GOLF Free Picks for
Posted Wednesday, February 21 at 2:30 PM EST.
Cutoff time for this event is 7:00 AM EST.
We wave goodbye to the PGA TOUR’s California Swing and say hello to the state of Florida: the Tour stops here for this week’s event, the Honda Classic, as well as the Valspar Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Next week’s WGC Mexico is the meat in the Sunshine State sandwich. Riviera was a tough test for the players and so too will this week’s venue, PGA National, be. These tricky assignments really whet the appetite for The Masters, which is now just six weeks away.
This Week's Course Preview:
-12, -9, -6, -8 and -9: those have been the last five winning scores in this event, and that offers a key insight into the complexities supplied by PGA National. The modus operandi of this stretch when built was specifically to be a host venue for majors, a feat it accomplished when hosting the 1987 PGA Championship and, while not a major in name, the Ryder Cup in 1983. Originally designed by George and Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus was brought in for a 1990 redesign that created the infamous ‘Bear Trap’ of holes from 15-17. This stretch has accounted for 33% of all double bogeys and 38% of triples or worst since the tournament’s inception.
The 15th is a Par 3 that offers players a devilishly small landing area. Bunkers left, water right and an undulating green will roll-off areas. This is the stuff of nightmares for anyone with one hand on the trophy heading down the final straight. The 16th is a nightmarish Par 4 which witnessed 20% of attempts ending in bogey or worse 12 months ago. It doglegs to the right at an angle of almost 90 degrees, with water lining the right-hand side and a lay-up area to the left that then requires a 220-yard approach over the water and into the wind. 17 features one of the smallest greens on the PGA TOUR – just 30 ft wide – and is flanked by water and sand. This really is a boom-or-bust hole, with 25% of attempts ending in bogey or worse last year.
Measuring 7,158 yards for its Par 70, PGA National is a tough test of hitting greens and sinking some putts: note that we switch back to Bermuda this week after a good couple of outings on Poa Annua and Bentgrass lately. Oddly, there have been only four American winners of this event since it switched to PGA National in 2007, with a bizarre mix of major champions like Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Adam Scott, Y.E Yang and journeymen Camilo Villegas and Michael Thompson taking the spoils. That gives us hope that a bomb will get the job done this week and we’re on the lookout for one.
What we’re looking for this week:
There are some clear and obvious correlations that we simply have to consider this week when drafting our DFS roster or picking a winner. The first is that major winners have also doubled up as Honda Classic champions. Adam Scott, McIlroy, Harrington, Yang and Els have all won at PGA National, while Garcia, Woods and Ogilvy are all major holders who have finished second at this very stretch. Clearly, the complexity of the test lends itself to those players who are willing to grind it out.
Clearly, there is an obvious correlation of wind specialists getting into the mix here as well. Fowler is a former Scottish Open champion on the Links, and the ability of all of those major champions mentioned above in the wind cannot be questioned. Add into the mix Russell Henley and Mark Wilson, who have won both the Honda Classic and the notoriously blowy Sony Open (as has Ernie Els). Ryan Palmer lost in a play-off here in 2014 and was the 54-hole leader 12 months ago….he too is a former Sony Open champion.
As far as the actual playing profile is concerned, there isn’t any clear guidance from the rollcall of former winners at PGA National. Guys like Fowler, McIlroy and Scott are long off the tee, but then 2015 champion Padraig Harrington is one of the shortest hitters in the modern game. It just feels like a course where neat and tidy ball striking comes to the fore, and an ability to make the most of the two Par 5s – Fowler’s eight attempts ended up with an aggregate score of -6 last year – is priceless. Perhaps longer hitters, or those who can approach well from 200+ yards, should be on the radar. In contrast, an ability to avoid mistakes is key as well. In his first 54 holes last year, Fowler made just three bogeys; that is exceptional when you consider the complexity of PGA National and the strength of the prevailing wind. Bogey Avoidance is a stat of some relevance this week. And finally, a comfortability with putting on Bermuda is essential. It was the flat-stick which came to Fowler’s aid 12 months ago, and with these greens rolling pretty quickly at around 12 on the stimp, a decent couple of days with putter in hand could prove to be the difference between success and failure.
There are 20 to 25 pros that can win this event at odds of 50-1 or under. We’re not interested because we give these much higher priced pros just as good a chance. The head-to-head matchups are where the bread and butter come from and that is our where our main focus will be from week-to-week. The players to win outright are gravy should they come in and they also provide us with great excitement should they be on the front page of the leaderboard on Saturday or Sunday.
