Honda Classic Tournament Preview

2021 Honda Classic Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About PGA National Before Tee Off

Florida is in full swing as we stick around for the fourth straight week of action in the Sunshine State. Next stop, the devilishly gorgeous PGA National Championship Course in Palm Beach Gardens for the 2021 Honda Classic. While the track may look appealing to the eye on TV, it’s full of headaches for the players and annually plays as one of the most difficult tracks on Tour. Because of that, many of the game’s best tend to skip this event to save themselves the embarrassment (it’s actually to break up their schedules with another WGC and The Masters approaching). If it were me, I’d always make sure to join so I can push my index in the other direction and win some more important member guests later on in the year. But alas, me and my 7 handicap have not (yet) qualified for the Honda Classic.

Coverage-wise, I’m actually looking forward to going back to the old ways of not being able to watch any of my players play until 2pm after a brief respite with THE PLAYERS ultra coverage last week. It was an exceptional treat for one week and it surely makes the big events feel even more special, but it’s sensory overload after too long. It was one thing to follow every one of Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm’s shots last week, I’m not exactly jumping to do the same with Luke List and Chase Seiffert this time around.

There are some very particular nuances to this course that make for an interesting profile. If you can believe it, there is even more danger off the tee with water hazards than what we’ve seen from the last 3 Florida tracks, so finding a player in control of his driver is key here, even if SG: OTT isn’t jumping off the correlation charts. Let’s get into all the good stuff now!

PGA National Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,125
  • Par: 70 (4x 3’s / 12x 4’s / 2x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Historic Cut Line: +4
  • Comp Courses: Grand Reserve CC, TPC Louisiana, TPC Summerlin, Ridgewood CC, TPC San Antonio, Waialae CC
  • Past Winners: Sungjae Im (20), Keith Mitchell (19), Justin Thomas (18), Rickie Fowler (17), Adam Scott (16)
  • Other Past Winners In The Field: Padraig Harrington (15, 05), Russell Henley (14), Michael Thompson (13), Rory Sabbatini (11), Camilo Villegas (10)

This is a short but mighty course, and sets up as a Par 70 listed just under 7,200 yards. Don’t let the yardage fool you though. Unlike Sawgrass, players will not always have the luxury of clubbing down off the tee to play positional golf, so you will find players with Driver in hand pretty often this week. It’s the carry distance for all the water hazards that makes a controlled driver so important this week, and while you’d expect SG: OTT to translate to strong performances here, it does not. You can miss the fairway with your drives in the right places and still survive with par on many holes, and pure bombers will inevitably find water over the course of the week. There are only 2 Par 5s, so pure distance won’t get you very far here, but on the other hand, shorter Fairway Finders have not faired any better, as it always pays to have a shorter approach shot on a difficult course.

PGA National is most known for “The Bear Trap” 3-hole stretch on 15, 16, and 17, which is touted as one of the most difficult closing stretches in golf. Only Quail Hollow’s 16-17-18 and Pebble Beach’s 8-9-10 play more difficult on Tour as far as 3-hole stretches go. There are only 4 holes (1, 3, 13, 18) at PGA National where the total scoring average is below par, so this is the time to look for grinders and bogey-avoiders.

Aside from Keith Mitchell, the Florida assassin, it’s been a class list of winners the last 5 years, including victories from Sungjae Im, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, and Adam Scott. In the years prior, we saw Padraig Harrington, Russell Henley, Michael Thompson, Rory Sabbatini, and Camilo Villegas win as well. Thompson aside, that crew also generally fits that upper-middle tier profile in the respective years they won here.

In terms of course comps, Waialae CC pops as a nice corollary course for success. Russell Henley and Justin Thomas (though not in this field) each have wins at both, and Daniel Berger, Brendan Steele, and Justin Rose (also not in this field) have consistently had great success at both events. Looking through Data Golf’s other comp courses, Grand Reserve CC, TPC Louisiana, TPC Summerlin, Ridgewood CC, and TPC San Antonio all require the same balanced weight of OTT, APP, ARG, and Putting to contend, despite the varying levels of scoring difficulty.

What to do with Lee Westwood will likely be the storyline of the week at the Honda Classic. He’s never won here (obviously, he’s Lee Westwood), but has always played well, having never missed a cut in 8 career trips, including 4 T10s in that span. He comes in hotter than ever with back to back Runner Up finishes, and that starts to make sense when you consider he recently bought a home in the surrounding Florida area 2 years ago. Byeong Hun An, Ryan Palmer, and Wyndham Clark also round out a list of players with good course history and consistently strong finishes.

