The Genesis Invitational capped off an adventurous West Coast swing. Now, the TOUR migrates east for the first of four consecutive Florida events, starting with the 2022 Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. We’ll dive into a tournament preview with an early look at what to watch for in the Honda Classic odds.
Last year, the Honda Classic was sandwiched between THE PLAYERS and the WGC Match Play. That resulted in one of the weakest fields of 2021. After some lobbying from the Honda Classic’s committee, the TOUR rearranged the schedule this year to have this event kickstart the Florida swing. That seems to have attracted an improved field.
Although this event has not drawn the deepest of fields, we have seen a pattern of decorated past winners. It will naturally favor players with a strong balance of Ball Striking and Short Game. With water in play on 15 holes, this week is all about avoiding the penalty areas, and finding a way to survive with pars.
Manageable rough and several forced layups from the aforementioned water hazards mitigates the advantage from pure bombers and fairway-finding specialists. Instead, we’ve historically seen success from the best Approach players and Scramblers, particularly on fast Bermuda greens. Here’s a look at everything you can expect this week at the 2022 Honda Classic.
HONDA CLASSIC FAVORITES
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THE FIELD AT A GLANCE
From a strength of field standpoint, last week’s Genesis Invitational, which featured the entire OWGR top-10, stands as a tough act to follow. This week, there are zero top-10 players in the field — cue the sad trombone.
Louis Oosthuizen (13th) is the top-ranked player going, and he’s joined by a total of five others in the OWGR top-30. That includes Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger, Billy Horschel, Sungjae Im and Patrick Reed.
It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s actually a vast improvement over the 2021 Honda Classic field. Lee Westwood was a top-three favorite in last year’s field. It’s nice to see we’re at least trending in a better direction.
In addition to Jones, Im, Keith Mitchell, Rickie Fowler, Padraig Harrington, Russell Henley, Michael Thompson, Rory Sabbatini, Camilo Villegas and Luke Donald round out a long list of former Honda Classic champions back in the field this week.
INTRODUCTION TO PGA NATIONAL
In a smooth transition from last week’s tournament at Riviera, par will continue to be a good score. PGA National has played as the most difficult scoring course outside of the majors in five of the last seven years. There are just four holes with a scoring average under par on this course, including the only two par 5s on this par-70 layout.
While the length may not seem very imposing at just 7,125 yards, there are five par 4s playing longer than 450 yards. All four par 3s will play over 175 yards, with water hazards throughout.
PGA National is also highly susceptible to prevailing gusts, making the water that much harder to avoid. The winds can often sweep well-struck approach shots off of the green and makes the course play even longer on holes that face directly into the wind. For example, the 18th hole, which stands as a 550-yard par 5, is not reachable in two for most of the field when the winds are up.
PGA National also boasts the trifecta of yielding below-TOUR-average rates in Driving Accuracy, Driving Distance and Greens In Regulation. The rough is not incredibly penal here, but the prevalence of water hazards has resulted in many forced layups. That balance has historically mitigated the advantage from bombers who are more likely to find the penalty areas, as much as it hurt fairway finding specialists who will be asked to hit many long irons on this course.
I’m favoring players with above-average distance this week, but players like Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Denny McCarthy have still found success at this course without a distance advantage.
The Bear Trap
We will hear a lot about the dreaded bear trap this week. The arduous stretch from holes 15, 16 and 17 play as the fourth-most difficult three-hole stretch on the PGA TOUR schedule behind only Quail Hollow (16-17-18), Pebble Beach (8-9-10) and Muirfield Village (16-17-18).
Water looms throughout the Bear Trap, which includes two 175-yard par 3s and a tight dogleg par 4 just over 430 yards. It always makes for a climactic finish with chasers taking aggressive lines at these tight pin locations over the water, while leaders have done their best to stay dry and escape into the par-5 18th at level par.
