PGA Tour Picks: The Honda Classic Props Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 2/27/2013
I couldn’t be happier that the PGA Tour begins its Florida Swing this weekend with the Honda Classic at the PGA National Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens on the Sunshine State’s East Coast. Much like last year, I failed to hit on a 2013 tournament winner on the opening West Coast Swing (came close twice). However, in 2012 I did hit on the Honda Classic winner and then again a few weeks later at Bay Hill up in Orlando. The fact that I chose the two best players in the world to win those events, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, respectively … well, it is what it is.
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I had solid results in the first-round selections of last week’s WGC-Match Play in snowy Arizona, but my pick to win overall was Luke Donald over Charl Schwartzel in the championship match. Donald was blasted 7 & 6 in the second round by Scott Piercy, and Schwartzel was stunned in the first round by Russell Henley. American Matt Kuchar won the event over defending champion Hunter Mahan. A player from the USA winning was +125; I leaned Europe at +120.
Most of the top players who teed it up last week are playing here (a bunch live in the area) to prepare for the different Florida conditions ahead of next week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. Tiger and McIlroy, off their hugely disappointing results last week, are in the field. Overall, 11 of the world’s Top 25 are scheduled to tee it off Thursday. Dustin Johnson was a late commitment last Friday after his first-round upset loss last week in which he didn’t win a single hole against Alexander Noren (I recommended that one!). The big names not here are Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker (both took last week off), Donald, Kuchar and Sergio Garcia.
Last year, McIlroy held off a furious Sunday charge from Tiger – whose 62 was the best final round of his career – to finish at 12-under 268 and two shots clear of Tiger. That allowed McIlroy to ascend to the top spot in the world for the first time in his career, the 16th No. 1 overall since the rankings were introduced. McIlroy’s win continued a non-American trend at PGA National. Since the Honda Classic moved to the course, only one champion was born in the U.S.: Mark Wilson 2007. McIlroy was the fourth player to finish double-digits under par at this event since ’07. Tiger and journeyman Tom Gillis joined him last year as runner-ups at 10 under, and Camilo Villegas won the Honda in 2010 at 13-under 267.
The par-70, 7,110-yard Champion Course is best known for the Bear Trap of Nos. 15-17, one of the toughest three-hole stretches anywhere on tour. That’s named after Jack Nicklaus, who redesigned PGA National in 1990. Holes 15 and 17 are tough par 3s sandwiching the par-4 16th. Last year, the field played that trio in an aggregate of 10.391 strokes. McIlroy played them in a bogey-free 3 under. PGA National ranked as the second-toughest par-70 on tour in 2012 among non-major courses.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: The Honda Classic Favorites
Tiger, who lives up the road in his Jupiter compound, is the 7/1 Bovada favorite. He has been hit or miss in three tournaments so far. He missed the cut in the Middle East to start the year, dominated in winning the Farmers Insurance Open in late January and then was a first-round loser to Charles Howell III last week. Woods’ only trip to this event was last year.
Schwartzel and McIlroy are next at 12/1. The South African has been brilliant of late, last week notwithstanding. He hadn’t finished worse than fifth in his previous seven starts worldwide, which includes two wins. Schwartzel has finished in the Top 15 here the past two years, with a best of T5 last year.
Everything points to McIlroy struggling in a big way here, even with last year’s win. For one, he has looked awful this year in only playing a total of 54 holes after missing the cut in Abu Dhabi and then his shocking first-round loss to Shane Lowry last week (Rory and Tiger did play 36 no doubt expensive holes together in Florida on Sunday). Only one player has repeated in this event, Nicklaus in 1977-78, and the best finish for a defending champion since it moved to PGA National was Ernie Els with a T22 four years ago. He and Rory Sabbatini last year are the only two defending champs to even make the cut the following year in the past six Honda Classics.
Rounding out the favorites are Justin Rose (14/1) and Louis Oosthuizen (22/1). Rose has Top-5 finishes in his past two trips here (2012, 2010), and hasn’t finished outside the Top 25 in his past 10 starts worldwide. Oosthuizen, making his stroke-play debut in the US this year, closed 2012 hot and has a win in Europe already this year. Oddly, he had to withdraw each of the past two years here due to illness after making the cuts.
PGA Tour Picks: The Honda Classic Predictions
When looking at potential contenders here, they better be good hitting greens. Last year, 12 of the top 15 finishers finished in the Top 10 or better (some ties) in GIR percentage for the week. Schwartzel was No. 1, followed by Lee Westwood.
On the head-to-head props, I like Tiger (-155) over McIlroy (+120), YE Yang (-115) over Ben Crane (-115), Schwartzel (-115) over Rose (-115), Martin Kaymer (-125) over Johnson (-105) and Fredrik Jacobson (-115) over Graeme McDowell (-115).
Yang is a worth a look at 75/1 to win. No, he hasn’t been good this year in missing four cuts but has a win and a runner-up in four trips to this tournament. Maybe it wakes him up, and he’s the second all-time career earner at this event.
I do think a non-American wins this again, but I will be honest in that I am split between Westwood and Jacobson, each at 25/1, and, thus, would recommend putting money on both. Westwood has two Top 10s in his past three trips here, and Jacobson hasn’t finished outside the Top 30 in his past four starts at PGA National, with a best of T5. The Swede is also playing well, with consecutive Top-10 finishes entering the Match Play, where he won two rounds.
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