The Honda Classic Betting Tips: 6 Predictions for the start of the PGA Tour's Florida Swing
Please note that K H Lee was a late addition to the article on Tuesday morning.
With a leaderboard packed full of fantastic young players, the PGA Tour signed off its West Coast swing very much showing that this is the place to be.
Chile’s Joaquin Niemann going wire-to-wire, with a raft of 20-something year-olds chasing him down. Collin Morikawa amongst them, as he came through with a strong Sunday, not for the first time, to push Niemann right to the finish. The same can be said about Cameron Young, who was also towards the top of the leaderboard from start to finish and once again showed his credentials in transferring that winning habit he acquired on the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour.
Honda Classic Tips
- Keith Mitchell 35/1 – 1/5 8 places (William Hill) – 1.5 pts ew
- Matt Jones 40/1 – 1/5 8 places (Betfred) – 1.25 pts ew
- K.H Lee 66/1 – 1/5 8 places (Paddy Power) – 1 pt ew
- Rickie Fowler 70/1 – 1/5 8 places (Betfred) – 1 pt ew
- Dylan Frittelli 125/1 – 1/5 8 places (Betfred) – 1 pt ew
- Sung Kang 350/1 – 1/4 5 places (Bet365) – 0.5 pts ew
- Sung Kang 22/1 – Top 10 (Bet365) – 0.5 pts
We now head East for the tour’s Florida swing, which doesn’t just mean much more suitable viewing hours for people on this side of the Atlantic, but also that we have some excellent, historied events coming up. The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass is chief amongst them and with The Masters edging ever nearer, we’ll start to see quality of fields not dissimilar to last week’s Genesis on a regular basis.
We kick off with the Honda Classic, which used to be well accustomed to those types of world class fields, though due to scheduling has started to attract weaker fields over recent years. This does, however, provide a chance for players who’ve been missing out on starts over recent weeks to impress and I often find these fields much more intriguing to comb over.
The host course this week and in this event since 2007, is PGA National’s Champion Course. A devilish, 7125 yard par 70, originally designed by the family duo of George and Tom Fazio, though has been redesigned multiple times by Jack Nicklaus over the last 15 years. He has very much made this course his own now, with the severely difficult 15th-17th holes, titled “The Bear Trap” after the legendary player.
The difficulty of the course is reflected with an average winning score of -8.9 over the 15 years the event has taken place here. It has reached double figures under par on just four occasions, with Camillo Villegas’ -13 in 2010 the lowest winning number in those 15 years.
There are numerous qualities about the course that make it such a tough test. Not least as a rather exposed setup that is close to the Atlantic coast, meaning weather is liable to cause chaos. Though the weather doesn’t need to be all that severe to cause problems, as shown by Matt Jones’ win last year with a score of -12, the only player to reach double figures despite only mild wind over the weekend there.
Fairways are quite forgiving and the rough isn’t too punishing, with the course ranking just about average in terms of fairways hit over the last six seasons. Greens, though large are much tougher to hit, ranking as some of the toughest greens to hit on tour. Heavily undulating, firm and with run-off areas aplenty. This all without mentioning the single-most prevalent danger around this setup, the sheer volume of water in-play.
I make it 14 holes where the water will be in the mind of the players, whether that be off-the-tee or into the greens. Even the slightest change in wind speed/direction has the potential to send a bounty of players for a swim.
This no more on show than down the closing stretch, where it’s in-play on each of the final five holes. Central to this is “The Bear Trap” holes, which contains two par 3s, the 15th & 17th holes, in which both undulating greens have water short and right. The par 4 16th seems rather innocuous on paper at under 430 yards and into a large green, though any of the aforementioned change in wind conditions soon changes that feeling.
We then finish with the par 5 18th hole. An eagle chance for some but you will have to navigate water all the way up the right hand side of the hole to give yourself that opportunity, or else risk making bogey, possibly worse. It all provides great drama and a nerve-wrangling finish for any players in contention.
Though there is a need to do everything well here, such is the difficulty of the course, there are two distinct areas in which players have excelled over the last seven years when picking up the title – in approach and around-the-greens.
Of those last seven winners, six have ranked no worse than 7th in approach, with Rickie Fowler the outlier in 2017, though still ranked a strong 16th. Four of those seven have also ranked no worse than 7th around-the-greens. Justin Thomas was still solid in that respect in 2018, ranking 15th, whilst Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott in 2017/2016 respectively ranking the worst. Fowler winning thanks to an excellent week on the greens and Scott because of a superb ball-striking display.
Quality off-the-tee isn’t irrelevant, with six of those seven winners ranking 13th or better with the driver and it is rather noticeable how many of them get it out there plenty long enough. Due to the average width of the fairways and lack of rough, providing their misses aren’t too big, longer hitters can definitely gain an advantage.
The putter not proving to be a huge catalyst to successes over these last seven renewals. Though it would certainly still be a positive if they had proven ability of putting speedy, undulating bermuda greens.
