Editor's note (March 17): Daniel Berger is a WD from The Honda Classic due to injury.
For each of the first 14 seasons of the FedExCup era, PGA National’s Champion Course set the tone for the Florida Swing. Home of The Honda Classic since 2007, it launched a strenuous, month-long sojourn for the PGA TOUR in the Sunshine State.
Because of the reconstructed 2020-21 PGA TOUR season, and for the first time since PGA National assumed host duties, the Honda was shifted to the anchor position of the Florida Swing. It’s another way of rerouting the more familiar march – in like a lamb and out like a lion.
The stern test in Palm Beach Gardens has been the hardest par 70 in a non-major three years running and five of the last six. More on it, how breakthrough champion Sungjae Im prevailed a year ago and other details can be found beneath the ranking of projected contenders.
POWER RANKINGS: THE HONDA CLASSIC
Tuesday’s Fantasy Insider will include reviews of 2017 champion Rickie Fowler, Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson, Ian Poulter and other notables.
Since its inception as the Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic in Lauderhill in 1972, the PGA TOUR has set up shop for this tournament in south Florida in the window of late February through mid-March. However, for its 49th edition this week – if you’re doing the math to understand why it’s not the 50th, in 1976, Inverrary hosted the third edition of what today is known as THE PLAYERS Championship, so there was a gap year in the history of the Honda – it’ll begin later (March 18) than any previous edition ended (March 16 of 1997 and 2003). Although the move was triggered by the pandemic, it’s worth a mention because there’s a natural curiosity for how the winds will impact ball flight at a time never experienced for this tournament. Every edge matters.
Alas, breezes will be omnipresent throughout as usual. However, with a system encroaching on Friday’s action, winds will rotate to push in from a southwesterly direction. Come the weekend, they’ll be blowing in from the opposing north and rain could fall during part of Sunday’s scheduled finale. The bright side to the swirl is that daytime highs will drop from the upper 80s on Thursday and into the 70s by Saturday.
Ordinarily, years of experience would be a prerequisite to contend in gusts on a treacherous track, but since Michael Thompson captured the title in 2013, four of the eight champions were in their second appearance, including the last two. In a general sense, the combination of these factors favors ball-strikers over putters.
Im’s winning pace of 6-under 274 was just one better than Mark Wilson’s record high in PGA National’s debut in 2007. As expected with a high degree of difficulty, Im checked all of the necessary boxes. He ranked T10 in fairways hit, T2 in greens in regulation (50 of 72) and led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. He also finished T5 in scrambling and inside the top 10 in par-3, par-4 and par-5 scoring. Despite all of that sparkle, he was just T38 in Strokes Gained: Putting.
The Champion Course gives away nothing, except to tease on the pair of par 5s. Among 41 courses used in the truncated 2019-20 season, it slotted 21st in driving accuracy, fourth in GIR, sixth in proximity, second in putting: birdies-or-better, third in scrambling, T2 in par-3 scoring and third in par-4 scoring. It was T23 in par-5 scoring.
Not unlike how most of TPC Sawgrass sets up, the majority of PGA National doesn’t require weight training to excel. At just 7,125 yards and averaging but 277.2 yards in distance of all drives (fourth-shortest clip last season), the field of 144 can focus on the rest of the exam. Of course, it includes The Bear Trap – the par 3-4-3 sequence of holes 15, 16 and 17. For the week, it yielded a scoring average of 10.652, which aligns with its expectation over time. Im scored 1-under with four birdies to outbalance a trio of bogeys.
Only the two-inch bermuda rough is overseeded (with rye). The TifEagle bermuda greens are prepped to their customary 12 feet on the Stimpmeter.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
MONDAY: Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.