Honda Classic picks: Why Brooks Koepka's value is too good to ignore at PGA National
Implied value is a concept that isn't necessarily applicable outside advanced statistics—or gambling. Understanding how it applies to finding good odds on a likely golf winner at PGA National will be interesting for any golf fan. Taking a look at this week's odds and applying this theory to a relatively weak field, it's impossible not to land on Brooks Koepka as someone you'd be tempted to consider as a winner.
Justin Thomas is the overwhelming favorite according to Vegas at 5-to-1 odds. That's double the odds as the next in line, Rickie Fowler, who won a couple weeks ago in Phoenix, but took some time off before Mexico and played poorly there. Next, you land on Koepka. He owns a spotty record at PGA National, failing to finish inside the top 25 in his four appearances. But, as two of our golf handicappers in this group, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel, explain in further detail below, you're getting great value on Koepka, the three-time major champion, relative to those two golfers with less attractive odds.
Does Thomas really have more than double the chances of winning than Koepka? That seems a little too strong, especially with a less top-heavy Honda Classic field. Koepka is likely the best player, if not second best, player here—but you're not paying like he is. Koepka gained more than three strokes on the field last week, but he had a historically poor putting performance on some interesting surfaces at Chapultepec. Why else is Koepka the intriguing pick this week? Read on for the takes from all of our experts inside Golf Digest's weekly betting preview, including our weekly advice from a PGA Tour caddie, offering insight from the range and putting green every week, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network.
2019 Honda Classic Picks To Win (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Adam Scott (16-1) — Scott won the Honda in 2016 and, along with the win, has finished inside the top 15 in each of his last four starts there. He's had a nice season to this point with a runner-up showing at Torrey Pines and a T-7 at Riviera. We'll take the solid form as he's headed to a place where he has plenty of confidence.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Brooks Koepka (11-1) — Koepka's course history at PGA National (MC/T26/T51/T33), are not great. The T-27 in Mexico was also unimpressive. Unless you dig a bit deeper. Lost in that Mexico finish for Brooks was his tee-to-green dominance. Koepka was fifth in the field at the WGC tee-to-green, trailing only DJ, Rory, JT and Keegan Bradley. In fact, he was the only player inside the top 15 in strokes gained/tee-to-green for the event that finished outside the top 20 on the leaderboard. This is what happens when you lose almost six strokes on the greens. The guy just couldn't putt. Sometimes that happens. Not often so terrible, though. Koepka's negative-5.7 strokes gained putting is the third worst mark of his career with the flat stick, so a rebound is likely coming. One, because he's generally a pretty good putter overall, and two, he does he best work on Bermuda greens, gaining more than +0.35 strokes per round per FantasyNational.com.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Brooks Koepka (11-1) — Brooks Koepka is coming off a T-27 at the WGC-Mexico but ranked fifth in strokes gained/tee to green. He just struggled mightily with the putter. Brooks is back on his best putting surface (Bermuda) this week and—while Thomas is the much easier justification—Brooks offers significantly more value.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Justin Thomas (5-1) — We've been on him the past two weeks. We're going to ride the heater while it lasts.
Golf Digest editors: Sergio Garcia (15-1) — Perception is that Sergio Garcia isn't having a great season. You'd be mistaken. He had the embarrassing Saudi Arabia outbursts in the bunker and on the greens, which got a ton of pub. But his results since September are actually insanely good. And Sergio finished T-6 in Mexico last week. Before that, he won the Valderrama Masters (weak field, sure) and has five other top-10s. On a difficult ball-strikers' course like PGA National, we'll take Sergio in a weak field. Sergio has gained at least two strokes per round on the field in his last 20 rounds, according to FantasyNational.com. It's about time that translated to another win for him.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted five of the season’s 14 events. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. And Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the Honda Classic (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Byeong Hun An (41-1) — The value is really strong in this price range, and An's game fits PGA National, evidenced by his T-5 here last year.
Mayo: C.T. Pan (90-1) — Following a steady run through the beginning of the swing season where he notched a top-30 finish in each of his first four starts, things went off the rails. Although the former world No. 1-ranked amateur hasn't missed a cut in 2019, the results haven’t been pretty: T-51/T-66/T-60/T-44. Finishes that won’t win you any money. However, there is something to take away from his T-44 at Riviera, the ball-striking was back for the first time all season.
In his first three starts, Pan lost more than a stroke-and-a-half on his approaches and was actually a liability to patrons in San Diego and Phoenix, where he was a combined negative-4.8 strokes gained/off-the-tee. There was something different about that start at the Genesis, though. For a short hitter, he still gained over a stroke off the tee, and, more importantly, he was among the leaders in the field from 175 yards and beyond in proximity. In fact, that’s the one thing that’s been uniform in his game this year—the longer irons have remained solid. Pan is a player who’s going to keep himself out of danger off the tee, can scramble when needed, and strikes a solid enough iron to challenge in a weakish field.
Gdula: Graeme McDowell (55-1) — McDowell has made three of five cuts at the Honda Classic, with two top-15s the past five years. The area resident putts best on Bermuda, too.
