Bubba Watson held off Adam Scott and Jason Kokrak to claim the Northern Trust Open title for the second time in his career, ending the West Coast Swing and turning the PGA TOUR’s attention towards Florida for The Honda Classic. Padraig Harrington returns as defending champion, and here is a preview to get you off and running with your research.
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s remind ourselves that the TOUR will spend the next month in Florida. That means Bermuda greens. This must be pointed out, as there are certain guys that love those putting surfaces and others that hate them. George McNeill, for example, is a Floridian that historically plays quite well on the Florida Swing but hasn’t made a cut in 2015-16. While he is not a prime candidate for a huge week, he has more value than most people yet to cash a check in the current season.
Bermuda putting surfaces are grainy, and reading that grain is a learned art. The grain can make a straight putt break and a breaking putt straight.
OK. Now we can proceed.
PGA National (Champion) serves as the host course, and has for every year since 2007. For course history buffs, that means that course history research begins in ’07, and not before. It is a par-70 layout of 7,158 yards. PGA National is known for the “Bear Trap”, which is comprised of the par-3 15th, par-4 16th and par-3 17th holes. The stretch is named after Jack Nicklaus, who handled the 1990 redesign, and traditionally plays well over par.
As a typical par 70, it features just two par 5s. That tends to keep the scoring a little on the high side and places a premium on pars throughout the course. Especially the par 3s.
Attention should be paid to players that can find the putting surface in regulation. Russell Knox and Paul Casey are two guys that have contended with regularity on this course, and both are known to be among the best at finding GIRs.
It seems obvious, but par 3 and par 4 scoring average also take on plenty of value.
In addition to course history, current form and stats, two categories of players have done well here over the last nine years. European players have found this course to be a fit, as have players with ties to the Southeastern United States. The latter seems obvious, but the former can be overlooked. Harrington won last year, but we’ve also seen Rory McIlroy win here, and numerous European’s play well.
With that as the backdrop, here we go!
1. Rory McIlroy – Was tied for the lead in his first Northern Trust Open with 17 holes to play last week. Returning to the site of a past win and runner-up finish should have him flying high.
2. Paul Casey – A nod to his course history, as he was a mere T39 at Riviera last week, the transplanted Brit has gone T4-MC-T12-T3 in his four trips to PGA National. Expect him to receive plenty of action in various formats, including the one-and-done.
3. Hideki Matsuyama – Fell victim to a WD in his only trip here back in 2014, but is one of the hottest players on the planet entering this week. A T11 last week came just two weeks after his win in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
4. Russell Knox – Anytime a guy’s course history, limited as it may be, includes a T2 and a T3, one has to take notice. His current form is a red flag. After finishing T27 in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he’s missed his only other two PGA TOUR cuts since. Something’s got to give.
5. Patrick Reed – Form quietly meets history, as he had top 10s in both his most recent PGA TOUR start and his last trip to The Honda Classic.
6. Rickie Fowler – Known for doing his heavily lifting on the par 5s, which could be why his course history here is only average. Still, he’s been strong all of 2016 on the PGA TOUR and beyond, so expect him to be a factor.
7. Branden Grace – All he’s done in his last three worldwide starts is finish inside the top five every time including a win in Qatar in his last outing. Forget about his T71 here in 2013. He’s now a top 10 player in the world and should be treated as such.
8. Freddie Jacobson – Missed his most recent PGA TOUR cut after back-to-back T4s. True to the European charge in this event, the Swede is 6/7 with five top 25s and two top 10s at PGA National.
9. Luke Donald – One of the few events he’s maintained a solid foothold on the PGA TOUR of late, with back-to-back top 10s in this event coming well after his runner-up here in 2008. He’s a shell of his former self, but this is a possible soft landing.
10. Phil Mickelson – Playing like a guy who wants to make the Ryder Cup, Phil has two top threes and another T11 in four 2016 starts. He’s gone MC-T17 at PGA National the last two years, so this is no lock.
11. Zach Johnson – Has two top 15s in his last three PGA TOUR starts, so the form is there. PGA National has managed to keep him outside of the top 30 in each of his three appearances, so temper expectations. It’s probably due to the Bermuda greens, as he’s on record in regards to his dislike.
12. Sergio Garcia – It’s all about what one makes of his missed cut at Riviera. Does it matter? With him, maybe or maybe not. He’s five-for-five here, with one top 10 and another top 15.
13. Adam Scott – Big week for the Aussie at Riviera, finishing as a runner-up. That speaks volumes for what could be expected going forward. He missed the cut at PGA National in 2011 and tied for 12th in 2014. A top-15 finish this week would really back up what he did in the Northern Trust Open last week.
14. Graeme McDowell – A European who hits lots of GIR and has three top 10s in six trips to PGA National. Other than some better current form, what else is there to want?
15. Jamie Donaldson – Hasn’t missed a cut at The Honda Classic in three tries, with a top 10 last year the obvious highlight. Enters off a T54 at the Northern Trust Open.
Worth a Mention
Daniel Berger – Last year’s runner-up enters a bit chilly, but the Florida boy should be right at home.
Lucas Glover – Now a Florida resident, and putting better in 2015-16 to boot, he could draw off the T4 he earned here in 2013. Don’t forget about the T11 at Pebble Beach.
Padraig Harrington – Not only did he win here last year, he also won at the previous venue. Something about this event brings out the best in an otherwise over-the-hill Irishman.
Russell Henley – Going to sound like a broken record, but southern boy (Georgia) who is also a past champ.
Smylie Kaufman – Fifth in the FedExCup standings and returning to his part of the country.
Brooks Koepka – Florida native and elite player. Course history isn’t all that great, but he is.
David Lingmerth – The Swede has a good history in his adoptive state of Florida, with a T8 and a T25 in this event to go with a near miss up the road in THE PLAYERS Championship.
Ben Martin – Had a T31 here last year in his first trip and tied for 16th at Riviera next week. Quietly trendy.
George McNeill – Mentioned him above as a Bermuda / Florida expert.
Ian Poulter – Never missed a cut here in four tries and tied for third last year.
Check back on Tuesday evening for the Rotoworld staff picks on Playing the Tips.
Best of luck to all!