It’s hard to believe, but this week marks the start of the annual Florida Swing with the Honda Classic on PGA National’s Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens.
Justin Thomas returns as the defending champion in a tournament that has enjoyed a who’s who list of champions, including Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Kite, Hale Irwin, Curtis Strange, Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and more.
If there’s one thing we know about the Champion Course, it’s this: It ain’t easy. Since beginning its run in 2007, the lowest winning score in relation to par was 13 under by Camilo Villegas in 2010… and he won by five strokes.
Simply put, par is your friend. Especially when the course hits the daunting three-hole stretch beginning on No. 15, known as the Bear Trap.
With history as our indicator, it’s a fairly safe bet that the winning score will be in the single digits under par. This isn’t the kind of place that lends itself to a birdie fest.
We asked three caddies on the ground at PGA National to offer their three favorites to win. To protect their identity, they made their picks anonymously.
Here’s a look at the players who the caddies believe you should be keeping an eye on…
- Justin Thomas. “The defending champ will defend. He’s playing too well recently to not be in the mix come late Sunday. Just look at his results since the start of January: third (Maui); T16 (Oahu); third (Scottsdale); second (Los Angeles); ninth (Mexico). And, in Mexico – though he finished ninth – he fired a 9-under 62 in the final round. It was the best score of the day by two strokes. I think it’ll be a successful title defense.”
- Brian Gay. “His lone top-10 finish this season was a T7 at Pebble Beach, but that doesn’t tell the full story. He’s been incredibly consistent, making the cut in nine of his 10 starts. He’s a Florida guy, so he’ll have a nice comfort level here. Brian drives it good and putts on Bermuda greens as good as anyone – two things you will need at the Honda.”
- Michael Thompson. “Michael is playing out of the Web category but played great on the west coast – T9 at the Desert Classic, T13 at Torrey, T10 at Pebble and a T7 at Riviera. He’s another Bermuda expert who won this even a few years back (2013).”
- Michael Thompson. “He’s a past Honda champ who has been dialed in for all of 2019, especially the last month. Coming off a much needed one-week break, the Bama grad can roll straight up again on the familiar Bermuda surfaces. PGA National rewards gritty play, which Thompson has a seemingly endless reserve of… add in his recent form and it’s possible.”
- Rickie Fowler. “His breakthrough win in Phoenix should carry over from the left coast to the right. Playing in his adopted backyard at a place he’s won at before (2017) only increases the comfort factor. He knows what to do around this course so it should make for a fun week.”
- Daniel Berger. “He finished second last week in Puerto Rico and is another guy sleeping in his own bed this week. He almost won this sucker a few years back before running into Captain Padraig. This is a much better course to play with confidence than when trying to find it. What a statement.”
- Rickie Fowler. “He’s already riding high on confidence from the win at Scottsdale and now he begins the Florida Swing in his backyard at a place where he won in 2017 and has four other top-13 finishes in his career.”
- Daniel Berger. “He’s only played four times this season and may have found something last week in Puerto Rico. After missing the cut in two consecutive starts, Berger finished T2 in PR. Maye something clicked and he’s ready to contend again. He finished second in the Honda in 2015.”
- Joaquin Niemann. “He had four top-10 finishes in just 12 starts last season. He’s got one top-10 in nine starts so far this season. But, when he’s on, there aren’t many weaknesses in his game. If you’re looking for a young player to step up and win, it could be Joaquin.”