Dustin Johnson’s victory in the Genesis Open last week at Riviera Country Club signalled the end of this years California swing meaning it is now time for the world’s best players to head 2,697 miles east to Florida for the 2017 Honda Classic at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens. 3 of the next 4 tournaments are to be held across the Sunshine State, starting here at PGA National then going to the stunning Copperhead Course at Innisbrook and finally culminating at Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer invitational. In years gone by The Honda Classic was renowned for being a tournament that many players overlooked and decided not to play in. However, recently many of the game’s modern greats have featured in the field and this year is no different. The defending champion Adam Scott headlines the field as he hopes to become the first player since Jack Nicklaus way back in 1977-78 to successfully defend his title.
The inaugural Honda Classic was held at the Inverrary Country Club in 1972 and was staged there for 11 years until 1983. In this time many of golf’s greatest players such as Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus reigned victorious. Back in 1977-78 Jack became the first person to win the trophy back to back and still remains the only person to achieve this feat with many players coming close but falling short at the last hurdle. In 1984, the Honda Classic moved to TPC Eagle Trace which played host to the event until 1991 when from there it moved to Weston Hills Golf and Country Club for a few years and then back to TPC Eagle Trace for a year. Between 1997-2002 TPC Heron Bay was home to the Honda Classic before it moved onto Misoral Bay for 4 years and now the beautiful Champions Course at the PGA National Resort is home to the Honda Classic. Between 1983 to 2006 the tournament often failed to attract the biggest names due to the fact it was constantly moving around but once it found its current home on the Champions Course at PGA National it has drawn in some the game’s modern greats. The boys from Ireland seem to like this event as Padraig Harrington has his name on the trophy twice and former World Number 1 Rory McIlroy also won back in 2012.
This beautiful course was original designed by Tom and George Fazio in 1981 and has played host to one PGA Championship in 1987 and the 1983 Ryder Cup. In 2014, 14 time Major Champion Jack Nicklaus and has a closing stretch of holes dubbed the “Bear Trap” which have ruined a number of great golfer’s rounds. Measuring in at just 7,048 yards it is by no means the longest course the players play but both before and after the redesign it has been voted one of the hardest courses on the tour on more than one occasion.
This years field is packed full of former world number 1s, major champions and previous winners of the Honda Classic. Headlining the field is the 2013 US Masters Champion and defending Champion Adam Scott who will be looking to pick up his first winner of the year and become the first player to win back to back since Jack Nicklaus in 1977-78. Former world number 1 Luke Donald will also be battling away for his first win of the year after he had a very solid week last week at the Genesis Open, finishing in a tie for 17th. Other players in the field include Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter. Garcia is one of the best ball strikers on either tour and having won a few weeks back in Dubai he is one to look out for this week he will be brimming with confidence coming into the Honda Classic. Ian Poulter also enjoyed a very strong week at the Dubai Desert Classic and after a lot of time out of the game last year he is sure to be hungry for his first win since the 2012 WGC HSBC.
The YGT ‘pundits’ pick’s for this week…
|Pundit’s Name||Winning Picks||Top 10s||11 – 20|
Our YGT ‘pundits’ finally got one right last week at the Genesis Open with Oliver Gunning picking the new World No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
Oliver Gunning (YGT) – Russell Knox (28/1)
Despite hailing from Scotland, Knox has shown himself to be very much at home not just in America but most importantly this week, Florida. As a graduate of Jacksonville University, Knox has acclimatised himself well to the trials and tribulations of The PGA Tour, finding his niche at finding fairways (ranked 10th driving accuracy) and greens (ranked 6th greens in regulation) which should lead him to be a top challenger this week on the Jack Nicklaus designed Champions Course at PGA National which is one of the most demanding on the long game on the tour. With no less than 2 top-3 finishes in 3 appearances at PGA National it won’t be a huge surprise to see him take home the title this week.
Nick Martin (YGT) – Sergio Garcia (16/1)
Sergio has had a fantastic start to the 2017 season with a stunning victory at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this month. He played some of his best golf including a round 1 score of 65 to win by 3 shots ahead of Ryder Cup team-mate Henrik Stenson. Sergio also has a solid record in Florida and his most notable Florida highlight is winning the 2008 Players Championship at TPC sawgrass, known as golf’s 5th major.
Sergio is one of golf’s biggest names to have not won a major, so let’s hope he can get a couple more tournaments under his belt before we head to Augusta in April for the US Masters.
Nicholas Goldie (YGT) – Rickie Fowler (18/1)
Rickie has been building some form so far this season with 4 top 10s out of his last 5 PGA tour events, including finishing T4th in his last outing on the PGA Tour at the Phoenix Open. Added to this, Rickie finished T6th at the PGA National last year so I’m counting on him to do even better this year around as he looks to start his season off with a Win. Rickie does seem among the favourites with the bookies, however, so for anyone looking for a slightly bigger return then at 70/1 I’m considering Patrick Rodgers who has displayed some incredible golf for 2 top 10s this season and a T22nd last week. He just needs to find some consistency and I’m sure he’ll be contending again soon.
So far this season Justin Thomas has taken the golfing world by storm with 3 wins already. On top of this Thomas has also had 2 top 10s making him no stranger to being at the top of the leader board come Sunday afternoon. With a scoring average of 69 in 2017 and being ranked 5th in approach play on the PGA Tour it looks like Justin has everything a played needs to negotiate the “Bear Trap” so don’t be surprised to see him close to picking up another victory this season late on Sunday.
With T10, T14, T9 & T11 finishes in his 4 PGA Tour starts this season, the defending champ heads toward the defence of his Honda Classic title in pretty solid form. Surprisingly, Scotty is currently ranked 1st on tour in Strokes Gained Putting which will obviously stand him in good stead of his long game is anywhere near his imperious best. The Aussie has always been one of the best drivers of the ball in world golf and that rings true this season too with a ranking of 21st in Strokes Gained of The Tee, but it’s the bits in between that have been somewhat of a letdown for Scott this season.
The former world number one is still gaining slightly on the field when it comes to approach shots but is losing shots to the field around the green. In short, if Scott has his irons dialled in at PGA National, the one weakness in his game won’t have so much of an effect and he’ll be there or there abouts.