Honda Classic Tips: A quintet of three-ball picks for the opening round at PGA National

Golfer Brian Stuard
Brian Stuard has a solid record at PGA National

Paul Krishnamurty recommends five selections for tomorrow's opening round from PGA National...

"Russell Henley is very much on my shortlist for an event where long game excellence is required around a tough course."

Back Russell Henley 4u @ 11/10 (vs Varner, Ventura) (Starts 13.04)

Ghim to maintain his promising run

Back Doug Ghim 3u @ 13/10 (vs An, Mahan) (Starts 11.36)

The first of this week's selected groups involves three rather different profiles. The weak link is a twice former WGC champion, who hasn't made a top-40 in over two years. Mahan finished the opening round outside the top-100 on five of his last six starts.

Byeong-Hun-An has stellar course form, but we have to overlook five consecutive rounds of 74 or worse. Ghim may be the least known, with the least achievements, but boasts by far the best recent form. A tremendous fortnight could have been so much better without poor final rounds at Sawgrass and Bay Hill.

Trust Hughes for another fast start

Back Mackenzie Hughes 3u @ 9/5 (vs Reavie, Lashley) (Starts 12.42)

Finishing runner-up here last year sparked the best run of Mackenzie Hughes' career and he's taken to win an ordinary group. Note he tends to produce his best early - finishing 18 of his last 50 opening rounds inside the top-20, twice leading.

The outsider, Nate Lashley, is respected on the basis of bits and pieces of form but the favourite looks well worth opposing. Chez Reavie is on a very poor run and missed three cuts from four at PGA National.

Henley looks rock-solid

Back Russell Henley 4u @ 11/10 (vs Varner, Ventura) (Starts 13.04)

Henley is very much on my shortlist for an event where long game excellence is required around a tough course. Tee-to-green, his game is in fine fettle and he's got cracking course form in the bag - winning in 2014 among a quintet of top-25 finishes.

Varner's numbers at PGA National and in Florida generally compare negatively. Course debutant Ventura, meanwhile, presents no obvious threat having missed nine of his last 12 cuts.

Cink to set a decent standard

Back Stewart Cink 3u @ 2/1 (vs Knox, Duncan) (Starts 16.53)

Cink hasn't been achieving much, missing his last three cuts, but gets the nod in an ordinary group on the basis of his PGA National record. Nine cuts from ten. 32 rounds below 72 from 39, with nothing worse than 75. They are good returns from a very tough course.

Russell Knox's record is actually better as he's twice finished top-three but he missed three of the last four cut and doesn't strike me as the most reliable favourite. Tyler Duncan is expected to struggle, as of late and usually in Florida.

Reliable Stuard preferred in weak group

Back Brian Stuard 3u @ 9/4 (vs Higgs, Straka) (Starts 17.48)

Brian Stuard won't win this event but he's consistent and reliable on courses he knows well. He made the top-30 four times from eight here, bettering 70 in half of his opening rounds. He topped the driving accuracy stats at Sawgrass and, adding that core skill to scrambling excellence, can limit the damage around this tough set-up.

I don't expect he'll need a special standard to win this. Higgs played well at Sawgrass but that was his first top-30 since October. His best opening round in five is just 71. Straka meanwhile has missed four of his last six cuts and his last four rounds averaged 75.


Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty


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