Picks and tips: Expect chaos at windy Honda

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Will Gray
·6 min read
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After a week watching the best in the world battle it out at the PGA Tour's flagship event, things could get a little more interesting this week at the Honda Classic.

Only a handful of players have made the short trek south to Palm Beach Gardens, as Honda tournament officials had lobbied the Tour for a new spot on the calendar. They got their wish, moving from late February to mid-March, but are now sandwiched between The Players and next week's WGC event. A notable byproduct is that the field is less than stellar and a far cry from the highs of the last decade, when players like Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy made regular appearances.

There's still plenty to play for this week, although the forecast could also add another interesting variable. Winds are expected to gust on and off throughout the week, meaning that the already treacherous Champion Course at PGA National should have some extra teeth. Water looms around every corner and double bogey is never out of reach, meaning that with the added wind factor it'll be increasingly important to lean on solid ball-strikers.

Daniel Berger and defending champ Sungjae Im headline the betting favorites, but I'm looking deeper down the sheet in what I expect could be an unpredictable week. Here are some of the players that could surprise as the Tour wraps up a four-week stretch in Florida:

To win (odds via PointsBet Sportsbook)

Wyndham Clark (+6000): Clark held the 54-hole lead at this event two years ago in his tournament, only to settle for a T-7 finish after a closing 72. He put up another solid showing (T-11) last year, one that included a much-improved 66 on the final day. Over the last two years at this event he leads the field in total strokes gained and sits second in SG: Putting, a far cry from his 107th standing this season on the greens. Clark remains in search of his first career Tour win but has had a few brushes already this season, notably a runner-up in Bermuda in November and a T-8 finish last month at Riviera. This is a course and a tournament where first-timers can occasionally get across the line: each of the last two winners, Keith Mitchell and Sungjae Im, made this their maiden title. Don't be surprised if Clark makes a run at adding his name to the list as he looks to bounce back from a pair of missed cuts on a course where he has played well in both prior starts.

Luke List (+7000): Three years ago List got as close as he's ever been to a PGA Tour win, losing a playoff to Justin Thomas. And while he has missed the cut each of the last two years since that runner-up, this price is big enough to get me to bite on the potential of another surprising showing. List is among the best drivers on Tour, ranking ninth this season in SG: Off-the-Tee, and no one has gained more shots either off the tee or overall than him when looking solely at rounds at PGA National with significant wind. That's expected to be the case this week, but even without the wind qualifier he's ninth among the field in SG: Tee-to-Green at this particular venue. List missed the cut last week but only by a shot, and he notched a top-10 finish earlier this year on another long and treacherous layout in Torrey Pines.

Jhonattan Vegas (+8000): Vegas knows what it takes to win on Tour, with three titles to his credit, and he was a runner-up just three weeks ago in Puerto Rico. The Venezuelan also has the game to go low at PGA National, with three top-20 finishes in his last six appearances. That includes a T-4 result in 2017, and twice in his last 13 rounds Vegas has posted a 6-under 64 here. He's strong with driver in hand, ranking seventh this season in SG: Off-the-Tee and in position to press that advantage if the wind kicks up on an already long layout. Vegas can run a little streaky, especially on the greens, but last week he holed more than 200 feet of putts in the second round alone. A little sampling of that accuracy with putter will go a long way this week on a course that tends to suit his eye and one where he has had some prior success.

Top finishes (odds via PointsBet)

Byeong-Hun An (+650 for top-10 finish): Last week An made news for all the wrong reasons, dumping four balls into the water on the iconic 17th hole en route to an 11. He shrugged it off as well as could be expected, even though that single hole torpedoed any chances of making the weekend, let alone contending at TPC Sawgrass. But An could bounce back in a big way this week on a course where he finished T-5 in 2018 in his debut and T-4 a year ago. In three appearances he has gotten better as the week has gone on, shooting in the 60s in five of his six weekend rounds and turning in an over-par total just once after the opening round. He's always a question mark on the greens, but the windy forecast could put added emphasis on his reliable ball-striking. If he's able to avoid the rough opener that has slowed him down in each of his three prior showings, he could factor once again into the final round as he looks for his first Tour win and a few more player-friendly headlines.

Brendan Steele (+225 for top-20 finish): Steele is a West Coast guy, but he usually has this event circled. The veteran embraces the demands of PGA National and has the results to show for it: top-20 finishes in four of the last five years, including a T-4 showing last year. Steele has also been solid in recent weeks, making seven straight cuts dating back to a T-4 finish at Sony. Expect to see his name on the leaderboard well into the weekend once again on a course that suits his strengths, as he ranks fifth among the field in SG: Ball-striking at PGA National.

Vijay Singh (+450 for top-40 finish): It feels like it might be a week for longshots and fliers, so here's one on the former world No. 1 who's still going strong at age 58. Singh is a life member on Tour and a regular at this event, having made five appearances since 2014. That includes a pair of surprising results, as he finished T-6 here in 2016 and solo sixth in 2019 after entering the final round one shot off the lead. He's made only one cut on the PGA Tour since then, but if the wind picks up his ball-striking may prove to be an even greater asset than it typically is around this place. I'm not ready to back him to win at +40000, but I think he has a decent chance to make the cut. At that point, he'd be more than halfway home to a top-40 result at a hefty price.

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