Honda Classic: Kizzire worth chancing again at venue sure to suit

 Patton Kizzire – aiming to win his third event in seven starts
Patton Kizzire – aiming to win his third event in seven starts
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The PGA Tour moves from California to Florida for the Honda Classic. Read our man's comprehensive tournament preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

“This is a really stern test so it's perhaps not all that surprising that major champions fare well. Fowler is the best player yet to win one and Scott became the fifth major champion to win at the venue in 10 years, joining Ernie Els, Y.E Yang, Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington.”

Tournament History

The PGA Tour moves from west coast to east this week for the 46th edition of the Honda Classic. It was originally known as the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic but Honda have sponsored the tournament since 1982.

The tournament switched to its current venue ten years ago when Mark Wilson won a four-man playoff after the event had ran into a Monday finish.

Venue

PGA National Champion Course, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

Course Details

Par 70, 7,140 yards
Stroke index in 2017 - 70.56

The players will be tested to the max for the first event of the year in Florida. This is the 12th 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 extensively reworked by Jack Nicklaus in 1990 and it was again tweaked in 2014. In the 11 years that the event's been staged here the winner has only got to double-digits under-par three times.

It's a heavily bunkered course and water is in-play on 13 holes. As most courses are in Florida, PGA National is laid to Bermuda and the greens usually run at around 12 on the stimpmeter.

The PGA National is famous for its intimidating finishing stretch which includes the three hole stretch at 15, 16 and 17, known as the Bear Trap.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days with live Featured Group coverage starting from 14:00 on Thursday and full live coverage starting 20:00.

Last Five Winners

2017 - Rickie Fowler -12
2016 - Adam Scott -9
2015 - Padraig Harrington -6 (Playoff)
2014 - Russell Henley -8 (Playoff)
2013 - Michael Thompson -9

What Will it Take to Win the Honda Classic?

There was no doubting what won Rickie Fowler the title 12 months ago. He holed umpteen lengthy putts throughout the week and admitted after the win that it was his putter that saved him on Sunday.

"If I don't make those putts on eight (30ft) and the two birdies on 12 (38ft) and 13 (23ft)... I mean if I don't make those putts I've got a pretty tight race." He didn't just drain a few bombs though, he had 57 putts inside seven feet during the week and he made every single one.

After several weeks on poa annua, we're back to putting on Bermuda so a look at Josh Culp's Futureoffantasy website is a very worthy exercise as you can view his list of the top-25 putters on Bermuda greens as well as a few player quotes about the surface.

Looking at the other stats, neither Driving Distance or Driving Accuracy appeared particularly important at PGA National in the first few years here but it would be remiss of me not to highlight that five of the last six winners have ranked inside the top-12 for DD.

Fowler, who ranked 12th for DD, ranked a respectable 17th for DA last year too but Michael Thompson, in 2013, is the only winner here to rank inside the top-16 for DA (ranked tied ninth) so we have to conclude that length is usually more important than accuracy off the tee but I certainly wouldn't get too hung up about it. Five of the first six winners ranked 42nd or worse for DD so bombing it off the tee isn't essential.

Last year's winner, Fowler, only ranked 18th for Greens In Regulation and that was quite a low ranking given the 2016 winner, Adam Scott, ranked number one for GIR and that seven of the 11 winners here to date have ranked inside the top-ten for that stat. The 2016 winner, Russell Henley, ranked tied for 26th for GIR and that's the worst any winner has ranked but two of the three men he beat in the playoff, Ryan Palmer and Russell Knox, ranked tied first for GIR and that's arguably the most important stat.

It gets windy here and the early forecasts suggest we'll have an ever-present breeze all week so look to the very best wind exponents.

Is There an Angle In?

Although PGA National is not a links course, it's an exposed and wind-affected venue so the fact that we've seen three Open Champions win here in just ten years is perhaps not surprising.

Although he's never won a major, Fowler has a great links pedigree and a decent bank of Open Championship form and Open form came to the fore two years too. Scott and the runner-up, Sergio Garcia, haven't won an Open but they're both great links players too and they've both traded at odds-on to win the world's greatest tournament. Scotty has a decent bank of form at the Sony Open too and that's a great angle-in.

Mark Wilson, Ernie Els and Russell Henley have all won this event and the Sony Open and one of the 2014 playoff protagonists, Ryan Palmer, has also won a Sony in Hawaii. And Rory Sabbatini, the 2011 Honda Classic winner, has twice finished runner-up at the Sony Open.

Waialae Country Club, home of the Sony, is also a wind-affected Bermuda course and the two courses clearly correlate very nicely.

This is a really stern test so it's perhaps not all that surprising that major champions fare well. Fowler is the best player yet to win one and Scott became the fifth major champion to win at the venue in 10 years, joining Ernie Els, Y.E Yang, Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington.

The last two winners, and the 2016 runner-up, Sergio Garcia, have all won the Players Championship so that has to be considered a possible course correlation now.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

The last two winners have been well-fancied but I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised to see an outsider win again given seven of the 11 winners at this venue have been unfancied and that the three before Scotty were very hard to find...

