Honda Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
THE PGA Tour makes dreams come true, produces fairytale endings and creates some highly unlikely winners. Two years ago, from absolutely nowhere, three-time major champion Padraig Harrington turned up at PGA National and won the Honda Classic. You couldn't make it up - not even Harrington was able to take it in. But it happened.
There are regular winners, men who know they are going to win two, three or four tournaments every season, and then there are the likes of Jim Herman, Greg Chalmers, Brian Stuard, William McGirt and Rod Pampling, who turn up with no expectations and walk away with a winners' cheque tucked into their back pockets and their lives changed for ever.
The Honda Classic has produced a strange mix of establshed and surprise winners. In 2010 it was won by Camillo Villegas, in 2011 by Rory Sabbatini, by Rory McIlroy in 2012, Michael Thompson in 2013, Russell Henley in 2014, Harrington two years ago and last year by Adam Scott.
With The Masters appearing on the horizon, this is a good time of year to be playing well and there are sure to be some form indicators at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida. The season has been dominated by twentysomethings, but this could be the week when that changes. Scott is a former Masters champion and tends to play well at this time of year. He is a former world number one who remains one of the best ball strikers in the game. His weakness has always been with the short stick but he found a way to overcome that in 2016 and enjoyed a great season.
Ironically, the man he beat last year was Sergio Garcia, who has suffered on the greens like few others but he, too, still wins on a regular basis and recently claimed the Dubai Desert Classic. He has been using the claw grip for some time but turned to the tradition grip in Dubai before turning back to the claw grip. And he putted well that week. Without the shadow of a doubt Garcia is the man who currently holds that cursed title, the best golfer never to win a major. He is at peace with himself now and, you just never know, this might be the year when he joins Scott as a major winner.
Rickie Fowler has become the forgotten man but, finally, the American has begun to show signs of life again. His form towards the end of 2016 was wretched and the harder he tried, the worse it seemed to get. Fowler is a golfer who feeds off confidence and now that has returned it will not be long before he starts winning again. PGA National is a shotmaker's course - Fowler fits the bill. And how! Whether this will be the week may be another matter.
There is a big English presence at PGA National, with Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Luke Donald being joined by young guns Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick, and both youngsters will fancy their chances of doing well. Hatton is a man transformed since picking up his first European Tour victory, while Fitzpatrick has already enjoyed some success in the United States. Hatton could well go on to have a stellar career on the other side of the pond, but it would be a big surprise if he were able to contend so quickly. Poulter needs to start picking up some good finishes soon, as his world ranking continues to slide ater last season's injury layoff.
With Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama all choosing to give this week a miss, Justin Thomas has a chance to take another leap up the world rankings. Thomas has been in sensational form. One of the most remarkable things about this young American is that although there is almost nothing of him, he is one of the longest hitters on tour. His success has left Brooks Koepka, another terrific young player, in the shadows. But he won't be there for long, and this is precisely the sort of course that should suit his game. Koepka is one of an elite group of twentysomething Americans who are likely to win majors sooner rather than later. He is a perfectionist and is inclined to be very hard on himself when he doesn't meet his own high standards.
Graeme DeLaet, of Canada, continues to show signs of life after a miserable run of form. It seems inconceivable that he is still looking for his maiden win in America as he appears to have the complete package, but his putting has let him down badly in recent months. Thankfully, he is now showing signs of putting that right.
Ollie Schneiderjans has made a solid start to his PGA Tour career. He has already shown plenty of signs of the sort of world-class golf he is capable of playing and this correspondent remains utterly convinced that he is a future top-10 golfer. Daniel Berger, a former rookie of the year, knows the size of the challenge that Schniederjans faces, and he is my pick to win this week. Berger has a wonderful temperament and now that he has proved to himself that he can win in this company he is likely to win again this season - and there would be no better place to do so than at PGA National.
Daniel Berger. Now a confirmed front runner
Justin Thomas. In the form of his life
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Fearless young Englishman
Daniel Berger. Great ball striker
Justin Thomas. Full of confidence
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Fabulous short game
Ollie Schniederjans. On the up and up
Adam Scott. All depends on the putter
Rickie Fowler. Coming back to top form
Paul Casey. Overdue a win
Russell Knox. A true shotmaker
Sergio Garcia. In form, likes the course
Brooks Koepka. Quality player
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