DraftKings PGA: The Honda Classic

DraftKings PGA: The Honda Classic

This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.

THE HONDA CLASSIC

Purse: $8M
Winner's Share: $1.44M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Course: PGA National (Champion)
Yardage: 7,125
Par: 70
2021 champion: Matt Jones

Tournament Preview

It was just two weeks ago that we all watched the golfers stand over one of the most nerve-racking tee shots in golf at the bananas-wacky 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale. Now imagine if they had to take that same shot over water? We are about to see that in a similar – although perhaps not quite as raucous – scenario this week at PGA National.

In what surely will be a copy-cat trend of what goes on at Phoenix every year, Honda Classic tournament organizers have added a "double decker" of seats at the 175-yard 17th, the closing hole of the famed Bear Trap. Stadium seating already almost fully ringed the hole where 28 balls found the water last year, but now there will be a second level around the green.

Organizers stress they don't want a repeat of two weeks ago with all the beer cans being thrown onto the course causing delays and, worse, possibly injuries, so they will have extra security at the hole.

To summarize, we should get used to golf tournaments trying to piggyback on the annual success in Phoenix.

Quite frankly, the Honda Classic can use all the help it can get. Honda is the longest title sponsor on the PGA Tour, since 1982, and that should count for something. But the OWGR strength of the field went steadily downward in recent years, from an SOF rating of 455 in 2015 to a woeful 193 last year, when only five of the top-50 players in the world showed up. The Honda was at the end of the Florida Swing last year, surrounded by Bay Hill and THE PLAYERS beforehand and the WGC-Match Play right after. This year, the PGA Tour has moved the tournament to open the Florida Swing, but even that isn't optimum – right after the Phoenix and Riviera behemoths out West and right before those same two Florida marquees, Bay Hill and THE PLAYERS. This year, the Florida Swing will end with the Valspar leading into the Match Play.

The scheduling move has helped the Honda at least a little bit, with an SOF rating of 234. per the OWGR website. While no top-10 golfers are entered, six of the top-25 and 11 of the top-50 are on hand, including Joaquin Niemann, coming off his big Riviera win that moved him to No. 20 in the world. There's also two local stars, No. 15 Brooks Koepka and No. 21 Daniel Berger, both of whom had to pull out last year with injuries. Then there's No. 13 Louis Oosthuizen, No. 22 Billy Horschel and No. 24 Sungjae Im, who won the tournament in 2020. Also in the 144-man field are fan favorite and 2017 winner Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matthew Wolff. One golfer to keep an eye on is rising star Nicolai Hojgaard, part of the 20-year-old Danish golfing twins with brother Rasmus who is making his PGA Tour debut. Nicolai is up to No. 73 in the world after a second DP World Tour win just a few weeks back. This doesn't seem the most prudent course for your PGA Tour debut, but he received a sponsor invite. There's a further influx of Euros, with Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood  all making their 2020 stateside debuts.

Okay, let's talk Bear Trap.

It is one of the cute little nicknames that courses like to give themselves for their tough stretches. Here, it's Nos. 15 through 17, two par-3s sandwiching a par-4. On each of them, there is water on every full-length shot, and the trepidation is real. After that the golfers can exhale, as the 18th is a relative cakewalk, a par-5 at only 556 yards. Last year, the Bear Trap played a collective 230 over par, which sounds like a lot but was actually down from the previous year. Forty-two balls went in the water in 15 and 28 more on 17.

PGA National is way more than just three holes, however. It surely is no splendor in the grass. It's annually one of the toughest tracks the golfers will play, and in six of the past seven years years it was among the six hardest all season. In 11 of the 15 years since the tournament moved there, the winning score has been single digits under par. Last year, it took a course-record-tying 9-under 61 from Matt Jones on Thursday to lift the winning score to 12-under, and he won by five strokes. In other words, he shot 3-under over the final 54 holes and still ran away with the tournament.

Why is the Tom and George Fazio 1981 design so hard, especially when it's just a gap wedge over 7,000 yards? Let us count the ways: water, water everywhere (on 15 holes), wind normally exceeding 15 mph, narrow fairways, only two par-5s and strategically placed bunkers, though there are only 67 total on the course. We see a lot of birdie-fests on Tour; this week is all about bogey avoidance. Actually, it's about double- or triple-bogey avoidance. There were a whopping 261 double bogeys or worse last year. Jones had 10 bogeys but zero double bogeys. Im had 13 bogeys in winning at 6-under in 2020 but again, zero doubles.  Three years ago, Keith Mitchell came out of nowhere to nip Fowler and Koepka by a stroke. He had only seven holes in which he didn't shoot par or better, and all seven were bogeys – no doubles. Fowler had a triple-bogey on No. 6 on Thursday and Koepka had three doubles on the week.

