Out of the Rough: The Honda Classic (2023)
Updated: Feb 21
After back-to-back full field elevated events, the Tour turns its attention to its Florida swing with a visit to the Honda Classic at the PGA National Members Club.
This event continues to draw the short end of the stick. Not because of the prestige of the event or the course, but how it has been scheduled.
Following two elevated events and then sandwiched before the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship, we cannot expect the top tier golfers to play five consecutive tournaments.
Heck, even Honda is pulling out as the main sponsor of the event after this season due to the continued compression of the event the Tour has given it.
Therefore we will see a much depleted field this week, but it all isn’t bad. I enjoy the chance to get to research and then watch the second tier golfers and up-and-comers get a chance to shine.
The field is highlighted by current World #18 Sungjae Im who is the 2020 champion of the event. Joining Im are eight others that sit in the World top 50 rankings. Those names include Billy Horschel, Shane Lowry, Sepp Straka, Aaron Wise, Alex Noren, Min Woo Lee, Chris Kirk and JT Poston.
Straka is the defending champion of this event after he outdueled Lowry and Kurt Kitayama a year ago in stormy conditions to win by one stroke.
Other past champions of the event joining Im and Straka are Padraig Harrington, Rory Sabbatini, Camilo Villegas, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar.
PGA National plays at 7,125 yards as a par-70. Although short on paper it is anything but a typical short course with its use of tight landing areas off the tee and a heavy dosage of forced layups due to tight doglegs.
Due to this, wedge play is essentially removed from this course, with just about 11-percent of approach shots coming from within 125 yards. Those able to dial it in with mid-to-long irons from 125-200 yards will have an advantage this week. Approximately 54-percent of approach shots will come from the 125-200 yard range. This of course is well above the Tour average.
The course plays as one of the most difficult courses for approach shots from 150 yards as well. This is due to the exposure of gusting winds with a combination of firm and fast conditions.
To show the difficulty of this course, outside of two of the par-fives, all 16 of the other holes play at a scoring average of even par or worse. With the unpredictably of the wind as well, the two par-fives are no guarantee for birdies either.
PGA National is known for its “Bear Trap” stretch of holes from 15 to 17 that play as the fourth most difficult three-hole stretch on the entire Tour. Only Quail Hollow (16-18,) Pebble Beach (8-10) and Muirfield Village (16-18) feature a tougher three hole stretch.
Water is heavily featured throughout the Bear Trap, which includes two 175-yard par-threes and a tight dogleg par-four.
The Bear Trap does allow for dramatic and climactic finishes down the stretch as those chasing the leaders may take an aggressive approach and take the line at the tight pin locations over the water.
Simply put, the event can be won or lost here in the Bear Trap.
PGA National annually has had a cut line above-par in each of the last ten years. The median field score has sat at even par or worse in seven of the last eight years as well.
A score of -10 or less has been enough to win the event in eight of the last ten seasons and with another weak field this week, we can expect much of the same.
As for weather this week, highs are set for a consistent mid 80-degrees for all four days. There is a slight 10-percent chance of precipitation each day but at the time of writing this, rain and storms don’t look threatening. Winds will always be a factor at this event but currently sit at or around 9-to-13 miles-per-hour each day.
Important statistics to consider this week include:
Strokes Gained: Approach (SG: APP)
Total Driving (Driving Distance 70-percent & Driving Accuracy 30-percent)
Proximity to the Hole from 125-200 Yards
Strokes Gained: Scrambling (SG: SCR)
Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermuda (SG: PUTT Bermuda)
Average Par Four Scoring
Strokes Gained: Around the Green (SG: ATG)
With only two golfers in this price range, I’m going to offer just one and that is tournament favorite Sungjae Im ($10,700.) He’s the favorite to win and with such a limited field, will be featured heavily in DFS lineups. That’s neither here nor there, as he needs to be suggested this week. He’s a former winner of this event, winning it back in 2020. He’s currently 19th on Tour in bogey avoidance, 32nd in SG: SCR, 46th in both average par four scoring and SG: ATG, 49th in SG: APP, 70th in total driving, 89th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards and 106th in SG: PUTT Bermuda. Im has missed just one cut on the calendar year and that was back at the Sony Open in Hawaii in early January. Since, he’s made four straight cuts with a T4th at the Farmers Insurance Open, T6th at the WM Phoenix Open, T18th at The American Express and T56th last week at the Genesis Invitational. He’s far and away the best golfer at this event and with a proven track record he’ll almost have to be included in any DFS lineup.
