2020 Honda Classic picks: The recent major winner our experts love at PGA National
After a red-hot start to the season for our experts, we've fittingly cooled off a bit in the winter, at least when it comes to picking outright winners. What better time to catch fire again than during the Florida Swing?
This week the tour heads to God's waiting room for the Honda Classic, which has been played at Jack Nicklaus' Champion Course at PGA National since 2007. The course is known for "The Bear Trap," its famous three-hole stretch that includes two of the most difficult par 3s on tour, the 15th and the 17th, and the 434-yard par-4 16th. As Nicklaus' quote reads on the Bear Trap's plaque, it's where the tournament is won or lost. In other words, where your bets go to die.
The Bear Trap isn't the only place on the course where trouble lurks. There's water everywhere, making it one of the toughest events to bet on all year. One yard off line and your guy could be be trunk-slamming on Friday. Par is a great score at PGA National, and those who avoid the big number will almost certainly be in contention on Sunday, as single-digit under par scores usually get it done. Of the 13 years the Honda has been played at PGA National, only three of the winners have had a 72-hole total lower than nine under. Should you lean with one of the favorites, or go further down the board and find a consistent player who keeps the ball in play?
Our expert picks this week, just like every week, include a caddie offering insight from the range and putting green at the 2020 Honda Classic; picks from Jason Sobel, a senior writer at The Action Network, which is becoming the leader in sports betting and handicapping analysis, and it's growing its presence in golf; two of the most respected experts in the daily-fantasy community, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports, which tracks DFS ownership and sentiment; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
2020 Honda Classic Picks To Win (odds via BetMGM)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the Week: Rickie Fowler (14-1) — He’s a great ball-striker and a better putter. Around PGA National you have to have the ability to grind out rounds and Rickie can do that with his solid short game. Coming off a close call last year he’ll close it out this time.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Sungjae Im (28-1) — Every facet of his game hasn’t clicked in the same event so far this season. That’s going to change soon for the 21-year-old now that he’s back on his preferred putting surface in a field much weaker than he’s gotten used to playing.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Gary Woodland (22-1) — Woodland enters with three top-12 finishes over his past five starts and is a great ball-striker, which matters here. So does short game, and that’s a little problematic for Woodland, who is just 101st in strokes-gained: around the green over the past 50 rounds on the PGA Tour, via FantasyNational.com. Woodland, though, has still gained strokes tee-to-green in five straight years at PGA National. He’ll just need to bring the putter.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Justin Rose (25-1) — Rose will continue to be underpriced, until he actually wins. And why not this week? We’re still talking about one of the world’s best ball-strikers. He should be about 17 or 20-1 in my model, which weighs his longer-term stats above a couple poor showings to start 2020. And in his two of his past three starts at the Honda (he hasn’t played here since 2015), he has two top-5 finishes, where he gained more than 10 strokes on the field. I like that body of work.
Jason Sobel, Action Network senior golf writer: Daniel Berger (33-1) — Berger has the recent form (T-9 at WMPO, T-5 at Pebble), he's due for a victory (last win: 2017 St. Jude) and he's got a bit of course history, with a playoff loss here five years ago at what is essentially a home game for him. More than anything, though, we’ve got a narrative: Some players say they like sleeping in their own bed and playing in front of family and friends, but deep down, it’s difficult – either there’s too much pressure or too many distractions. Other guys thrive in trying to “show off” for the home crowd. That fits Berger to a T.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest associate editor: Gary Woodland (22-1) — Sneakily, Woodland fired a final-round 63 at Chapultepec on Sunday. That bodes well for his chances at the Honda Classic for a couple of reasons. Chapultepec requires a lot of thinking and precision approaching those tiny greens, same as PGA National’s Champion course. And Woodland proved his game is sharp with that final round. He surprisingly hasn’t won since his U.S. Open win. I think that will change soon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it came this week.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Billy Horschel (25-1) — It's a bermuda week, which means it's a Billy Ho week. Three of his five tour wins have come on bermuda putting surfaces, and he's been playing well of late. Four top 10s in his last eight starts, including back-to-back T-9s in his last two. I saw a great stat on Twitter this week from Kenny Kim, Host of the Fantasy Golf Degenerates Podcast. Horschel's T-9 in Mexico marked the seventh time in his career he's had top 10s in back-to-back starts. The previous six times, these are his results the following week: 21st, 2nd, 1st, 61st, 1st, 9th. He's one of the streakiest players on tour. Let's cash in on that at Honda, where he's finished T-16 or better in three of his last four trips.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports golf expert: Gary Woodland (22-1) — Thanks to his superior scoring on par 4s, Woodland ranks fourth in our Course Suitability Ranking this week so it’s no surprise to see he already has a 6th and a 2nd place finish to his name here. As per FantasyNational.com he ranks 9th in the field this week for Opportunities Gained over the last 2 months. Also has 4 top 10’s in his last 8 events.
