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Honda Classic Preview and Picks

   by Matt Fargo - 03/01/2011

The PGA Tour ended its west coast swing last week with Luke Donald capturing the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship over Martin Kaymer. They head east for the Florida swing as it is time to start gearing up for the Masters which is coming up quick, just five weeks away. 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 fifth year it has hosted the event.

Two years ago, PGA National ranked as the second hardest par-70 course on tour of the non-Major layouts as players averaged 1.4 shots over par. Last year, it was ranked as the hardest par-70 course on tour of the non-Major layouts as players averaged 1.64 shots over par. 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.

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. Two years ago, 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 very strong but it may be confused with a European Tour event. Of the five top ten players in the world that are playing, four reside across the pond as Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy are the headliners. Other notable non-Americans also in the mix are former champion Ernie Els, Ian Poulter, Vijay Singh, Camilo Villegas and Adam Scott. The highest ranked U.S. player in the field is Matt Kuchar who is 10th in the OWGR.

Camilo Villegas (+5000) is the defending champion and he made the weekend pretty lackluster as he posted a 66 on Thursday and Friday and cruised to a five-shot victory. After finishing third at the Match Play Championship last year, he lost in the first round last week which has added to what has been a very frustrating season with only one made cut.

Graeme McDowell (+1500) is the second leading favorite behind Westwood but he has a good setup here. He is coming off an unexpected early loss last week but that gave him time to rest. He should have had a top ten at the Honda last year but closed with a Sunday 76 to finish T31. He hit greens and putted well throughout and that’s what it takes.

Matt Kuchar (+2000) is in an interesting spot. He is coming off a third place finish at the Match Play Championship so there is always the possibility of a letdown but he has strung together so many great finishes, that may not be possible in his book. Before his recent success, he won this event back in 2002 during his first full-time stint on tour.

Brian Gay (+4000) could be a sleeper this week following a T5 in Mexico last week. He has finished in the top 20 in four of five starts on the season with a Sunday missed cut at Pebble being the only exception. The season is young but he leads the tour in fairways hit and scoring average, two big combos that could lead to a victory.

Charl Schwartzel (+4000) played very well in the Match Play Championship a year ago but bowed out in the second round this year. That is not an issue as he has been lighting it up on the European Tour with four top four finishes including a win and a T2. Course knowledge is an issue but great odds make up for it.

Boo Weekley (+8000) gets the longshot chance this week following a strong outing last week in Mexico. He has been considered one of the top ball strikers on tour since becoming a full member of the PGA Tour and in his first season back in 2007, he finished T2 at the Honda, losing in a four-way playoff to Mark Wilson.

Honda Classic Win Bets

Graeme McDowell (+1500)

Matt Kuchar (+2000)

Brian Gay (+4000)

Charl Schwartzel (+4000)

Boo Weekley (+8000)

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