Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Honda Classic - Fantasy Picks

Don't over-think it. Rory McIlroy belongs in your fantasy lineup this week. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

An interesting thing happened at The Honda Classic in 2014. Actually, it's more like the combination of factors yielded a surprising product.

After the 2013 edition, PGA National's Champion Course underwent some nipping and tucking. It included reshaping of all 63 existing bunkers, adding a few more and stretching a couple of holes (Nos. 4 and 12) to boost the overall yardage by 30 to the current 7,140. From the standpoint of playability, the field approved. Scoring was an all-time low (since the course debuted as host in 2007). The field averaged 70.408 on the par 35-35=70 Jack Nicklaus design. Greens-in-regulation (61.58) and scrambling (59.58) percentages set tournament highs. However, for the second straight year, the 36-hole cut fell at even-par 140. Meanwhile, champion Russell Henley's 72-hole aggregate was 8-under 272, which is a six-year high at the tournament.

Henley ranked outside the top 25 in both fairways and greens hit, but he finished third in strokes gained: tee-to-green. That was aided in no small part by a field-high four hole-outs, including an eagle from 150 yards at the par-4 14th in the third round. As most winners do, he led the field in par-4 scoring at 3.88.

Holes 15, 16 and 17 comprise The Bear Trap, the infamous par 3-4-3=10 trio that's demonized arguably more for its position on the course than its brutality. (Henley played this stretch in even par for the week with three birdies.) Yet, while difficult, none of the three holes have ranked inside the top-three hardest on the course in the last three editions of the tournament. What's more, the par-4 14th is equally as challenging as a precursor. Suffice it to say that this stretch is where the tournament is lost, or in the context of hanging on while out front, not lost.

Sunday's sour weather in California served an omen for what to expect this week. A considerable albeit gradually reducing threat of rain and storms exists throughout. The forecast is already calling for gusty winds on Thursday and Friday. After a high temperature in the mid-80s for the opening round, it'll cool off and top out in the 70s the rest of the way.
  1. Rory McIlroy - Easy choice. Winner here in 2012. Playoff loser last year. Opened 2015 with solo second in Abu Dhabi, and then won in Dubai.
  2. Justin Rose - Tendinitis in right shoulder forced him to withdraw before last year's Honda. Top fives in last three visits. Opened 2015 with two top 15s.
  3. Lee Westwood - PGA National rewards ball-strikers. He's 5-for-5 here with three top 10s. Win-T9-T5 in last three starts dating back to December.
  4. Martin Kaymer - Forgettable slate at PGA National takes a back seat to his current form. In last three starts dating back to December: T2-3rd-T4.
  5. Keegan Bradley - Proved why he's always dangerous with a come-from-behind T4 at Riviera. No worse than T12 (twice) in last three Honda Classics.
  6. Sergio Garcia - Licking wounds after another foiled opportunity; T4 at the Northern Trust. He's 4-for-4 at PGA National with a personal-best T8 last year.
  7. Paul Casey - A P2 at the Northern Trust ended his drought without a top 10 on the PGA TOUR; first since 2011. T4 here in 2010; T12 last year.
  8. Russell Henley - The defending champ has survived his last 10 cuts, three of them going for top-four finishes. Also placed T13 in his debut here in 2013.
  9. Ryan Palmer - Finally cooled with a missed cut at Pebble Beach. Ended string of nine straight top 25s. Lost in a playoff at PGA National last year.
  10. Graeme McDowell - Hot and cold but rarely slumps. Deserving of a spot here. He's 5-for-5 at PGA National with three top 10s. T9 in Dubai four weeks ago.
  11. Graham DeLaet - Didn't connect on latest chance to win, settling for T8 at NTO, but it's his second top 10 in three starts. T9 in last Honda start (2013).
  12. Dustin Johnson - Validated a T4 at Pebble Beach with a P2 at Riviera. PGA National has had his number, however. Just 1-for-2 with a T46 in 2013.
  13. Freddie Jacobson - Horse for a course. Perfect in six trips; no worse than T29 (2011). T12 last year. Shared seventh at the WM Phoenix Open.
  14. Brooks Koepka - For many in the field, this is a home game, including for the recent breakthrough champ in Phoenix. T33 in debut here last year.
  15. Victor Dubuisson - First-timer. Withdrew early from last two commitments, but T4 in last start in Abu Dhabi. Six top fives in last 12 months; four seconds.

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This article was written by Rob Bolton, originally posted on PGATOUR.com. (Connect with Rob on Twitter @RobBoltonGolf)