The Honda Classic
Patrick Reed (40/1) took advantage of a nearly historic putting performance to win his second WGC event last week in Mexico. Reed gained 11.8 strokes putting and had 45 one-putts, the most by a tournament winner on the PGA Tour over the last 30 years. The hot putter provided a counterbalance to poor ball striking as Reed hit eight or fewer fairways in all four rounds. Reed’s victory moves him into the top 10 with a No. 8 world ranking. Meanwhile, 22-year-old Viktor Hovland solidified his candidacy to win PGA Tour Rookie of the Year as he sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to win his first PGA Tour event at the Puerto Rico Open as the 10/1 favorite. Reed is not in this week’s field at the Honda Classic, but Hovland (25/1) is as he tries to work from 60th into the OWGR top 50 and earn a Masters invitation. The Florida swing gets under way this week with the Honda Classic in Palm Beach. Tommy Fleetwood disappointed last week, finishing 18th in his first 2020 PGA Tour event, but he is the tournament co-favorite at 12/1 and finished fourth here two years ago in his only appearance in Palm Beach. Brooks Koepka shares the favorite’s role, and the West Palm Beach native tied with Rickie Fowler (14/1) as runner-up last year. Fowler returns after three weeks off to a place where he has had plenty of success, having won the Honda Classic in 2017. Justin Rose took last week off and is slotted at 25/1, but he has had top-5 finishes here in 2010, ’12 and ’13. Gary Woodland, runner-up here in 2017, and Louis Oosthuizen also join Rose at 25/1.
The Honda Classic was founded in 1972 as Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic and played at the Inverrary Country Club in Lauderhill, Fla., where Gleason had his retirement home on the course. “The Honeymooners” star served as tournament host through 1980. The tournament had been played at various venues around South Florida until moving to its current home at PGA National Resort and Spa in 2007. Since moving, the Honda Classic has attracted more top players more consistently. IMG has been the event’s organizer since 2013, and the tournament’s main charitable beneficiary is the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, chaired by Jack Nicklaus’ wife Barbara. Multiple winners of the event include Nicklaus (1977-78), Johnny Miller (1980, ’83), Mark Calcavecchia (1987, ’98) and Padraig Harrington (2005, ’15). A host of major champions have also won this event, including Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Adam Scott, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Mark O’Meara, Nick Price, Fred Couples, Hale Irwin, Curtis Strange, Tom Kite, Larry Nelson and Lee Trevino.
The Champions Course at PGA National was designed by Tom and George Fazio in 1981 but has undergone several toughening renovations, most recently in 2018 by Nicklaus. It is a 7,125-yard, par-70 layout with water in play on 15 of 18 holes and plenty of challenging bunkers and difficult rough. The Bermuda greens are also contoured, elevated, large and fast (11.5 Stimpmeter). This track is one of the toughest tests on the tour outside of major championships. The average winning score here the last 13 years has been slightly higher than 9 under par. The winner has broken into double-digit under-par scores only three times.
Last year, only Bethpage Black (PGA Championship), Pebble Beach (U.S. Open), Sheshan (WGC: HSBC Champions) and Royal Portrush (British Open) ranked as more difficult courses. PGA National is most notable for what is known as the “Bear Trap,” arguably the most difficult stretch of three holes (15-17) on the PGA Tour.
2019: Keith Mitchell (-9/271); 225/1
2018: Justin Thomas (-8/272); 12/1*
2017: Rickie Fowler (-12/268); 16/1
2016: Adam Scott (-9/271); 20/1
2015: Padraig Harrington (-6/274); 300/1**
2014: Russell Henley (-8/272); 200/1***
2013: Michael Thompson (-9/271); 300/1
2012: Rory McIlroy (-12/268); 8/1
2011: Rory Sabbatini (-9/271); 80/1
2010: Camilo Villegas (-13/267); 30/1
* — playoff win over Luke List
** — playoff win over Daniel Berger
*** — playoff win over Rory McIlroy, Russell Knox, Ryan Palmer
Greens In Regulation, a solid tee-to-green game and patience are paramount for success here.
Gary Woodland 26/1
Many major champions have won here, and the defending U.S. Open champion certainly can add his name to the mix. Woodland ranks 11th (sixth in this week’s field) in Greens In Regulation (73.72%). He also leads the field (second on the PGA Tour) in Ball Striking, which combines Greens In Regulation with Total Driving.
