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The PGA Tour moves from the West Coast this week to begin the Florida Swing which also marks the final stage of pre-Masters preparation for the superstars in the game.
Not that many of them are playing this week.
In contrast to the last two weeks, which were high-grade “designated” events with significant prize funds, the Honda Classic has just eight of the world’s top 50 performer in the field.
It is also the last time that Honda will support the tournament which means its future is in doubt.
It’s been a constant on the schedule since 1972 with Honda becoming the title sponsor ten years later.
The Champions Course at PGA National has hosted the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship which hints at a key factor this week: the scoring is traditionally tough.
That’s not just because the layout is difficult in itself with lots of water hazards and a stretch between the 15th and 17th holes nicknamed The Bear Trap.
It is also because the course is routinely battered by wind that can be merely blustery or downright gusting.
It’s a par 70 set at around 7,100 yards with Bermuda grass on the greens.
Korea’s Sungjae Im missed the cut in last year’s event but before then he had a fine record at PGA National.
He was the halfway leader on debut in 2019, the winner in 2020 and eighth on defence a year later.
He’s ultra consistent, playing four rounds in 14 of his last 15 start but it’s a concern given his price that he doesn’t win too often.
Last year Shane Lowry looked poised to land the title before Sepp Straka completed a excellent final round and the Irishman got caught in a short spell of bad weather on the final holes.
He ended the week second, his best finish in a tournament where he is 5-for-5 at making the cut.
He bounced back to form with 14th place last week in the Genesis Invitational after two missed cuts.
Back in 2021 Aaron Wise opened his tournament with two rounds of 64 to lead the field by three strokes heading into the weekend.
The market likes those memories but he did slip back to 13th, his only top 30 finish in four starts.
He’s also missed the cut in his last two starts.
Twelve months ago Chris Kirk ended each of the first three rounds of this tournament second on the leaderboard ahead of finishing seventh.
“It’s definitely a comfort factor for me,” he said of playing in Florida. “Putting on Bermuda has been mostly what I've had the most success on for sure and the faster the better it seems like.”
He’s proved that at Bay Hill - another Florida track with gusting wind - when landing six top 20 finishes including eighth and fifth in the last two seasons.
He’s also twice threatened to win THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass: he was the pre-final round leader in 2015 and then found himself third at halfway in 2021.
It’s also worth considering that he has avoided playing golf away from Bermuda greens this calendar year.
He was, however, third at both the Sony Open and The American Express when playing on them.
He’s also in fine form tee to green, recording good numbers in the 2022/23 season, and that’s a category that determines success at PGA National.
Take him each way in outright at +2800 with bet365 which is the top price this week.
Among our many successes in the top 40 market this season was backing Lanto Griffin to maintain his fondness for Poa Annua.
We’ll stick with the recipe but change the details: a different Griffin and a different grass type.
This time we’ll support Ben Griffin on Bermuda.
The rookie missed the cut in his first start of the season and also his last but they were both on Poa Annua.
In-between he made nine cuts on the bounce and on Bermuda he had been 6-for-6 at landing top 40s.
He also played the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield last season, again on Bermuda, and he was fourth.
Moreover, he was second in Florida on the Korn Ferry Tour last February.
He’s -110 to land another top 40 this week and that’s a good price given that he’s the same price to make the top 30 elsewhere.
Will Gordon’s first ever top 10 on the PGA Tour came on Bermuda greens at Sea Island in the 2019 RSM Classic but it was a rare venture onto the top page of the leaderboard in his rookie campaign and he had to return to the second tier last year.
But a win there vaulted him back into the big time and he’s been another solid proposition this season so I’m happily sticking with the top 40 market.
In his six starts on the surface this year he’s landed four top 40s and in one of the exceptions he was one shot outside that mark.
Furthermore, he was third at El Camaleon which has paspalum on the putting surfaces - not the same but also grainy.
Take him to make the top 40 as well with DraftKings offering +100 when other books have him odds on.
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Matt Cooper has been a sports journalist since 2009 with his work appearing at ESPN, Sky Sports, NBC, Sporting Life and the Planet Sport Network among many others, in addition to guest appearances on the BBC and CNN. Although a specialist in golf, who has traveled the world to cover the sport, Matt has also covered rugby, cricket, football and the Olympics. Email: [email protected]More info on Matt Cooper
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