The greens are medium-large at an average of 7,000 square feet, though most of the golfers are just happy to be done with the poa of the West Coast and back on their beloved bermudagrass.

Weather-wise, things look spectacular. Highs around 80 all four days, with single-digit chances of rain throughout the tournament and, right now, only light to moderate winds. We'll believe that last part when we see it, though.

Key Stats to Winning at PGA National

The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.

• Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee/Driving Accuracy/Ball Striking
• Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green/SG: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Around the Green/Scrambling
• Bogey Avoidance/Bogey Average

Past Champions

2021 – Matt Jones
2020 – Sungjae Im
2019 – Keith Mitchell
2018 – Justin Thomas
2017 – Rickie Fowler
2016 – Adam Scott
2015 – Padraig Harrington
2014 – Russell Henley
2013 – Michael Thompson
2012 – Rory McIlroy

Champion's Profile

This week is different from many weeks when we want to identify the guys who make the most birdies. We have to couch that a bit this week. Because at PGA National, it's all about minimizing mistakes – not eliminating them, because they simply cannot be avoided there. We detailed earlier how recent winners couldn't avoid bogeys but did escape doubles. We're not looking for any cowboys this week. Make par and be happy. Some guys are better suited for that type of golf. Boring golf pays dividends this week. Hit the ball in the fairway, get it on the green, take your par or an occasional birdie and head to the next tee. But getting it on the green is no easy task at the Honda. That's why scrambling is so important this week. For seven straight years until Jones in 2021, the winner ranked in the top-10 in the field in scrambling for the week (Jones was 17th). The past four winners all ranked first in SG: Tee-to-Green. While putting has not been paramount to winning, a really good way to avoid a big number is to sink a 10-foot putt for par, or bogey. The over/under on the winning score as posted on golfodds.com is 270.5 – 9.5 strokes under par.

DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS

Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap

Tier 1 Values

Sungjae Im - $11,000 (Winning odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook: +1000)
Im is a pretty boring golfer – which is why he won here in 2020, finished eighth in 2021 and has been the top guy on the DK board two years running. He is ranked first or second on Tour in bogey avoidance and bogey average and seventh in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. Im has top-25s in 10 of his past 13 starts going back to the Wyndham Championship, including a win at the Shriners event. He will be a very popular pick, but if you think he will WIN then you must PICK HIM. Find separation with your other five picks.

Daniel Berger - $10,400 (+1600)
Berger is local and the tournament took a big hit when he had to withdraw last year. He's been hurting again this year, having to withdraw from Pebble Beach with a back injury and then missing the cut at Phoenix. He sat out last week at Riviera. So be mindful of all that. Berger has played well here, with a runner-up in 2015 and another top-5 in 2020. He is ranked eighth on Tour in bogey avoidance, 16th in bogey average and 10th in SG: Tee-to-Green.

Brooks Koepka - $10,100 (+2000)
This is our least favorite pick in the top tier, and the betting odds bear us out. Koepka lives in the area, and we believe this tournament is semi-important to him, especially after missing last year and since they got his brother, Chase, in on a sponsor invite. So he'll give it the effort that some observers don't think he gives every tournament. But Koepka is inconsistent. He missed two of the past three cuts here but finished second in 2019. He's missed two of the past three cuts on Tour but finished third at Phoenix.

Billy Horschel - $9,600 (+1800)
Continuing with our theme, here's another guy who minimizes mistakes, ranking top-15 in both bogey stats. Horschel is only 98th in SG: Tee-to-Green (which frankly isn't bad at all in this field), but that includes a SG: Around-the-Green ranking of 13th. Horschel is coming off a very successful West Coast Swing with a T11 at Torrey Pines and a T6 at Phoenix. He skipped LA.

Tier 2 Values

Mito Pereira - $8,900 (+4000)
Early indications from Golf Twitter are that Pereira will be a popular pick, and rightfully so. Wouldn't that be something if the PGA Tour had back-to-back Chilean winners after Joaquin Niemann won last week at Riviera? Pereira will certainly be inspired by his friend's victory. He hasn't played the Honda before, but he's just the type of player we are looking for this week: cautious (low bogey numbers), accurate (14th in SG: Approach and 32nd in SG: Tee-to-Green) and in good form, with top-25s at both the Farmers and Genesis.

