Power Rankings: The Honda Classic

February 27, 2012
Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM fantasy columnist

There were 206 par 3s played on the PGA TOUR in 2011. This includes the four majors. Sitting 1-2 in terms of difficulty were the 17th and 15th holes, respectively, at PGA National's Champion Course.

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Now in its sixth year as host of The Honda Classic, PGA National might be best known for boasting the "The Bear Trap." The phrase otherwise known as holes 15-17 will get considerable play across all media this week, and it deserves it.

The 17th averaged 3.526 strokes a year ago; the 15th checked in at 3.384. Rounding out the stretch is the par-4 16th at 4.268. As an aggregate par 10, the three-hole test scored 11.178.

Lost due to the focus on The Bear Trap is that the par-4 sixth ranked as the most difficult par 4 in a non-major all year at 4.522. Overall, PGA National, which plays to a par 35-35=70, repeated as the most difficult track to host a non-major last year at +2.540 strokes to par.

As you'd expect, par-3 scoring is, well, a bear. In 2011, PGA National claimed the most challenging quartet of short holes at 3.27. Those in the field of 144 won't find help on the par 5s, however, as the third and 18th holes averaged 4.91, good for second-highest scoring average in their class.

In all five years as host, PGA National has ranked inside the top 15 most difficult in greens in regulation; it sat sixth a year ago at 58.38 percent. In tandem with the reduction of birdie opportunities over the years is a seriously quiet birdie average. Last year, the field converted just 2.41 birdies per round, lowest in its history. It's never ranked lower than sixth-hardest in any year. So, a walk in the park it ain't but to tame the beast is a career accomplishment.

Mother Nature will due her part in keeping the course dry until a decent chance of rain enters the frame on Sunday. However, just as they blow nearly every year, winds will serve as the primary challenge, and they are already expected to gust. Seasonal high temperatures in the low 80s are forecast.

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Power Rankings: The Honda Classic
Rank Player   Comment
First appearance since a solo third in 2009. Three top 10s this season including a solo second at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Ranks 13th on TOUR in greens hit, first in Strokes Gained-Putting and second in the all-around.
It hasn't mattered where he's teed it up over the last six months. In his last 11 starts worldwide, he has eight top-three finishes including two wins and four runners-up. Already his fourth start at PGA National where his best result is a T13 in 2009.
Claimed his first of what is now five PGA TOUR victories at the first edition of the Honda at PGA National in 2007. Won the Humana Challenge last month. Placed third at the WGC-Match Play. Sit fourth on TOUR in greens hit; 11th in the all-around.
Tied for 14th in his debut here last year. Ranked fifth in putting and T5 in birdies for the week. Went 1-1 at the WGC-Match Play for a T17. Dating back to the Dunhill Links five months ago, he has nine top 20s in 10 starts.
Only golfer at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship to lose twice, finishing fourth. Has a string of five consecutive top 20s running. Shared ninth place at the 2010 Honda, then placed T29 last year.
While he went 0-1 at the WGC-Match Play, his T13 at Riviera two weeks ago was impressive given that he missed three and a half months due to an injury in his left thumb. He shared fifth place at PGA National in 2009 and tied for sixth in 2010.
Populating the leaderboard just about every time out. Went 1-1 at the WGC-Match Play following his playoff loss at the Northern Trust. Ranks 17th on the PGA TOUR in greens in regulation, 11th in adjusted scoring and first in the all-around.
Took last week off after missing the cut at Riviera, but he already has three top 10s on the year. Ranks 35th on TOUR in greens in regulation, ninth in adjusted scoring, sixth in the all-around and 18th in bogey avoidance. Runner-up here in 2009.
One of nine to co-own the course record at PGA National's Champion Course with a 64 in his final round in 2010. He finished alone in third place and didn't compete in last year's edition due to an illness. Placed T13 two weeks ago at Riviera.
Arrives on the heels of an unreal Sunday in Mexico where he double-bogeyed the 72nd hole, and then lost in an eight-hole playoff. He ranked in the top 10 in greens hit, putting and birdies. Four top 20s at PGA National, including three top fives.

In 2012, our expert will be publishing his list of players who didn't quite make the top 10 for that particular week. Here are five other players Rob Bolton likes at the The Honda Classic:

11. Marc Leishman ... Quite possibly the most underrated member of the PGA TOUR in windy conditions. He's logged a series of solid results in events when it's howling. It includes T17s the last two years at PGA National. Enters with top 20s in his last two starts of 2012.

12. J.B. Holmes ... Closed out four straight starts on the West Coast Swing with a T8 at Riviera. His strength is rapidly returning as he's currently ninth on TOUR in distance off the tee. Also 13th in Strokes Gained-Putting. First appearance at PGA National since a T12 in 2010.

13. John Huh ... His already impressive rookie season paid an early dividend with an eight-hole playoff victory at last week's Mayakoba. He closed with a bogey-free 63 and led the field in greens hit. He ranks 26th in Strokes Gained-Putting and fifth in the all-around.

14. Charles Howell III ... Shared 10th place here last year, finishing T2 in greens in regulation and carding just six over-par holes all week. Currently 22nd on TOUR in greens hit, 33rd in adjusted scoring and 14th in bogey avoidance. Placed T16 at last week's Mayakoba.

15. Jerry Kelly... Off to a sluggish start but he's logged three top 20s in five starts at PGA National. Last year's solo third was a gem. He ranked inside the top five in fairways, greens and birdies; also finished seventh in putting. Shared 12th place here in 2010.