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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Honda Classic

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It’s off to Florida this week for the Honda Classic, as the lead up to the year’s first major continues. PGA National has been the permanent home of this event since 2007, and it has proved to be one of the most demanding courses on Tour since then. The golf course measures just under 7,200 yards, but it is the often blustery conditions combined with the copious amount of water hazards that make this event a challenge. There is also the added factor of “The Bear Trap,” a daunting stretch of holes (Nos. 15-17) that are arguably the most difficult run of holes we will see all year on the PGA Tour.

Ball strikers have excelled here in the past, with Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy all boasting fine records at PGA National. The par-70 golf course contains six long Par 4’s that measure over 450 yards, and players will be hoping that the wind isn’t too strong — when it does blow here, the course can turn into a brute. Last year, Rickie Fowler posted 12-under par to win the event by four strokes over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland. It was the first time in the last five years that the winning score reached double digits.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Rickie Fowler 8/1
  • Rory McIlroy 10/1
  • Justin Thomas 11/1
  • Sergio Garcia 18/1
  • Tyrrell Hatton 28/1
  • Tommy Fleetwood 30/1
  • Gary Woodland 30/1

Previous champions Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy are sure to be popular picks this week, but it’s Justin Thomas (11/1, DK Price $11,300) who I feel offers slightly more value out of the front runners. Thomas has begun the year well, finishing in the top-25 in all four events he has played. The numbers show that his game is getting better all the time. His iron play has steadily improved, picking up more Strokes for Approaching the Green week by week. Last week he gained six strokes approaching the green at the Genesis Open, which was fourth in the field.

At the ball strikers’ paradise, Thomas fans will be glad to know that he ranks fourth in the field for Ball Striking over his last 12 rounds. He is also ranked fourth for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green and second in Strokes Gained Total. Comparatively, neither Fowler nor McIlroy rank inside the top-50 for ball striking and the top-40 for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green over the same period.

Thomas’ accuracy on his approaches has been sensational lately. He leads the field in Proximity to the Hole for his past 12 rounds, and on a golf course that contains many long par 4’s it should play into Justin’s hands, as he’s been on fire recently with his long irons. He is third in the field for Proximity on Approaches Between 175-200 yards, and second in the field for Approaches Over 200 yards in his last 12 rounds. Thomas has a mixed record at PGA National, with a T3 finish wedged in between two missed cuts, but I like the way his game has been steadily improving as the season has progressed. It feels like it’s time for the current PGA Champion to notch his first win of the year.

On a golf course where ball striking is so important, Chesson Hadley (55/1, DK Price $7,700) caught my eye immediately. The North Carolina native has been in inspired form so far in this wraparound season with four finishes already in the top-5. The way he is currently striking the ball, it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see him get his fifth this week. Hadley is No. 1 in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and Ball Striking, while he is No. 2 for Strokes Gained Total over his last 24 rounds.

Having taken last week off, Hadley returns to a golf course where he has finished in the Top-25 twice in his three visits. Yet there is a sense that this year he’ll be aiming even higher than that. Chesson is fifth in this field for Proximity to the Hole from 175-200 yards and fourth overall over the past 24 rounds. With that level of accuracy on such a tricky golf course, Hadley will be confident of putting himself in position to claim win No. 2.

My next pick was a slow sell, but with the number so high I couldn’t leave him out. Adam Scott (55/1, DK Price $7,700) has been struggling for some time now. He has slipped out of the World’s Top-50, changed his putter from the short putter to the long putter and back again over the winter break, and he doesn’t have a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since the FedEx St. Jude Classic last summer. Despite all of this, I don’t feel Scott should be as high as 66/1 with some bookmakers on a golf course where he has excelled. To put it in perspective, Scott is the same price to win this week in a modest field as he is to win The Masters in April.

