The PGA Tour season has undergone a number of changes in the last couple of years. There are still some very familiar patterns to the way the tournaments work out including the way the West Coast Swing of events gives way to the Florida Swing before the first major tournament of the season.
So the build up to Tiger Woods’ defence of the Masters gets ramped up this week as the tour heads to Florida for the Honda Classic. Justin Rose and Billy Horschel are two very different men from very different parts of the world but they’ve both developed the skills required to win this sort of demanding golf tournament and each is worthy of support in the betting for the 2020 Honda Classic.
You often hear top class golfers talking about how they like to be challenged when they turn up to a golf tournament. There’s a difference between saying and doing though. Those who turn up to compete at around the Champion Course at PGA National are really proving that they are up for a challenge.
This is a very difficult golf course which often ranks as the most difficult par 70 of the season, sometimes including major championship courses as well. Anybody who has played much golf in Florida will quickly recognise the Champion Course to be a typically Floridian layout. There is ample thick rough to challenge the players off the tee, water is in play on 13 holes and the bunkering is brutal in places.
It’s often been said that PGA National is a place that will test a golfer’s mental strength every bit as much as their technical abilities. It’s certainly a course where you need to carefully choose lines off the tee and into the greens. There are many holes where par is a good score, including the infamous Bear Trap which comprises holes 15, 16 and 17.
|Champion Course at PGA National||Palm Beach Gardens, Florida||7,145 Yards||$7,000,000|
Jack Nicklaus has twice overseen a reworking of the Champion Course, most recently in 2013. He undoubtedly made it a tougher test of golf as the winning score has only reached double digits under par once since that time. That was in 2017 when Rickie Fowler best took advantage of a wet course to thrash the field by four strokes.
Scoring is usually much more difficult than that and the finishes much closer. Keith Mitchell did incredibly well to hold off both Fowler and Brooks Koepka by one shot last year whilst Justin Thomas and Padraig Harrington both club on in tough conditions to win via a playoff in 2018 and 2015 respectively. Adam Scott has played some very good golf in Florida over the years and needed all of that experience to pip Sergio Garcia to the title by one shot in 2016.
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2019||Keith Mitchell||-9||1 Stroke|
|2017||Rickie Fowler||-12||4 Strokes|
|2016||Adam Scott||-9||1 Stroke|
Analysis: Conditions Should Give Us a Thrilling Finish
Every player in the field this week will arrive in Florida expecting a thorough examination of where their game is. They will, therefore, be happy to find a relatively wet PGA National thanks to the large amount of rain that’s fallen locally this month. That, combined with the new greens which were introduced in 2019 having an extra year to bed in, should mean that it’s easier than usual to find the putting surfaces in regulation.
There is also relatively little to worry the players in terms of the wind forecast over the first three days of play. Anybody intent on challenging will need to make hay while the sun shines though as 25mph winds are forecasted for Sunday which will make PGA National that much tougher and likely put paid to the chances of many in the hunt.
Rose Has the Coolness and Experience to Thrive
Justin Rose doesn’t have the best memories of the Honda Classic. The last time he was seen at PGA National he missed the cut but things could go much, much better for him as he returns five years on. The weather was really challenging for the players in 2015, benign conditions will help Rose make the most of his excellent technical ability at a course which is widely regarded as favouring top class ball strikers.
Although he doesn’t feature as prominently in the betting as players with more recent strong form at the Honda Classic, Rose should take heart from fellow Europeans such as Alex Noren and Tommy Fleetwood who have played well on their tournament debut. If he can approach PGA National with fresh eyes and learn the ropes again with his experienced caddie, Gareth Lord, Rose can utilise his big tournament experience to calmly work his way up the leaderboard.
Horschel to Genuinely Enjoy the Challenge
Billy Horschel is not one of those golfers who simply claims to love a challenging set up, some of his best performances on the PGA Tour have come when conditions are tough and the pressure is on. Both of those may well be true come Sunday. If so, the native Floridian will have a huge amount of support as he battles against the wind and his competition.
