wednesday night or be prepared to be up bright and early.

The Trophy

Icon Sportswire. Getty Images.

Waterford crystal, much like the Pebble Beach and WM Open trophies. It's elegant, sure. But does it go the extra mile? Does it bring anything extra to the table? Does it have any pizzazz? Is there any rich history attached to it? I can't quite say that's the case, so this is getting a pedestrian 5.5/10

The Board

Like I said earlier, this is not a field that's gonna light the world on fire. None of the world's Top 10 are playing and Louis Oosthuizen is the highest ranked at #13. 2020 winner Sungjae Im is your favorite at the Barstool Sportsbook at +1000 after backing up his victory with a T-8 performance last year. Daniel Berger was the favorite going into the week last year before withdrawing with a rib injury, he's +1400 this time around. Joaquin Niemann, who was my pick to win last year at +1200, is right there behind him at +1800.

My pick is going to be Tommy Fleetwood at +2000. He's had a rocky year or so but his ball-striking is his forte and with all the hazards in play, that's gonna come in handy. He's played here twice, finishing Top 5 on both occasions. Quick rundown on those two results: Plus these stats from golf numbers savant Justin Ray are pretty telling.

2020: 70-68-67-71 (-4) for solo 3rd where he had the tournament right in front of him on the 72nd fairway

2018: 70-68-67-69 (-6) for solo 4th, just 2 shots back of JT.

I know the wayward fairway wood in 2020 flies in the face of what I said about his ball-striking, but these stats from twitter numbers savant Justin Ray tell the bigger story:

Tommy breaks through this week.

Other Plays

Tommy Fleetwood Top 5 +500 - Ok, still nervous enough about his habit of coming up just short to buy a little insurance here

Joaquin Niemann Top 5 +450 - I liked him here last year enough to bet him to win (he finished T-25) and he's coming off a huge W, why wouldn't I take some action this week?

Nicolai Hojgaard Top 10 +600 - Young 20 year-old is an absolute stick making his PGA Tour debut. Already won twice on the European Tour and has Top 5'd in 5 of his last 6 over there. I hit big on Garrick Higgo in a very similar scenario last year…

Rickie Fowler To Win +6600/Patrick Reed To Win +5500 - I'm sprinkling these just because I can picture either them holding the trophy. Rickie because he's literally won here and Reed because he's won a lot, and not all that long ago. Both of them seem to be lost with their game right now but either could find it at any given moment. There's a talented golfer buried somewhere inside both of them and this weak field would be a great time to break out of it.

Harry Higgs To Win +12500/Top 10 +1000 - Besides this just being a fun bet, the guy can golf his ball in Florida.

USA Winner: No +100 - 15 Honda Classics have been played at PGA National and 9 winners have been non-Americans. Simply a numbers play here.

Winner to birdie 72nd hole +125 - Par 5, hit on this last year so we're running it back 

Also, feel free to take the boosted odds here. That's just common sense.

That's what I got. Enjoy the Honda.