Honda Classic Betting Preview

English: Rory McIlroy at The Memorial Tourname...

English: Rory McIlroy at The Memorial Tournament, Muirfield Village Golf Club, in Dublin, Ohio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After last week’s 64-man match play event, the PGA Tour returns to regular stroke play action this week, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods lead a loaded field heads to PGA National to try and escape the Bear Trap at the Honda Classic.
2013 Honda Classic Sheet

  • Course: PGA National
  • Location: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
  • Yardage: 7,110 yards, par 70
  • Defending Champion: Rory McIlroy
  • Five Consensus Favourites: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel and Lee Westwood

TV Schedule:

  • Thursday – 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Friday – 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday – 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 to 6:00 PM ET (NBC)
  • Sunday – 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 to 6:00 PM ET (NBC)

George and Tom Fazio initially built PGA National in 1981, but Jack Nicklaus was given the reigns just nine years later, and outside of the routing, he essentially created an entirely new course. PGA National is typically known for the Bear Trap, holes 14 through 16, but the whole course presents a tougher challenge than most of the tracks the PGA Tour stops at on a yearly basis. In the six years that PGA National has played host to the Honda Classic, the winning score has reached 10-under par just twice. Last year’s average score of 71.19 was the lowest it’s been in the last five years, and it was still more than a stroke over par, with just three of the 18 holes on the course playing under par. 
Holes to watch
Par-5 6th (488 yards)
The players will want to come away with a couple of birdies in the first five holes, as that will be the easiest stretch that they will see on the course. The trouble starts on the sixth, which doesn’t look like much when you examine the scorecard as a reachable par-5, but with bunkers guarding the entire right side and a lake going all the way to the green on the left, it is a very difficult hole. When they put the pin in the back left on Sunday, it could be a swing hole.
Par-4 11th (479 yards)
The 11th was the number one handicap hole last year. With trees and water on the left, most players will opt for something less than driver off the tee to avoid the trouble, but their approach into the green will still be difficult. The lake runs all the way up to the green on the left, and another pond pops up on the right side guarding the front of the green. The safest play could be behind the green, but there’s a bunker back there too.
Par-3 15th (179 yards)
The 15th signals the start of the Bear Trap, and even though 179 yards doesn’t seem like much in today’s game, it’s a daunting hole. With the massive body of water on the right side, most players will try to hit a fade into the green. It plays significantly more difficult when the wind is up, which is expected throughout the week, as is some rain for the weekend.
Par-4 16th (434 yards)
The second leg of the Bear Trap is supposed to be one of the toughest holes on the course, but didn’t play like that in 2012 as the 13th handicap. The hole doglegs to the right, and players will most likely have to lay up off the tee, causing a long second shot into the green, over water and likely, into the wind.
Par-3 17th (190 yards)
Nicklaus once described this hole as a simple flick of the wrist, but it’s far from that. The pros will likely play it at around 190 yards, and it’s probably the most exposed hole on the course as it relates to wind. Of course, there’s water guarding the front of the green and the entire right side, as well as a deep bunker behind the left side of the green. You often hear about par being a good score on a hole, and the 17th at PGA National is a perfect example of that.
Par-5 18th (604 yards)
At 604 yards, you’d think that the 18th would be intimidating, but it really isn’t. The only defense the hole will have is if the wind is really gusting, but even then, players have the option of laying up and still making birdie. It’s a great looking finishing hole with the huge lake on the right and bunkers all the way up the left side of the fairway, but players will be upset to walk away with less than birdie. It was here at 18 that Tiger Woods hit one of the shots of the year.

Key Storyline This Week
Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are playing at the Honda, and they will be the focus this week as they are whenever they tee it up. As we talked about after the WGC, there are people who are suggesting that McIlroy shouldn’t have switched over from Titleist to Nike, and he got a little defensive about it in his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday, suggesting that the media is making too much out of his poor play. The fact is, he’s played three rounds in 2013 with his new gear, and his slated to play in over 20 tournaments this year. From what I saw at the WGC, he was still hitting shots that few could hit, there just wasn’t as many of them as we are used to seeing. It’s going to take some time, but he’ll get there.
For Woods, he’s never played well at Ritz-Carlton GC, so his elimination at the hands of Charles Howell wasn’t that big of a shock. Much like McIlroy, there’s a natural state of overreaction when it comes to his game, but he’s obviously one to watch this week. In his lone appearance at PGA National last year, he finished as the runner-up to McIlroy after a stunning final-round 62.
Suggested Plays (All each-way)
Louis Oosthuizen (Best Odds 28-1 at You Win)
In two prior appearances at the Honda, Oosthuizen withdrew both times due to the flu, and only one of his six rounds were under par. He also hasn’t done much since winning at the Volvo to start his 2013, but there’s no logical reason that he should be sitting at 28-1. He should be at half of this price with his skill level. As usual, his putter concerns me a little bit, but there might not be a better tee to green player in the field.
Graeme McDowell (Best Odds 30-1 at Stan James)
The rust should be off for McDowell after playing well at the Match Play last week, and he has back-to-back top-10 finishes at this event over the last two years. He typically plays well at the tougher, thinking man’s courses, and that’s exactly what this is. Out of all of the guys on this list, I think he has the best chance to win this week.
Rickie Fowler (Best Odds 37-1 at Betfair)
After missing the cut here in 2010 and 2011, he finished tied for sixth last year, and even though he hasn’t been great over the last few weeks, he’s the type of player that should do well here. Driving distance is not a primary factor at PGA National, but he hits tons of greens and his putting has been getting better. 37-1 seems like a nice price for a guy who’s more talented than most in this field.
Chris Kirk (Best Odds 70-1 at You Win)
Kirk’s putting and scrambling have drastically improved this year, and he’s shown an ability to contend, finishing as the runner-up a few weeks ago at Pebble Beach. With how well he’s putting, I’ll take my chances at 70-1 despite a substandard record at PGA National.
Matteo Manassero (Best Odds 143-1 at BETDAQ)
Fact: Manassero has never played at PGA National. Another Fact: This course has had first-time winners in 3 of 6 years, and Camilo Villegas finished as the runner-up in his first time at PGA National in 2007.  I can’t believe that you can actually get Manassero at this price in some books, as in a lot of places, he’s around 66-1. He’s a short hitter, but he does everything else well. He’s been in decent form this week, and I actually wouldn’t be shocked to see him get his first PGA Tour win this week, despite the quality field.

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