Results from this season: We correctly predicted seven of the first 18 winners to start the season. FanDuel’s Brandon Gdula has predicted four outright victories on his own, netting +122 units this season alone (the equivalent of being up $1,200 on $10 bets), after predicting Justin Thomas’ win at Kapalua. Our tour caddie, and DraftKings’ Pat Mayo, also had JT as their pick to win. FanShare Sports’ Lee Alldrick picked Rory McIlroy at the WGC-HSBC Champions, giving him three winning predictions early in the season. Three members of our expert panel correctly picked the favorite in the fall at the CJ Cup, Justin Thomas (8-1), so we have a lot of positive momentum. Check out everyone’s records in the betting card above.
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2020 Honda Classic (odds via BetMGM)
Caddie: Wyndham Clark (60-1) — He’s going to win this year. He putts extremely well, and his ball-striking is world class. He came close last year, this year he arrives more mature with the understanding that you can’t try and overpower your way around PGA National.
Mayo: Sam Burns (100-1) — It won’t just be me on Mr. Burns this week, which normally spells doom for a longshot pick. Many of our first memories of Burns was getting to play with Tiger on a Sunday two years ago in Woods’ first real time back in contention to win an event. He finished T-8 that year. He now enters this year’s Honda smacking the hell out of the ball. Over the past 12 rounds, Burns sits third in the field in strokes-gained: ball-striking and gets back on bermuda where he gained over a half stroke per round on the putting surfaces. This can go awful quickly if the ball striking takes a momentary lapse, however. As anyone who’s backed Burns lately has found out, if he’s not hitting a green in regulation, it’s likely a bogey at best.
Gdula: Brian Harman (80-1) — In my win simulations, Harman rates out better than his price suggests. He’s a very consistent, balanced golfer, and that doesn’t always get it done on today’s PGA Tour. However, PGA National’s winner tends to range between 5-under and 13-under, and that plays to Harman, who is as good at avoiding bogeys as he is converting birdies.
Riccio: Sam Ryder (150-1) — Fresh off a T-3 at the Puerto Rico Open, the Honda Classic should also reward Ryder’s precise long-iron play and controlled ball-striking. He pops as having the most value among longshots, by a long shot.
Sobel, Action Network: Bo Hoag (250-1) — This tournament is a great one for going against the chalk – and a top-10 bet on Hoag at this price certainly qualifies. I’ve got two reasons for it: The first is admittedly narrative-ish, as Hoag is from Columbus, growing up right near Jack Nicklaus’ childhood home. With Nicklaus’ connection to this event and Hoag’s connection to Nicklaus, don’t be surprised if he owns a little more motivation than usual. The second reason is perhaps more rational: Hoag’s first career top-10 on the PGA Tour came last month at the Sony Open, on another wind-blown, ball-striker’s course. There should be a slight correlation between these two events. There are plenty of other safer top-10 bets in the field this week, but if you want an off-the-radar pick who could result in a nice ROI, Hoag feels like a nice play.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Erik van Rooyen (50-1) — I think this is a mis-pricing by oddsmakers. The South African proved he’s as good of a ball-striker as anyone on the planet right now with his WGC performance. He never backed down among the world’s stars last week. To me, that should give him the confidence he’s one of the best players in this field, which is not what the 50-1 price point looks like. Take the value and his momentum and ride it to a potential win. This is a course where he should similarly benefit from his length and iron precision.
