Originally known as the Jackie Gleason's Inverrary Classic, Tom Weiskopf won the first Honda Open in 1972. Americans won the first 21 editions but it's been all change since Nick Price broke the run in 1994 with an overseas player winning 11 of the last 21 editions. The event switched to its current venue in 2007 and the fields have been getting stronger year on year.
PGA National Champion Course, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Par 70, 7,110 yards
Stroke index in 2014 - 70.41
The players will be tested to the max for the first event on the Florida Swing. This is the ninth year in-a-row that the Tom and George Fazio designed PGA National will be used and it's a really tough test. It was reworked by Jack Nicklaus in 1990 and in the eight years that the event's been staged here the winner has only got to double-digits under-par twice.
It's a heavily bunkered course and water is in-play on 13 holes. As most courses are in Florida, PGA National is Bermuda and the greens will run at around 11.5 on the stimpmeter.
Alternative Weather Forecast
Live on Sky Sports all four days starting on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2014 - Russell Henley -8
2013 - Michael Thompson -9
2012 - Rory McIlroy -12
2011 - Rory Sabbatini -9
2010 - Camilo Villegas -13
What Will it Take to Win The Honda Classic?
Driving distance and driving accuracy are not stats to get hung up on here. The first man to win here, Mark Wilson, is certainly not a big hitter and five of the first 11 home last year ranked 40th or worse for driving distance.
Wilson ranked 19th for accuracy in 2007 but the only other winner here to rank inside the top-20 is Michael Thompson two years ago so missing the occasional fairway is clearly ok.
Russell Henley only ranked 30th for greens in regulation last year and Rory Sabbatini, who ranked 24th, is the only other to rank outside the top-11 so great iron-play is important.
The worst any winner has ranked for putting is 27th but only one winner, Camilo Villages, has ranked inside the top-five so a decent week with the fat-stick is required, if not a spectacular one.
It's a really stern test and a good all round game is required to succeed and if the very early forecasts can be believed - an ability to handle breezy conditions looks essential.
Is There an Angle In?
I absolutely must stress that it's very early days to be relying on forecasts but just keep an eye on the weather. It looks like those drawn to play late on Thursday and early Friday might get the best of the draw.
Form at the Sony Open is a big plus. We've only had eight winners at PGA National but three of them have won a Sony - as has one of last year's beaten playoff protagonists, Ryan Palmer. Waialae, home of the Sony, is also a wind-affected Bermuda course and the two appear to correlate very well.
Although it's not quite such a strong link, a number of players that have performed well at the McGladrey Classic in Georgia have also fared well here so that's another event to look at for clues.
Floridians and Florida-residents often fare well and it's worth noting that the likes of Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel and Keegan Bradley all live within 30 minutes of the course, and Graeme McDowell isn't a million miles away from the venue now either.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Although Americans have won the last two renewals, had Rory McIlroy or Russell Knox won the playoff last year, an overseas player would have won six of the last seven renewals and this is definitely a week to take a chance of an outsider or two...
Last week's winner, James Hahn, was matched at over 600.0599/1 before the off last week and could get another surprise this week also. Henley was matched at 400.0399/1 12 months ago and Thompson at 1000.0 the year before. Rory McIlroy and Ernie Els were well-fancied but all the other winners here were handsomely priced. If you like one or two at a big price this week, go for it!
At last week's Northern Trust Open, five men were tied at the top after round one on five-under par but so tough did Riviera play that after 72 holes a playoff was needed to split three men tied on just six-under-par. I expect something very similar this week.
PGA National is a tough enough test in benign conditions so with wind forecast it's going to be a brute this year - even if rain helps to soften the course. History suggests you have to be right up with the pace at PGA National and it's going to be hard to make up ground again this year.
Rory lead wire-to-wire 12 months ago before losing in the playoff and Henley sat in second after round one, third at halfway and then back into second with a round to go. The five previous winners were all within a stroke of the lead at halfway too so it's probably not wise to go scanning too far down the leaderboard.
If you're playing in-running over the first two days when a two-tee start will be in operation, you need to take into account that the start to the front-nine is far easier than the start to the back-nine...
