The Honda Classic Aengus Free Picks: Prominent Field Heads East to Start First Leg of Florida Swing

by Aengus Moorehead

The Honda Classic Aengus Free Picks: Prominent Field Heads East to Start First Leg of Florida Swing

The Story:
The Honda Classic has grown to have one of the strongest fields of the year. With the tournament held in the Palm Beach area, many of the pros who live in the area come flocking. Padraig Harrington ended a seven-year winless drought last season with a playoff win over Daniel Berger and he’ll look to defend his title against 13 of the top 25 golfers in the world including Jupiter residents Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler.

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The players will be tested to the max for the first event on the Florida Swing. This is the tenth year in-a-row that the Tom and George Fazio-designed PGA National will be used and it's a really tough test. It was reworked by Jack Nicklaus in 1990 and in the nine years that the event's has been staged here the winner has only gone double-digits under-par just twice.

A good week with the putter has always been a plus here but the ability to play in blustery conditions is probably one of the most important prerequisites. It's nearly always blowy here and if the very early forecasts can be believed - an ability to handle breezy conditions looks essential again this week.

With only two par fives the survival of the fittest will have no problem marking down pars on the demanding par threes and fours. With the Bermuda up to three inches and the wind blowing, par will be an excellent score this week. Yes, there will be water balls. Yes, there will be bogeys and "others" and it wouldn't surprise me to see another grinder-type player come away with a victory.

This will be tournament favorite McIlroy’s eighth straight appearance at the PGA National and he's been involved in a few storylines over the years after an inauspicious start. He finished 13th in his debut in 2009 before finishing down the field in 2010 and 2011 but it's been a rollercoaster ride since then. He won the event wire-to-wire in 2012 before controversially withdrawing in 2013 citing a toothache while mightily struggling. Then, he blew a golden opportunity to win again in 2014 and then last year he missed the cut here for the very first time. So what can we expect this time around?

Fowler's form figures here read MC-MC-7-13-24-41 so it's a pretty mixed bag. He's been in fabulous form so far in 2016 but we haven't seen him since he threw away the Phoenix Open three weeks ago and it's hard to know what to expect.

Patrick Reed tied for sixth in his last start at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, shooting a 12-under-par total of 275. The 25-year-old stud has had some success in this tournament in the past as well, finishing in a tie for seventh last year. In fact, Reed has never missed the cut in three starts here at the Honda.

Also in the mix is Swede Freddie Jacobson. He’s one of the hottest players on Tour right now, nabbing two top-5s in a row at the Farmers Insurance Open and at Pebble Beach. Jacobson loves playing in this event as evidenced by his six top-30s in his previous seven starts here at the Honda Classic.

My Top Three:
Rory McIlroy: +550
It is hard to go against the 2012 champion and he should be fired up after fretting away a chance to win at Riviera after closing with 75; posted rounds in the 60s in seven of his last 10 (MC last year) here. McIlroy is third in greens in regulation percentage, third in strokes gained tee to green and 12th in scoring average. McIlroy is the clear front-runner to become the fifth player to win the Honda Classic twice.

Brooks Koepka: +2800
Brooks Koepka, who is from West Palm Beach, heads home in great form. Koepka finished eighth at Pebble Beach, which now is his third top-10 finishes in his last four events. Koepka is hitting the ball very well lately, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before he gets his second career PGA victory. Koepka is 12th in driving distance, eighth in birdie average and seventh in all-around ranking. Add the fact he’s playing in his hometown, and odds of +2800 with Koepka are mighty scrumptious.

Luke Donald: +5000
Sometimes knowing a little more about golfers and their backgrounds and histories can help when the numbers may not tell the whole story. In this case, Luke Donald is a must-start player for your cash game teams this week. Not only is he playing well this season, but PGA National just happens to be his home course, and he has managed to finish in the top 10 here in his last four starts.

My Sleeper Pick:
Jason Kokrak: +7000
How about the big-hitting Jason Kokrak? The American came so close to grabbing his maiden PGA Tour title at Riviera last week, losing by just one shot to eventual champion Bubba Watson. Regardless, Kokrak’s 270 matched his best career finish and his placement was his best in 10 starts on tour this season. What makes Kokrak such an appealing pick is that he is so huge off the tee. He’s fifth in the PGA Tour in driving distance, averaging 310.3 yards per drive this season. That powerful swing will come in handy when tackling the long 7,158-yard, par-70 PGA National course.

Propping up:

  1. Take Adam Scott for Top-Ten finish +175
  2. Take Patrick Reed -125 over Phil Mickelson -105
  3. Take Hideki Matsuyama for Top-Five finish +350
  4. Take Fredrick Jacobson -115 over David Lingmerth -115
  5. Take Branden Grace for Top-Ten finish +250

Here are the odds for the top field:

Rory McIlroy   +550
Rickie Fowler   +1100
Patrick Reed   +1600
Adam Scott   +1800
Hideki Matsuyama   +1800
Phil Mickelson   +2000
Branden Grace   +2500
Brooks Koepka   +2800
Kevin Kisner   +3300
Russel Knox   +3300
Jimmy Walker   +4000
Paul Casey   +4000
Sergio Garcia   +4000
Zach Johnson   +4000
Shane Lowry   +5000
Luke Donald   +5000
Graeme McDowell   +5500
Justin Thomas   +5500
Ryan Palmer   +5500
Brendan Steele   +6600
Daniel Berger   +6600
David Lingmerth   +6600
Fredrik Jacobson   +6600
Jason Dufner   +7000
Jason Kokrak   +7000
Webb Simpson   +7000
Emiliano Grillo   +7500
Keegan Bradley   +7500
Andy Sullivan   +8000
Gary Woodland   +8000
Jonas Blixt   +8000
Martin Laird   +8000
Ian Poulter   +9000
Jamie Lovemark   +9000
Matt Jones   +9000
Matthew Fitzpatrick   +9000
Padraig Harrington   +9000
Russell Henley   +9000

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