Forelinx Fantasy Golf Preview ⏤ The Honda Classic

Fantasy Golf


The PGA TOUR's Florida Swing comes to a close this week with the playing of the Honda Classic at PGA National (Champion) in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Sungjae Im will be on hand to defend the title he won here last year in one of the final two events on the 2020 calendar before the season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He fired a final round of 66 to nose one ahead of Mackenzie Hughes and two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood thanks largely to a clutch iron shot he hit to make birdie at the par-three seventeenth.

The field this week has a very international flavor thanks largely to the travel restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly all of the best international players in the world participated in last week's PLAYERS Championship and many of those players will be participating in next week's Dell Technologies Match Play Championship (a WGC event). Accordingly, given the quarantine and travel restrictions around the world, it made little sense for a lot of those players to go home and then come back just a few days later for the Match Play next week. While they could still stay stateside and take the week off, many of those players opted to play in this week's Honda Classic.

The Field and the Favorites

While the field this week does have a strong international presence, it unfortunately does lack some star power at the top as a lot of the best American players in the world have opted to sit this week out. The Honda Classic has been reshuffled in the order of events for the Florida swing and its post-PLAYERS date this year has taken a serious toll on the quality of the US-based players in the field. Ordinarily, the Honda Classic comes as part of the run-up to the PLAYERS Championship and sits a couple of weeks ahead of that big-time event. Instead, it's sandwiched this week between the PLAYERS Championship and a World Golf Championship event the following week. Accordingly, it makes a lot of sense for the high-ranked domestic players to opt out of this week's event and rest up for the upcoming WGC event.

For what may be the only time all year, Daniel Berger (+1100) enters the week as the betting favorite over Sungjae Im (+1200). Berger has quietly had a pretty good season with a win at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and a top-ten finish last week at the PLAYERS Championship. He also managed top-ten finishes at both of the Aloha Swing events in Hawaii and has missed but one cut for the year. His unassuming personality makes him easy to look past on a weekly basis, but with a field that is so weak at the top this week he stands out as a fine selection from Group A.

Lee Westwood (+2000) comes into the week as the fourth favorite and he'd be a guy we wouldn't recommend that you overlook out of the players among Group A. Westwood has had a resurgent few months of late with a win in the Race to Dubai and he's coming off consecutive runner-up finishes both at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as well as last week's PLAYERS Championship. You could argue he's the hottest player in the world right now and his steady game makes him a great fit for an event that usually has a single-digits under par winning score. One concern, however, would be that the two weeks of being in contention have taken a little bit out of him and that given his age he might be a liability for a fatigue-laden disappointment this week.

It's important to note that Gary Woodland will not be in the field this week but still sits in Group A as the groups were made in advance of his positive COVID test earlier this week. He would have been among the favorites in this weak field and anyone who may have gone with him earlier in the week will want to circle back and make sure to get him replaced before midnight on Wednesday. Those who fail to adjust and take him out will find themselves strapped to the worst score of the day for all four days. Such a mistake would likely be fatal to any lineup.

The Golf Course

The Jack Nicklaus design at the Champion Course at PGA National has proven to be a difficult test over the years. For one, the Florida winds wreck havoc with the players on the incoming half as they play across the majority of the holes with a number of them possessing water on the downwind side of the fairway. This means that misses towards the trouble are going to be exacerbated by the wind and marginal shots missed to the wrong side will be more likely to find the water than they otherwise would be if the winds were more in or down as compared to across.

The winning scores at this par-70 golf course are usually around 270 with the majority of the winning scores coming in higher than that number as compared to lower than that number. Last year, Sungjae Im won with an aggregate total of just six-under par and we wouldn't be surprised to see something similar win this week. The winds are forecasted to blow in the double-digits on all four days with Thursday and Sunday likely to see the strongest gusts. Combine this forecast with the fact there hasn't been a ton of rain in the area lately and we'd expect a firm golf course that will show its teeth this week.

Success at PGA National will depend highly upon the player's ability to navigate the closing holes. The fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth holes make up the infamous "Bear Trap" that has drowned the hopes of so many champions over the years at this event. While the sixteenth is not crazy difficult, the two three-par holes at 15 and 17 can be round wreckers. Both holes are similarly structured with classic Jack Nicklaus greens angled from front-left to back-right abutting a pond on their right side. Birdies (especially to right hole locations) will be difficult to come by, pars will be difficult to make from the bailout bunkers to the left and doubles or worse will be commonplace for those who leak tee shots into the water.

The eighteenth hole is another key to success this week as the reachable five-par hole can yield birdies and eagles but also bogies or worse thanks to the water wrapping around the right side of the lay-up area and greensite. While the hole will be critical on all four days, it will be especially so on Sunday as two-shot swings are not uncommon when two players both try to go for the green. The key to the hole is driving the ball in the fairway as that will open up the ability to take a run at the green. Those who miss right will have to lay the ball up to the left and those who miss left in the fairway bunkers may have to lay well back thanks to the bunker's high lip.

It's tough to pick out what type of player characteristics will be valuable this week. Obviously, the ability to control the ball in the wind will go a long way as there is not a single day in the forecast that is expected to be free from wind. Driving the ball in play will help (as it usually does), but short game is not something to discount this week with an expected high winning score. Everyone is going to miss some greens in the wind and the player's ability to escape unharmed from these mistakes will depend largely on his ability to save par around the greens. Approach play is always critical no matter what course you're playing, but this week being a greens-in-regulation machine will serve you in better stead than most weeks as an insane under-par winning score is highly unlikely. A player will be able to par his way into contention here.