HONDA CLASSIC COURSE SPECS
- Yards: 7,125
- Par: 70 (4x 3s / 12x 4s / 2x 5s)
- Greens: Bermuda
- Architect: George & Tom Fazio (Renovations from Jack Nicklaus)
- Historical Cut Line: +2 to +5
- Median Four-Round Score: Even (’21), +3 (’20), +1 (’19), +5 (’18), -2 (’17)
- Comp Courses: Bay Hill, Innisbrook (Copperhead), Concession GC, Muirfield Village, Quail Hollow, Waialae CC, Colonial, Sea Island
- Recent Winners: Matt Jones -12 (’21), Sungjae Im -6 (’20), Keith Mitchell -9 (’19), Justin Thomas -8 (’18), Rickie Fowler -12 (’17)
- Hole-by-hole Breakdown:
EVENT HISTORY AND COURSE COMPS
After a few weeks in a row on the West Coast swing with highly predictive course history, this may be a week to fade players on the basis of past results and not recent form. Over the last 40 years, only Padraig Harrington and Mark Calcavecchia have won this event multiple times. Given the Honda Classic’s rotating slot in the TOUR schedule each year, it’s been difficult to attract the same players year over year.
That means it’s been slim pickings to find a course horse here. If there was one in this field however, it would be Rickie Fowler.
Nobody on the PGA TOUR has better history at PGA National than Jupiter resident Fowler. He ranks 14th in SG: Ball Striking and sixth in SG: Short Game at the Honda Classic.
In addition to his one victory on these grounds in 2017, he also finished runner up in 2019. He also boasts two additional top-10 finishes since 2012. Coming off of three straight missed cuts, the market may offer course history truthers a palatable number on Fowler. He did post a recent T3 at the CJ Cup that showed signs of a comeback brewing.
Others Excelling At The Honda Classic
After Fowler, the rest of the top 10 in Course History includes Tommy Fleetwood, Ryan Palmer, Sungjae Im, Lee Westwood, Daniel Berger, Brendan Steele, Brandon Hagy, Nick Watney and Luke Donald.
There are just five players in this field who have delivered multiple T10 finishes over the last five years: Fleetwood, Im, Fowler, Steele and Gary Woodland.
There are 12 players who have avoided missing the cut over the last five years (minimum three appearances): Aaron Wise, Charl Schwartzel, Woodland, Jason Dufner, Jhonattan Vegas, Kevin Streelman, Matt Jones, Watney, Shane Lowry, Stewart Cink, Im, and Zach Johnson.
There are many different ways you can go in terms of course comps this week.
Jack Nicklaus has his hands all over the layout of this golf course, so Concession GC emulates PGA National the closest in my eyes. Apart from the Nicklaus connection, both are situated in Florida on the same Bermuda grass with water hazards threatening throughout, fairly difficult scoring and a premium on Approach play. Notable Top-20 finishers at the 2021 WGC-Workday in the field this week include Brooks Koepka, Billy Horschel, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Reed and Aaron Rai.
Muirfield Village is another famous Nicklaus design with similarly demanding conditions and high winds. However, the rough is far more penal there.
A big factor for this week is managing the flighting of the ball around different swirling winds. Matt Jones credited his comfortability around flighting different shots into winds as key to his 2021 victory. Sea Island, Colonial CC and Waialae CC are similar shorter courses that require this type of maneuvering. And as far as crossover leaderboards go, Waialae CC is probably the best comp with overlapping wins at each from Russell Henley, Justin Thomas and Matt Kuchar within the past decade.
Bay Hill and Innisbrook (Copperhead) also reward similar skillsets in difficult conditions. But if we just want to look at a blanket SG: Florida, the top-10 players in SG: TOT over the last 36 rounds across the Florida wwing are Sungjae Im, Tommy Fleetwood, Charles Howell III, Reed, Jhonattan Vegas, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Koepka, Alex Noren, and Joaquin Niemann. Most of these players either live in Florida or travel internationally to begin their PGA TOUR seasons with the Florida swing.
I like Quail Hollow as another difficult scoring course with fast Bermuda greens that slightly favors longer hitters.
Mash that all together and the top-10 players in comp course history are Cameron Tringale, Reed, Fleetwood, Gary Woodland, Koepka, Billy Horschel, Poulter, Daniel Berger, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Aaron Wise.