As mentioned, the weather often plays its part here and this year looks to be no exception. There is moderate wind predicted on each day of the event as it stands, which alone will be enough to make the course tricky.
The field is weak, especially in comparison to last week and what’s to come over the coming weeks. Though is intriguing, nonetheless. Louis Oosthuizen is the highest ranked player at #13 in the world, with Brooks Koepka at #15 and last week’s winner, Joaquin Niemann at #20 rounding off the trio of players from inside the top 20 teeing it up.
In addition to this is a troop of European players making their first stop in the U.S in 2022, Tommy Fleetwood who has an excellent record here the most notable. Though I’m more excited to see how recent Ras Al Khaimah Championship winner, Nicolai Hojgaard gets on stateside, on a course which may well suit his game.
2020 Honda Classic champion Sungjae Im heads the market at 14/1. He was underwhelming last week and hasn’t looked in great form with his irons this year, so isn’t considered. He’s followed by Daniel Berger, who has had injury troubles of late and last week’s winner, Joaquin Niemann at 16/1.
It’s with 2019 Honda Classic champion Keith Mitchell that I start this week. He’s been playing well since July of last year and with some quality approach performances now complimenting his excellent performances off-the-tee and around-the-greens, looks to have a good chance of becoming a two-time champion here this week.
Since finishing 5th in the 3M Open at the end of July 2021, Mitchell has picked up another four top 10 finishes and only missed the cut three times in his next thirteen starts. Carrying on his strong form into this year, with form figures that read: 7-MC-12-10.
He’s simply driving the ball superbly, ranking 3rd off-the-tee on tour this season and last failed to gain strokes with the driver in June 2021 at the Travelers Championship. Also possessing plenty of power at 31st in driving distance.
This is backed up by quality around the greens, where he ranks 39th and improved form in recent starts in approach. The putter, as ever is inconsistent, though he’s much better on the bermuda he’ll face this week and has putted these greens well on each of his four visits.
To go with his win in 2019, Mitchell has less inspiring results of MC-MC-53. He does, however, possess a strong book of correlating course form, with 5th and 6th place finishes at Bay Hill in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, another Florida event on tough, speedy bermuda greens and where quality drivers often thrive.
Further to that is an excellent 3rd place finish at the Wells Fargo last year at Quail Hollow, another tough tee-to-green course and I also like a top 20 in Texas at TPC San Antonio. Similar to PGA National in the sense it’s a testing ball-strikers course with bermuda greens and possesses plenty of form-ties to this event.
If able to continue the quality he’s showing tee-to-green, Mitchell will only need to find a little bit of inspiration on these preferred bermuda greens to be a big challenger this week.
Former winners is a bit of a trend with my opening selections, it’s a course in which players to tend to return year on year and perform well. With that in mind I think there was plenty to like in last year’s Honda Classic winner, Matt Jones’ performance at Riviera last week and fancy him to go well again here this year.
Jones was sensational when he won here in ‘21. Opening with a 9-under-par 61 and running out a five shot winner by Sunday evening. His game was excellent across the board, though he particularly excelled with his short-game, ranking 2nd around-the-greens for the week.
This is still very much the story of his game, as he ranks 4th on tour this season around-the-green. In addition to this he’s a quality putter, for the most part and a solid, long driver. Approach play is his achilles heel, though there’s been some encouragement in his last two starts in that regard.
A positive week with his irons at the Phoenix two weeks ago saw him finish 58th but he stepped up on that hugely last week at the Genesis. Ranking 8th in approach for the week and produced his best SG: approach performance since he won here last year.
The Australian did possess some past form at the course before tasting victory. He had a 4th place finish back in 2008 and has only missed the cut twice in eight visits, picking up a further top 20 across the way. To go with this is some strong correlating form. Possessing a 3rd place finish in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, 7th at Quail Hollow and 13th in Texas.
Jones started the year well, finishing 3rd in the Tournament of Champions but went through a bit of a lull afterwards. Though after an excellent 15th place finish at Riviera last week, that was engineered by dramatic improvement in approach, he looks back in a good place to go well once again at a place he won so convincingly at on his last visit.
After removing Aaron Wise due to his price shortening too much, I’ve decided to replace him with Korea’s K.H Lee. A player who has gone well here before and has been playing consistently solid golf since July of last year.
We last saw Lee finishing 26th at last week’s Genesis Invitational. That was his 8th straight made cut in a row, meaning he’s only missed one cut in his last fourteen starts. Hitting the top 25 on six of those starts.
This run is engineered primarily by quality off-the-tee, ranking 41st for the season. Also possessing plenty of power. Further encouragement to his chances are found in his short-game, ranking 18th in scrambling and he’s been putting well more often than not throughout this run.
His iron play is a little in and out, something he’ll need to get right this week though when he’s on, he’s excellent. No more impressive than when picking up his solo PGA Tour title to date, when winning the AT&T Byron Nelson last year, ranking 2nd in approach that week.