Keith Mitchell - $9,100 (+3500)
The 2019 winner obviously knows what it takes to succeed at PGA National, plus he's off to a good start in 2022. Mitchell already has three top-12s in four tournaments this year. He's ranked top-25 on Tour in both bogey stats and is 15th in SG: Tee-to-Green. He's even a pretty good scrambler (ranked 34th).

Jhonattan Vegas - $8,500 (+4000)
Vegas has missed only one cut in nine trips to PGA National. That alone is not enough of a return at $8,500, but he's finished fourth, 12th and 16th through the years. Vegas is coming off made cuts in the tough fields at Torrey Pines and Riviera, and he's ranked a stout 26th on Tour in SG: Tee-to-Green.

Aaron Wise - $8,400 (+5000)
Wise has not continued his strong play from the fall into 2022, so he might fly a bit under the radar. He's missed two of three cuts and tied for 67th last week at Riviera – but at least he made it to the weekend this time. This field will obviously be much weaker. Wise has made the cut in all three Honda visits, including T13 last year. He's ranked 43rd on Tour in SG: Tee-to-Green.

Tier 3 Values

Taylor Moore - $7,900 (+5000)
Moore has never played The Honda Classic before, but he's been an accurate, consistent player in his first PGA Tour season. He has made 6-of-9 cuts and has notched an impressive five top-25s, including one last week at Riviera. Moore is ranked top-50 in both bogey stats, plus SG: Putting, and is close to that in both fairways hit and greens in regulation.

K.H. Lee - $7,700 (+6000)
Lee made his eighth straight cut and just missed a top-25 last week at Riviera, finishing T26. He's reached the weekend in two of three trips to the Honda, though that miss was last year after debuting with a T7 in 2019. Lee is ranked top-25 in the two bogey stats. And he's fairly accurate with both his driver (ranked 66th in fairways hit) and irons (60th in greens in regulation).

Chris Kirk - $7,500 (+7000)
Kirk does not have the greatest course history at PGA National – six cuts in 10 tries, with a top-25 last year. But his tee-to-green numbers are far better this year than at any point in his career, ranking 23rd on Tour. He's also top-50 in both bogey stats. Kirk has had a decent season and is coming off his best showing, a T14 at Phoenix.

Lucas Glover - $7,400 (+6500)
Glover has played this event 13 times and he's done quite well of late, with four top-25s in the past five years. His game is well suited for PGA National – a largely conservative player who hits in straight (except on his putts, sigh). Glover is ranked 11th on Tour in driving accuracy and an elite fourth in greens in regulation. His bogey numbers – top-80 in both stats, still not bad – are attributable to a subpar short game. Glover has made three of his past four cuts this season.

Long-Shot Values

Kevin Streelman - $7,000 (+13000)
Streelman is back for his 10th go-round at PGA National, has made the cut the past three years and has missed the weekend only twice. He's very accurate off the tee, ranked 16th on Tour, but not as good with his irons. He's still  a good scrambler ate age 43 (ranked 62nd), which helps keep is bogey numbers at a palatable level. Streelman made the cut at the Farmers but missed his next two.

Mark Hubbard - $6,900 (+13000)
Hubbard has missed the cut just once in five Honda starts – plus a DQ – with a best result of T11 in 2020. He has sterling bogey stats, ranking top-15 in both, and is a more-than-respectable 63rd on Tour in SG: Tee-to-Green. Hubbard played last week on the Korn Ferry Tour and finished sixth in the event won by Byeong Hun An. Two weeks before that he was 33rd at Pebble Beach.

Kramer Hickok - $6,800 (+18000)
Hickok has decent strokes-gained stats, as he ranks inside the top 100 everywhere but Around-the-Green. He's close to the top 50 in driving accuracy and his putting is far improved over previous seasons, though it hasn't really translated to the leaderboard as yet. Hickok has made two of four cuts in 2022, missing last week at the Genesis. He's 2-for-2 at The Honda Classic, including a top-25 in 2020.

Hayden Buckley - $6,600 (+18000)
Buckley is new to the Tour this year, but unlike many of the Korn Ferry grads he's played this tournament before, making the cut two years ago. He's been very straight this season – 17th in driving accuracy, 28th in greens in regulation and 35th in SG: Tee-to-Green. But his numbers have gone down since the calendar flipped to 2022, as he's made just two of five cuts.

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Len Hochberg plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DK: Bunker Mentality.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
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