Expert Picks for the Honda Classic
The Tour returns from the madness of split personalities, throwing the game's elite into the challenges of match play for the World Golf Championships while the rest of the golf-playing professionals were offered a tourney in Mexico to pursue their needs. This week they can all be joined as one at the confines of the PGA National Championship Course, the Tour's first launch east to play in Florida where another chapter for the history of the Honda Classic will unfold. The folks in Palm Beach have been hosting this event since the early 1970s (originally known as the Jackie Gleason Classic, named after the iconic actor), serving as one of the Tour's traditional homes for nearly four decades, and many of the game's formative figures have tabbed it as an event of choice during that time. Former champions include Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Tom Kite, Hale Irwin, Curtis Strange, Nick Price and Fred Couples. More recent seasons have welcomed Vijay Singh, Justin Leonard, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald, Ernie Els and Camilo Villegas (this year's defending champ) to the winner's circle. Originally designed by Tom and George Fazio (two of the best), the Champion Course at the PGA National Resort & Spa was redesigned by Nicklaus in 1990 and earned rights to host the Honda Classic shortly after. Like most Nicklaus tracks, the course is known for offering unique advantage for those who brave and survive manageable risks, but a conservative approach can also lead to low scores. However, the "Bear Trap" – a three-hole stretch from the 15th through the 17th holes – were labeled as "one of the toughest stretches in golf" by USA Today.
Lee Westwood [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #57
Westwood's reign as the world's best golfer was short (put to an end by Martin Kaymer after finishing second at the WGC Match Play Championship), but he jumps right back into action at the Honda Classic. He was in the race for a win here last season and should be motivated to do the same again this week.
Villegas returns not only as the defending champ, but in possession of one of the largest margins of victory ever at the Honda Classic. We are a bit worried after disappointment at the Match Play Championship last week, but he clearly finds comfort on the links of the PGA's Champion Course.
Luke Donald [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #82
We normally worry of withdrawal for golfers coming off victory, but Donald often competes deep into the Match Play Championship and he always follows with an equally-impressive outing at the Honda Classic. He's a regular power at the PGA Resort and Spa.
Els is a former champion on the course known for creating as much instability from season to season as any on the Tour. He failed to meet expectations on this track last season, but much more often than not, he's working on Sunday to find a top finish in Palm Beach.
Matt Kuchar [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #15
Kuchar comes off another amazing performance (finishing third at the Match Play Championship), all but insuring his status as one of the best in the business is intact for a return to the same PGA Champion Course he conquered back in 2002. Recent results have frustrated, but Kuchar's talent cannot be denied.
Allenby has yet to break through for victory at the Honda Classic, but his history of performance on this set of links is nothing short of impressive. His skills rank among the game's elite and his experience on this track suggests he is worthy of a spot on your roster.
Graeme McDowell [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #92
McDowell failed miserably at this event last season, but he comes off a positive experience at the Match Play Championship that suggests his game is on the rise. He's become one of the world's best and we appreciate his momentum.
Rory McIlroy [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #3
Talent alone puts McIlroy on the typical short list for this fantasy week, but be warned: he failed to enjoy an experience to remember at this event last season. He should be ranked higher, but history (and a bit of disappointment at the Match Play Championship) tempers our expectations.
Rickie Fowler [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #9
Fowler comes in with the positive emotion of improved success as the Match Play Championship to his back, giving us reason to believe he'll push that emotion forward to Palm Beach this week. He has the skills to post low numbers on this track.
For objective analysis, this rank may be a bit high based on the Vijay Singh we've seen over the bulk of recent memory. However, he has showcased a world of progress early this season. He has always enjoyed the links at the PGA Champion Course, and we cannot ignore his history at this event.
One of the powerful Italian brothers will stay in the States to continue battle on the PGA Tour, and while Edoardo lacks the American experience to garner unbridled support from fantasy owners, his skills seem too perfect a fit for this PGA Champion Course to ignore.
Leonard is a former Honda Classic champion, and while we find little motivation for enthusiasm based on struggles lasting over two seasons, this is one track where Leonard regularly registers as a golfer to target. He knows the links and he knows how to go low on the PGA Resort card.