Unless otherwise stated, the following bets to win outright will be placed at BET365 because of their cash-out option during the event:
Talor Gooch 200-1
A young Web.com Tour graduate that is just starting to revel in the step up to senior level is Talor Gooch, whose approach play really is excellent. There’s a pair of top-20s to his name that interest us: T18 at the Sony Open, as we know Waialae form is a handy indicator, as well as T20 at the Genesis Open; Riviera is probably one of the toughest courses he has ever experienced. He is slightly errant off the tee, which is a concern, but if he can keep his ball out of the water then Gooch’s excellent scrambling and approach play should set up opportunities to grind out a good score. PGA National isn’t the sole preserve of the old timers, as we might assume, so perhaps Gooch can get hot and give us a great run for our money. This kid is a future PGA winner to be sure and he’s coming in at 200-1 or better every week. That’s too high for a pro this good that most of the market is unaware of (Risking 0.2 units to win 40).
Dylan Frittelli 60-1
There is a genuine global feel to the field this week, with a number of European Tour pros coming to the US to get some tee time in ahead of the WGC event in Mexico next week. You are going to hear or read a lot of experts discussing the chances of many of them like Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Alex Noren and Martin Kaymer. That’s fine, as one could make a case for all of them but the one European pro we have our eye on is Dylan Frittelli. Frittelli is the world's 47th-ranked golfer and has five consecutive top 20s on a handful of tours. He placed 6th in Dubai and 19th in Abu Dhabi of late, which were tough fields. He should be a low-owned pick in DFS so there is great value on him in that regard. The University of Texas product and former teammate of PGA TOUR winners Jordan Spieth and Cody Gribble has been on some kind of heater since November. It includes a win, a T2, a T4 and six more top 20s. The 27-year-old South African is worth the love on form alone even though he's making his tournament debut. We'll see quite a bit of him as he crashes onto most if not all of the biggest stages the rest of the way. He’s shown his teeth on the European Tour and now is the time for him to showcase his talent into silverware on the PGA Tour (Risking 0.2 units to win 12 units).
Ben Martin 150-1
As a native of South Carolina and product of Clemson University, he lines up among the dozens who look forward to the PGA TOUR's return to a home time zone and Bermuda grass greens. At the same time, despite an above-average short game, the 30-year-old doesn't jump off the page as a threat even as he navigates his sixth season with status. However, both of his last two top 25s occurred on Bermuda (Seaside, Waialae) and he's riding a modest consecutive cuts-made streak of five upon arrival for his third appearance at PGA National where he's 2-for-2. It’s also worth noting that Martin finished 7th at the Sony Open one month ago in Hawaii, which is a correlating course. At AT&T Pebble Beach two weeks ago, Martin finished T26. Ben Martin has 212 rounds in the 60’s over his past 20 rounds and is definitely worth a shot here at this price
Head-to-head Matchups for the Honda Classic
HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCHUPS for the Honda Classic
The quality of talent at this level is getting better every year and there are literally between 45 and 50 golfers every event that have a truly legit chance to win but we can’t bet them all. To pick a winner outright is a big time challenge but the real money in these events is in the head-to-head challenges and that’s where our bread and butter will be earned. We may post daily head-to-heads as well so keep your eye out for those. In the meantime, the H2H wagers below are for 72 holes:
You can never feel confident with Keegan. He's favored here because he has more market presence than Poulter and because he has three top-12 finishes at PGA National since 2012 (12th, 4th, and 12th in 2012 through 2014). Since then, he's missed three straight cuts and looks like he’s fighting it right now.
There’s plenty at stake this week for Poulter, who could book his spot in Mexico with a strong showing at PGA National. The Englishman is somebody who understands the importance of karma: after regaining his tour card on a technicality, Poulter has played well in recent months with a third at the Canadian Open, T15 at the CJ CUP, T22 at the PGA Championship and a T23 return from the Dell Technologies Championship evidence of that. PGA National should be right up Poulter’s street, with its requirement to plot your way around rather than just hit the ball as far as you can, and a T5 finish in 2015 is confirmation that he should flourish this week. Last year, Poulter fired away a first round of 66 here while Bradley shot 73 in the first round and missed the cut. These two have appeared in the same event 16 times over the past year and Poulter has finished ahead of Bradley in 11 of those 16 events (Risking 2 units to win 2.16 units).
With the Masters, the most prestigious tournament on the planet, six weeks away, this is the time of year when pros want to play and refine their skills so that they are peaking at the right time when Augusta rolls around. It is for that reason that Webb Simpson’s presence or lack thereof at this event is curious. Simpson hasn’t played at this event in seven years. He played here for three consecutive years in 2009, 2010 and 2011 but has not played here since. Another reason that pros skip the same event every year is because they are just not comfortable on the course and we’ll apply that to Simpson here. In 2009 he missed the cut. In 2010 he also missed the cut. In 2011 he shot a first round 74 but a second round of 67 saved him from missing the cut again. He finished with back-to-back rounds of 71 that year so in reality, Simpson has had just one really good round in eight full rounds of golf at this course. That he hasn’t played here in seven years speaks volumes for his disdain for this course. The results are weak too.
