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Vincenzi’s Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches betting preview: Grinders fancied to survive tough PGA National test

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After finishing the West Coast swing and making a pit stop in Mexico, the PGA TOUR heads to PGA National to begin its Florida swing and play the Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches. The event was previously called the “Honda Classic”.

The tournament will be a significant challenge for golfers, as PGA National is one of the most difficult courses on the PGA TOUR.

PGA National is a 7,054-yard par 71 and features Bermudagrass greens.  Originally a Tom Fazio design, it was redesigned by Jack Nicklaus. The course features the infamous “Bear Trap” on holes 15-17, three of the toughest holes on TOUR. Wind tends to play a factor, which makes the scoring even more challenging.

The field is solid and much stronger than we saw last year with the event being directly after two signature events. Some notable players in the field include Rory McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Min Woo Lee, Russell Henley and Gary Woodland. 

Past Winners at PGA National

  • 2023: Chris Kirk (-14)
  • 2022: Sepp Straka (-10)
  • 2021: Matt Jones (-12)
  • 2020: Sungjae Im (-6)
  • 2019: Keith Mitchell (-9)
  • 2018: Justin Thomas (-8)
  • 2017: Rickie Fowler (-12)
  • 2016: Adam Scott (-9)
  • 2015: Padraig Harrington (-6)

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value). 

5 Key Stats for PGA National

Let’s take a look at five key metrics for PGA National to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Strokes Gained: Approach has been far and away the biggest indicator of the winner at PGA National. Hitting the target is especially important with all of the water at the course.

Total SG: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Tom Hoge (+1.08) 
  2. Mathieu Pavon (+1.07)
  3. Chesson Hadley (+.68)
  4. Michael Kim (+.67) 
  5. Adam Svensson (+.66)

2. Strokes Gained: Putting Bermuda (Florida)

As we enter the Florida swing, players will have to adjust to the Florida Bermudagrass greens, which favors some golfers who are more accustomed to playing the surface over others.

Strokes Gained: Putting Bermuda (Florida) over past 24 Rounds:

  1. Beau Hossler (+1.05)
  2. Matt Fitzpatrick (+.87)
  3. Sungjae Im (+.81)
  4. Ben Martin (+.75)
  5. Denny McCarthy (+.71)

3. Strokes Gained Total: Florida

This stat will bring in players who’ve played their best golf in the state of Florida.

Strokes Gained Total: Florida Over Past 36 Rounds:

  1. Rory McIlroy (+1.72)
  2. Matt Fitzpatrick (+1.62)
  3. Shane Lowry (+1.44)
  4. Sungjae Im (+1.32) 
  5. Chris Kirk (+1.30)

4. Strokes Gained: Ball Striking

Historically, Strokes Gained: Ball Striking has been much more indicative of success at PGA National than Strokes Gained: Short Game. The difficult track rewards a solid tee-to-green game, which is the key to avoiding trouble.

The winning score will likely stay close to single digits, so an extremely hot putter isn’t all that predictive. 

SG: BS Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Corey Conners (+21.1)
  2. Jhonnatan Vegas (+19.5)
  3. Adam Svensson (+19.3)
  4. Mathieu Pavon (+18.6) 
  5. Tom Hoge (+18.3) 

5. Strokes Gained: Difficult or Very Difficult Courses

PGA National is one of the most difficult courses on the PGA TOUR. Including this stat will highlight some players who thrive when scoring is difficult.

Strokes Gained: Difficult Courses Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Rory McIlroy (+2.62)
  2. Matt Fitzpatrick (+1.59) 
  3. Tom Kim (+1.59) 
  4. Jake Knapp (+1.55)
  5. Shane Lowry (+1.34)

Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (27%), SG: Putting Florida Bermuda (15.3%), SG: Florida 15.3%), SG: Ball Striking (27%) and SG: Difficult Scoring(15.3%).

  1. Chris Kirk
  2. Daniel Berger
  3. Jhonnatan Vegas
  4. Corey Conners
  5. Adam Svensson
  6. Rory McIlroy
  7. Tom Hoge
  8. Shane Lowry
  9. Sepp Straka
  10. Kevin Streelman

2024 Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches Picks

(All odds are the best available at the time of writing)

Cameron Young +2200 (BetMGM)

Cameron Young has yet to break out with a PGA Tour win, but PGA National is a good course for the former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year to showcase his elite driving ability. In his past 24 rounds, Young ranks 1st in Total Driving.