Horschel has played some excellent golf in his home state over the years, including at PGA National. Indeed, he honed his game on this sort of Florida golf course so knows exactly what it will take to contend for this title once again. His chances are best supported by an each way bet and there’s plenty of scope for that with bet365 going 28/1 about his chances.
Final Verdict: Justin Rose to Win
Justin Rose has won numerous top level golf tournaments on challenging courses over the years. He makes his return to PGA Tour action looking to climb back towards the top of the world rankings and sharpen his game for the majors and his defence of the Olympics. He has more than enough quality to help achieve all of his aims for the year with victory at the Honda Classic at odds of 25/1 with Ladbrokes.
About the Honda Classic
In the world of golf, the Honda Classic heralds the start of the ‘Florida Swing’, a run of tournaments in Florida which builds to a crescendo with the Players Championship. The Florida Swing sees the action turned up a notch from the West Coast Swing that precedes it as many of the best golfers in the world are tested on a string of difficult golf courses to prepare them for the Players and, ultimately, for the four major championships.
The Champion Course at PGA National is a fitting test for the role that the Honda Classic carries out. It’s always up there with the most difficult par 70 layouts on the PGA Tour and can be nothing short of brutal when conditions dictate. The difficulty of the Champion Course makes winning the Honda Classic as much about mental fortitude as technical skill so it is little surprise that so many major champions have got the job done since the Jack Nicklaus designed course began hosting the Honda Classic in 2007, as shown in the table below.
Major-Winning Honda Classic Winners
|Player||Year of Honda Classic Win at PGA National||Previous Major Wins|
|Justin Thomas||2018||PGA Championship (2017)|
|Adam Scott||2016||The Masters (2013)|
|Padraig Harrington||2015||The Open (2007, 2008), PGA Championship (2008)|
|Rory McIlroy||2012||U.S. Open (2011), PGA Championship (2012, 2014), The Open (2014)|
|Ernie Els||2008||U.S. Open (1994, 1997), The Open (2002, 2012)|
From Caddie to Winner
During the 1986 Honda Classic, Mark Calcavecchia was still battling away, trying to make it at the top level of professional golf. Despite turning pro in 1981, he had thus far been unable to earn his breakthrough win on the PGA Tour and even lost his card after the 1985 season.
As he was trying to earn his way back onto the PGA Tour during 1986, Calcavecchia turned his hand to caddying, including when carrying the bag for his friend Ken Green at the Honda Classic. It’s not unusual for players who haven’t quite made the grade as a pro to use their knowledge of golf to become very good caddies but Calcavecchia probably realised caddying was not for him when Green missed the cut.
The experience of caddying in 1986 did help to keep the competitive fire burning in Calcavecchia. In September of that year he earned exemption on the PGA Tour with his maiden win at the Southwest Golf Classic before returning to the Honda Classic in 1987 where he won the tournament, beating Bernhard Langer and Payne Stewart by three strokes.
Calcavecchia would subsequently go on to win 12 times on the PGA Tour (including a second Honda Classic win in 1998) and join the hallowed list of major champions with his win at Royal Troon in the 1989 Open Championship.
Beware the Bear
The move to PGA National has been a major positive for the Honda Classic. Many of the world’s best golfers try to prove themselves against the challenging course which includes the ferocious Bear Trap, the collective name for holes 15, 16 and 17.
The holes – two par threes which play under 180 yards and a 434 yard par four – don’t look like much on the scorecard but the presence of some nasty water hazards and the exposure to the elements make every shot on the Bear Trap a potential round wrecker.
There is a plaque at the start of the Bear Trap underneath a huge statue of a bear which reads, “It should be won and lost here.” Those words of course designer, Jack Nicklaus, have haunted some players, while others have been able to cling on to win the tournament despite Bear Trap nightmares.
Padraig Harrington went through those three holes in two over par during the final round in 2015 but did enough to earn a place in a playoff against Daniel Berger which he won when they returned to finish off the tournament on Monday. Adam Scott’s meltdown in 2016 is even more famous. The usually unflappable Australian made a quadruple-bogey seven on the 15th on Saturday and somehow managed to win the tournament despite playing the Bear Trap in five over par for the week.