This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE HONDA CLASSIC
Winner's Share: $1.224M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Course: PGA National (Champion)
2018 champion: Justin Thomas
The Florida tournaments once constitute our second Swing of the season, with all four of them coming in a row for the first time in years. But we begin with more of a swing-and-miss. In by far the biggest casualty of the condensed PGA Tour calendar, the Honda Classic features only three of the top 20 in the OWGR and only 13 of the top 50. The sensible decision to move the WGC-Mexico before the Florida tournaments, instead of interrupting them, clearly helped Riviera two weeks ago. But after Pebble-Riviera-Mexico, the Honda was left with scraps. The biggest hit to the Tour's longest-tenured sponsor came in the form of a pass from Tiger Woods. If Woods comes, a Web.com event becomes big stuff. Instead, tournament organizers are left with defending champion Justin Thomas, 2017 winner Rickie Fowler and world No. 4 Brooks Koepka. Big names all, but hardly enough to move the needle single-handedly (triple-handedly?) in a 144-man field. If we must, we'll give you one or two other big names in Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott – how many tickets does either really sell, though? – but then the edge of the cliff arrives very quickly. At the other end of the Florida Swing, let's see how the Valspar does sandwiched between THE PLAYERS and the WGC-Match Play. It, too, had Woods in the field a year ago.
Alas, we still have a job to do, no matter the field, so here we go. Most of the golfers will be happy to be back in Florida and away from the funky grasses of 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 last year it was the second hardest behind only Shinnecock for the U.S. Open. In nine of the 12 years since the tournament moved there, the winning score has been single digits under par. Two years ago, Fowler was the only golfer in double digits, winning by four at 12-under. And when Camilo Villegas won at 13-under in 2010, he was five clear. In other words, only once in 12 years has more than one golfer reached 10-under in the same tournament. Last year, Thomas and Luke List went to a playoff at a mere 8-under. Why is PGA National so hard? Let us count the ways: water on 16 holes, more than 100 bunkers, wind normally exceeding 15 mph. We see a lot of birdie-fests early in the season; this week is all about bogey avoidance. Really, it's about double- or triple-bogey avoidance, or minimization, as we discuss in the key stats and Champion's Profile below. Thomas had only six holes last year in which he didn't shoot at least par: five bogeys and a double. That's really good. List did even better, with only five. But one of them was a triple-bogey on No. 16 in the first round that wound up haunting him three days later.
No. 16 comes smack in the middle of The Bear Trap, one of the cute little names that courses like to coin for their treacherous stretches. Here, it's Nos. 15 through 17, with two par-3s sandwiching a par-4. Last year, PGA National featured three of the 10 hardest holes of the entire PGA Tour season, and two of them were 15 and 17 (along with No. 6, a 479-yarder). No. 16 was not far behind, as List can attest. On the three Bear Trap holes, there is water on every full-length shot, and the trepidation is real. After that, the golfers can exhale, as the par-5 18th was the second easiest hole on the track a year ago.
Weather-wise, it's been raining all week and, while most of it is forecast to have moved on by Thursday, there's still a small chance all four days. Otherwise, it should be warm and windy.
Key Stats to Winning at PGA National
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Ball striking/greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Bogey avoidance
2008 – 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
2009 – Y.E. Yang
It's all about minimizing mistakes, not eliminating them, because they simply cannot be avoided at PGA National. Last year, every one of the top-10 finishers had at least one double- or triple-bogey. Make par and be happy. Some guys are better suited for that type of golf. 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 it on the green is no easy task at the Honda. That's why scrambling is important this week. Last year 1-2 finishers 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. The year before that, the top-8 finishers were all top-12 in scrambling. While Thomas was not among the best putters a year 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 bogey.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Justin Thomas - $11,900 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 5-1)
The top guy on the DK board does not hit $12,000 too often these days, but combining the defending champion with a far weaker field this time around almost made it happen. Thomas has been close to winning for weeks now, firing a course-record-tying 62 on Sunday at Chapultepec. He was runner-up at Riviera, pretty much gifting the win to J.B. Holmes, and was third the start before that at Phoenix. Not that we need to add in any stats, but Thomas leads the Tour in strokes gained: approach. He's 21st in bogey avoidance – and that's really, really good for such a risk-taker.
Rickie Fowler - $11,700 (10-1)
Fowler's 2017 title defense lasted only two rounds last year. That is an aberration for one of the steadiest players on Tour, one who had had made six straight Honda cuts. Fowler is of course coming off a win just a few weeks back at Phoenix. He is ranked 33rd in greens in regulation and 10th in strokes gained: putting.
Adam Scott - $10,300 (16-1)
Reports of Scott's demise have been around for a few years now, but he refuses to go away. He was runner-up at Torrey Pines and T7 at Riviera, two ball-striking tracks. Scott won here in 2016 and has followed that up with T14 and T13 the past two years. He is ranked 28th on Tour in strokes gained: approach and, get this, 18th in strokes gained: putting.