He’s played here three times, finishing 7th on debut in 2019 thanks to a superb ball-striking week and has followed that with a finish of 38th, then a missed cut last year.
In addition to his performances here, he has a good record at another tough course at Riviera. Whilst also possessing a 14th place finish in Texas and has shown more form on the East Coast, when 5th in the RSM Classic in 2019.
He’s gaining strokes in all areas so far this year, particularly good in the last two weeks, with his approach play the only negative. If he can find something in that area, the rest of his game looks in a good place to see him go well this week and looks a decent price in a field lacking star quality.
My trio of past winners is completed by Rickie Fowler, who has shown small glimpses this season of quality . If able to build on a strong approach performance in his final round of the Genesis, he should relish the return to these bermuda greens and a place in which he has an excellent record.
Fowler, who now sits outside the world’s top 100 did actually show some more positive signs towards the end of 2021. A 3rd place finish at the CJ Cup his best performance since he was 2nd here back in 2019. Though he hasn’t quite kicked off this year in the same fashion, following three missed cuts to start the year with 55th at Riviera last week.
At his best he possessed little in the way of weaknesses in terms of the technical aspects of his game. Strong tee-to-green and superb on the putting surfaces. Though his ball-striking and putting has deserted him over these last couple of years, the one part of his game that has remained is his touch around-the-greens and he ranks 18th on tour this season in that regard.
His approach stats are definitely starting to trend in the right direction though. Gaining strokes in his one recorded round at the Farmers before a MC, the same at the Phoenix two weeks ago and last week signed off with that really encouraging performance on Sunday, ranking 8th in the field and gaining 1.5 strokes.
The putter continues to be troublesome but even in his prime, Fowler excelled on bermuda and indeed four of his five sanctioned PGA Tour titles have come when putting bermuda. With a generally strong record on these greens proving further his affinity for putting them.
That ability has seen him amass a superb record at PGA National. Outside his victory here in 2017, Fowler was 2nd in 2019 as mentioned above and has a further four top 25s, two of them top 10s. His credentials enhanced further as a winner at Quail Hollow and another who possesses some solid results in the Texas Open.
There is a risk attached to Fowler, such has been the drop in his form over the last two years. Though in this weak field, back on bermuda and with the small improvements he’s showing in approach, I felt he was worth a try at the odds.
As mentioned, I’m intrigued to see how Nicolai Hojgaard gets on. He’s a fabulous ball-striker and I believe will like the setup. Having said that it could well be a baptism of fire and I prefer to take a watching brief.
Instead I’m going to finish off with a couple of triple-figure shots, who both look great value in this field. Starting with South African, Dylan Frittelli.
Frittelli’s start to the year has been solid enough. A couple of missed cuts to start have been followed by a 24th and 26th place finish, with another missed cut nestled in between.
This on-off run of results very much reflected in his stats, where he’s produced quality in every area of his game but rarely has he been able to put it all together at the same time.
This was on show last week when 26th at the Genesis, though despite the inconsistencies from round-to-round, Frittelli did rank 18th in the field tee-to-green. This to me shows a player who isn’t far away from a big performance.
The thought that performance can come here is aided by an 11th place finish in the Honda on debut in 2018. Though has followed that with an underwhelming run of MC-58-MC. However he does possess form in the RBC Heritage, an event which has plenty of form-ties to here, when finishing 8th in 2020.
Frittelli can play well in the wind and I think is a player bubbling on the verge of a strong result. If able to get all those parts of his game that have been working well intermittently, to fire at the same time, he could well improve on that 11th place debut effort.
After a couple of years of poor form and plenty missed cuts, Sung Kang started to produce some consistently solid results at the end of 2021. This thanks to starting to iron out some of the issues with his long game.
He was a little off the pace at the start of this year but has made his last two cuts on the bounce and following an eye-catching approach performance last time out, when 26th in the Phoenix Open, his best performance in that area since 2020, I feel he’s worth chancing this week.
The improvements with his long game are not just down to approach but he’s also starting to drive the ball much more accurately, though as typically a longish hitter, appears to have given up some distance in his search for greater accuracy. Further to this Kang has remained largely strong on the greens and has also recently shown more positive signs around the greens.
Bar a 10th place finish here in 2016, Kang’s record at PGA National is underwhelming but as a 6th and 9th place finisher at Bay Hill, he no doubt has the ability to show that 10th place finish wasn’t a one off. As well as that, he’s finished 6th at TPC San Antonio in the Texas Open and when looking at his career best results, a 2nd place finish in the Genesis Invitational in 2020 points again to a player who is capable of handling these tricky tests.
Kang found consistency at the end of last year and I hope after a poor start to 2022, his last couple of starts indicate he’s going to do the same now. If able to replicate what he did with his irons last time out and draw on his experience at this course and similar tough tests, he can go well at a huge price this week.