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PGA TOUR Preview: Ben Everill on the Honda Classic

It’s time to head from the west coast of the USA to the east as the Florida swing of the PGA TOUR gets underway at The Honda Classic.

PGA National’s Champion Course plays host again where the “Bear Trap” lays in wait as does the seemingly never-ending supply of water hazards. The truth is they feature on 15 of the 18 holes, but there is little respite at this place.

The non-negotiable key stat to success here of late has been Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. It isn’t difficult to know why. If you get wayward, you’re in the drink. And it’s hard to make up lost shots in water hazards.

Seven of the last eight winners were inside the top four in this metric, and four of them led the field. In the years the winner didn’t rank first, those who did were runner up twice, and never outside the top 11.

The amount of approach shots needed from 175-200 yards over the last eight seasons at The Honda Classic is well above the TOUR average. We need to drill down on proximity from the fairway at this distance, as well as the rough, but also see how players have done relative to par from the distance.

With so much potential carnage out there, players must limit their bogeys. They will come, but an ability in Bogey Avoidance needs to be top notch. Shane Lowry set a record last season with just four bogeys on the way to a runner up finish.

Honda Classic odds

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Here is a look at the players in this field currently ranking inside the top 20 on TOUR in these key stats.

STROKES GAINED: Tee to Green

4 – Jhonattan Vegas
18 – Sungjae Im 

(Joseph Bramlett 24th, Matt Kuchar 26th, Sean O’Hair 28th and Satoshi Kodaira 29th next best).

Approach from 175-200 yards (Fairway)

1 – Chris Stroud
2 – Satoshi Kodaira
7 – Cameron Percy
8 – Kyle Westmoreland
9 – Brice Garnett
11 – Callum Tarren
14- Augusto Nunez
14 – Cam Davis
19 – Jonathan Byrd

Approach from 175-200 yards (rough)

1 – Sung Kang 
4 – Chris Kirk
10 – Carl Yuan 
11 – Hank Lebioda 
12 – Shane Lowry
14 – Kelly Kraft
15 – Scott Brown
15 – Hayden Buckley

Approach from 175-200 yards (Relation to par)

1 – Chris Stroud
3 – Sungjae Im
5 – Augusto Nunez
7 – Brice Garnett
8 – Cam Davis 
9 – Callum Tarren 
11 – Jhonattan Vegas
13 – Robert Streb

Bogey Avoidance

8 – Aaron Baddeley
10 – Matt Kuchar
13 – Thomas Detry
17 – Aaron Wise
19 – Sungjae Im

TOP OF THE BOARD

The champion from 2020 in Sungjae Im is the betting favourite at 9/1 with Ireland’s Shane Lowry, who resides close by to PGA National at 14/1. Matt Kuchar, Denny McCarthy, Aaron Wise, Min Woo Lee and Billy Horschel are all next in line at 25/1.

Im backed up his win with a T8 and although he missed the cut last year, he holds a scoring average of 69.64 on the tough par-70 layout. 

Lowry has made the cut in all five attempts at the tournament but last year’s runner up finish was his first top 10. He’s coming off a T14 in Los Angeles last week. 

Kuchar won the event over 20 years ago in 2002, his only top 10 from nine tries, and hasn’t played since 2011. McCarthy’s first three attempts at The Honda Classic were missed cuts before a T3 in 2021 and a T30 in 2022. 

Wise opened the 2021 tournament 64-64 before fading hard to T13, his best result from four attempts while Horschel has six cuts made from 10 tries, with two top 10s and two T16s, the last of which came last year. Lee is yet to play The Honda Classic.

Im is the logical and statistically supported choice however with two huge events to come in the next fortnight there should be a caution tale attached to any top players. Coming off two big events with two more coming, will they exalt their full energy?

With his tee-to-green game on point of late, you might love the look of Jhonattan Vegas at 33/1 instead. The reality is there have been plenty of triple figure odds winners at PGA National in the past.

SLEEPERS

The mid-tier starts a little earlier than usual this week, led by the aforementioned Vegas. Adam Svensson 30/1, Taylor Pendrith 30/1, Thomas Detry 35/1, Hayden Buckley 45/1 and my fave after Vegas in Joseph Bramlett (55/1). 

Svensson led the field in SG: Tee-to-Green at PGA National last year as he finished T9 and he was also T9 last week in Los Angeles. Pendrith was T25 a year ago, but only had one poor round. 

Bramlett is rocking his tee-to-green game lately. 

LONGSHOTS

So may options in the triple figures starting with England’s Callum Tarren at 110/1. He looks great in the key distance for approach and was T30 on debut a year ago.

Others to pop up in the key stats with big numbers next to their name include Yuan (175/1), Kodaira (200/1), Lebioda (275/1), Nunez (300/1), Stroud (350/1) and Garnett at 600/1. 

Yuan is on debut at PGA National, Kodaira and Lebioda have only made one from four cuts previously. 

But Stroud has seven made cuts from 12 attempts, including three top 13 finishes. He’s had just six starts this season, the best a T5 at the RSM Classic in November. Garnett has two top 25s from seven previous attempts but has missed his last three cuts this season. 

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