Key Stats

  • SG: APP
  • SG: BS
  • P4 Scoring: 350-400, 400-450, 450-500
  • Prox: 175-200
  • Bogey & Double Bogey Avoidance
  • Birdies & Opportunities Gained
  • SG: Putting (Bermuda)
  • Course History

Stats To Avoid

  • GIRs Gained
  • Fairways Gained / Good Drives Gained
  • Scrambling Gained
  • Par 5 Scoring
  • Prox 200+

It’s another Ball Striking week. All of the stats are pointing in the direction of elite Approach Players with Distance + Control OTT, so I’ll be combining APP and BS in my models this week, rather than running against pure OTT stats. Short Game also takes a step back to it’s usual middle-of-the-road importance, so I’ll take some chances on #TeamNoPutt members. This has all the makings of another Russell Henley, Sam Burns, and Matthew NeSmith week for me once again, which bodes well for my penchant for burning money.

There are just 4 players in the field who rank above average in each of the above Key Stat categories, and they should come as no surprise: Daniel Berger, Sungjae Im, Russell Henley, and Sam Burns.

Correlation charts are here to stay as it turns out! I tested this out for the first time last week at THE PLAYERS and it really helped highlight the importance of Short Game there in general and relative to Tour average, which ultimately paid off for a JT outright cash. This week, it’s SG: APP that jumps up as my key stat of the week. That makes sense looking at a course Sungjae Im, Russell Henley, Justin Thomas, and Adam Scott have won in recent years, but it’s interesting to see it jump from the usual 16th rank all the way up to the 8th most important stat at the Honda Classic. Bogeys Avoided, Opportunities Gained, and P4: 350-400 are also categories that jump up in importance at The Honda Classic compared to Tour Average. On the other hand, GIRs Gained and SG: OTT are two categories I’m deprioritizing this week, as they are typically Top-10 indicators, but fall outside that range on PGA National.

Top 10 correlated stats with SG: TOT
Top 10 correlated stats with SG: TOT at PGA National

Interestingly enough, Good Drives Gained ranked out as one of the least significant stats of the week for the Honda Classic, followed closely by GIRs Gained, Scrambling, and Prox 200+ as the least important stats of the week relative to average.

To simplify all that, I’m looking for great Ball Strikers and Approach players this week who are above average in Driving Distance and Accuracy and not hopeless on the greens. There are 5 players in this Field who rank T30 in SG: APP & SG: BS, above-average (T75) in Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy, and Top-100 in weighted Total/Bermuda/PGA National Putting: Daniel Berger, Joaquin Niemann, Cameron Tringale, Matt Wallace, and Harold Varner III.

What To Look Out For at the 2021 Honda Classic

Sungjae Im wins The Honda Classic for first PGA TOUR title

Last year’s Honda Classic came down to the wire, with Sungjae Im just barely edging a hot Mackenzie Hughes and Tommy Fleetwood down the stretch. Sungjae came into the event last year as the #1 Putter on Bermuda, so if you want to follow that trend, feel free to jump down the Sam Burns rabbit hole once more. Hughes came from absolutely nowhere last year, coming in with poor overall form, but was able to ride a hot putter throughout the tournament. The one thing he did have going for him however was his ability to place well on difficult courses. The Top 5 players coming into this week in SG: TOT at events with difficult scoring relative to par are Daniel Berger, Mackenzie Hughes, Jim Furyk, Russell Knox, and Matt Wallace.

Taking all of that into account, here’s an early look at my short listed player pool considerations based on my projected pricing and odds tiers:

  • Tier 1 (<20/1, $10K+): Daniel Berger, Joaquin Niemann, Sungjae Im
  • Tier 2 (20-39/1, $9K): Russell Henley, Adam Scott, Ryan Palmer
  • Tier 3 (40-69/1, $8K): Lee Westwood, Cameron Davis, Sam Burns, Cameron Tringale, Gary Woodland, Byeong Hun An, Matt Wallace, Chris Kirk
  • Tier 4 (70-100/1, $7K): Luke List, Wyndham Clark, Matthew NeSmith, Doug Ghim, Talor Gooch, Harold Varner III, Erik van Rooyen, Keegan Bradley, Brendan Steele
  • Tier 5 (>100/1, $6K): Russel Knox, Jhonattan Vegas, Chase Seiffert, Doc Redman, Cameron Percy, James Hahn, Roger Sloan, Aaron Wise

In my models, Russell Henley ranks #1 this week, followed by Daniel Berger, Sam Burns, Cameron Davis, and Cameron Tringale. One player I think may fly a bit under the radar this week who fits the profile perfectly is Matt Wallace, so I’ll be looking to scoop an outright on him early Monday.