Powers, Golf Digest: Harris English (60-1) — English had not much history to speak of at PGA National up until last year's T-12 finish. I like him to build off that, especially after he got the putter going again at the WMPO, gaining 3.7 strokes on the greens after losing strokes in his prior three starts. Bermuda is also his favorite putting surface, and if the wind picks up on the weekend like it always seems to in Florida, that plays in to his hand as well.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Harry Higgs (70-1) — Thanks to his performances on par 70’s and putting on bermuda, Higgs ranks 14th in our Course Suitability Ranking this. In his last three events, Higgs has posted three top 25 finishes which includes a 9th at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Brooks Koepka (14-1) — He’s still finding his game since making his return. I don’t think he contends this week. Besides, he can’t peak too early, the masters is still a month and a half away.
Mayo: Louis Oosthuizen (22-1) — If Louis had appeared as a fade in every event he’s ever played in the USA, you’d be batting 100%. Not to say he can never win, but you never get a discount in the outright betting market to actually take that chance. Plus, he’s coming off one of the weirdest weeks of his career in Mexico where he gained nine strokes putting and still managed to finish T-51. Louis’ -12.9 strokes-gained: tee-to-green were the most of any event in the past 10 years for him, over 2.5 strokes than his next closest, terrible performance (-10.4 tee-to-green at the 2017 BMW).
Gdula: Rickie Fowler (14-1) — Fowler has won here in the past, the field isn’t super deep, and he has two top-10 finishes in 2020 already. However, he’s also overpriced because of the factors I just mentioned. Fowler has gained strokes tee-to-green in only two of his past seven starts, and that’s just not a bankable profile for a +1400 winner.
Riccio: Louis Oosthuizen (22-1) — You really have to pay up for Oosthuizen this week. And the price is too hefty, by my estimation. My model has his projected odds more around the 45- to 50-1 range. So this is an easy fade. He has a 12th place last year, but before that his best finish in three previous tries was a 33rd, with a MC in there.
Sobel, Action Network: Justin Rose (25-1) — Two weeks ago, I listed Rose as my fade for the Genesis Invitational, based largely on the fact that while he’d had some success at Riviera, he stopped playing there for a few years and, well, there must’ve been a reason. Even though he started strong, he wound up finishing T-56 for the week. I feel very much the same way about Rose at this one. In 2010, he finished solo third at the Honda; in 2012, he was T-5; and in 2013, he was T-4. He skipped it the following year, then MC’d in 2015 and hasn’t been back since. Much like in L.A., I feel like Rose is searching for something right now and just trying to play a different schedule to see if he can find it. I’m inclined to ignore that streak of three top-fives and remember that there must’ve been a reason he stopped showing up.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Brooks Koepka (14-1) — This feels like a cop-out fade, sure. But I’d argue it’s the only thing to do. Concerns over his injury were brought up by him. Why would he exaggerate? I’m off Brooks until he shows us something.
Powers, Golf Digest: Tommy Fleetwood (10-1) — I don't need any fancy stats to tell you that Tommy Boy has not won a PGA Tour event in his career. Five Euro Tour wins are certainly nice, but as his fellow Englishmen Lee Westwood and Paul Casey have shown, they don't always equate to wins on the PGA Tour. I'd like to see Fleetwood win first before I ever bet on him as a favorite.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Tommy Fleetwood (10-1) — I don’t understand how Fleetwood is the favorite this week. Despite his fourth-place finish here last year, Fleetwood historically loses 0.2 shots per round to the field when putting on bermuda greens. His recent form hasn’t been great either, the Englishman has not finished top 10 in a PGA Tour event since the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational last July.
2020 Honda Classic: Matchups
Caddie: Billy Horschel (-120) over Daniel Berger (DraftKings) — I like Billy over just about anybody this week (except my pick to win, Rickie).
Mayo: J.T. Poston (+100) over Wyndham Clark (Bet 365) — Clark is getting way too much respect for one good event at Honda; the course with the least predictive course history numbers on Tour. Just take Poston who happens to be consistently good.
Gdula: Tommy Fleetwood (-126) over Brooks Koepka (FanDuel) — Fleetwood checks all the boxes of a well-rounded golfer, and we just frankly can’t know how healthy or engaged Koepka is two weeks from The Players. While Koepka may be treating this one as a tune-up, this is a great chance for Fleetwood to convert on a win. He was fourth here two years ago.
