Challenging Course Awaits Golfers as Honda Classic Opens Florida Swing

Brady Kannon

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 3:14 PM UTC

Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 3:14 PM UTC

With the season's first major inching closer, we travel east to begin the Florida Swing. Let's look at some key participants and find a good betting value for your golf picks.

Golf: Honda Classic Preview

After kicking off the 2018 season in Hawaii, Arizona and California, the PGA Tour will be in the Sunshine State in three of the next four weeks. The Florida Swing begins the final six weeks of tune-up prior to players making their way down Magnolia Lane for the season's first major, The Masters.

This Florida Swing begins with the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, and for the second week in a row Tiger Woods is along for the ride. The Champion Course is a challenging par 70 originally designed by George and Tom Fazio, then modified by Jack Nicklaus, who turned Nos. 15-17 into a difficult, water-laden stretch of finishing holes now known as the Bear Trap. The course ranks as one of the most difficult par-70 courses on the PGA Tour, and much of that has to do with the wind. The Honda Classic has been a regular stop on schedule, but this is only the 12th time it is at PGA National. In only three of those 12 years has the winning score reached double-digits under par.

Much of the West Coast Swing had the players navigating Poa Annua greens, but in Florida it is all Bermuda grass. The greens at the Champion Course are very undulated and fast. There are 78 sand bunkers on the course and water comes into play on 13 holes. Key ingredients to winning this event at PGA National have proven to be Greens in Regulation, Hole Proximity, and Par 4 Scoring. With the course being a par 70, it means 12 of the 18 holes are par 4's. Obviously, performing well on what makes up the majority of the course will serve one well this week. Finally, in your handicap of the event, don't forget to consider players who perform well in the wind. You can see how players have performed at the British Open, where the wind blows in nearly every edition, and you can also look at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Waialae Country Club in Honolulu is also a par-70 course with Bermuda greens and is always subject to a steady ocean breeze.

Palm trees, water, alligators, wind, sand traps, Bear Traps ... get ready for it, it's the Florida Swing!

The Favorites

Rickie Fowler (+918 Pinnacle): Fowler hasn't appeared on Tour since taking 11th in Phoenix, another venue with Bermuda putting surfaces. He is the defending champion here and got to the winner's circle last year with tremendous putting and an excellent short game. He is second on Tour in scrambling and ninth in putting average.

Justin Thomas (+1055 Bookmaker): Despite a very solid result last week in Los Angeles, Thomas struggled a bit around the greens. His track record here in only three trips is feast or famine, as he has gone cut, third, cut.

Rory McIlroy (+1155 Pinnacle): McIlroy was second here in 2014 and won the event in 2012, but has been cut in the past two editions. His game out west at Pebble and Riviera was shaky but that could change as he goes from the Poa Annua surface to Bermuda.

The Contenders

Sergio Garcia (+1784 Pinnacle): The defending Masters champion makes his first appearance of 2018 in the U.S., but don't sleep on him. Garcia has been going along just fine recently in Europe, winning in Spain in October and getting a top-10, top-20 and top-25 finish since. He was second here at the Honda in 2016.

Tyrrell Hatton (+2824 Bookmaker): The young Englishman has been on quite a roll, with two European Tour wins in 2017 and three top-15 finishes in the past four months. This is just his second time playing the Honda; he was fourth in his debut last year.

Gary Woodland (+3044 Pinnacle): Woodland won the Phoenix Open three weeks ago on Bermuda greens. He has a tremendous record at the Sony Open and was runner-up to Rickie Fowler here last year.

The Long Shots

Ollie Schniederjans (+5915 Bookmaker): Schniederjans is one of the top-ranking players for putting on Bermuda grass, and this shows up in his recent results at the Sony and in Phoenix where he was seventh and third, respectively. He was 48th here last year at PGA National.

Louis Oosthuizen (+6600 5Dimes): Oosthy is another player who takes a liking to the Bermuda putting surface. He racked up two top-10 finishes on the European Tour in November and December, and took 21st here last season.

Brian Stuard (+25000 5Dimes): The journeyman pro has three top-30 finishes at the Honda in his past five trips, and two top 10s at the Sony, including a fourth place six weeks ago. He is very accurate off the tee and ranks 54th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting.

The Pick

Rafael Cabrera-Bello (+5354 Pinnacle): Many European players are making their first appearance of the year state-side. Cabrera-Bello, however, has been here for two weeks and has taken advantage of it with 26th-place finishes at Pebble Beach and last week at The Genesis. He is 14th on Tour in Greens in Regulation, fifth in Hole Proximity, and 29th in Par 4 Scoring. Prior to coming to play in the U.S., he took sixth in Dubai in January and last year he was 37th at the Honda. If his short game stays hot this week, we could have an exciting 50-1 shot on our hands.

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