KEY STATS TO CONSIDER
- SG: APP
- SG: BS / Driving Distance
- Par 4 Scoring
- Prox: 150-200
- Bogey & Double Bogey Avoidance
- SG: TOT (Difficult Scoring Conditions) / SG: TOT (High Winds)
- SG: Putting (Bermuda)
- Course & Comp Course History
With so many high-pressure approach shots over water, it’s crucial to have narrow misses on this course. That’s especially true in the 150-200 yard range. The top-10 players in SG: APP entering this week are Daniel Berger, Hudson Swafford, Russell Knox, Mito Pereira, Austin Smotherman, Lucas Glover, Aaron Rai, Chris Stroud, Louis Oosthuizen and Doug Ghim. The top-10 players in Proximity 150-200 yards are Shane Lowry, Bronson Burgoon, Russell Knox, Lucas Glover, Grayson Murray, Jason Dufner, Aaron Rai, Anirban Lahiri, Kurt Kitayama and Adam Svensson.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly this event falls from an Off The Tee standpoint between Distance vs Accuracy. Since SG: OTT hasn’t been highly correlated either way in terms of past success, I’m going to lean more on SG: Ball Striking this week in order to include a second layer of Approach importance.
It’s probably best to weed out any players who are bottom 25% in SG: OTT or Driving Distance.
PGA National has twelve par 4s in total, each fairly evenly distributed from 350-500+, so I think this is a good week to look at holistic Par-4 Scoring. That has generally doubled as a “recent form” stat for modeling. The top-10 players in Par-4 Scoring this week are Mackenzie Hughes, Cameron Young, Denny McCarthy, Sungjae Im, Brian Harman, Keith Mitchell, Brendon Todd, Berger, Taylor Moore, and Kramer Hickok.
While Bogey-Or-Worse Avoidance is crucial this week, I tend not to weight this stat too heavily in models. Avoiding bogeys at a birdie-fest is not the same as avoiding bogeys on a course where a score of +1 can crack the top 30.
The Biggest Keys
Instead, I’m looking more closely at SG: TOT (Difficult Scoring Conditions) and Scrambling Gained. The eight players who rate out top 25 on both categories: Hughes, McCarthy, Harman, Berger, Lowry, Oosthuizen, Cameron Tringale, and Kevin Streelman.
To bring this altogether, I’m ideally looking to hone in on players who are top 30 SG: APP and above average in SG: Ball Striking, Scrambling, SG: TOT (Difficult Conditions), Bermuda Putting and Comp Course History. I’m avoiding the bottom 25% in Driving Distance & SG: OTT. Just six players fit that criteria this week: Im, Aaron Wise, Joaquin Niemann, Tringale, Chase Seiffert, and Chris Kirk.
Correlation And PGA National
The correlation charts for success at PGA National call for a similar profile of Par-4 Scoring premiums along with Bogey Avoidance and SG: T2G. As a par 70, there is far less advantage to be had from Par-5 Scoring this week. Given the difficulty to score on these longer par 3s, there hasn’t been much of an edge for par-3 specialists either.
We see the biggest jumps compared to TOUR average in the importance of SG: APP and Scrambling. I’ll be dialing those in heavily for in my model this week. In particular, P4: 350-400, as three of the par 4s will fall within this range.
In terms of other stats to avoid, Prox 200+ and 3-Putt Avoidance were among the least correlated with success at PGA National.
There are just seven players who rate out above average in each of the above top-10 stat categories for PGA National: Sungjae Im, Daniel Berger, Louis Oosthuizen, Shane Lowry, Aaron Wise, Matthias Schwab and…Mito Pereira.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: MITO PEREIRA
Since August 2021, many have asked, “John, when are we getting another Kevin Kisner at Wyndham Championship guarantee?” Well, here you go. On Sunday, Feb. 27th, Mito Pereira will hoist the trophy at the 2022 Honda Classic.
As someone who religiously and unapologetically bets Mito Pereira every week regardless of fit or form, that I may be getting caught in a little “boy who cried Chilean wolf” situation here. But make no mistake, I called my shot in November at the conclusion of the 2021 calendar season, and I’ve never felt more confident in Pereira than I do now.