Riccio: Sam Ryder (190-1) — Ryder had that hot stretch over the summer, finishing in the top 10 four times in a five month span. And he's been quiet ever since. He's an above average ball-striker who rates out high on my model—in fact, he's my top five out of all players in this field. These are really high odds for someone who
Golf Digest editors: Lucas Glover (55-1) — Glover is the leader on the PGA Tour in bogey avoidance—but that's not the only reason we like the former U.S. Open champ. Aside from a missed cut at the WMPO, Glover hasn't finished outside the top 20 since October. That's incredible. Also incredible: The stats last time Glover teed it up—he gained 12 strokes (!!!) on the field at Pebble Beach. Twelve! That's an insane stat to only finish T-7. Glover is playing so well—these odds are short of what they should be, most likely because Glover doesn't have the name recognition like a Webb Simpson or a Gary Woodland. But Glover is playing just as well as them.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Brooks Koepka (11-1) — I’m off of Brooks. The reigning U.S. Open and PGA champion has not yet returned to summer form, and PGA National is not exactly a “bomb and gouge” course, which are the kind of layouts where Brooks flourishes. In four appearances here, Koepka doesn't have a top-25 finish and only has three under-par scores in 14 rounds—not exactly the pedigree that inspires confidence, especially at these high of odds.
Mayo: Rickie Fowler (10-1) — Rickie’s fine, but simply overpriced. Per projections, he’s one of the favorites to win this event, as expected, but his win probability is in the Cameron Smith and Webb Simpson range, and those are more than double Fowler’s odds. There’s just no value on the wager with Rickie.
Gdula: Justin Thomas (5-1) — Thomas is understandably the overwhelming favorite, and he grades out as the top projected winner everywhere. He’s first in approach, par 4 scoring, and bogey avoidance over the past 100 rounds, but the odds are just too short to back.
Riccio: Luke List (36-1) — I understand List lost in a playoff here last year to Justin Thomas. That doesn't mean he's a lock to contend again. In fact, my model gives List just the 37th best chance out of players in this field to win. And you're paying for List like he's the 12th most likely guy to win. With those implied odds, I'd rather pivot to someone with longer odds. List also ranks 80th on tour in bogey avoidance this season. At PGA National, you need to avoid the big numbers—and I'm not sure Luke List can do that again this year.
Golf Digest editors: Rickie Fowler (10-1) — At a course where avoiding big numbers is key, Rickie Fowler isn't the pick for us. He won in 2017, and finished T-6 before that, so he obviously likes PGA National. But he missed the cut here last year, and after his win in Phoenix a couple weeks ago, we're not sure the gas pedal is at full throttle for Rickie. He already has his win—now his focus is the majors. That's another reason we favor Koepka over Rickie this week.
2019 Honda Classic: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Lucas Glover (-120) over Jim Furyk (DraftKings) — Glover's got a decent record around PGA National. With rain in the forecast Wednesday, it could play long and soft, which gives Lucas the advantage over Jim.
Mayo: Scott Piercy (-105) over Jason Kokrak (Sportsbook) — Kokrak has been solid lately, but Piercy is quietly one of the premier ball-strikers on tour. Like many of my favorites, he just can’t putt. However, as long as he’s average at PGA National on the greens, he’ll win this matchup going away.
Gdula: Sungjae Im (-120) over Dylan Frittelli (Topbet) — Sungjae Im is coming off of two straight missed cuts, but the peripheral stats are a bit more promising than the finishes make it seem. Frittelli (11th here last year) rates out poorer for me.
Riccio: Zach Johnson (-125) over Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Topbet) — Aphibarnrat might earn some betting love this week at PGA National on the heels of his T-3 at the WGC-Mexico. But he doesn't have a penchant of avoiding trouble—necessary to keep a good round going at the Honda Classic. Zach Johnson, with his methodical style, is more of a consistent option—and we like his chances of making the cut better. To give more perspective, ZJ ranks ninth on my model for the week, whereas Kiradech is 89th. That's an auto pick for me.
Golf Digest editors: __Michael Thompson (-106) over Jason Kokrak (DraftKings) — We don't mean to pick against Jason Kokrak doubly, as Mayo also picked against him, but Michael Thompson's success both at the Honda Classic (past winner, 2013) and recently (hasn't finished outside the top 15 in his past four starts, including three top-10s). That's a reason to like Thompson over Kokrak, who has missed the cuts in three of his past five appearances at PGA National, failing to finish better than T-41 since 2012. We love Thompson here!
(Matchup results last week: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Ian Poulter over Henrik Stenson); Riccio: 1 for 1 (Billy Horschel over Shane Lowry); GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Charles Howell III over Louis Oosthuizen); PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1
(Matchup results for the year: Riccio: 5 for 7; GD Editors: 5 for 7 (and one push); PGA Tour Caddie: 4 for 8; Mayo: 3 for 6 (and one push); Gdula: 2 for 5 (and one push)
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Billy Horschel (+430) — He’s got two top-10 finishes in the last three years at the Honda. He’ll add to that this week.
