The Bear Trap x 2
The weather looks beautiful this week in southern Florida. The PGA TOUR returns to the east coast to begin the Florida swing with The Honda Classic. Since 2007, the touring professionals have been challenged by the Champion Course at PGA National. Known very well for its Bear Trap (holes 15, 16, 17) this Jack Nicklaus design will test you from the tee and the fairway.
- The course measures 7,125 yards and plays to a Par 70.
- There's two Par 5's, four impossible Par 3's, and twelve varied Par 4's.
- Seven of the last ten years, this course has played as the most difficult non-major course on the PGA TOUR.
Fifteen of the eighteen holes have water on them. There's sixty bunkers throughout the course with twelve of fourteen fairway tee shots designed with them. I mentioned the Bear Trap on the back nine already, but there's another three hole trap on the front that is statistically harder.
- Holes 5, 6, and 7 play to an aggregate 0.65 strokes over par.
- The Bear Trap - holes 15, 16, and 17 play to an aggregate 0.6 strokes over par.
- Players and bears, beware of all traps!
There's about a million places to earn a penalty shot on this course. Take the Par 3's for example, this set of four is one of the toughest on tour. Any player who can finish the week even par on those sixteen attempts will surely be around the leaderboard on Sunday. Although this field may lack the contenders we have become accustom to for the past two weeks, those who are playing with certainly entertain us.
- Eight of the Top 50 players in the world are competing.
- The average winning score over the past five years is 9 under par (the average for the last ten is 9 as well).
- Winners of the Honda have run the full spectrum of low favorites, rising stars and one shot wonders. The average pre-tournament odds for a Honda winner over the last decade are +15600 (156-1).
- They are playing for $8.6 million dollars this week and a first place prize of $1.51 million.
- There are 144 players in the field, after the 36-holes the Top 65 and ties play the weekend.
- The average cutline over the last 10 years is 3.6 shots over par. In that time, the cut has never dipped below 1 over par!
Five times since the tournament moved to PGA National in 2007, the winning score has been in the double digits. February and March in Florida can be wild when it comes to the weather. The temperature this week is going to be warm hovering in the mid-80's during the day. There's barely a chance of any rain and the humidity levels will have the ball flying. The wind, which is the biggest challenge at the Champion Course, will test them. It is also the biggest wild card I see coming. The greens are small by Florida standards at an average of 7,000 square feet.
Each day the predicted breeze is in the mid-teens which surely means gusts will get up into the twenties. We will be looking for players who have proven success in the wind. Danger lurks around ever corner of the Champ and controlling you trajectory will make a huge difference. Once again I am on the property this week watching the players practice and prepare. You may not know all of their names, but I do. I can also see who is flighting it and who will be flying home.
I travel and provide on-site coverage for weeks just like this. The course conditions are characteristic of the Champ; firm and fast. The Bermudagrass rough is up, greens are hard and the course looks spectacular. The Honda Classic may not have been graced with a great field of household names, but that hasn't seemed to matter much when they do. Long shots tend to leave their mark here and walking around I know there's a couple I have my eyes on.
Honda (Florida) on TV:
The Honda (Florida) starts in...
A true Honda mentality
I have played the Champion Course a couple of times. To survive one must take a very practical approach. It ain't sexy, but it's the only way a player is going to contend this week.
- Let's start off the tee. Players must hit the fairway. The green complexes are guarded by water and sand. Some are protected by both! The course is not overly long, and therefore players tend to favor accuracy over length. Average driving distance on the Champ falls about ten yards below the tour average. Bombers beware, next week at Bay Hill is probably a better fit for you.
- Par 4 scoring is one of the most powerful statistics players need on tour. Seven of the Par 4's at the Honda measure less than 440 yards. The remainder of them measure between 450 and 508 yards. Being able to adapt your game between a mid-iron approach and a wedge covers a wide skill set most players do not have. Six of the Top 10 toughest holes on the course are Par 4's. Annual contenders on the Champ can handle themselves on these twelve.
- Approach play is the biggest differentiator in winning. Over the last five years, the winners have gained an average of 6.2 strokes against the field (average 6.4 strokes gained over ten years). There's some great iron players in this field and they have a considerable advantage over their peers.
- We are back to Bermudagrass. Poa putters beware this grainy style of grass favors those who play and practice on it everyday. It is tough to read and tends to baffle the best putters. The place where it makes the biggest difference is seen on short putts under five or six feet. Players historically hit about 60% of their greens (Tour average 66%). This means their short game will be needed to get them close, but those par savers will wear you out. Gifted guys on the greens who are patient will separate from the pack.
- Above that five foot range, the greens are pretty flat at the Champ. Good Bermuda putters will make birdies. Chances are they will need them as Bogey Avoidance is almost impossible. Very rarely does one get around with a clean scorecard. Scrambling, sand play, and precise pitching to save par is a big part of this week.
