Each week in our golf power rankings, we will highlight the top players on the PGA TOUR in order of likeliness to win the tournament.
Factors coming into play on the rankings are (in no order):
- Recent form: How the player has performed in various aspects of his game in recent weeks.
- Course history: How the player has performed at the host course if he has previously played there.
- Course fit: Used as a secondary or backup to course history, fit looks at certain skills that translate to success on the host course.
- Strokes gained: Strokes gained will come into play in all of the factors above. Unless otherwise noted, strokes gained stats are taken from the player’s last 50 rounds and are a way to use golf statistics relative to the field and round played.
Using the guidelines above to create a statistical model, value can be found in the betting market by highlighting players whose outlook for the tournament may be flying under the radar to the general public.
The weighted model this week includes:
- 25% SG: Approach
- 15% SG: Off the Tee
- 15% GIRs Gained
- 15% Proximity: 175-200 Yards
- 10% Bogeys Avoided
- 10% SG: Around the Green
- 10% SG: Putting (Bermuda)
This Week: Cognizant Classic
- Date: February 29-March 3, 2024
- Location: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
- Course: PGA National (The Champion)
- How to watch: Golf Channel, NBC, ESPN+
- Purse: $9,000,000
- Defending champ: Chris Kirk
Course Preview: PGA National (The Champion)
PGA National opened in 1981 and is a Par 70 at around 7,150 yards on Bermuda greens. The course has hosted a Ryder Cup and PGA Championship, and it’s now famous for the Jack Nicklaus redesign that included naming holes 15-17 the “Bear Trap.” The Bear Trap typically plays as one of the hardest three-hole stretches on the PGA Tour, along with holes 4-6 on the same course.
As you could expect with a very hard course like PGA National with 26 water hazards and plenty of bunkers as well, ball striking is needed this week. When birdies are hard to come by and wayward shots turn into double bogies, you’ll want a simple recipe of hitting the ball straight and pure.
The last eight winners here have averaged around 10th in SG: Off the Tee and 8th in SG: Approach. On top of that, you can’t fake it around here. The last time a winner lost strokes in any category at PGA National was Padraig Harrington with -0.2 SG: Off the Tee in 2015. Last year was the first time multiple players reached double digits under par since 2012 when Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, and Tom Gillis did it … not a bad group.
We’ll start our ball-striking stats with the usual SG: Approach. It’s the best measurement of how a player has been hitting his irons, and you’re going to want someone who is avoiding mistakes with their second shots and finding greens. As with any difficult course, finding greens is a great value this week. While we often look at SG: Approach and Opportunities Gained to find flag hunters, we’ll use Greens in Regulations Gained to key in on players who can find the middle of the green and avoid trouble.
Closing out approach stats is Proximity: 175-200 Yards. That number is the largest distribution of approach shots at PGA National and includes the tee shots on the 15th and 17th holes in the Bear Trap. That means many of a player’s biggest shots all week will be in that range and incredibly important to who is in contention.
Driving numbers aren’t too important this week. While you’ll always prefer straight and long drivers, neither is a necessity this week as long as you aren’t driving it into the water. The rough at PGA National isn’t penalizing, and we’ve seen both short and long hitters have success. It’s a second-shot course, but we’ll weigh in SG: Off the Tee just to put some value in the game’s elite drivers.
I’m equally weighing SG: Putting (Bermuda) and SG: Around the Green for the short game. While you can ball strike your way around here to win, you’ll always prefer a strong putter on Bermuda for the week. Scrambling isn’t too tough around PGA National, but the sheer amount of scrambling opportunities – PGA National’s greens are the hardest to hit on Tour – causes the short game to need some sharpness all week.
Finally, I like looking at Bogeys Avoided at PGA National to see who is managing to save par, whether it’s with ball striking or the short game. This list tends to include major championship contenders and the game’s best ball strikers, so it can be valuable. While we usually look for birdie makers most weeks, this unique ranking highlights some different guys in the model who can limit mistakes well.
POWER RANKINGS: Cognizant Classic
20. Keith Mitchell (): The former winner at PGA National will likely be quite popular this week after a solid start to his season. He gained 8.1 shots on approach with a 19th in Mexico, which shows my concerns with him right there. He’s not doing enough with the short game right now, and you just saw his best performance ever with the irons last week and still only got a 19th. Ranks 64th in the model.
19. Matthieu Pavon (): What a start to his PGA Tour career with a 7th, 1st and 3rd in his first four starts. Pavon’s ball striking has been absurd. And he’s also putting it at a really crazy level. It’s likely a bit unsustainable for the Frenchman, but it would be lovely to see the run continue. This will be a different challenge for him as he debuts in Florida. Ranks 31st in the model.
18. Tom Hoge (): Good signs seem to be coming from Hoge’s game of late, but he will be headed to a PGA National that has beat him up in his career. It’s a bit surprising, considering his accurate style. After going through a very rough stretch with his driver last year, he’s slightly gained off the tee in his last two starts. Ranks 28th in the model.
17. Min Woo Lee (): Despite some rough play to start the year on Tour and a poor performance in the model, we’ll throw Min Woo in here this week based off his talent. He also played nicely in Florida last year with a 26th here and a 6th at the PLAYERS. But he’ll have to figure out his irons at some point, especially on this course. Ranks 128th in the model.