PGA National isn’t the longest course, but with water lurking everywhere, it helps to hit approach shots with higher lofted clubs. Bombers such as Rory McIlroy, Keith Mitchell, and Brooks Koepka have thrived at the course in the recent years, and Young could look to replicate their play style here.

Young has had a strong start to his 2024 season, finishing in a tie for 8th at TPC Scottsdale and a tie for 16th at Riviera. In those two starts, he gained significant strokes on the field both off the tee and on approach. He also finished 16th in his debut at the Honda Classic in 2022. With two additional top-13 finishes at Bay Hill, the 26-year-old has shown he likes playing in Florida.

With the fields in 2024 weaker than in recent seasons, Young is one of the best players teeing it up this week and has the talent to come out on top.

Shane Lowry +3500 (DraftKings)

Shane Lowry has been very quiet this season, but he’ll now kick off the Florida swing, which is the part of the PGA Tour schedule that he’s had most success at over the course of his PGA Tour career.

In his past eight starts in the state of Florida, the Irishman has finished in the top-13 five times, including a runner-up at PGA National in 2022 and a tie for 5th here last year. The former Open champion is a resident of Jupiter, Florida and is extremely comfortable playing on these Bermudagrass greens.

Lowry is typically amongst the favorites at PGA National, but this year is being offered at a bit of a discount due to his underwhelming start to the season. If the course plays difficult, which it typically does, there are few players I’d rather have than Shane Lowry on my betting card.

Byeong Hun An +4000 (DraftKings)

I’ve bet Byeong Hun An a few times this year and it almost paid off when the South Korean lost in agonizing fashion in a playoff to Grayson Murray at the Sony Open. Given his current form and excellent course fit, I feel compelled to give the affable An one more shot at PGA National this week.

An is a great driver of the ball and ranks 17th in the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and 4th in Carry Distance. With danger lurking on almost every hole, longer hitters will have the advantage coming in with shorter irons. While not typically the most reliable putter, Benny ranks 18th in the field in his past eight rounds on Bermudagrass.

In addition to his strong start to the season, An has also had plenty of success at PGA National. He finished in a tie for 4th at the course in 2020 and tied for 5th in 2018. If he can avoid the water, we may finally get to celebrate a Benny An victory this week.

Corey Conners +5000 (FanDuel)

On a difficult course that produces relatively high scores such as PGA National, players who are accurate both off the tee and on approach will have the advantage. In his past 24 rounds, the Canadian ranks 4th in Total Driving and 2nd in Strokes Gained: Off the tee.

Conners is another player who has thrived in Florida. In his past seven starts in the state, he’s finished in the top 21 five times. The course history at PGA National hasn’t been great, but I am willing to overlook that in favor of his overall form in the state and his apparent course fit.

A few weeks ago, at Riviera, Conners’ signature iron play came back to life as he gained 5.04 strokes on the field on approach. If he can make some putts on Bermudagrass, which has been his favorite surface to date, there’s no reason why he can’t contend at PGA National this week.

Alex Noren +5000 (FanDuel)

Despite never having won on the PGA Tour, Alex Noren has racked up 11 total wins professionally, and has come close many times in the United States. The Swede has played on a winning European Ryder Cup team (2018) and has won big events in Europe such as the BMW PGA Championship and British Masters.

Noren is a tremendous wind player who has enjoyed plenty of success at PGA National throughout his career. He finished in a tie for 5th at this event in 2022 and finished 3rd back in 2018. Noren ranks 15th in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on Florida Bermudagrass and 20th in three putt avoidance on the surface.

If the course plays as difficult as expected, the 41-year-old is the type of grinder who can contend on one of his favorite tracks.

Matt Wallace +10000 (FanDuel)

Matt Wallace demonstrated his ability to play well on a tough Florida track at last year’s Valspar Championship, where he finished in a tie for 7th. The Englishman has also played reasonably well at PGA National, finishing 29th last year and tied for 20th in 2019.

Wallace played well last week in Mexico and was more involved than his T33 finish would indicate. He struggled in round 4, shooting 74, but indicated that he was “playing for the win” which brought a lot more trouble into play. Wallace is one of the better wind players in the field and has shown winning upside in the past.