Riccio: Justin Rose (-120) over Louis Oosthuizen (Bet365) — This is an easy one — my model values this matchup at greater than -200, so you’re getting a huge value off the oddsmakers. I’m willing to make this a three-unit play. Need to strike when you find true value like this!
Sobel, Action Network: Emiliano Grillo (-104) over Corey Conners (FanDuel) — I’ve been a fan of Grillo’s game for a while and had expected him to break through to the next echelon by now, but in order to explain why he hasn’t, we have to address the elephant in the room: He’s not a good putter. OK, he’s downright awful. Last season, he ranked 185th out of 188 qualified players in strokes-gained: putting. This season, with more players qualifying so far, he’s down to 226th. So, why pick him here? Just as Riviera negates the putting stats because everyone tends to miss shorties there, PGA National does the same for a different reason – putting is less important, since players tend to miss a lot more greens.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Harris English (+100) over Joaquin Niemann (BetMGM) — There’s a lot of reasons to like English this week. The Georgia Bulldog is 10th in this field in strokes-gained: putting on bermuda over the past 50 rounds. And he finished 12th here last year. English had been hot—gaining more than 10 strokes in four of five events from September through a November, then cooled off. Until the WMPO, where he gained 6.8 strokes on the field. Niemann is prone to a big number, so I’ll take the consistency of English, who has more course experience, too.
Powers, Golf Digest: Sungjae Im (-110) over Viktor Hovland (DraftKings) — If anyone can end "The Curse of Coco Beach," it's going to be Hovland, but it won't be at the Honda, as he's still probably be hurting from his first victory celebration. Now that all these young pups have their first win, it's Sungjae's turn to get on the board. But for this week I'll just take him to beat Hov, who is poised for a natural letdown.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Rickie Fowler (-105) over Tommy Fleetwood (Betway) — Historically, Fowler gains 0.3 shots per round putting on bermuda greens. Whereas Fleetwood loses 0.2 shots. Theoretically this should give Fowler a two-shot head start over the four rounds. Fowler also has three top 10 finishes in his last five PGA Tour starts. Fleetwood has one.
Matchup results last week: Tour Caddie: 1 for 1 (Two-unit bet: Rory (-150) over DJ); Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Kisner (+110) over Spieth); Riccio: 1 for 1 (Matsuyama (+100) over Scott).
Matchup results this season (assuming each matchup is a one-unit wager): Alldrick, FanShare Sports: 12 wins, 4 losses, 1 push (up 6.24 units); Hennessey: 5 for 7 (up 2.96 units); Tour Caddie: 8 wins, 5 losses, 1 push (up 2.92 units); Riccio: 9 wins, 7 losses, 2 pushes (up 1.75 units); Mayo: 9 for 17 (up 1.37 units); Powers: 3 wins, 3 losses, 1 push (up 0.53 units); Sobel/Action Network: 9 for 17 (up 0.32 units); Gdula: 5 for 14 and two pushes (down 2.79 units).
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
Caddie: Erik van Rooyen (+470) — I know Erik well and he’s extremely motivated to lock up his PGA Tour Card. He’s a very impressive ball striker with a calm head on his shoulders. Two strengths needed around this tough course.
Mayo: Shane Lowry (+470) — The reigning Open Champion couldn’t hit a putt in Mexico in his first North American start of 2020. Shame. It was nice to see the ball striking on point, though. Lowry’s now played five events worldwide this year, and churned out a top-15 finish in three of them, and now gets a course that should play windy and soggy, his preferred style.
Gdula: Cameron Tringale (+900) — Tringale’s irons have been erratic of late, and while a top-10 isn’t a win, we still need some volatility to our golfers to get to that mark. Tringale can catch the high-end of his variance here, as he has played here nine straight years and is golfing at his peak over the past five years.
Riccio: Billy Horschel (+290) — This is appropriately priced by my modeling. And it seems like Billy Ho has some buzz around the industry. So there’s not necessarily value here, but it’s a good chance to be a winner. His recent form plus stats at the Honda are impressive.
