The Honda Classic preview with Skeeter McGillicuddy
Over to the east coast this week for the Honda Classic, which is the start of the Florida swing. We’ve been spoilt for a while now with the top echelon in some form or another heading the market and usually performing well. Not so this week with all due respect to Adam Scott the defending champion and market leader. Scot had a remarkable burst of form this time last year which means he’s not only defending those titles, he’s defending the world ranking points accrued.
The key to winning here seems to be a player who can compete in wind and thus have the ability to flight it low. While the wind is currently benign it can be a factor here at this time if year. Scott is not typically a low-ball flight player but having honed is game in Australia he knows how to get it done. Previous winners bear out the low (ish) ball flight concept: Yang, Sabbatini, Harrington, Thompson, Villegas and Mark Wilson. You don’t have to be in the category but it seems to help. All of this is a product of the Nicklaus designed layout featuring the now inevitable signature niche of holes, in this case the Bear Trap, holes 15-17 and a course that just doesn’t succumb to low scores. PGA National is a par 70 Bermuda grass beast and won’t yield a huge sub par total.
All the market leaders look to have solid credentials and I can’t separate them though I’d be concerned that Thomas has gone off the boil. Others who might surprise are Sabbatini who heads out in the first group at 6:45 and may end up leading on day one. Henley has some decent recent form and Pieters on potential could be anything.
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Graeme McDowall would seem to fit the profile perfectly here and his record bears witness. In seven starts he’s had four top tens. Last weeks modest 67th came off the back of a short break which came after a 13th. The issue with McDowall is he is a new father and is running a restaurant business so how on earth he makes time for pro golf is a mystery – though I don’t imagine he’s actually in the kitchen or on the shop floor. McDowall is a grinder and 3 wins on the PGA Tour and 32 top tens in 171 starts is an impressive record. His limited schedule this season – just 3 events – lays us open to getting on a player yet to get into his stride but his record here is so solid and he’s 66/1.
Russell Knox is a top 20 player and that’s hardly surprising when you consider what he’s achieved. No bomber Knox’s game is built on steady tee to green play and this facet is nowhere better illustrated than here over the last three years. Runner up to freak putter Henley on debut Knox followed that up with a third placed finish and 26th last year. Crucially his tidy game suits these tougher layouts where no one will post -20. His seasonal stats alone suggest a good showing with 71% of fairways and 75% of greens and positive strokes gained putting figure of 0.243. He hasn’t been too shabby around PGA National either with 75% of greens in 2014, 66% in 2015 and 66% last year. His putting let him down in 2016 with a negative strokes gained putting figure. In form, loves the place, and has shot 63 around here, with a worst score in 12 rounds of 71, at 28/1 in a field shorn of the top stars he looks a contender.
Ollie Schniederjans stands out and not jut because of his name. He’s one of the few professionals who doesn’t wear a cap. Robert Rock springs to mind. Trivia aside he’s no slouch either. He missed the cut last year after an opening 69 was followed by a 76, and while one good round is perhaps not a lot to hang our hat on he is in great form with two top tens in his three most recent events and three top tens in all from nine starts after three early missed cuts. Schniederjans can be wild off the tee so he’ll need a driving week but equally he’s capable of putting in good strokes gained putting performances. 70/1 in this field with this talented a player in form?