PGA Tour preview: Honda Classic at PGA National

Preview – PGA Tour — The Honda Classic – PGA National – Palm Beach Gardens, Florida –

With the completion of the West Coast swing near Los Angeles last week, the PGA Tour heads to the Sunshine State for the Florida Swing beginning with The Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens.

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy is the headliner making his 2015 PGA Tour debut this week. He isn’t the only high-profile international star showing up in Florida in preparation for the Masters in April. U.S. Open and Players champion Martin Kaymer is also teeing it up.

The famed “Bear Trap” takes center stage at PGA National. Dating back to 1972 and designed by George and Tom Fazio, PGA National was reworked by Jack Nicklaus in 1990. Jack’s Bear Trap – holes 15, 16 and 17 – are expected to decide the champion this week. The Champions Course (Par 70, 7,110 yards) ranks among the most difficulty on tour each year with plenty of water hazards.

PGA National has hosted this event since 2007 crowning a solid list of champions including Ernie Els, Rory Sabbatini, Camilo Villegas and Y.E. Yang. International-born players had won five straight editions of this tournament until U.S.-born players won the last two.

Phil Mickelson returns to action after back-to-back missed cuts on the West Coast Swing. He headlines a bevy American players in the field including FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel and Rickie Fowler.

2014 Results:

  • Russell Henley (8-under) outplayed McIlroy, Russell Knox and Ryan Palmer in a playoff to capture the title. Rory stumbled down the stretch with a double at 70th hole after opening the week with a 63. He shot 74 in the final round. Palmer missed a five-footer on the 72nd hole to create the playoff. Billy Hurley III was T-5 at 7-under, while Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald ended up with Top 10s.

Golf Channel has Thursday and Friday coverage along with early weekend television before giving way to NBC Sports for network broadcast Saturday and Sunday.

FANTASY: Consider Garcia after his run at Riviera. Sergio faded on the final two holes to miss the playoff. His record at PGA National includes 4-for-4 in cuts made and a T-8 last season. Rory is must play this week. A champion here in 2012, he lost in a playoff last season. Graeme McDowell is worth a look as he has three Top 10s here. Difficult conditions with windy would create a U.S. Open-type layout where G-Mac thrives.

BETTORS: McIlroy, who has a victory and runner-up earlier this season on the European Tour, is the outright betting favorite at at 3 ½-to-1 odds. Take Justin Rose (20-1) in this spot. He has Top 5s in his last three starts at PGA National. His odds are attractive, especially for the 8th ranked player in the world. Consider a flier on Paul Casey at 50-1. He lost in the playoff last week and was T-4 here in 2010. He won last September on the European Tour.

Other Golf News:

  • Oosthuizen, 44th in the world ranking, is making his 2015 debut this week – along with McIlroy and Kaymer. Because of injury, he is making his first worldwide start since mid-December. He is a 66-1 betting selection.
  • George Coetzee (10-1 odds) headlines the field at the European Tour’s Joburg Open in South African this week. Named tapped European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke is also competing.
  • Davis Love III was official named the U.S. Ryder Cup Captain by the PGA of America. He will head the U.S. squad in Hazeltine, Minnesota for the 2016 matches.
  • With Lydia Ko taking the week off, Inbee Park is the betting favorite at the Honda LPGA Thailand at 5-1 odds just ahead of Stacy Lewis (8-1). Anna Nordqvist, who is now 12th in the Rolex Ranking, is the defending champion.