The Honda Classic, Feb. 28-Mar. 2, PGA National Resort (Champion Course) Palm Beach Gardens, FL, Golf Channel/NBC
by Matt of Predictem.com
The PGA Tour leaps across the country to kick off the Florida swing with the Honda Classic taking center stage this week from Palm Beach Gardens. The Champion Course is hosting the event for the second year and its demanding par-70; 7241 yard layout will test ball striking of the Tour Pros. Mark Wilson is the defending champion and the field will battle for the $990,000 winners share of the $5.5 million dollar purse. The Golf Channel handles the early rounds with NBC picking up the weekend broadcasts.
The field lacks many of the household names that casual fans follow, leaving the trophy truly up for grabs. Many of the big names scheduled this week off due to the demanding nature of last weeks Accenture Match Play Championships that started Wednesday instead of Thursday and had golfers playing more than the typical 72 holes. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk are all absent, leaving no real clear cut favorite to take the title.
As it currently stands, Ernie Els is the short odd favorite for the outright win at 14 to 1. Els made his U.S. debut at the Accenture and was dispatched quickly, losing in the first round to Jonathan Byrd. Ernie has fared better in Europe in 08, with 5 top-25 finishes including 2 top-5s.
Luke Donald is next up on the board with the golf sportsbooks putting him at 20 to 1 to win. Donald is a former Honda champ (06) and has never missed a cut in 4 Honda starts. He was a t-40 last year, but measure that against the opening round 77 he tallied, and the result was better than it looked on paper. Donald has a t-3 at the Northern Trust and a t-17 at the Accenture, his last two PGA starts.
Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose are next, both going off at 22 to 1. The Euro Tour favorites havent had a great deal of success in America yet in08, but that may suggest they are rounding into shape and either could knock the door in with a solid all-around week.
A good story on the 08 season has been the resurgent play of Justin Leonard. The Texan has 4 top-10 finishes in 6 starts, including a 4th place in last weeks Match Play. Leonard is 25 to 1 to win and consider the MC in the 07 Honda a non-issue given the way he is swinging now.
Another 25 to 1 shot is Boo Weekley. Boo has played consistently well thus far, tallying 3 top-10s in his last 4 events. Weekley was a t-2 here in 07, losing to Wilson in a playoff. Another member of that playoff was Camilo Villegas, currently at 33 to 1, and Mark Wilson is 66 to 1 to defend his title.
A bigger name down the board a bit is David Toms, a 40 to 1 shot to win. Toms was a t-20 here last year and has 2 top 25 finishes in his last 2 events. He is currently 5th on the PGA putting rank, so a hot week with the flat stick could have Toms in the winners circle. Another 40 to 1 play that could pay is Steve Marino. Like Toms, Marino was a t-20 in 07 and has recorded 3 top 25s of late. With no missed cuts in 08, Marino is coming off a t-2 at last weeks Mayakoba Classic and is the 5th on the PGA All Around Rank list.
A breakdown of the Sergio Garcia v. Justin Leonard match points to Leonard as the favorite for the win. The Champion Course demanded solid tee to green play to contend last year, and Leonard has the edge in ball striking stats. Leonard ranks 4th in driving accuracy and 5th in greens in regulation while Garcia lags, ranking 180th in DACC and 174th in GIR. Sergio has the decided advantage in length, but Leonard takes the putting stat, ranking 13th to Garcias 97th. The X factor could be a fatigue issue for Leonard after playing six matches in the Accenture, but Id take Justin to stay strong and win here.
Another match that pits golfers with far different ball striking numbers is Boo Weekley v. Camilo Villegas. They both obviously have the goods based on last years finish, but Weekley is 22nd in fairways hit and 13th in GIR compared to Villegas at 172nd rank in DACC and 122nd in hitting greens. I like Boo and his 13th ranked 4.26 birdies per 18 holes to take this one.
Picks to Win
Luke Donald 20 to 1
Boo Weekley 25 to 1
Steve Marino 40 to 1