Once a Tee To Green savant grounded by the gravity of his lukewarm putter, Pereira has miraculously matured into one of the most consistent putters on TOUR since getting married this off-season. Maybe he’s spent time on his honeymoon away from the driving range and confined to resort hotel rooms. There, he polished up his putting.
In any case, he’s gained at least one stroke putting in six consecutive events now. He has ascended to No. 1 in this field in SG: P over the last three months (!), better than Denny McCarthy, Billy Horschel, Mackenzie Hughes, and any other elite putter you want to throw into the mix. Mito Pereira, elite putter. That’s a thing now!
Putting Skills Combine With Established Ball Striking
Before the rise to putting prominence, Pereira had established himself as one of the top Ball Strikers on TOUR. Over the last 24, 36 and 50 rounds, he ranks fifth, sixth and ninth, respectively, in SG: Ball Striking against this field.
I can attest to the trials and tribulations that come with wedding planning. There is not a ton of time to spend on the driving range immediately following your ceremony. So, I’m willing to give Pereira a generous three-month pass on his Ball Striking since the RSM Classic. A strong finish at the Genesis Invitational has shown that we are now on the good side of that grace period. We should expect the elite level of Ball Striking again this week that carried Pereira to top-10 finishes in the Olympics, Barbasol, 3M Open and Fortinet Championship, as well as his three KFT wins in 2021.
So why is the Honda Classic the perfect fit for Mito Pereira to pick up his first PGA TOUR win? I’ve long said that the optimal course for Pereira rewards pars as a good score. Over the last 36 rounds, he ranks No. 2 in this field in Bogey Avoidance. That has unfortunately relegated him to a top-30 ceiling in the usual birdie-fests across the PGA TOUR. Over the same span, he also ranks top five in SG: T2G, SG: Ball Striking, SG: APP, Good Drives Gained, GIRs gained, Par-4 Scoring and P4: 400-500.
No betting card is complete without Pereira’s name on it this week. I will be requesting special props for him to win wire-to-wire and by at least strokes.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR AT THE 2022 HONDA CLASSIC
Matt Jones staved off a murderer’s row of adversaries at last year’s Honda Classic, including the likes of Brandon Hagy, Denny McCarthy, Chase Seiffert, Brendan Steele and CT Pan. I have fond memories it, if only for the 66-1 FRL ticket on Jones.
I did have to cope with the disappointment that came with holding an Aaron Wise outright ticket. He was -12 going into the weekend and held a six-stroke lead on Saturday. Then, he “Aaron Wised” himself to a +8 score over the final rounds. Yes, I use Aaron Wise as a verb for folding in dramatic fashion under pressure. My one-year blacklist is just about up. So, we’ll see if I can stomach going back to him on a course that suits him.
With all the course-fit profiles in mind, I’m leaning early towards the below player pool for DFS. Naturally, I’m looking their way in the 2022 Honda Classic odds as well. It’s broken out by projected pricing/odds tier for DraftKings.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON 2022 HONDA CLASSIC ODDS
For my model in Fantasy National this week, I’m prioritizing SG: APP, SG: BS and Comp Course History. Then, a more balanced mix of Scrambling, Par-4 Scoring, SG: P (Bermuda), Driving Distance, SG: TOT (Difficult Scoring Conditions) and Prox 150-200.
Louis Oosthuizen, the highest OWGR-ranked player in this week’s field, emerged in the No. 1 spot. He is tops in the field in scoring in difficult conditions. He also ranks top 15 in both SG: Ball Striking and Scrambling.
After Oosthuizen, my model’s top 10 is rounded out by Daniel Berger, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Aaron Wise, Joaquin Niemann, Kramer Hickok, Cameron Tringale, Sungjae Im, Shane Lowry, and Keith Mitchell.
Im was the favorite coming into the Honda Classic last year in his 2020 title defense. With a win and five total T10 finishes over his previous seven starts, I expect him to open as the favorite once again over an injured Berger and highly volatile Brooks Koepka. If he opens at 16-1 or longer, I’ll give him a hard look to start my card. I’m already vested in him at THE PLAYERS and the Masters for the Sungjae swing.
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HONDA CLASSIC ODDS BOARD
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