Meanwhile, Martin Kaymer can win this event. The two-time major winner is trying his luck in the US at the moment in an attempt to break back into the world’s top 50. Kaymer played last week at the Genesis Open and didn’t look a bit out of place. He was T15 at the halfway stage of the Genesis Open, and while he fell away somewhat from there, it was still a solid effort. Kaymer was T3 here through 54 holes a year ago, and his solid GIR (Greens in Regulation) hitting game is perfect for PGA National. Kaymer is 60-1 to win outright, which is not a terrible bet but we much prefer him to be close and to beat Simpson (Risking 2 units to win 2.34 units).
If we bet Dylan Frittelli to win outright (see analysis above), we can certainly get behind him to beat Louis Oosthuizen. Win or lose, it’s one of the biggest overlays in the H2H matchups, as the market tends to play recognizable versus non-recognizable and that applies here.
We never learned why Louis Oosthuizen opted out of the WGC-HSBC Champions after tweeting that he was preparing to travel. That wouldn't normally remain relevant three months after the fact, but he's making his season debut at The Honda Classic. In the interim, the South African recorded top 10s at home and in Mauritius. He then suffered a freak injury when two of his fingers got jammed in between luggage carts at an airport. After a month off, he returned to a T49 in Singapore, and then missed the cut in Dubai. He doesn't slump, but he still needs to prove that he's connecting with reliable form. He's also just 1-for-4 at PGA National and could easily miss the cut here again (Risking 2 units to win 2.8 units).
For Fantasy Players:
Horse for the Course:
Everyone is going nuts over Rickie Fowler this week, which means a very high majority of DFS players will have him on their roster but we’re looking elsewhere because if he misses the cut, half the field will be eliminated. You see, this is Rickie’s home tournament: he lives in nearby Jupiter, Florida and he won here last season too. That can be to the detriment of some players who, enjoying ‘home comforts,' tend to throw in a rather tepid effort as a result. Fowler’s form-line at PGA National – 1-6-41-24-13-7 makes him a very easy target to get behind but his form isn’t great right now. The temptation to draft Justin Thomas is obvious: here is a prolific winner, a major champion and somebody who has enjoyed countless successes in Hawaii and other windy climes but JT has missed the cut in two of his three visits to PGA National, and so by that token, there is arguably more risk attached to him than we prefer with a DFS pro that is priced so high. McIlroy is the almost the same price as Fowler so we’ll skip them all and instead load our roster with high second tier guys. Here are some of them:
Rafa Cabrera Bello checks so many boxes to relieve us of stress and keeps the door swung open for a chance come Sunday. Similarly, RCB has experience at PGA National having finished T37 last year. Since the 2017 Playoffs, he's strung together 12 paydays, seven of which went for a top 25. Cabrera Bello's recent form has him ranking 4th tee to green and 10th in approach over the past 12 weeks and there isn’t a single reason why he shouldn’t make the cut again.
Russell Knox is as good a pick in the 9000 range as any pro on the board. He’s missed just one cut in nine events this season. Now rested since a T15 at Pebble Beach, the 32-year-old has to be giddy to connect his resurgence with PGA National where he lost in a playoff in 2014 and placed T3 the following year. We are too at this price. Knox' course form puts him on the map too. He was 2nd in 2014, 3rd in 2015, 26th in 2016 and cut a year ago. He still ranks 6th tee to green, 11th in approach, 3rd in scrambling, and 5th in proximity at PGA National among this field. He's also 11th tee to green over the past 12 events and has four top 30s in his past five events. He’s worthy.
Jason Dufner has a long history at PGA National, reeling off all eight cuts since 2007 when he started with a 13th and a 9th. His past three were 17th, 61st, and 14th. The case for Dufner is that he doesn't really show any glaring holes in his game for what we're seeking here. He's 13th in scrambling over the past 12 weeks. The best case to make for him is the consistency here and the strong standing on Bermuda courses (18th in birdie rate, 31st in approach, and 21st around the green).
Patrick Reed is a little off the radar right now but because his short game has been reliable amid recent inconsistency in scoring, and because he's 3-for-4 at PGA National with a (front-loaded) T7 in 2015, we’re willing to let the slack all the way out this week. He's too potent to out-and-out ignore in any given week, so it's strange that he slides into contrarian position. Capitalize on it.
The above are just suggestions to help you along with your roster, as there are dozens more we could have easily profiled too. You have to mix and match to come up with a roster and hopefully finish in the money. If you are stuck, you can always Tweet me to ask about a low-priced golfer to fill out your roster and I would be happy to assist you. For instance, you might have 6800.00 left for one player and need the best choice in that range. I can usually give you a strong suggestion.
The total risk for this event is 6.6 units and we’ll update it when the results are official.
Open an account today at Pinnacle Sports
They offer win-only odds in the outrights and for the PGA, European, Champions and LPGA Tours only, but they make up for this in terms of value in their matchups. They consistently offer unique tournament matchups for the PGA which at 10-20 cent lines and no ties are the best on offer in the business. Unfortunately, they only offer 18-hole matchups for the PGA Tour.
Honda Classic (Risking 6.6 units - To Win: 0.00)
GOLF Historical - Totals
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