Mayo: Graeme McDowell (+650) — It’s a short layout on the coast with the potential for swirling winds. That G-Mac’s wheel house. In his PGA career, he’s won at Pebble, Harbour Town, and Mayakoba, all coastal, short, wind-infused tracks. Since his ball-striking isn’t what it once was, he’ll have to rely on the flat stick, never a position you want to put yourself in, but G-Mac rolls it well enough to get it going on these greens.
Gdula: Emiliano Grillo (+430) — Grillo has gained strokes with his approach play in all four events in 2019, and he has avoided bogeys well over his past 100 rounds. He finished eighth here a year ago and has gained strokes tee-to-green in all three tries at PGA National.
Riccio: Webb Simpson (+200) — Webb gained more than seven strokes on the field in Mexico in his approach shots, a stat that should translate well at PGA National, where he finished T-5 last year.
Golf Digest editors: Lucas Glover (+500) — Read our explanation above of why Glover is our long shot, and that's why he's our top-10 bet, too. His finishes since October: 7th place, MC, 12th, 11th, 7th, 14th and 17th. That's consistency.
(Top-10 results last week: Mayo has hit his past four top-10 bets in a row, hitting Joost Luiten +750 last week. That was just showing off. PGA Tour Caddie: 1 for 1 (Sergio Garcia, +350); Riccio: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1; GD Editors: 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 5 for 8; PGA Tour Caddie: 3 for 9; GD Editors: 2 for 7; Riccio: 2 for 7; Gdula: 1 for 7)
Mayo: I’ve touched on the rest, but, like McDowell, Russell Henley can never be counted out on a short, windy course. The biggest leaderboard and stat crossovers for PGA National are the Sony Open and Colonial. Henley has already won Sony and this event in the past, and has actually got his irons working again in two of the past three events. He’s pricier than expected, so it should keep the masses off of him.
Brooks Koepka ($10,700); Russell Henley ($8,600) Scott Piercy ($8,100); C.T. Pan_ ($7,800); Graeme McDowell ($7,600).
Riccio: Kyle Stanley and Austin Cook offer affordable, low-risk options as consistent ball-strikers who stay out of trouble. They might not light up the scoreboard, but they are good bets to make the cut.
Justin Thomas ($11,900); Webb Simpson ($9,600); Joaquín Niemann ($7,600); Kyle Stanley ($7,000); Austin Cook ($6,900); Stewart Cink ($6,800)
Golf Digest Editors: Graeme McDowell, the former U.S. Open champ, has four top 10s in 10 starts at Bay Hill, although he missed the cut at last year’s event. Still, his game is trending in the right direction, noted by a respectable 28th ranking in strokes gained on the season...Niemann has not parlayed last summer’s surprising run into success in 2019, failing to finish inside the top 40 in four events this year. However, his driving prowess should play well here, and with tame conditions expected, Niemann’s disastrous flat stick (215th sg/putting) shouldn’t cause much harm...Woodland has a past runner-up under his belt at Bay Hill, and despite not finding the winner’s circle, no one has been as consistent this season with six top 10s in nine starts. Envision that run to continue this week.
Gary Woodland ($9,800); Cameron Smith ($9,500); Michael Thompson_ ($8,000); Graeme McDowell ($7,600); Joaquín Niemann ($7,600); Patrick Rodgers ($7,100)
Gdula: Although I'm advocating Justin Thomas as a betting fade, he’s an elite FanDuel play even at $13,000. His floor projects to be insanely high this week relative to the field. Rostering Thomas and another Tier 2 golfer (Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Gary Woodland, or Adam Scott) requires some cheap options.
Jason Kokrak ($9,400), Sungjae Im ($9,200), Graeme McDowell ($9,100), Talor Gooch ($8,600), Harold Varner III ($8,600), and Vaughn Taylor ($8,400).
Riccio: Webb Simpson gained 7.1 strokes on the field in approaches to the green in Mexico, a reason to really like him this week:
Justin Thomas ($13,000); Rickie Fowler ($11,900); Webb Simpson ($10,600); Joaquín Niemann ($8,800); Sam Ryder_ ($8,500); Seamus Power ($7,100)
GD Editors: Luke List is getting run for his T-2 here last year, but enters Honda ranked 10th in strokes gained/tee-to-green. Coupled with a T-15 at Riviera, a good bet for a top-10 finish...The price tag is high on Thompson, but the veteran has a T-9, T-13, T-10 and T-7 in his last four starts. Also a former winner at PGA National in 2013, although hasn’t had a top-20 finish since...Noren has not been particularly strong as of late. However, did finish third at the event last year, and is too good to be this cold for much longer.
Cameron Smith ( $10,700); Alex Noren ($10,500); Luke List ($10,200) Michael Thompson ($10,100); Kiradech Aphibarnrat ($9,800); Jason Dufner_ ($8,700)
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 known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 14-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist and earned the 2018 FSWA "podcast of the year" award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the Genesis Open.
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.