There are also signs that Scott blew off some of the rust last week in LA. The Australian was 12th in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, which indicates that things might slowly be coming around for a man who is known for his prodigious ball striking. Scott’s achilles heel is the flat stick, and I wouldn’t expect that to change this week. He’s been very poor on the greens for some time now, which must be incredibly frustrating for a man who gives himself so many looks at birdie. But average putters have performed well at PGA National in the past, where it seems that excellent ball striking is the key for having a good week. Scott won here in 2016, and on his two other visits to PGA National in the past five years he twice finished in the top-15. If he can continue to improve his iron play the way he has been, I feel he could forge his way into contention.

My long shot this week is Sean O’Hair (200/1, DK Price $6,800). The Texan hasn’t done much so far this year, but he is making cuts and he arrives at a course that seems to bring out the best in him. O’Hair has five top-25 finishes in his last seven appearances at PGA National, which includes a T11 at last year’s edition. At 200/1 and with a DK Price of as little as $6,800, there is little harm in taking a chance on him finding that form once more this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Justin Thomas 11/1, DK Price $11,300
  • Chesson Hadley 55/1, DK Price $7,700
  • Adam Scott 55/1, DK Price $7,700
  • Sean O’Hair 200/1, DK Price $6,800
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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Opinion & Analysis

Out of Bounds with Amanda Rose: “If Phil were to make a classic rock album, what should it be called?”

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In this episode of “Out of Bounds,” Amanda Rose (@AmandaGolf59 on Twitter and Instagram) recaps the Evian Championship, Padraig Harrington doing weird stuff (again), Phil Mickelson’s new Twitter persona, and Thomas Pieters’ temper. Enjoy the video below!

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: “Sweetens Cove Golf Club” in South Pittsburg, Tennessee

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here! 

Today’s Hidden Gem is our first ever double submission! That’s right, two GolfWRX members have now submitted Sweetens Cove Golf Club in South Pittsburg, Tennessee as their favorite Hidden Gem golf course. Here’s what they both had to say below.

bogey pro

“It’s a 9 hole course that is all about the golf.  It doesn’t have a fancy club house.  It’s minimalist and pure golf.  It’s always in excellent shape and very fun.  It is a real treat to play and people come from all over to play it.  I’ve never heard a bad word about it.  Its very similar to a links style course with rolling fairways, waste bunkers, large fast undulating greens.  From the website, it is ranked 50th in Modern Course and ranked #1 course in Tennessee for the last 3 years.”

FairwayFred

“While starting to get too much publicity to be considered a hidden gem it’s hard to argue that Sweetens Cove isn’t one of the best golf values in the country.  For $40 peak season you can play 18 at the #1 ranked course you can play in TN and Golf Weeks 50th ranked modern course.  What Sweetens lack in holes (its a 9 hole course) it more than makes up for with amazing variety, incredible green complexes, firm and fast turf and in my opinion the best set of artistic bunkers I’ve ever seen anywhere.  Rob Collins the principal architect (and now the head of the management team) built the course by hand with his partner Tad King.  Rob has OVER 700 days on site working on the build.  That is almost unheard of in golf course architecture and construction and is the main reason why all the little details at Sweetens are so good.  The main thing at Sweetens is playing golf there is about FUN which is not always the case.  Definitely one to seek out regardless of budget.”

According to the Sweetens Cove website, course rates range from $25 to $65 depending on the day of the week, time of the year and time of day. Also, they have a $100 play-all-day rate (with a cart) and a $60 walk all day rate. Sweetens Cove is located approximately 25 minutes from downtown Chattanooga.

Know a local course that you can play for under $50 that deserves recognition? Submit your hidden gem here

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Podcasts

The Cart Barn (Ep. 2): “How many hours does a club pro really work per week?”

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Do club pros really work as much as they say? Assistant pro Steve Westphal and GolfWRX Editor Andrew Tursky discuss how many hours go into working in the industry. They also discuss course architecture, course architects and their favorite golf courses.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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