This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE HONDA CLASSIC
Winner's Share: $1.26M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Course: PGA National (Champion)
2019 champion: Keith Mitchell
You know how they say, "Once is a coincidence, twice is a trend"? Well, we have a trend, and it ain't good for the Honda Classic. This will be the second year in a row with a light field, as only one top-10 golfer in the world rankings is entered this week. It's certainly no coincidence, because that's how many years the condensed PGA Tour schedule has been used. Last year, the tournament had only three top-10 players, but all were at least bold-faced names who resided in the top 10: Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler. This year, only Koepka represents the top 10, with four other top-20 golfers joining him: Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen and Gary Woodland. Viktor Hovland, fresh off his maiden win in Puerto Rico, will be a boost. The biggest draw is probably Fowler, who is trying to stay in the top 25. But for the second year in a row, there will be no Tiger Woods, even though it would be a home game for him and he could sleep in his own bed.
On that cheery note, we now begin the Florida Swing, which last year became an actual "swing." All four tournaments in the Sunshine State – this week's event, next week's at Bay Hill, The PLAYERS Championship, and the Valspar Championship – are played consecutively. For the record, if you thought there were more than four Florida events out of the 40-plus played annually on Tour, you surely are not alone. It may be hard to believe, but there are more in California and even Texas, who each claim five Tour stops.
The field is 144 and most of the golfers will be happy to be back in Florida and away from the funky grasses on the West Coast. But PGA National is no splendor in the grass. It's annually one of the toughest tracks the golfers will play, and the past two years it was among the five hardest. In 10 of the 13 years since the tournament moved there, the winning score has been just a single digit under par. Last year, Keith Mitchell came out nowhere to shoot 9-under and edge both Koepka and Fowler by a stroke. Mitchell has subsequently gone back to nowhere, again ranked outside the top 100.
Why is PGA National so hard? Let us count the ways: there is water on 16 holes, more than 100 bunkers, and wind normally exceeding 15 mph. We see a lot of birdie-fests early in the season; this week is all about bogey avoidance. Actually, it's about double- or triple-bogey avoidance. Mitchell had only seven holes in which he didn't shoot par or better, and all seven were bogeys – no doubles or worse. Fowler had a triple-bogey on No. 6 on Thursday and Koepka had three doubles on the week. You don't need to be a math whiz to know that if either of them could've minimized the damage the way Mitchell did, they would've won. Two years ago, Thomas won with only six holes over par: five bogeys and a double.
We of course could not continue without mentioning the famed Bear Trap, one of the cute little monikers that courses like to name their tough stretches. Here, it's Nos. 15 through 17, with two par-3s sandwiching a par-4. On each of them, there is water on every full-length shot, and the trepidation is real. After that, the golfers can exhale, as the par-5 18th is a relative cakewalk. Interestingly, last year there were five harder holes than the Bear Trap trio, led by No. 6, a 479-yarder that was the fourth-hardest hole on Tour all season – as Fowler can attest. Still, all three Bear Trap holes played over par. Only four of the 18 holes averaged under par, and two of them were the par-5s. Yes, that's another factor in the high scores: only two par-5s.
Weather-wise, a hot start to the week will disappear after thunderstorms roll through on Wednesday. Then it actually will be a bit cool for South Florida, with temperatures struggling to reach 70 the rest of the week. That means there could be some chilly mornings. The good news is, the rain should be gone. The bad news is, it will be windy.
Key Stats to Winning at PGA National
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Ball striking/greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Bogey avoidance
2019 – Keith Mitchell
2018 – Justin Thomas
2017 – Rickie Fowler
2016 - Adam Scott
2015 – Padraig Harrington
2014 – Russell Henley
2013 – Michael Thompson
2012 – Rory McIlroy
2011 – Rory Sabbatini
2010 – Camilo Villegas
It's all about minimizing mistakes, not eliminating them, because they simply cannot be avoided at PGA National. We detailed earlier how huge mistakes cost Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka, and how Keith Mitchell avoided them. Make par and be happy. Some guys are better suited for that. Boring golf pays dividends this week. Hit the ball in the fairway, get it on the green, take your par or an occasional birdie and head to the next tee. But getting on the green is no easy task at PGA National. That's why scrambling is vitally important this week. Last year, Mitchell scrambled remarkably and ranked second in the field. Lucas Glover, who tied for fourth with Ryan Palmer, ranked first. Two years ago, 1-2 finishers Justin Thomas and Luke List were 1-2 in scrambling, respectively. The year before, Fowler and co-runners-up Gary Woodland and Morgan Hoffmann all finished top-10 in scrambling. And in 2016, the top eight finishers were all top-12 in scrambling. While Thomas was not among the best putters two years ago, six of the top 10 on the leaderboard ranked top-10 in strokes gained: putting. A really good way to avoid the big number is to sink a 10-foot putt for par, or even bogey.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Tommy Fleetwood - $11,600 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 12-1)
We did a double take when we saw who the first guy on the DraftKings board was. It's not as if Fleetwood doesn't belong; we just thought he'd be second. After all, he's never won on the PGA Tour. That said, PGA National aligns perfectly with Fleetwood's game. He hasn't played much on Tour this season – just four events, including last week's in Mexico – but last season he was the absolute best scrambler on Tour and was tied for fourth in bogey avoidance. Fleetwood has played the Honda Classic just once before but got the job done, tying for fourth in 2018.
Rickie Fowler - $10,800 (14-1)
It seems incongruous that Fowlwer's flashy nature would mesh with the boring golf required to do well at PGA National. But in reality, Fowler is a pretty conservative golfer, far from the persona he portrayed in his early days on Tour. That's why he has done so well at the Honda, winning in 2017, finishing co-runner-up last year and adding two more top-10s in previous visits.