Padraig Harrington was matched at [600.0] before the off in 2015, Henley traded at [400.0] in 2014 and in 2013, Michael Thompson was an unconsidered [1000.0] shot.

Americans won the first 21 editions of this event and they've won three of the last five editions but since Nick Price broke the initial US run in 1994, an overseas player has won 13 of the last 24 editions and seven of the 11 winners at this venue have been from overseas.

In-Play Tactics

Fowler sat fifth and two off the pace after round one and he was just one off the lead at halfway before leading by four with a round to go and history suggests you usually have to be right up with the pace at PGA National.

The inaugural course winner, Mark Wilson, trailed by seven strokes after round one and Scotty trailed by five in 2016 but they're the only two course winners to be more than four adrift after the opening round and every course winner has been inside the top-six and no more than three adrift at halfway.

Harrington was matched at over [200.0] during the final round in 2015, when a poor run of holes looked to have cost him his chance, but he ended each round inside the top-three on the leaderboard and he was never more than three off the lead in between rounds. Everyone will drop shots here so being up with the pace is crucial.

Rory led wire-to-wire four years ago before losing in the playoff and the winner, Henley, had sat in second after round one, third at halfway and then back into second with a round to go.

The five winners before Henley 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 plan to bet in-running, especially on Sunday, bear in mind that the par five 18th ranked as the second easiest hole on the course last year but the finish to the PGA National is tough enough when you're not in contention but when there's a title on the line it's brutal.

Rory McIlroy was matched at [1.28] four years ago before throwing the event away at the end and all sorts of trading opportunities arose in 2015...

Ian Poulter hit at a low of [1.53], before he found water twice on the par four 14th to blow his chance. Patrick Reed was then matched at [1.66] before his chance went at the par three 15th, when he went for a swim off the tee, and Harrington was matched at just [1.28] in regulation play before he found the aqua on the par three 17th.

Rory McIlroy was matched at silly odds-on before he found water on the 16th in 2014 so that's four different players in just two years trading at odds-on before finding the water on four different holes on the back nine in round four. PGA National is not for the faint-hearted!

Market Leaders

Defending champ, Rickie Fowler, heads the market and that's perfectly understandable. In addition to his win last year, he led at halfway in 2016 and he clearly loves the venue but anyone jumping onboard can expect a bumpy ride.

Johnny Miller gave him all sorts of grief 12 months ago, criticizing his ability to close out a winning opportunity (although he eventually did on the occasion) and anyone that backed him in the Waste Management Phoenix Open last time out might not be in a rush to side with him again.

He led with a round to go in Phoenix and he was matched at just [2.14] in-running but he finished 11th! Fowler has now led six times with a round to go the PGA Tout and his victory here 12 months ago is the only time he's successfully converted. Good luck if you're playing him at less than 10/1. I won't be.

Justin Thomas is vying with Rory McIlroy for second favouritism but he's my idea of the best value amongst the market leaders. He's only been in ordinary form this year so far but with Jimmy Johnson back on the bag last week he finished a respectable ninth at Riviera.

He has odd course form figures reading MC-3-MC but he hacked up at the Sony Open last year and there's absolutely no reason why he can't win here.

Rory McIlroy may see his fortunes with the putter improve with a return to Bermuda greens and like Fowler, he has some impressive PGA National form. He won the event in 2012 and should have done again in 2014, 12 months after he withdrew with 'toothache' but he's missed out on weekend employment in each of the last two editions and I'm more than happy to swerve him.

It's not often Sergio Garcia catches my eye before the off but I can certainly see him going well this week. Sergio is a regular here and with form figures reading 43-13-50-8-31-2-14 he's trending in the right direction and he won't mind the wind one iota. He's not one I like to side with away from Spain though as he's far from prolific and again, I'm happy to look elsewhere.

Selections

There were three or four I quite liked at around the [50.0] to [70.0] mark (including Dave Tindall's headline pick, Brian Harman) but none of them were quite big enough for my liking so I'm beginning the week with just two picks.

Patton Kizzire did me a nice favour when he won the aforementioned Sony Open in January and I'm a little surprised to see him trading at the same price again [80.0] here.

He's won two of his last six starts and he's shown an aptitude to the course already. In two visits he's only finished 26th and 66th but he shot 64 in round two on debut and there's no reason why this tournament shouldn't suit his game perfectly.

My only other pre-event pick is Jimmy Walker, who has some hidden form around PGA National. His course form figures are pretty uninspiring and his 21st last year is his best finish in nine attempts but that doesn't tell the whole story. Far from it in fact.

Walker sat second turning for home in round four last year before a dreadful back-nine saw him find water on both 15 and 17 and he showed up in his two previous visits too. He sat second at halfway two years ago and he sat fifth at halfway in 2012.


Selections:
Patton Kizzire @ [80.0]
Jimmy Walker @ [150.0]


I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.


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