Sergio Garcia - $10,000 (16-1)
Garcia did a great job of minimizing the backlash from his Saudi Arabia meltdown – amazing how easy that is when there's no video – and got back to what he does best last week with a tie for sixth at Mexico. Garcia notched three top-15s in the past five years here, including a runner-up to Scott in 2016. When he's on, Garcia still is one of the best ball strikers in the world. He doesn't have enough measured rounds to be included in the stats leaders, but if he did, he would be second on Tour behind Thomas in strokes gained: approach.
Tier 2 Values
Webb Simpson - $9,600 (20-1)
Simpson has not been the elite putter he was a year ago, but he's still a premier iron player, ranked third in strokes gained: approach. And even though Simpson is a surprising 89th in strokes gained: putting, he's still getting the ball in the hole in a timely fashion, as he's tied for fifth in bogey avoidance. Simpson tied for fifth here a year ago.
Luke List - $9,200 (40-1)
List came oh-so-close to his first Tour win a year ago at this event, going toe-to-toe with Thomas into extra holes. He also tied for 10th there two years before that. List is ranked third on Tour in strokes gained: off the tee. He's coming off a T15 two weeks ago at Riviera.
Lucas Glover - $8,800 (50-1)
Courses like PGA National align perfectly with Glover's laser-like tee-to-green game. That's why he's priced at, gulp, nearly NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS. But Glover is ranked second on Tour in greens in regulation and leads it in bogey avoidance. He's seventh in ball striking. Glover finished T17 and T21 here the past two years.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat - $8,200 (60-1)
This is kind of a hunch, because there's a guy $100 cheaper (Scott Piercy) who grades out higher. But this is the No. 36 golfer in the world we're talking about, and at a price unbecoming to the No. 36 golfer in the world. The Thai star is playing the PGA Tour regularly now. He is coming off a T3 last week at Mexico is ranked third in strokes gained: putting.
Tier 3 Values
Michael Thompson - $8,000 (50-1)
We wanted to pass on Thompson, because he's an easy chalk play. But we always tell ourselves not to overthink things. And we also tell ourselves ... yeah, you can drive yourself crazy. Thompson is a former Honda champ (2013) and is riding four straight top-15s into PGA National – four real events, none of this Puerto Rico stuff. He tied for 24th here a year ago, his best finish since his victory. Thompson is ranked 62nd on Tour in ball striking.
Graeme McDowell - $7,600 (80-1)
McDowell surely will be another popular pick. He missed the cut a year ago, but was T14 the year before and T5 in 2017, his fourth Honda top-10 through the years. The 39-year-old (he seems older, doesn't he?) is ranked seventh on Tour in greens in regulation, 15th in strokes gained: putting, 17th in ball striking and 25th in bogey avoidance.
Sung-jae Im - $7,300 (60-1)
Im didn't qualify for last week's event and thankfully passed on Puerto Rico, finally taking a tournament off after playing six in a row. He trunk-slammed in the last two of those six starts. We expect the 20-year-old's legs to be refreshed as he heads to PGA National for the first time. Im is ranked 16th in strokes gained: off the tee, 26th in ball striking, 55th in greens in regulation and 66th in strokes gained: around the green. That's a nice balance. The rookie already has five top-25s, some in far tougher fields than this one.
Harold Varner III - $7,300 (100-1)
We put our faith in Varner two weeks ago ... and he missed the cut. Sigh. But he still has six top-25s on the season, and is ranked 19th in ball striking, 33rd in greens in regulation and T10 in bogey avoidance. Varner made the Honda cut the past two years, albeit without a high finish. The field he faced was far superior a year ago.
Jim Furyk - $7,000 (100-1)
In a recent weekly recap, we wrote, after Furyk tied for 14th at Pebble Beach, that despite being 48 years old he's still proving to be a good option on shorter courses in weaker fields. At par 70/7,125 yards, PGA National is not overly short or long, but the field surely is weak. Furyk is ranked seventh on Tour in bogey avoidance and 43rd in ball striking.
Adam Schenk - $6,900 (Field, 8-1)
We've turned to Schenk before. Chances of a high finish are small. Chances of making the cut are pretty good. He made the cut in five of his past six events, and was T16 last week in Puerto Rico. Schenk is decent in every area – top-80 in strokes gained: off the tee and approach, and top-50 in strokes gained: putting. He's a mediocre 104th in scrambling. That sounds like a guy who makes a lot of cuts, but doesn't do much else.
Scott Langley - $6,800 (125-1)
We've also turned to Langley before. He's made six of his past seven cuts, one of which was a T6 at Pebble Beach, where he was leading the tournament for a bit. Langley gets progressively better closer to the hole – like, a lot better. He's ranked 42nd on Tour in scrambling and first in strokes gained: putting. That's a big reason why he's also ranked 32nd in bogey avoidance.
Stewart Cink - $6,800 (125-1)
This what we wrote last year about Cink, who was the same exact price then: "Cink is in the odd position of going 7-for-7 in cuts at PGA National but never securing a top-25 (he was T27 and T26 the past two years). So, if you are looking for a bargain-basement price with a really good chance to make the cut, Cink is your man." Cink tied for 46th last year. So, there you go.