Table of Contents
By Alex Lauzon from the “Course of Life” podcast
FROM WEST TO EAST
This week always comes as an annual kick in the arse for PGA Tour players as they make the shift from the West Coast Swing to the Florida swing. Now, the amateur at home reading this is thinking “yeah, tough life” to which I would agree. From a golf perspective, however, the change is drastic as we head into The Honda Classic at PGA National. The tour goes from west coast grass to east coast spongy Bermuda grass around the greens of Florida, from dry air to humid air that sticks on your shirt. In theory, there should finally be a course that “wins” the week for the first time in 2023.
Last week at Riviera it was the return of Tiger and some golf tournaments as well (I heard), and Jon Rahm re-solidified his title as world no. 1. The Rahm-Rory-Scheffler big three is the current Rushmore of the Tour and they should be playing hot potato with the top spot in the OWGR all year. I went with Rory and got hosed, so now we look to a softer quieter field in Florida to get off the schneid.
“Bring them to their knees” is the thought that Team Nicklaus had in mind with this PGA National track. Add in some breeze off of the east coast of the Atlantic and this track makes for a doozy of a week. There are all sorts of “balls in the water” records broken here and this year should be no exception. It’s a modest 7000-yard track as a par 72 but don’t let those docile numbers fool you – this course will mess with your brain quickly. The brute of a track (especially when gusty) is punctuated by the “Bear Trap” of holes 15-17, which are sure to bring players to their knees.
After two loaded fields on the west coast for designated events, we’re back to the morose of a regular old PGA Tour field. The stars take a week off mainly because they want to, but we’ve heard that PGA National is privately hated by the Tour’s elite. As for who is playing this week, Sungjae Im and Shane Lowry are by far the highest-ranked players in the world, and notably joining them at PGA National are Matt Kuchar, Billy Horschel, and 2022 Sepp Straka.
FORECASTING THE HONDA
PGA National is a brute of a course, and with that in mind I’m looking at guys who are Florida-familiar, and who tend to thrive on tougher tracks. It’s the grinders and fairway and finders that don’t need to bank on birdies to win here – par is your friend at the Honda Classic…for the first time in several events.
1. Who’s hot and trending – recent high finishes, top-10 streaks, and consistent play are never a bad thing.
2. Horses for courses – players love certain courses and course familiarity and experience are invaluable in a field of the world’s best.
3. What the numbers tell you this week – while I’m far from analytical, there’s always a tournament darling or two scattered across the golf talk stratosphere that stuns on paper.
4. Intangibles – while this allows for theater of the mind, there’s a mysterious optimism surrounding that feels “due” or if the price looks just right for buying.
At The Riv, I had Collin Morikawa the Cali kid in the top five, and Rory sniffed contention briefly but outside of that, it was admittedly an off-week. Not my best picks but we’ve already banked three winners in 2023 and we’re planning on many more. I’ll give the picks a C.
(Wanna start a Pick-X pool with your friends? Learn more here! Or, if you’re looking to start your own PGA One-and-Done pool, check those out here) (Hint: the main difference between the two is how many players you’ll pick each week)
1: Sungjae Im – This undeniably feels like the week for the Tour’s ironman. He’s the betting favorite and after a couple of west coast top 10s, it’s time to convert a good week into a great one.
2: Chris Kirk – Two third place finishes on the west coast, and he had a top 10 here at The Honda more importantly last year – the perfect ingredients for the vet to play well.
3: Adam Svennson – Found a sneaky top 10 at Riviera and the analytics suggest this is a good course and fit for his game – top 10 here last year as well.
4: Sepp Straka – It’s a light field, so why not pick the defending champion? He’s bound to come back to good vibes where he last won.
5: Webb Simpson – Lots of value and low numbers on Simpson, who has the experience and guile to get around PGA National efficiently if he’s striking it well.
6: Zach Johnson – Admittedly taking a flier on a tour vet who knows how to win in grind conditions. If it gets windy and ugly he could contend.
RYP One and Done Pick: Sungjae Im
Where to watch: Golf Channel and NBC all week, which means we get Brad Faxon and Smylie Kaufman debuts on network air. I’m going to need some heat from them in the new NBC booth.
Why to watch: The West to East coast swing is a dramatic adjustment even for the world’s best, and this golf course gobbles up balls into the water. A fun watch for fans of carnage on the course.
What to eat: I can’t get to Florida soon enough for the seafood and freshly caught fish – so this time around I’ll go with a grouper po boy and fries.
Purse: $8.4 million
Winner’s Share: $1.51 million