The Honda Classic Preview

The first few large-field designated events were a big success and now the PGA TOUR will head to PGA National to kick off the Florida Swing.

There is an obvious drop in field strength but that's to be expected when you just played back-to-back big events. Most superstars just won't put three straight events on their calendars. Still, there are plenty of notables in the field this week with Sungjae Im, Billy Horschel, and Shane Lowry headlining the field from an OWGR point-of-view. There are a few DP World Tour stars trying to make their name on the big stage (Min Woo Lee and Adrian Meronk) and plenty of others looking for their breakout wins.

The field is 144 golfers to start the week while the Low 65 and Ties will make it through the 36-hole cutline.

The Course

The Champion Course at PGA National is the host course this week. It's been playing that role since the 2007 edition of the Honda Classic.

This Fazio design was opened in 1981 and was reworked by Jack Nicklaus in 2002.

Looking at the scorecard we see a par 70 that plays to 7,125 yards.

There is a good blend of short and long holes but only two par 5s to feast on and neither is very generous in giving out eagles.

A big theme of the week is water with hazards in play on 15 holes, including the 15-16-17 stretch we all know as The Bear Trap.

With very few eagle opportunities and a lot of big numbers lurking, it's no surprise to see this is one of the toughest scoring environments among non-major venues.

Off the tee, golfers are often taking less than driver and then aiming away from flags with their second shots and hoping to roll in a few putts or grind away with par after par if the putter goes cold. Add in typically windy conditions during the event, and it often turns into a scramble fest.

After a few months out West, many Southerners are happy to see bermudagrass turf this week. The greens were relaid with fresh TifEagle bermuda back in 2018 so they've had plenty of time to settle in by now.

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Sepp Straka in 2022: "It's right there in front of you. I mean you basically try not to hit it in the water. You just pick your safe targets and you hit an aggressive shot at your safe targets and that's kind of the key."

Cameron Tringale in 2020: "The wind out here is always the biggest defense. This golf course with all the run-offs, it's a second-shot golf course."

Tommy Fleetwood in 2020: "The wind is a massive factor all the way around the golf course. I feel like there's so many cross-winds which bring misses off the tee, into the greens, cross-winds affect the putts, and it's just an all-around very, very difficult test, and it tests everyone. It tests every part of your game."

There is typically no hiding from the wind here. Even a 10 to 15 MPH breeze will add enough doubt to make things interesting, considering you have water to deal with in 15 holes.

Correlated Courses

Using historical data we can look at overperformance and underperformance at this week's host course and compare that to all of the courses played out on TOUR. Here are the ones that shared a lot of overlap:

Sedgefield CC
Harbour Town GL
Detroit GC

The importance of around-the-green play is probably the most prevalent theme linking these courses with a little less emphasis on driver performance.

The Weather

Thursday: Sunny with a high of 86 degrees. Winds at 10 to 16 MPH.

Friday: Sunny with a high of 85 degrees. Winds at 7 to 17 MPH.

It's looking like a relatively calm week by PGA National standards but we still have a few more days to see if Mother Nature ramps up the wind machine.

Golfers to Watch

Sungjae Im

He's the man to beat according to oddsmakers, opening as a 9/1 favorite in the outright market. He's a past champ here (2020) and arrived with three straight top 20s before last week's ho-hum T56 at Riv.

Shane Lowry

The Irishman was a mess to start the new year but got things dialed in last week. He had this to say last week after a strong start at Riv, "My alignment was a little bit off last week and a new caddie on the bag and my coach wasn't there, so didn't really have the eyes that have been there for the last few years. Then my coach arrived on Sunday and managed to fix a few things and managed to get my little fade going in and I'm hitting some nice iron shots again." We've seen a steady decline with his moving-average baseline numbers but last week could be the spark he needed to start trending back in the right direction.

Billy Horschel

The Florida Gator stumbled through four finishes of T30 or worse out West but he's back on Florida home soil so it could be time for gamers to jump back on the train. Horschel has top 20s in four of his last six starts at the Honda.

Min Woo Lee

The outright markets are tossing out quite the number on Lee (just 23/1, fifth on the odds board) and it's easy to see why when you look at his overseas form. Lee has racked up finishes of T13 or better in eight straight DP World Tour events. If he continues that streak this week then it would be his career-best finish on the PGA TOUR, with a T14 at the 2022 Masters being his previous best, in 16 starts.

Harris English

He gets a twinkle in his eye whenever the TOUR heads back to bermuda territory. This Georgia Bulldog had this to say a few years back at PGA National, "I think all of us southern guys growing up on Bermudagrass, I know we don't live here, but in Sea Island we play a lot on similar grasses and similar conditions. We're very comfortable with these kind of grasses and conditions." He also just snapped out of a mini three-cut slump with a T12 last week at the Genesis.

Ranking the Field

1. Sungjae Im
2. Shane Lowry
3. Alex Noren
4. Taylor Pendrith
5. Aaron Wise
6. Denny McCarthy
7. Thomas Detry
8. Chris Kirk
9. Matt Kuchar
10. Billy Horschel
11. Adrian Meronk
12. J.T. Poston
13. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
14. Harris English
15. Jhonattan Vegas
16. Robby Shelton
17. Cam Davis
18. Adam Svensson
19. Min Woo Lee
20. Greyson Sigg