The Honda Classic ⏤ Expert's Picks & Analysis

Fantasy Golf

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The PGA TOUR ended its West Coast Swing last week with the World Golf Championships event in Mexico City and now turns its attention to the Southeastern United States as it moves into the Florida Swing. This four-week run of events begins with this week’s Honda Classic—hosted by the Champion Course at PGA National. This Jack Nicklaus design in Palm Beach Gardens usually proves to be quite a test for the players as the winning score tends to hover right around ten under par—with single digit under par scores winning over half of the last ten editions of the event.

Two factors combine to create the difficulty at the Champion Course at PGA National. The first is the ever-present winds blowing off the nearby Atlantic Ocean, but those winds combine with the constant presence of water around the golf course to create a truly dangerous golf course. Perhaps the most dangerous stretch is the dreaded “Bear Trap”—a run of three holes late in the round (fifteen, sixteen and seventeen) that await players trying to finish off strong rounds.

The two most difficult pieces to the Bear Trap are the two par threes that serve as bookends for the Bear Trap. Each features a green that abuts a large water hazard and the wind tends to blow across the two holes from the water towards the green—requiring players to either shape shots up against the wind or take their ball out over the lakes and ride the wind back to safety. The player who wins this week will have to avoid disaster at these two key holes.

Group A 

The marquee grouping this week is a rough one to pick as none of the top players in this field have shown a whole heck of a lot of form so far this season. Rickie Fowler played reasonably well at Kapalua and in Palm Springs but has since missed the cut in San Diego and finished an unimpressive T37 out at TPC Scottsdale a few weeks back. Brooks Koepka has only made two lackluster starts this calendar year as he returns from a knee injury that he admits is still bothering him. Neither of Justin Rose’s two stateside starts in 2020 went well (an MC in San Diego and T56 at Riviera) and he seems like a fair fade this week as well. Gary Woodland has been a mixed bag (one missed cut, one T40 finish and one T12 finish last week) and Louis Oosthuizen has cooled off since his hot start on the European Tour early in the year.

By process of elimination, this leaves us with our choice of Tommy Fleetwood. He seems like a good fit for this golf course as his strengths are accurate driving and precise iron play—two strengths that can go a long way during weeks where the scoring is projected to be reasonably low. He’s had strong performances in this event before—finishing fourth in his last outing at PGA National back in 2018. His form has been decent to start the year as well—with three top-twenty finishes including a T2 overseas at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Given the form of the rest of this group, we feel like he’s a reasonably solid choice.

Group B 

This group features a number of aging veteran players many of whom seem pretty destined to miss the cut. That having been said, such a dynamic creates a great opportunity to create some separation from the other contestants as the wrong choice in this group is likely to yield a missed cut and the associated harsh consequences (taking the worst score from rounds three and four) that can knock your entry out of contention.

We recommend making your pick in this group based on whom you think is most likely to make the cut—and for that reason our pick will be Stewart Cink. The former Open Champion has made his last two cuts and that makes him the only player in the group to do so. Davis Love III and Vijay Singh are on the north side of 50 and haven’t made a cut yet this year—while Luke Donald and Sean O’Hair have just the one made cut each out at Pebble Beach. Cink is the closest among these players to a PGA TOUR regular and we think that makes him the safest bet in this risky grouping.

Group C 

To us—this seems like the easiest group to pick among the six. Viktor Hovland has given us every reason to believe that he’ll be a force on the PGA TOUR in the years to come. He was red-hot coming out of the gates last season in the wake of his strong amateur performances in the majors (T12 in the U.S. Open and 32nd at Augusta National) and followed it up with an early win in the opposite field event in Puerto Rico last week.

The two causes for concern with Hovland would be a potential let-down in the wake of his first PGA TOUR win last week as well as his admitted chipping issues that showed up under the gun on Sunday during his win. The relatively high-scoring Honda Classic stresses the short game more than most events and we can see that being an issue for Hovland. If you want to go with another pick—we think Maverick McNealy would be another fine choice. He’s made most of his cuts and his worst finish in his last three events is a T27 in Puerto Rico last week—coming off the heels of a 5th place finish at Pebble Beach and a 15th place finish in San Diego.

Group D 

This is a strange group to figure out as there isn’t a ton of form to be found here and where you do find some it seems to be on the part of a few of the less likely performers in this group. Shane Lowry has played relatively well to start the year but hasn’t had a top ten finish yet this season. Paddy Harrington is definitely out as he’s yet to break 70 all year. Rory Sabbatini has played a lot of golf to start the season but only made three of his five cuts and hasn’t managed a top-twenty finish.

Ian Poulter has put together two decent weeks in his last two European Tour starts (17th at the Saudi International and 16th at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic) but he hasn’t played in a few weeks. He might not be a terrible pick this week as this high-scoring event might favor a scrambler like him. Charl Schwartzel hasn’t been heard from in some time, but he did finish 5th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

It’s a bit of a gamble as he’s closing in on being a senior TOUR player, but we’re going to go with Lee Westwood. He won earlier this year at Abu Dhabi and played relatively well last week at the WGC Mexico Championship (22nd). This week’s tough conditions should suit a grinder like Lee.

Group E 

This group has a distinctly international feel with a little nostalgia built into it. Camillo Villegas and Ryo Ishikawa were both players who at one time were considered rising stars on the PGA TOUR and expected to have bright futures. Neither has seen those prognostications come true and both are struggling to regain the form the caused so much optimism in the first place. Villegas is yet to play on any major tour this year so it’s tough to pick him and Ishikawa had a rough outing in his first major tour start last week in Mexico. Neither warrants a pick even though there was a time this group would have come down to one of those two former President’s Cuppers.

Our pick here is going to be Byeong-Hun An. He’s the most regular PGA TOUR participant in the group and of the four players remaining once you drop Ishikawa and Villegas he’s the player with the best form coming into the this event. He finished 29th last week at the WGC-Mexico on the heels of a Sunday 65 and finished in the top-ten in his last outing at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Group F 

The first thing to note in this group is that Charles Howell III was a late withdrawal from the Honda Classic and should not be chosen by any fantasy players this week. Zach Johnson is probably the most accomplished player in the group, but his game seems to be drifting off into the sunset as he’s missed his last two cuts and hasn’t seriously contended in a golf tournament in some time. Lucas Glover and Keegan Bradley are trying to hang on to their careers these days, but neither has been particularly strong to start the year. Bradley managed a few top-twenty finishes in his first two outings but has since failed to break 70 in any of his last five rounds.

We’re going to go with recent form and pick Billy Horschel here. He’s coming off a pair of ninth-place finishes at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and last week’s WGC-Mexico Championship and that is by far more form than anyone else has shown in this group. He is tied fifth among the betting favorites and we think riding the thoughts of the masses here is a good move.

Projected winning score: -9