With only one option in the $10,000-plus price range, I have three options for this price range. Leading the way is my model’s favorite Thomas Detry ($9,000.) The Belgian has been playing fantastic golf on both the season and the calendar year. He has made the cut in all nine events he has played. He has two top 25’s in those nine tournaments as well as two top tens and a runner up finish at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship back in October. Last week he had a strong showing in a loaded field, placing T33rd at -3 at the Genesis Invitational. He’s currently seventh on Tour in average par four scoring, ninth in SG: PUTT Bermuda, tenth in SG: SCR, 13th in bogey avoidance, 60th in total driving, 68th in SG: ATG, 85th in SG: APP and 86th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards. He’s very well priced at just $9,000 and sits at +3500 to win. He’ll get a fair share of my units this week. Also consider Chris Kirk ($9,900.) Kirk is the third highest priced golfer in DFS this week and that’s for good reason. It wasn’t all that long ago when he had back-to-back third place finishes at the Sony Open in Hawaii and The American Express. He’s made six-of-nine cuts on the season as well. He’s currently 17th on Tour in average par four scoring, 25th in bogey avoidance, 37th in SG: ATG, 47th in SG: APP, 66th in SG: SCR, 84th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 98th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards and 107th in total driving. Also consider Matt Kuchar ($9,300.) Believe it or not, Kuchar has been playing some fantastic golf as of late. He’s fresh off a very quiet eighth place finish last week in a star filled field at the Genesis Invitational. He also went T7th at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January and T32nd at the WM Phoenix Open two weeks back. He’s actually the best on Tour when it comes to SG: SCR on the season. Statistically speaking, there isn’t anyone better in saving par or less after missing the green in regulation than Kuchar. We've talked about the importance of that already in this article. He is also tenth in bogey avoidance, 17th in SG: ATG, 46th in average par four scoring, 65th in SG: APP, 91st in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 116th in total driving and 140th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards.
With such a depleted field, this is a hard price range to gauge this week but we’ll see what we can come up with. First off we have Adam Svensson ($8,700.) Svensson is currently 11th on Tour in SG: SCR, 40th in bogey avoidance, 47th in SG: ATG, 70th in SG: APP, 101st in par four scoring, 112th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards, 133rd in SG: PUTT Bermuda and 149th in total driving. In an event where scrambling will be key along with bogey avoidance, finding someone who does both well above average is important and that’s what Svensson offers. We also can’t forget that Svensson quietly went T9th at last week’s Genesis Invitational. He too has made nine-of-12 cuts on the season and even has a victory at the RSM Classic in November. Not a bad collection of stats and accolades to compete in this depleted field. Also consider Harris English ($8,400.) English is currently 20th on Tour in SG: ATG, 38th in SG: SCR, 69th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 77th in bogey avoidance, 83rd in average par four scoring, 102nd in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards, 116th in SG: APP and 130th in total driving. Like Svensson, English had a great showing last week, placing T12th at the Genesis Invitational. He missed three cuts heading into the Genesis but did make six straight cuts prior. After a promising showing at a very difficult course last week, he’ll look to replicate that again this week.
My third highest scoring golfer per my model this week can be found in this price range in Ben Griffin ($7,900.) Griffin has already played in 11 events thus far this season and has made the cut in nine of them. He most recently missed the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am but made nine straight cuts heading into that event. His season is highlighted by a T3rd at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship back in October. He’s currently 12th in average par four scoring, 31st in SG: APP, 60th in bogey avoidance, 63rd in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 64th in SG: ATG, 67th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards, 77th in SG: SCR and 112th in total driving. He’s above average in all but one of the statistical categories we’re taking into consideration this week. He’ll receive a few dollars on my behalf this week on his +5500 outright line. Also consider Robby Shelton ($7,800.) Like Griffin, Shelton too has played in 11 events on the season and has made nine cuts. He’s made the cut in three straight events heading into this week. In two of those events he placed T6th at The American Express and T20th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He’s currently 21st on Tour in SG: ATG, 25th in SG: APP, 38th in average par four scoring, 46th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards, 58th in bogey avoidance, 64th in SG: SCR, 76th in SG: PUTT Bermuda and 155th in total driving. If Shelton can get his driver going a bit this week, I don’t see why he couldn’t be in contention on Sunday.
In these types of tournaments this is my favorite price range because we get to highlight golfers we would normally not get the chance to. First in this price range we have Austin Cook ($6,500.) He’s currently 29th on Tour in SG: SCR, 33rd in SG: APP, 51st in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 58th in SG: ATG, 101st in average par four scoring, 102nd in bogey avoidance, 120th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards and 152nd in total driving. Cook has made just five cuts in 11 events but did make the cut in two of his last three events at The American Express and Farmers Insurance Open. At just $6,500, you can’t go wrong with Cook. Also consider Eric Cole ($6,900.) Cole is currently 30th on Tour in SG: SCR, 41st in bogey avoidance, 43rd in SG: ATG, 86th in SG: APP, 100th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards, 101st in average par four scoring, 105th in SG: PUTT Bermuda and 157th in total driving. The last time we saw Cole, he placed T15th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He had a rough start to the season with four missed cuts but did rattle off a stretch of five straight made cuts stretching from November to late January.