The 33-year-old is a grinder with winning upside.

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19th Hole

Justin Thomas and Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay part ways one week before Masters

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Justin Thomas today announced that he has parted ways with his caddie Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay.

In a statement posted on social media. Thomas wrote:

“While incredibly difficult for me to say, Bones and I have parted ways. I’m going to be forever thankful for Jim joining me on the bag in 2021. The things we’ve been able to accomplish together—the PGA Championship in 2022, the Presidents Cup, the Ryder Cups were all unforgettable experiences. His wisdom on and off the course has been a blessing during a tough stretch of my career and he was there every step of the way.

I know there are great things coming for both of us down the road. I wish him the best of luck and will always count him and his family amongst my friends.”

The 30-year-old hired Bones back in 2021 and won his second major championship with the veteran on the bag at the 2022 PGA Championship.

It remains to be seen who Thomas will have on the bag next week at the opening major of the year.

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Rory McIlroy working with Butch Harmon ahead of 2024 Masters

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A few weeks ahead of the Masters, Rory McIlroy is working with legendary swing coach, Butch Harmon.

McIlroy has been struggling with a “left miss” with his iron shots, which he spoke about a few weeks ago with the Irish Golfer.

“Another great week off the tee. I feel like I found a good feeling with the putting as well. I putted well the last three days. Just the iron play’s let me down,” he said.

“It’s sort of been the same story the last few weeks, sort of struggling with a left miss with the irons and it’s hard because the longer clubs, the woods, feel so good and then the irons don’t really feel that good, so I feel like I’m having to put like two different swings on the woods and the irons at the minute, which is a struggle. But everything else feels pretty good, so if I can get the irons tightened up, I feel like I’ll be in a good spot.”

The following week, the four-time major champion got off to a fast start at TPC Sawgrass for The PLAYERS Championship, grabbing the first-round lead, but struggled to keep momentum and finished T19.

That’s when he went to see Butch.

It isn’t the first time McIlroy and Harmon have linked up. Rory has consulted with Tiger Woods’ former coach a few times in the past (and probably much more often than many people realize), most recently in 2020.

McIlroy is set to tee it up at the Valero Texas Open this week, where we will begin to look for signs of the Harmon/McIlroy pairing paying off.

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Brandel Chamblee calls out multiple players for poor form ahead of Masters; Says Scottie Scheffler can win ‘putting poorly’

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On Tuesday, Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee took to X to share his thoughts on some of the best players in the lead up to the 2024 Masters Tournament.

“A big topic early in the week of The Masters on the LIVE FROM set will be how poorly many of the best players in the world are playing this year and why.

These are the players most off in form (SG Total) who were in the top 20 last year on the eve of the Masters.

1) Patrick Cantlay -1.767
2) Matt Fitzpatrick -1.608
3) Max Homa -1.558
4) Viktor Hovland -1.401
5) Tom Kim -1.388
6) Collin Morikawa -1.331
7) Tony Finau -1.265
8) Rory Mcilroy -1.023
9) Justin Thomas -.618

In addition to these players, Tommy Fleetwood who was 27th in the world last year at this time is -2.049 worse in Strokes Gained Total year over year…and Keegan Bradley who was 22nd in the world last year at this time is -.842 worse in Strokes Gained Total.

In addition to this, there is some statistical analysis (mind you the stats on LIV aren’t great) that will show how the games of many of the stars on LIV have fallen off as well.

This will do one of two things in my opinion. It will either make this year’s Masters (which is bar far the most predictable major) wide open or an absolute cake walk for Scottie Scheffler given how few stars are playing well in the world.”

The post doesn’t take into consideration the fact that Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood both won in Dubai early this year, which Chamblee addresses in a subsequent tweet.

“Rory won the Hero Dubai which was about half the strength of The American Express field and Fleetwood won the Dubai Invitational which was about 1/3 the field strength of The Sony Open… they have each played 5 times on The PGA Tour, and in the strongest fields, so trying to compare who they will compete against at The Masters as best I can. I don’t ignore those wins, but statistically I’m trying to compare apples to apples.”

Later, when asked for his “top 4 picks” Chamblee speculated on what the top players, with the exception of Scottie Scheffler, struggling could mean for The Masters.

Scheffler does look hard to beat heading into Augusta, but in golf, the best player winning is far from a sure thing.

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