PGA TOUR players hate playing conservatively. Their skill allows them to attack from all situations. A week like this takes a special mindset. Sepp Straka plodded his way to winning last year. Aggressive play is not a asset on this occasion. It's not quite a US Open, but if the wind gets blowing you'll see those types of scores. Save the Maserati's for the TPC weeks, here are my "Hondas" for the Classic.
Outright winners - The Honda Classic
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North and south
On the other side of the world, the LPGA restarts their 2023 schedule with the Honda LPGA Thailand in southeast Asia. We are about to benefit from the staggered start to their season. The overseas Honda has a really strong field.
- Nine of the Top 10 in the Rolex Women's Rankings are here and twenty-six of the Top 30.
- They will compete for $1.7 million dollars and a first place check of $255,000.
- This is the start of two events in Asia before the LPGA returns to the United States.
- Old Siam Country Club and specifically The Old Course is the host venue this week.
The Par 72 layout stretches over 6,500 yards and fills out the scorecard with four Par 3's and 5's, and ten Par 4's. One very unique aspect about this course is the actual orientation. Nine of the holes runs south and the other nine run north. This leads me to the weather report for the Pattaya Old Course this week. Of course temperatures are in the 90's, but the wind is expected to blow from the west on Thursday and Friday and from the east on Saturday and Sunday. This means all of the holes will play with a cross wind over the four days.
- The Old Course already challenges these players with tree-lined fairways and numerous elevation changes.
- There's no rain predicted, but 90 degree heat with high humidity will be a shock to the system for many of them.
- The global tournaments of the LPGA tend to favor the home town players. The leaderboards are generally stacked and this week I expect plenty of Thai contenders.
The air won't be the only sticky thing in Thailand. Old Siam is covered in Bermudagrass greens and Seashore Paspalum everywhere else. Both types of grass are very grainy. Players who have had past success on these grasses before are a definite lean. Around the grass, seven holes have water that comes into play and there are eighty-three bunkers throughout the course. Nearly fifty of those bunkers surround the greens so if you miss a green, which doesn't happen often here, you better be prepared to get up and down for par.
The LPGA hosted one event last month with 29 players. This event in Thailand is just 72 competitors with no cut. I guess they are looking to ease their way into the season? The good news, the Ladies European Tour or LET held an event in Saudi Arabia (yes that Saudi Arabia) last week. Many of the players took the opportunity to tee it up prior to this restart. Lydia Ko was the winner (surprise), but with a full field we do have some recent form with which to maker our predictions.
We had a very successful approach to this event last year. All three of our outright predictions finished in the Top 8. I expect a similar amount of success again. The main reason why is the course. It is a standard style parkland layout. It doesn't matter if it is in Thailand or Disneyland. Our ability to predict winners on the women's side works.
One last thing for the LPGA this week, watch the countdown timer, they start on Wednesday night!
Honda (Thailand) on TV:
The Honda (Thailand) starts in...
Golf is really in a unique spot. We just finished two straight weeks of watching the world's best men compete. Each week, the winner of the tournament became the #1 ranked player in the world. The Top 6 women in the world are now about to tee it up on a beautiful birdiefest layout. The average winning score of this event over the past ten years is 21 under par (the last five -23). The first skill you will need this week is the ability to go low. In 2022, there were fifteen scores under 65 in the field over four rounds.
When it comes to covering the LPGA, I create my own prediction charts. I compare swings, form and skills to determine who will contend. By combining a players birdie rate and their ability to play sub-par holes, we can better understand who has the best chance to take it deep. Throw on top of that how often they score in the 60's and now we have our own BoB%. This homemade soup for scoring is the lead analytic I'm using to determine our winner.
I believe the drastic change in weather for most of these women will be a factor. I'm therefore keeping my card young. You'll see this trend throughout my outrights alongside some serious power. Old Siam Country Club's Pattaya Old Course isn't the longest layout and those who can hit it longer than their peers have an advantage on approach. The average yardage in on more that half of the approach shots falls into the 150-200 yard range. More distance off the tee is a considerable advantage. Not to mention, there's four very reachable Par 5's.
The 2022 winner, Nanna Koertsz Madsen is one of the longest players on tour. She used her advantage last year and hit well over 80% of her greens in regulation by driving the ball an average of 295 yards. More scoring opportunities leads to more birdies. This is definitely a track meet. Celine Boutier made thirty birdies last year and lost! They plan to cut the rough to two inches in height (that's low). It's going to be bombs away at this birdie barrage. Keep it between the trees and length will be an advantage.
Similar to the men, Par 4 scoring is very representative of solid play. At Old Siam, eight of the Top 10 toughest holes are Par 4's (3, 6, 9, 11). Then again some like the fifteenth are huge scoring opportunities. That careful blend of making par when needed and attacking when possible is the epitome of the Par 4 player. There's a couple really good ones in this field, and you better believe they are listed below.
Outright winners - Honda LPGA Thailand
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