The par 4 1st hole ranked 16th hardest and only averaged 3.93 last year and the par 5 3rd was yet again the easiest on the course - averaging just 4.49. In stark contrast, holes 10 and 11, which are both par 4s, averaged 4.2 and 4.18 and ranked the two of the three hardest on the layout, with the par 3 6th ranking hardest.
A good start on the front nine, with a birdie or two pencilled in isn't unusual whereas a par-par start on the back-nine is perfectly acceptable. Don't write someone off because they're one-over or maybe even two-over par after two holes if they started on the back nine and don't get too excited if someone's two-under after three holes on the front nine.
I plan to get involved in-running and keep stakes to a minimum before the off and, as I did at Riviera yesterday, I'm going to look to get trading on day four - and especially on the back-nine. Rory McIlroy was matched at silly odds-on last year before throwing the event away at the end and I can see opportunities arising late on again this time around.
The par 5 18th ranked as the easiest hole on the course in round four last year but the four holes that preceded it averaged 1.18 over-par and yielded just 13 birdies between them. At 465 yards, the par 4 14th is no pushover and holes 15, 16, and 17 are notoriously tricky and nicknamed the 'Bear Trap'.
As already stated, 2012 winner, Rory McIlroy, blew a golden chance to win the title for a second time in three year 12 months ago, having embarrassingly withdrawn from the event in 2013 blaming toothache when he was hitting it sideways with his brand new Nike clubs. He was matched at just 1.261/4 in-running last year and he himself said afterwards that he blew it so he should perhaps be looking for the hat-trick this week and not just the double.
PGA National clearly suits his eye and he's very much in-form but given the record outsiders have here, the bad weather forecast and the fact that he was a double-figure price just 12 months ago, his early odds of below 5.04/1 look remarkably short to me.
Following his six months off and a missed cut at Torrey Pines, Dustin Johnson has hit the ground running with a fourth at Pebble Beach and second at Riviera. He's a magnificent wind-player and will be suited by a tough test but last week was a war of attrition and that might just have taken the edge off him.
Justin Rose had to withdraw before the off last year but he likes PGA National and is one to consider carefully with form figures that read 15-MC-2-5-4. His propensity to start very slowly puts me off though, as does his missed cut at Torrey Pines when last sighted.
I was hoping for a slightly better price on Harris English than the 50.049/1 I've taken but I quite like his chances so I've decided to take the plunge. He sat second with a round to go on debut here in 2012 before a disappointing final round of 77 saw him plummet down the leaderboard. That was his first time in-contention on the PGA Tour and he's clearly learned from it - winning twice since at wind-affected tracks not dissimilar to this one. He won both the FedEx St Jude Classic and OHL Classic in 2013 and having lost a playoff at Torrey Pines recently, it's about time he went in again.
He narrowly missed the cut here in 2013 and didn't play here last year but that doesn't put me off - this venue looks ideal for English and I can see him going well.
I'm going to give last week's wager and last year's McGladrey Classic winner, Robert Streb, another chance at a venue that should suit him down to the ground. Indeed, he was 18th here last year on debut. I'm going to forgive his missed cut last week at Riviera, where after a month on the sidelines he putted poorly. Prior to the break - taken to be with his wife and newly-born first child - he was in very good and very consistent form and he could easily bounce back here.
Following on from a reasonable tied 29th at Torrey Pines, Camilo Villegas finished tied 30th last week at Riviera and given he'd never previously made the cut there that was an eye-catching effort. He was beaten in the playoff here in 2007 before romping to victory in 2010 so the course clearly suits and I thought 200.0199/1 was big enough to take a chance on.
I also like Chris Kirk but I'm not prepared to go below the 80.079/1 I'm trying to get matched at.
Harris English @ 50.049/1
Robert Streb @ 120.0119/1
Camilo Villegas @ 200.0199/1
Selections added after first publication
Chris Kirk @ 80.079/1
Tony Finau 300.00299/1
Shawn Stefani @ 310.0309/1
Chesson Hadley @ 340.0339/1
George McNeill @ 380.0379/1
Jerry Kelly @ 500.0499/1
Ben Crane @ 720.0719/1
Andres Gonzales @ 750.0749/1
Matt Every @ [800.0.0]
Mark Wilson @ 800.0799/1
Scott Brown @ 1000.0
I'll be back tomorrow with my Joburg Open preview.
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