Gary Woodland - $10,300 (25-1)
Woodland has been a mixed bag across six appearances at PGA National dating to 2011. He was runner-up to Fowler in 2017 and also has a tie for sixth, but otherwise has finished outside the top 35, including the past two years. As we saw in 2017, he has the steadiness needed to succeed here. He's a long, straight hitter off the tee, is a decent scrambler (ranked 55th) and also ranks T5 on Tour in bogey avoidance this season.
Tier 2 Values
Sungjae Im - $9,300 (30-1)
Im is at it again this season, already having teed it up 12 times. But he actually took a week off a few weeks ago and skipped Pebble Beach. Im is coming off a tie for 29th last week in Mexico, and we think he has at the all-around game to contend for the title. He's ranked top-35 in both strokes gained: off the tee and SG: putting, and is top-40 in bogey avoidance. Im played his first Honda a year ago and tied for 51st.
Billy Horschel - $9,200 (30-1)
Horschel has found his footing the past two weeks, tying for ninth at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Mexico. He has seemingly figured out PGA National over the past four years, tying for eighth and fourth in 2016 and 2017 while tying for 16th last year. Horschel is a pretty good driver of the golf ball but a top-notch putter and currently ranks 16th on Tour in strokes gained: putting.
Daniel Berger - $8,900 (30-1)
It's not every day that we see a golfer ranked 123rd in the world with a nearly $9,000 price tag and 30-1 odds. But that's what happens when you used to be a top-20 golfer who tied for second in this event once before, back in 2015. Berger is still trying to make it all the way back from a debilitating wrist injury, and he appears to be making ground. He's coming off consecutive top-10s at Phoenix and Pebble and in his past 13 starts dating to last summer he only missed one cut.
Ryan Palmer - $8,300 (60-1)
Palmer has made the cut seven of the past eight years at the Honda, including a tie for fourth last year and a runner-up back in 2014. He's also missed only one cut in his past 11 starts dating to the Open Championship. Palmer has a terrible short game, but he somehow manages to get around PGA National four times almost every year regardless. The key for Palmer could be the 16th hole, which he has played worse than anyone else since PGA National became the host track in 2007: a whopping 17-over-par.
Corey Conners - $8,200 (60-1)
This pick is a gamble, because Conners can't chip and he certainly can't putt. But his game is otherwise elite, ranking 15th in strokes gained: off tee, 22nd in SG approach and fifth in greens in regulation. We're banking that Conners can be the rare golfer who won't need to rely heavily on scrambling at PGA National because he is so accurate with his irons. He's missed only two cuts in his past 15 starts, but one of them was two weeks ago at Riviera.
Tier 3 Values
Harris English - $7,800 (60-1)
We expect English to be a popular pick. He's improved from 60th to 33rd to 12th the past three years. English is also the rare player to have played the Bear Trap bogey-free twice, in 2017 and again last year. He's made 8-of-9 cuts this season, with four top-10s and a tie for 16th in his last start at Phoenix.
Russell Henley - $7,400 (100-1)
Henley has not been at the top of his game for a few years now, but he has performed in this event. He was the winner in 2014, finished top-25 the past two years and has made the cut six times over the past seven years. Henley is also coming off a tie for 17th at Riviera, which actually was a bad break because he was contending on Sunday before a late collapse. Henley is ranked 37th on Tour in bogey avoidance.
Bud Cauley - $7,300 (80-1)
Cauley tied for 12th at the Honda last year and was T27 in 2017. In between, he withdrew from the 2018 event. A quick look at the stats shows why Cauley succeeds at PGA National: he's ranked 14th in scrambling and T18 in bogey avoidance. According to the PGA Tour he's also third on the list of fewest water balls at the Bear Trap since PGA National became the host track in 2007 with only 13.
Talor Gooch - $7,200 (100-1)
Gooch has run off 10 straight made cuts, including a tie for 10th last time out at Riviera, since a season-opening trunk slam at the Greenbrier. That's what we want this week – someone who figures out how to play four rounds no matter the course or conditions. Gooch tied for 20th a year ago at PGA National. He had five top-25s in both the past two seasons but already has four in 2019-20.
Jim Furyk - $7,100 (100-1)
Furyk was right here last year – among our long shots for the Honda. He did us right by tying for ninth. Now, just three months before he becomes eligible for the Champions Tour, we turn to him again. He is ranked first on Tour in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation. Furyk has missed the cut in both his 2020 starts, at Pebble and Riviera, but he is still ranked in the top 80 in the world.
Tom Hoge - $6,900 (125-1)
After missing four straight cuts to close the fall season, Hoge is 5-for-5 in 2020. Three of them were top-12s and he added another top-25 before tying for 60th last time out in Phoenix. Hoge impressively is ranked fifth on Tour in scrambling and is also top-25 in bogey avoidance. He's missed the cut the past two years at the Honda, but he's playing perhaps the best golf of his career right now.
Brian Stuard - $6,700 (150-1)
We can't think of a more vanilla golfer than Stuard, and that's just the type we're looking for in the long-shot category. The veteran has finished top-30 in four of his past six visits to the Honda, along with two missed cuts. His best was just a year ago when he tied for 20th. Stuard is coming off a top-25 at Riviera. He's ranked 26th on Tour in scrambling and and T53 in bogey avoidance.
Scott Brown - $6,500 (200-1)
Brown has made the Honda cut the past four years, including a tie for 20th last year. He's also coming off a recent runner-up at Riviera. Brown is ranked in the upper half of PGA tour players in both scrambling and putting – remember, all we're trying to do way down here is make it to Saturday. Everything after that is gravy.