Golf Tips: 4 fancied flutters at this week’s Honda Classic

Ben Coley from Sporting Life casts an expert eye over this week's Honda Classic.

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*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change

One of the main stories is there’s a bit of an absence of big names. We’ve got a few – Daniel Berger who’s a Floridian with a good record here, he lost a play-off to Padraig Harrington seven years ago.

We’ve got Joaquin Niemann who’s now firmly inside the world’s top 20 and certain to continue climbing those rankings.

There’s also Sungjae Im, who’s a former champion; but considering last week we had the world’s entire top 10, it’s a real drop in grade.

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The other dynamic is that we were on the west coast for four weeks, and now we’re over to the east coast. That will mean some different course conditions and we’ll see quite a lot of change on the leaderboards I suspect.

This course has a very dramatic closing stretch. The ‘Bear Trap’, holes 15, 16 and 17 are surrounded by water. Another contrast for you – there was no water at Riviera last week at all whereas this one’s about keeping your ball out of the water if you can.

When Padraig Harrington won the play-off here against Berger, the American hit his ball into the water on the first play-off hole. So, it’s a tournament that’s thrown up some more mature winners, more experienced golfers, those who can play well in the wind because it’s a very exposed golf course and wind here in Florida is very common. A little bit of nous goes a long way here.

Main Selection – Sungjae Im

It’s not really like me to go with the favourite, but the more I looked at this event the weaker his opposition became. Having won this tournament impressively for his first PGA tour win two years ago, he’s really established himself as one of the best tee-to-green players on the tour.

The last four winners of this have been the best tee-to-green players that week, so there is loads to like about him.

With regards to the other market leaders, Daniel Berger’s been carrying an injury, Joaquin Niemann, who was brilliant last week, said it felt like that tournament lasted a month so that must have taken its toll. Brooks Koepka looks short of form and Tommy Fleetwood is still looking for his first win on the PGA tour.

So I thought Sungjae Im was absolutely rock solid and this is certainly a very, very good course for him and a scene of fond memories.

Next Best Selection – Alex Noren

Talking about experience and players who have done well in the wind, Alex Noren, who’s 39 years old now, is a 10-time winner on the European tour and generally in tough conditions. He won by the coast in Scotland, he won at Wentworth where you’ve always got to battle those swirling winds.

And, the last time he won was at the Le Golf National, in Paris, which is a course with a fearsome closing stretch, loads of water in play and very similar to this one.

He was third here in 2018 and he’s actually got a house very close to this course so moving back to the east coast will be a positive. He was in the top-10 two weeks ago in Phoenix and he played well last week at Riviera.

His putter actually let him down at Riviera but it’s usually his number one weapon. If he can get the marriage of the way he hit the ball at Riviera and the way he putted in Phoenix, the recipe is there for a really big week.

Top 10 Picks – Austin Smotherman & Luke Donald

This week I’d be almost certain we’ll get a couple of relative unknowns in the top-10. When Padraig won here he was a massive price, Michael Thompson was the same, Keith Mitchell was the same. It really does happen here as it’s a very volatile course, one bad shot at the wrong time and you can play your way out of the tournament very quickly.

So, with that in mind I’m going to side with Austin Smotherman. He’s a Californian who I definitely think will take some inspiration from Sahith Theegala and Cameron Young over the last two weeks. They’re two Californian youngsters who both, with two holes left in the tournament, had a chance to win at very big prices.

Smotherman’s been hitting his ball really well and I don’t think he’s far behind those two. He just hasn’t quite done it for the four rounds as they have. So watch out for him, I think he’s going to have a good season and could ruffle a few feathers this week.

The other selection is a real curveball and you will get a big price here – Luke Donald. Now, obviously, he’s not the player he was. He’s got four top-10s at this course but he was a far better player then.

That being said, you only have to go back to 2020 and he finished 11th at this tournament. His iron play was really good that week and it’s been really good this season. He was really annoyed to miss the cut in Phoenix because he made a mess of the last hole and that’ll put a bit of fire in the belly as well.

I don’t think he’s done just yet, I think he’s very serious about trying to stretch out his career and at his best, Florida was always the place to catch him.

If you’re ever going to chance Luke Donald, I think you’ve got three or four tournaments per year and this is one of them.

Honda Classic Tips

Outright picks
Sungjae Im
Alex Noren

Top 10 picks
Austin Smotherman
Luke Donald

* Read more of Ben Coley’s top tips at SportingLife.com

* All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change.

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