16. Justin Rose (): Had a solid title defense at Pebble Beach a few weeks ago when he finished 11th. That was his first promising play of the year, as he’s struggled with his ball striking so far. He’ll be looking to get the irons going again, and maybe coming to a place where he had plenty of great results at more than a decade ago will help that. Ranks 23rd in the model.
15. Cameron Young (): I do think Young seems to be regaining some of the form that we saw from him in a great rookie season, but I’m not sure PGA National is the place where he finally breaks through. Even if he continues striking it well like we saw in an 8th in Phoenix and 16th at Riviera, I can’t see the short game doing enough to minimize bogies here. Ranks 38th in the model.
14. Matt Fitzpatrick (): Fitzpatrick has played very poorly at PGA National in both tries, and there’s not much inspiring confidence from his recent iron play. He’s lost strokes on approach in five of his last six starts on the PGA Tour. The driver and putter will need to put in a big effort for him to live up to expectations this week. Ranks 52nd in the model.
13. Adam Svensson (): Svennson was 9th here in 2022 despite losing 4.6 strokes on the greens, and that’s the exact club we’ll be keeping an eye on this week. He putted well for a lot of 2023, but it’s gone negative again to start the year. The rest of his game looks pretty good, so he could be a threat this week. Ranks 6th in the model.
12. Doug Ghim (): Ghim continues to have a lovely start to his season, as he’s logged a 13th, 12th and 8th in his last three starts. The ball striking is really clicking … especially the irons after six strokes gained on approach last week. The concern at PGA National is his putter, which has really struggled around here. His putting on Bermuda needs a massive improvement. Ranks 10th in the model.
11. Corey Conners (): Conners continues to lose multiple strokes with both his scrambling and his putter almost every single week. But the ball striking has been taking a bigger step forward, which has led to some decent results lately. This is the type of course where Conners’ ability to find greens could push him to contention if the putter doesn’t go to disaster. Ranks 7th in the model.
10. Daniel Berger (): While his time away was nowhere near as long as Berger’s, Will Zalatoris should provide some inspiration for him this week. Berger has played decently to start the year with a couple of solid results on the West Coast, and now he’ll head to one of his favorite places to play. Berger has a 2nd, 4th, and 4th at PGA National in his career. Ranks 5th in the model.
9. Shane Lowry (): Lowry’s form hasn’t quite been right to start the year, but there’s been nothing overly concerning that we should shy away from him. Considering his strong form at PGA National, the Irishman would regularly be one of the biggest favorites here. He was 5th last year after being 2nd in 2022. Ranks 18th in the model.
8. Tom Kim (): Kim will debut at PGA National this week, and it should be a pretty strong course for his game. Even though his ball striking has been inconsistent at the start of the year, Kim still makes very few bogies. He can do much better finding greens and he’ll likely be excited to get on these pure Bermuda greens. Ranks 29th in the model.
7. Sungjae Im (): You’d have to imagine Sungjae is very disappointed with his play so far in 2024 after he started off strong with a 5th at the Sentry. His irons have been really rough, and all parts of his game have looked a bit volatile and unencouraging. He won here in 2020 and added an 8th the following year. All eyes should be on the approach play this week. Ranks 26th in the model.
6. J.T. Poston (): Poston hasn’t had a ton of success at PGA National, which isn’t too surprising considering he had never been much of a ball striker throughout his career. But this version of Poston now possesses plenty of potential with his approach play. His putter and irons could carry him to contention if he can find fairways. Ranks 13th in the model.
5. Chris Kirk (): The defending champion will come back to PGA National with plenty of confidence, as he added another surprising victory at the Sentry to start off the year. The form has been a bit iffy since, but it’s hard to doubt him at this course when he’s showing plenty of form with the irons. Ranks 14th in the model.
4. Lucas Glover (): Glover has completely lost the plot with his putter again after it showed life in back-to-back wins late last season. But there are certain tournaments and courses where you can take the chance with a top-tier ball striker and hope he putts it around field average. Glover is still finding plenty of greens and makes the second least amount of bogies in this field. Ranks No. 1 in the model.
3. Eric Cole (): It was here last year where Cole announced himself to golf fans with a playoff loss to Kirk. He was mostly a complete unknown before that, and he had an incredible rookie season. Cole is now one of the strongest iron players on the Tour and possesses plenty of ability on the greens. Ranks 9th in the model.
2. Russell Henley (): Henley will surely be excited to get back on pure Bermuda greens, which is the only surface he consistently finds any success on. Unsurprisingly, he’s had a wonderful history at PGA National, including a win in 2014 and a 3rd in his last look in 2021. The irons looked good at Riviera, which means he should be feared this week. Ranks 11th in the model.
1. Rory McIlroy (): Rory used to make PGA National a regular stop, and he brought home the trophy here in 2012. He added a runner-up in his next try in 2014, but some rough starts the next few years ended his trips to the Bear Trap. Rory has been a bit off in his PGA Tour starts this year, but there’s nothing to be concerned about here. He’s the top player in the field. Ranks No. 2 in the model.
POWER RANKINGS: Cognizant Classic Odds
View the Cognizant Classic odds below.