The Honda Classic – Golfers to Target

Mark Diana
Golf Analyst

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The PGA Tour caps off the Florida swing with a trip to PGA National Golf Club for the Honda Classic. After last week’s PLAYERS Championship, many of the top ranked players are taking this week off. The field consists of 144 golfers and is one of the weakest fields we have seen this year. 

PGA National is one of the toughest courses that golfers will face this season. The winning score has only been lower than -10 two times over the last 10 years. The course plays as a Par 70, which means there are 12 Par 4s, four Par 3s, and only two Par 5s. While the scores have not been low, there are plenty of birdies available to golfers. Golfers will need to avoid making big numbers on individual holes and try to limit the amount of bogeys they make. PGA National measures 7,125 years and features TifEagle Bermudagrass. Holes 15, 16, 17 are labeled the “Bear Trap” because it is one of the toughest stretches of holes in all of golf. 

Each week, I will highlight golfers from different price tiers to help you build your betting card! The four price tiers I will highlight this week will be the: the top-tier, mid-tier, sleepers, and longshots. Top-tier golfers will consist of golfers who are 50-1 or less. The mid-tier will consist of golfers who are longer than 50-1, but shorter than 75-1. Sleepers will consist of golfers who are longer than 75-1, but shorter than 100-1. Longshots will consist of golfers who are longer than 100-1.

Top-Tier (Under 50-1)

Joaquin Niemann 20-1

Niemann was the hottest golfer in January, recording back-to-back runner-up finishes in Hawaii. Since then, he has cooled off but is still playing high level golf. Niemann’s last two events have resulted in a T29 and a T28 finish. Using 2021 Shotlink data, in this field Niemann ranks: second Tee-to-Green, fourth Off-the-Tee, fourth in Driving Distance, tenth in Greens-in-Regulation, and 23rd in Approach. PGA National is a Par 70 which means golfers face 12 total Par 4s. Scraping out pars on these holes will be incredibly important this week. Among this field in 2020, Niemann was the seventh best player in Par 4 Scoring Average. Niemann is able to score on these types of holes, and when he doesn’t, he has been able to save par. Niemann’s ball-striking should be able to keep him in contention this week as he takes on one of the toughest courses on Tour. 

Shane Lowry 35-1

After two consecutive bad starts, Lowry put together a nice performance last week at the PLAYERS Championship. Lowry’s 8th place finish is encouraging because he gained strokes in every category. Lowry did his best Tee-to-Green and Around-the-Green which are two stats that I think are going to be critical this week. Playing to the green will give golfers chances at birdies and give them easier Pars. Over the last 24 rounds, in this field Lowry ranks: fifth in Strokes Gained on Par 4s, seventh Tee-to-Green, 10th in Scrambling, and 16th in Ball-striking. Lowry’s last PGA Tour victory was the 2019 Open Championship. Lowry is trending in the right direction and the 33-year old Irishman will look to get back into the winners circle this week.

Keegan Bradley 45-1

Over the last month, Keegan Bradley has been finding form and putting together solid outings. Bradley has finished inside the Top 30 in three of his last four events, including a T10 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Bradley has accomplished this mostly through his pure ball-striking. Bradley is, and always has been an awful putter, but he strikes the ball so well that he gives himself plenty of scoring opportunities. Over the past 24 rounds, in this field Bradley is first in both Tee-to-Green and Ball-Striking. Bradley is a four-time PGA Tour winner, so the win equity is definitely there in such a weak field. If you are willing to embrace #TeamNoPutt, then Bradley is your guy. 

Chris Kirk 50-1

Kirk is someone who I wrote up last week, and my thoughts on him haven’t changed. He continues to play great golf, and has found himself in contention numerous times over the past few months. A terrible Sunday round led to a free fall down the leaderboard, but one bad round isn’t enough to scare me away. Six of the 12 Par 4s will measure between 400-450 yards, and over the last 24 rounds no one has been better than Chris Kirk on those holes. Over the last 24 rounds, in this field Kirk ranks: second Tee-to-Green, sixth in Birdies or Better gained, 13th in Ball-Striking, and 24th in Scrambling. If Kirk is able to get his putter going, he will find himself back in contention again this week.

Mid-Tier (Longer than 50, Shorter than 75)

Cameron Davis 55-1

Many people will talk about how PGA National is not a “birdiefest” and that golfers will need to grind every hole to win. While this is mostly true, it is worth noting that the previous five winners made 19, 16, 15, 21, and 17 birdies respectively. Birdies will be available, the key to this week will be avoiding big mistakes. Davis is an excellent scorer. Using 2020 ShotLink data, among this field Davis ranks: seventh in Birdie Average and 14th in Par 5 Birdie or Better Percentage. Over the last 24 rounds, among this field Davis ranks: third in Birdie or Better Gained, seventh in Ball-Striking, ninth in Strokes Gained on Par 4s, and 16th in Tee-to-Green. Davis hasn’t been able to avoid bogeys well, but he has the ability to birdie his way to the top. The key for Davis this week is finding a way to turn those possible bogeys into Par saves.

