The PGA Tour Kicks Off The Florida Swing With The Honda Classic At PGA National
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, 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.
Let me tell ya about the 2022 Honda Classic - it was a weird one. Sepp Straka was 5 back of 54-hole leader Daniel Berger to start Sunday, but shot a clutch 66 while Berger faltered.
More memorable was that Shane Lowry was seemingly in control of the tournament after reaching -9 for the tournament with 7 holes to play. Straka was able to catch him at -9 with birdies on 14 and 16, and then found himself 199 out in the fairway of the par 5 18th when the skies opened up.
Straka clubbed up and hit it on the green and two-putted for birdie, while Lowry found himself back on the 18th teebox upwind into an absolute downpour needing birdie to match. The weather kept him from having any real shot of reaching the green in two (his drive went 241 compared to Straka's 334 in the dry weather, and Lowry is NOT a short hitter) and Straka was able to hold out for his first PGA Tour victory. Awful break for Lowry, but that's golf baby.
Last year's leaderboard and recent winners…
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 7,125.
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 5 times in the 16 Honda Classics at PGA National has the winner been double digits under par, with Straka being the lone guy to accomplish that feat no more than 365 days ago.
The main attraction here is the water. It's a factor on 15 holes. There's also a whole mess a bunkers. 60 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
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?? Must be my day…
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…
This motherfucker stops you right in your tracks.
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.
ope…. wrong blog… trying to fix…
ah there we go. ESPN+ featured groups below…
We're back on NBC this week. Be aware, Florida Swing means those tee times start at the buttcrack of dawn, so if you're doing DFS or have a weekly pool, be sure to get those picks in before bed Wendesday night.
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.
UPDATE: UPON FURTHER REVIEW….. THE HONDA CLASSIC BROUGHT BACK THE NOVELTY CHECK LAST YEAR.
Great opportunity to dust off this blog… bring back novelty checks forever.
That bumps the Honda's grade up to a firm 8/10. Bravo.
Sungjae Im is the favorite at +650 at the Barstool Sportsbook. The 2020 winner was also the favorite last year at +1000 and finished T-8.
Your boy is cooler than being cool with his picks right now, but we're gonna keep swinging. I keep going back to the well on this one and still haven't cashed it as a winner (although we've cleaned up a few top finishes), but I'm banking on this finally being the week for Denny McCarthy at +2500. He's been in the mix a handful of times over the past few months and this is the right course against the right field for the break through. PGA National favors the guys who don't have a ton of length, but can get it in play and avoid the big number. That's Denny. He finished T-3 here in 2020 after being doomed by a Saturday 74, and finished a respectable T-30 last year. He's playing the best golf of his life right now and it's his time.
Denny Top 10 +275 - Might as well cash something if he's just gonna keep sniffin around.
Billy Horschel to Win +2200/Top 10 +250 - I know he's shorter than Denny's +2500 but I like Billy here too. Florida guy is 3rd on Tour in Par 3 scoring so far this year.
Adrian Meronk to Win+5000/Top 10 +450 - Won the Aussie Open a few months back and has mixed in some good DPWT results to get to 53rd in the world. A top 10 finish here should get him inside the world Top 50, which would qualify him for THE PLAYERS Championship
Min Woo Lee Top 20 +150 - 51st in the world needs about a Top 20 to also qualify for THE PLAYERS. Extra motivation.
Greyson Sigg Top 10 +750/Top 20 +335 - 8th on Tour in Par 3 scoring. Huge sample size for him as he's one of those fringe Tour guys that absolutely hammers the schedule on the front end to get his FEC points in. He's 72nd there btw.
And that's it. Weak field, but Bay Hill and Sawgrass are just around the corner.
Enjoy PGA National.