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Preview: Honda Classic at PGA National

Preview – PGA Tour — The Honda Classic – PGA National – Feb. 27-Mar. 2 – Palm Beach Gardens, Florida –

After the Aloha and West Coast swings, the PGA Tour heads south for the Florida Swing beginning with The Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens with a host of Top 10 players in the field.

Besides the famed “Bear Trap,” the field of 144 is the other big story this week. Seven of 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking Top 10 are here this week. U.S. Open champion Justin Rose withdrew earlier in the week with tendinitis.

Originally designed by Tom Fazio with a refresh by Jack Nicklaus, PGA National Champions Course (Par 70, 7,110 yards) features the “The Bear Trap” at holes 15-16-17 – a stretch that could decide the victor this week. The course ranks among the most difficulty on tour each year. Last season, it ranked as the toughest outside the four majors. The layout features plenty of water hazards.

For some of the higher-profile like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott, they are returning after a long stretch off. Woods has just two starts in 2014 – both missing the Top 20 by a wide margin. Mickelson makes his first-ever appearance at PGA National and Scott has played competitively since Hawaii in January.

This will be Scott’s first start at PGA National since 2003.

Several international-born competitors make PGA Tour appearance this week – fresh off the WGC-Accenture Match Play – including Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen.

World No. 3 and the defending FedEx Cup and Race To Dubai champion Henrik Stenson is also competing this week.

2013 Results:

  • While defending champion Rory McIlroy walked off during round two citing a “tooth ache,” Michael Thompson rallied for a second-round 65  and went on to finish 9-under overall and win by two shots. Geoff Oglivy was second at 7-under followed by Luke Guthrie. Lucas Glover and David Lynn tied for fourth place alongside Rose, Erik Compton and Keegan Bradley.

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, while Thompson’s triumph snapped the streak.

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: With international players here in mass following the WGC match play, consider several this week including Garcia, who has six Top 10s here in his last 10 starts. Avoid the big dogs – Woods was T-37 here last year and has been rusty, while Phil has never played PGA National in a tournament. Take a flier on Ogilvy. The former U.S. Open champion has three runner-up finishes at this event including 2001, 2006 and 2013.

BETTORS: With Rose out of the tournament (he was among the overall favorites coming into the week), consider McDowell following his run in match play. G-Mac (20-1 at Ladbrokes.com) has three straight Top 10s at PGA National. He plays well on difficult layouts. Schwartzel (20-1) is three-for-three in cuts made here including Top 10s in 2012 and 2013. He was 5th at Riviera. Garcia (20-1) has wins in December (in Thailand) and January (Qatar Masters). Garcia made a solid run in match play, so he enters with momentum. Rory is the top selection at 8-1. For a long shot wager, take CH3 at 50-1. 

Other Golf News:

  • Look for more of the same this year with a premium placed on Par-5 Performance. Charles Howell III ranked first on the PGA Tour in Par-5 Performance with Harris English, Robert Garrigus and Jimmy Walker all in the Top 10.
  • Joburg Open winner George Coetzee — coming off a strong run at the match play in Arizona — joins Thomas Aiken and Robert Rock to headline the European Tour’s Tshwane Open this week in South Africa. Coetzee is a 6-1 betting favorite.
  • The LPGA Tour visits Singapore this week for the LPGA HSBC Women’s Champions. Stacy Lewis is the defending champion edging Na Yeon Choi by a shot. Paula Creamer finished third, while Jessica Korda was T-5.
  • Camilo Villegas, who won the Honda Classic in 2010, opened with a 6-under-64 at PGA National last season, but missed the cut after struggling in round two.
  • No player managed four rounds in the 60s at PGA National a year ago.