Doug Ghim 60-1

Ghim put on a show for the first couple of rounds of the PLAYERS Championship. Ghim found himself in the second-to-last group with eventual winner Justin Thomas on Sunday. Ghim struggled all day Sunday with errant tee shots. The Sunday collapse was somewhat expected for such a young, unproven player. Ghim is ranked second in this field, over his last 24 rounds in Strokes Gained on Par 4s. In 2021, Ghim made five cuts and only missed two. He finished T5 at the American Express and flashed his upside last week at the PLAYERS. Ghim’s price this week definitely got boosted because of his Sunday performance, and I’m looking for him to rebound with another strong week

Sleepers (Longer than 75-1, Shorter than 100-1)

Ryan Moore 85-1

Moore got off to a rough start in 2021, missing his first three cuts. However, he was battling a back injury at the end of 2020 and needed to shake the rust off. He’s made the cut in his last two events, finishing T26 and T35. Moore struggled with his approach play during the first two rounds of the PLAYERS but improved each round. Moore is trending in the right direction and starting to get himself back in form. Over the last 24 rounds in this field Moore ranks: third in Ball-striking, seventh in Bogey Avoidance, 10th in Strokes Gained on Par 3s, and 11th Tee-to-Green. Moore is a sneaky player who has been gradually returning to form, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him

James Hahn 90-1

Hahn seems to pop up on the first page of leaderboards during weaker field events. In September, Hahn had a stretch of three consecutive Top 10 finishes at the Safeway Open, Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, and the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. All of those events boasted similar fields. Hahn recently played well at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Genesis Invitational. Hahn is really good at getting onto the Green with chances for birdies. Hahn’s biggest issue has been consistency. He’ll follow a poor round with a great round, and then follow that great round with another poor one. If Hahn can find a way to put his game together for four full rounds, he has shown the ability to be in the Top 10, and the two-time PGA Tour winner will look to add to his resume. 

Richy Werenski 100-1

Werenski’s best finish of 2021 was two weeks ago at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. During that event, Werenski was able to capitalize on the Par 4s, where he recorded eight of his 15 total birdies. Werenski gained strokes in every category and was able to find ways to save par, and was first in the field in scrambling. Being able to scramble will keep scorecards intact as golfers battle through PGA National. Werenski’s lone PGA Tour victory came at the Barracuda Championship in 2020. Werenski has shown the ability to get hot and turn it into a win. 100-1 is a big number for such a weak field, and Werenski is live to get the job done.

Long Shots (Longer than 100-1)

Matthew NeSmith 130-1

NeSmith is a ball-striking machine and mostly with his irons. Using 2021 ShotLink data, NeSmith is first in Greens-in-Regulation, and second in Approach. NeSmith has never won on the PGA Tour but this would be a great event to notch his first victory. NeSmith had a great month of February where he teed it up three times and recorded three Top 20 finishes. March has not been kind to NeSmith where he’s played twice and missed the cut both times. Luckily for NeSmith, this course will favor the ball-strikers. If he can find the form he had a couple of weeks ago and let his irons shine, he could make a run up the leaderboard. 

Jim Furyk 160-1

The PGA Tour has seen a resurgence of older players contending in recent weeks. Lee Westwood has put together back-to-back runner-up finishes and Steve Stricker contended most of the week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open where he finished T4. The 50-year-old Jim Furyk has been playing really well. Furyk is 3/3 on made cuts in 2021, including two Top 30s. The 17-time PGA Tour winner has not won on Tour since 2015, and while I do believe his win equity is limited there is still room for him on your betting cards. Furyk is someone I will look to in Round Matchups and possibly Top 40, Top 30 bets. Furyk is a short hitter now, but he manages to find Greens-in-Regulation. In 2020, Furyk was first among all PGA Tour players in GIR, and he continues to gain strokes on Approach. He is a consistent player with a limited ceiling, but a high floor.

Wesley Bryan 160-1

Bryan has been slowly recovering from a shoulder injury that has plagued him for the better part of two years now. The former RBC Heritage champion is trying to revive his golf career and has made the cut in both of the events he has played in 2021. When Bryan does play he is a great ball-striker. If Bryan is healthy, I expect him to make some noise this weekend. He is good tee-to-green, and he can make birdies. He’ll need to be consistent Off-the-Tee and he should have a chance at contending. 

Graeme McDowell 250-1

McDowell is a horse for the course and coming in at huge odds. McDowell has played this event 11 times, and has four Top 10 finishes. McDowell has been in awful form though. 250-1 can get you some juicy returns in Top Finishing markets. McDowell is currently +900 to finish in the Top 20. If you are a firm believer in course history > current form, then you should sprinkle some pizza money on McDowell this week.