The West Coast Swing on the PGA Tour is now over and it is time to head east for the first event of the season in Florida. The Honda Classic is an event with a growing reputation, largely due to the impressive track which hosts it, the Champion Course at PGA National.
The Champion Course measures 7,158 yards from the back tees which doesn’t look huge on paper but it is only a par 70 and continually ranks as one of the hardest courses on the PGA Tour. Known for the Bear Trap, the three hole stretch towards the end of the course, this is going to be a struggle for even the best players in the world. Following on from Riviera last week we are going to get a good insight into the players who are close to peaking at the right time, with the Masters fast approaching.
For such a tough golf course it is not actually a place where distance off the tee matters too much. Rather, it is important to hit greens in regulation, putt well and scramble out of trouble when things don’t go to plan. It is also incredibly important to be able to move the ball both ways and control trajectory as PGA National is quite exposed to the elements and the weather forecasts suggest that the wind is going to be a major factor this week.
Rory McIlroy is the pre-tournament favourite with the bookies but it looks very much like he is focused on getting his game ready for the majors and it was clear at Riviera that he is not quite there yet. That said, he was only one good round away from winning at the Northern Trust and can never be discounted.
Just underneath him in the betting though is a golfer who is playing as well as ever, Rickie Fowler. The 27-year-old has already won this season and he lost out narrowly in a playoff at the Phoenix Open. Fowler grew up playing golf in windy conditions and at odds of 12/1 with Betfred, the world number five has all the class needed to win.
Another player who has a great deal of experience playing golf in the wind is Luke Donald. The Englishman has the ability to hold the ball up into the wind and hit greens with a relatively low ball flight if needed. Not the biggest hitter, Donald is unlikely to reach the top of the world rankings again but he is improving all the time after some major swing issues and played well at both the Sony Open and the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which augurs well for a battle against this course and the elements.
If Donald can fight back from his slump than so can a player of the quality of Ernie Els. The South African golfing legend remains one of the best ball strikers in the world and seems to have sorted out the putting issues which have been so damaging in the past year or so. Els can be backed as big as 200/1 with Coral which is a massive price for a player who has previously won the Honda Classic and who looks to be on an upward curve, defying his age.