Sobel, Action Network: Sam Ryder (+1100) — Fresh off a T-3 in Puerto Rico last week – his third career top-three finish on the PGA Tour – Ryder could be on the verge of a breakthrough very soon. He’s a guy I’ve been touting for a while now, one of the few non-superstars inside the top-20 on last season’s all-around ranking, which proves there aren’t many holes in his game. Even though he’s never played this event, he checks all the boxes, from being a solid wind player to putting well on Bermuda greens. This might feel like we’re chasing last week’s success, but I can see a back-to-back performance not unlike Talor Gooch on the West Coast last year, when he parlayed one top-five into another at a big price.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Ryan Palmer (+600) — We’re getting some value on Palmer not playing well at Riviera or TPC Scottsdale. But those aren’t courses where he’s succeeded at the past three years. PGA National is the opposite. The Texan has gained an average of 6.4 strokes off-the-tee at the Honda Classic in his past six starts. And he shot a final-round 63 last year to leap up the leader board, finishing fourth. This is a club that plays to his off-the-tee strengths. If we get an average around the green week, this has a strong chance to cash.
Powers, Golf Digest: Lucas Glover (+850) — Not sure you guys have heard, but it's a great week to be a BALL-STRIKER. That would explain why Glover has such great history at the Honda, with four top 20s in his previous seven appearances, including last year's T-4. Now, he was in great form coming in last season, having finished inside the top 20 in six of seven starts leading in. That's not the case this year, as Glover has just one top 10 in 10 starts. But he's made seven of eight cuts, and if he can make it eight of nine at PGA National, anything can happen on the weekend. Keep it at even par for the first two rounds, get to four or five under on the weekend and we're in top 10 territory.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Daniel Berger (+280) — Berger’s last two finishes have both been top 10’s and everything is pointing towards a third. This shorter course will suit, he putts well on bermuda and he ranks fourth in the field this week for strokes-gained: tee-to-green over the last two months.
Top 10 results last week: Gdula: 1 for 1 (Tyrrell Hatton (+700).
Top-10 results for the year (assuming a one-unit wager): Mayo: 3 for 16 (up 5.5 units); Sobel/Action Network: 3 for 16 (up 3.3 units); Alldrick/FanShare: 3 for 17 (up 1.9 units); Gdula 3 for 17 (up 1.2 units); Powers: 1 for 6 (down 3.35 units); Hennessey: 0 for 6 (down 6 units); Riccio: 1 for 17 (down 13.5 units); Tour Caddie: 0 for 15 (down 15 units)
Outrageous, Degenerate Bets of the Week
As part of our new Golf Digest betting podcast, we have a segment at the end of the show where our host Alex Myers calls us out for our most degenerate bet of the week (Hennessey won again this week for his absurd reasoning for betting on Kyle Stanley in the Puerto Rico Open). Here are our candidates for this week, to make Myers' job easier (and hopefully your bankroll larger).
Powers: I'm going to lay off the college basketball this week and go with a "double," aka parlaying two golf winners, aka lighting money on fire like Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight." Horschel is my outright pick, but I was so influenced by all the Woodland talk that I'm going to parlay him at 22-1 with Ernie Els, who is 12-1 to win the Cologuard Classic over on the PGA Tour Champions. In his only start so far on that tour, the Big Easy lost in a playoff to Miguel Angel Jimenez at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. The man is going to feast on the senior circuit, and will soon be the favorite every time he tees it up. This week he's the third favorite behind Steve Stricker and Bernhard Langer, so let's take the little value he still has and pair it with the reigning U.S. Open champ at Honda. The odds are +31100, meaning a $10 bet would return me $3,120. Your boy has his first mortgage payment this month, so it'd behoove me to win this bet.
Hennessey: I'll also be doing a double, but I'll be looking to the European Tour for my other winner. Martin Kaymer has quietly been on a nice little run on the Euro Tour, having made seven straight cuts since October and finishing T-21 or better in six of those starts. This week he's 16-1 at the Oman Open, which will pair nicely with CP's outright pick for the Honda, Billy Horschel, who is 25-1. A Kaymer and Horschel parlay has odds of +44100, so a $10 bet would give you a juicy return of $4,420.
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Jason Sobel is a senior writer for The Action Network. For more analysis from The Action Network, click here.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.
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