Brooks Koepka
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Culp's Corner

The Honda Classic Preview

Updated On: February 24, 2020, 11:56 am ET

The West Coast was fun but now it's time for the Florida Swing. 

The next four events will all be played in the Sunshine State and it begins at this week's Honda Classic. 

This stretch is generally packed with water balls and windy conditions. It's also a turf switch, going from mostly poa annua and overseed rye into bermuda territory. A good time for slumping golfers to hit the reset button. 

A field of 144 golfers will line up this week with the top 65 and ties advancing through the cutline to play the weekend. 

 

The Course

The Champion Course at PGA National will host for the 14th straight season. 

This Tom Fazio design is a par 70 that plays around 7,125 yards on the tourney scorecard. It's been renovated a few times over the past couple decades by Jack Nicklaus.

That included a big renovation in 2018 where all the greens were reseeded and expanded from 5,500 square feet to 7,000 on average. Last year was the first year with that new grass so it's still relatively young. 

Like so many Florida courses in the rotation, PGA National's main defense is water and wind. Water comes into play on 15 holes and the average wind speeds are among the top-5 windiest of all TOUR events, over the last six years that I've tracked. Last year was the calmest Honda Classic week by far of that stretch but most rounds over the years are played in 12 to 20 MPH winds here at Palm Beach Gardens.

Off the tee, golfers can club down on a lot of the par 4s when needed. That mutes some of the power advantage but the last two winners are Keith Mitchell and Justin Thomas so don't cross off power hitters entirely. Being able to score on the par 5s is key because there just aren't that many scoring opportunities elsewhere. 

Speaking of tough scoring, there are just three holes here with a birdie rate over 20% but there are nine holes that average 20% or worse in terms of bogey or worse rate. A big part of that is the Bear Trap, holes 15-16-17, which play as the third-hardest three-hole stretch on TOUR, since 2007. Not far behind are holes 5-6-7 which are the 5th hardest over that same time frame. Buckle up, because this course is tough and big numbers are lurking everywhere. 

For grass, golfers will see bermudagrass fairways, overseeded rough, and TifEagle Bermuda greens. The green speeds generally sit around 11.25 feet on the stimp which is pretty average for TOUR standards. 

 

Course Quotes

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

Brooks Koepka: "Yeah, obviously if you're nervous it'll show up. This golf course, there's about five to seven holes where you can really take advantage of it if you hit the fairway and you've got a good number to the flag, and you've got to take advantage of those if you want to move up, and the rest of the holes you're just kind of hanging on and trying to make par, maybe sneaking in one or two birdies. " 

Gary Woodland: "the grass is a big deal. Obviously it's nice to get to twosomes usually when we get to Florida on the weekends. That helps with pace of play a little bit. But the grass is different. You're dealing with Bermuda versus poa annua on the West Coast. We're pretty much away from poa annua for a while, especially after last week. So the greens start to get typically a little bit better, as I feel. I grew up on bentgrass, so poa annua is the farthest thing away from what I grew up on, so I like getting to Florida, nice Bermuda. I'm close to home, too, which is good. But I like getting to that Florida Swing."

Ben Crane: "It’s really not a bomber’s golf course because the rough is so thick, so you’ve really got to put the ball in play and give yourself chances"

Brooks Koepka [on the renovated greens]: "these greens, they're firm, but they're not overly firm. They've cut the rough because the greens are so firm, which is nice. I think if we had this rough up to what it normally is, four inches, it would be very difficult. I think even par would be a great score."

Jhonattan Vegas: "I mean, to be honest, it's very hard to be aggressive around here, even with some of these pins. There's always trouble around the corner that you -- even if you're hitting it great, it's really hard to start hitting at some of those pins. Sometimes hitting it to 25 feet, 30 feet, it's a good shot, and you have to use your best judgment and go from there."

Overview: Golfers talk A LOT about the return to bermuda greens after a lot of poa on the West Coast. Other keywords this week are patience and ball-striking to battle with the wind. 

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week: 

Sedgefield (Wyndham)
TPC Southwind (WGC-FedEx)
Innisbrook (Valspar)
GC of Houston (Houston Open)
Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo)
TPC Sawgrass (PLAYERS)
 

The theme this week is bermudagrass, less-than-driver tendencies, water-heavy courses, and windy conditions.

 

The Weather

Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. Winds at 12 to 18 MPH. 

Friday: Sunny with a high of 66 degrees. Winds at 10 to 15 MPH. 

No serious rain in the forecast which is great to see but we should continue to check the forecast throughout the week because this is Florida and winds can whip up at any time. 

Golfers to Watch

Brooks Koepka
A home game for Koepka, he'll be happy to get back on bermuda this week. He had some personal issues and wrist issues during some of his first visits to this event but he arrived with confidence last year and it showed with a runner-up finish. One of the favorites this week. 

Rickie Fowler
Also a home game for Big Rick. He's a past champ here (2017) and rallied last year to finish runner-up despite a huge number early in his week (triple bogey in R1 at the par-4 sixth). 

Tommy Fleetwood
The Englishman impressed in his course debut, finishing solo 4th back in 2018 but he didn't have it on his schedule last year. It sets up well on paper because precision iron play is so key here and comfort in the wind is a big bonus. Fleetwood has that. 

Byeong Hun An
Has pieced together some historically poor putting numbers out west, over the last few months. Perhaps a return home to Florida can reignite his flat stick? He gained 3.3 strokes putting at this event in 2018 en route to a 5th-place finish but lost nearly 6 strokes putting last year to settle for a top 40. 

Emiliano Grillo
Speaking of returning to bermuda, Grillo has one of the highest performance splits when it comes to playing on bermuda compared to other grass types. He is 3-for-4 at the Honda Classic with a T8 in 2018 being the only real highlight. He's lost 5+ strokes putting in four of his last 11 measured events and he's also lost 5+ strokes putting in two of his four visits to PGA National. He did gain 5.5 strokes putting at the 2018 Honda Classic but like Ben An, his putter is going to remain wildly erratic. 

Keith Mitchell
Sticking to the theme of bermuda, Mitchell's splits also heavily point toward bermuda as his favorite. That lines up with his quotes during last year's victory. Among those quotes were "I hit my driver decent, but any golf course with Bermuda is definitely going to be a little bit more to my advantage." and "I love Bermuda. I’m sorry, I hate poa annua so much I can’t even see straight. Thankfully the first event back on Bermuda. I’m playing every Bermuda event we’ve got this year."

Gary Woodland
An easy even to add to his schedule since it's also a home game for Woodland. He's a perfect 7-for-7 at the Honda but just two of those finishes have landed inside the top 35, a T6 in 2011 and a runner-up finish in 2017. 

 

Ranking the Field 

1. Tommy Fleetwood
2. Brooks Koepka
3. Rickie Fowler
4. Justin Rose
5. Sungjae Im
6. Shane Lowry
7. Billy Horschel
8. Louis Oosthuizen
9. Gary Woodland
10. Viktor Hovland
11. Jim Furyk
12. Erik van Rooyen
13. Byeong Hun An
14. Lucas Glover
15. Russell Knox
16. Joaquin Niemann
17. Bud Cauley
18. Daniel Berger
19. J.T. Poston
20. Harry Higgs

Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our DFS Dish and Wednesday morning for the Expert Picks.


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