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Honda Classic Preview

   by Matt Fargo - 03/02/2010

The PGA Tour ended its west coast swing last week with Hunter Mahan bringing home the Waste Management Phoenix Open by a stroke over rookie Rickie Fowler. They head east for the Florida swing as it is time to start gearing up for the Masters, that is if Augusta will cleared of the recent snowfall. This week it is The Honda Classic from the Champion Course at PGA National which is a Jack Nicklaus re-design and this will mark the fourth year it has hosted the event.

PGA National is a ball striker’s layout and it is far from easy. It ranked as the second hardest par-70 course on tour last year of the non-Major layouts as players averaged 1.4 shots over par in 2009. National is known for the “Bear Trap” which consists of holes 15, 16 and 17 and is one of the toughest three-hole stretches on tour. The first and last of that trio are par threes and the 17th was the seventh toughest hole on the entire tour last year and easily the toughest par three.

This is true test of golf and a lot of the players who have won here have gone on to bigger and better things. Since 1990, five different winners of the tournament have gone on to later win a major championship in their careers and twice, the winner has gone on to win a major in the same year. Last year, it was Y.E. Yang who brought home the over $1 million prize and he went on to win the PGA Championship as he held off Tiger Woods in a classic duel on Sunday.

The field is relatively strong but it may be confused with a European Tour event. Of the four top ten players in the world that are playing, all four reside across the pond as Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington are the headliners. Other notable non-Americans also in the mix are former champion Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Robert Allenby, Camilo Villegas and Mike Weir. The highest ranked U.S. player in the field is Anthony Kim who is 30th in the OWGR.

Yang (+3000) is the defending champion but he is far from the favorite. He made a name for himself here as well as that win in the PGA Championship but he is quietly putting together another fine season. He has made the cut in all four stroke-play events with three top 20 finishes. This includes a third place solo finish at Scottsdale last week so he comes into defending his championship in excellent form.

Four players are logged as favorites. McIlroy (+1500) is the young gun who is making a big name for himself in just his fourth year as a professional. This is his first stroke-play even in the U.S. as his only other event was the Accenture where he bowed out in the second round. Casey (+1500) comes in off a runner-up finish at the Accenture but this is his second stroke-play even after finishing T10 at the opening SBS Championship in Hawaii.

Allenby (+1500) has had great success here as he has T5, T4 and T5, respectively, the past three years. He is familiar with and comfortable on the course, and is off to a good start this season with four cuts made in four events and three top ten finishes including a T8 last week. Westwood (+1500) is also teeing up in his first stroke-play event over here after a disappointing second round finish in the Accenture two weeks ago.

If you are looking for a slight longshot, look no further than Tim Clark (+3000). He has never won on tour and he is slowly becoming to best player never to have won. He has not missed a cut this year, has two top tens and three top 25’s including a T2 at the Hope. He lacks in length but it won’t matter as his ball striking is the most important. He is fifth in fairways hit and third in putting and that is what is takes to win at National.

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