Billy Horschel 36/1
Horschel has two top-10 finishes here (eighth in 2016 and fourth in 2017). He also comes into the Florida swing off back-to-back top-10 finishes at Phoenix and last week at the WGC Mexico.
Shane Lowry 45/1
The defending Champion Golfer of the Year doesn’t have much of a record at PGA National but is one of the world’s better players on difficult courses with windy conditions. He rates fourth in this week’s field (14th overall) in Bogey Avoidance (12.04%), and this is a course where you have to grind out pars.
Harris English 70/1
English rates second on the PGA Tour for Greens In Regulation (77.29%) and first in Bogey Avoidance (9.64%). He also rates fifth in Ball Striking. The Georgia Bulldog is now back in Florida, where he loves the Bermuda greens.
Corey Conners 75/1
The Canadian has become one of the better pure ball strikers on tour, as evidenced by rating fifth for Greens In Regulation (75.46%) and third for Ball Striking. The flat stick holds him back, but he’s better on Bermuda than other surfaces.
Matthew NeSmith 100/1
NeSmith won the Korn Ferry Tour Finals last fall to earn his PGA Tour card and then missed four of his first five cuts on the big tour. Nevertheless, he has now made seven straight and has posted his two best finishes (T11 Pebble Beach, T6 Puerto Rico) in his last two events.
Doc Redman 225/1
Redman ranks 12th on tour in Driving Accuracy and 28th for Greens In Regulation. His ball-striking prowess (seventh in the category this season) could pay dividends on such a bear of a track.
After a week’s break for the WGC Mexico Championship, the European Tour returns for a couple more events in the Middle East, starting this week with the Oman Open. The two Thomases from Belgium, Pieters and Detry, surround Martin Kaymer (16/1) at 12/1 and 20/1, respectively. Joost Luiten, the 2018 champion, slots in at 20/1. Adri Arnaus, Gavin Green, Vic Open winner Min Woo Lee and Haotong Li round out the top choices in the 30/1 range.
The Oman Open began as a European Tour event in 2018. Before gaining European Tour status, the Oman Open’s host course, Al Mouj Golf, hosted the Challenge Tour’s National Bank of Oman Golf Classic (2013-14) and the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final (2015-17).
Al Mouj Golf is in Oman’s capital city of Muscat. It is a seaside course on the Gulf of Oman, which connects the Arabian Sea with the Strait of Hormuz and runs into the Persian Gulf. The track was designed by Greg Norman in 2012. It is a links-style course with wide, exposed fairways littered with bunkers and waste areas. Water is in play on 10 of 18 holes, and there are no trees. The wind is the 7,365-yard layout’s primary defense. The fairways and greens (8,000-9,000 square feet) are paspalum. The greens are also fairly slow (9-10 on the Stimpmeter).
2019: Kurt Kitayama (-7/281); 150/1
2018: Joost Luiten (-16/272); 22/1
While this event has only a two-year sample size, big hitters who can hit greens in regulation look to be the recipe for success.
Al Mouj Golf also hosted Challenge Tour events from 2013-17. The winners of those tournaments are:
NBO Golf Grand Classic Final
2017: Clement Sordet (-15/273)
2016: Bernd Ritthammer (-21/267)
2015: Ricardo Gouveia (-13/275)
National Bank of Oman Golf Classic
2014: Max Orrin (-7/281)
2013: Roope Kakko (-14/274)
Adri Arnaus 28/1
The Spaniard is gradually getting more comfortable with golf in the Middle East. He rates first on the European Tour in SG: Off The Tee (+1.57) and fourth in SG: Tee-To-Green (+2.79).
Jordan Smith 45/1
He’s made 11 straight cuts dating to the BMW PGA Championship in September. Smith’s form in Oman has gotten better, with a 12th here last year upon his third visit. He’s a very consistent player whose next win could come in the next couple of months.
Ben Hebert 50/1
The Frenchman finished a respectable T18 last week at the WGC Mexico, placing ahead of players like Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson and Sergio Garcia. Hebert had a top-10 finish at Al Mouj two years ago.
JB Hansen 85/1
The Dane had a runner-up finish at Al Mouj in a 2015 Challenge Tour event. He also led here last year with nine holes to play. A birdie at the 72nd hole would’ve made an eventual playoff, but Hansen carded a bogey to fall to a T6 finish.
Jeff Winther 90/1
Winther has never finished outside the top 25 here and is 4/4 in making cuts in 2020.
Chris Paisley 150/1
As more of a course-form play here, Paisley finished ninth last year and has another top 15 from a previous Challenge Tour event.