Ben Coley believes multiple PGA Tour winner Billy Horschel is the best value bet for the Honda Classic, as the Florida swing begins.
Golf betting tips: Honda Classic
3pts e.w. Billy Horschel at 30/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Robby Shelton at 50/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Cam Davis at 50/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Ben Griffin at 60/1 (bet365, William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Eric Cole at 175/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook
Late last year, the PGA Tour and its most influential players made a decision, in response to external threats, to ensure that those big names gathered in the same place at the same time more often. In doing so, they also ensured that other tournaments would suffer as a consequence, and the first to really do so is the Honda Classic.
This is a fun event at a dramatic golf course and it’s been won by the likes of Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler. Neither of them is here, though, and that’s because the primary factors in determining schedules are, for those with freedom of choice, things like money, points, and timing. The Honda Classic is now worth considerably less than say the Phoenix Open, and its timing is now considerably worse.
That need not be a bad thing for the punter, however. I’m sure I’m not alone in exhaling now that we’re not forced to make a determination on whether Jon Rahm will finish first, second, or perhaps have a shocking week and manage only third or fourth. There are worse events than the Honda to be taking on a short-priced favourite, but I’m still glad we don’t have to rely on the Bear Trap to catch him.
Sungjae Im is another former winner whose all-round game and fearless attitude are ideal for this test, one packed with volatility. He’s worth his position in the market but the fundamentals of his game didn’t exactly fire at the weekend and there are too many terrifying shots, even in what look set to be relatively calm conditions, to consider taking short prices at PGA National.
A relatively short par 70, this course isn’t about one thing, except that it is in a way – don’t hit it in the water. Holes 15 and 17 in particular can ruin a player’s tournament and when the punishment for a slightly mishit iron can be as severe as two or three shots, it’s little wonder that the roll-of-honour includes a couple at massive prices to go with some of the classier players around.
One thing that ties many of them together is their performances in majors. That makes sense, because both involve dealing with difficult conditions and minimising the damage when it inevitably arrives. This isn’t a US Open, but winning scores from five-under to 13-under make it one of the harder stops on the schedule and there’s a US Open feel to leaderboards, even if we look at those shock winners like Russell Henley and Michael Thompson.
Shane Lowry had his pocket picked last year, a combination of Sepp Straka’s brilliance and some foul weather costing him, and made more appeal than Im at the prices. However, it’s still early days with his new caddie, for all that they know each other well, and I wouldn’t be sure that a better display at Riviera quite merits prices as short as 14/1 for a player who doesn’t win all that regularly.
The same is true of almost all of the market leaders, very few of whom make any serious appeal, but BILLY HORSCHEL is an exception and rates a smashing bet at 28/1 generally and as big as 33s in a place.
Horschel splits Im and Lowry in the world rankings and would be clear third favourite here but for what seems to be a dip in form, as he’s missed the cut in two of his last three starts following a fairly modest effort in the Tournament of Champions.
It is though important to remember that a lot of the top players are having to tweak their schedules to fit in the biggest events, and Horschel has probably suffered for that. He considered withdrawing from the Sony Open only to change his mind but that’s not a course where he’s achieved a great deal, and after that he played just fine for a mid-pack finish in Phoenix.
Riviera was a tough event for anyone to leave off the schedule even before it was elevated in status, but Horschel has often done so in the past. Missing the cut there last week doesn’t bother me in the slightest, because his record read 54-MC-MC beforehand and he simply never plays well there, regardless of the state of his game.
In actual fact, Horschel hit the ball well enough to produce an improved return but a near 10-shot turnaround in his putting from Phoenix put paid to that. Poa annua certainly wouldn’t be his preferred surface and is a straightforward explanation which gives us cause for optimism now he returns to bermuda, and while his record on the greens here is patchy, he led the field in 2019.
Horschel took a while to get to grips with this event, a third-round 81 in 2013 evidence of the fact he placed too much pressure on himself, but since 2016 he’s been fourth, eighth and 16th twice. Most of his success has come courtesy of quality approach play, ranking inside the top 10 on three occasions, and last year’s top-20 came courtesy of a superb ball-striking display.
Born and bred in Florida, he’s one top-class player whose reasons for being here are obvious, and since his last visit he’s won at a correlating course, Muirfield Village, which is also designed by Jack Nicklaus. In doing so he got the better of Aaron Wise, who has a strong record here, with the likes of Ben An and Chase Seiffert helping tie the two together.
Among the things Horschel would like to go on to achieve in the sport, now that he’s represented the USA in a team event, is surely a win in his home state. He’s gone close before and with his last couple of wins having come on the back of seemingly poor efforts, I think last week’s display at Riviera is one we should totally ignore, which the market certainly has not.
Davis worth chancing at big price
Matt Kuchar and Chris Kirk both have obvious chances, but Horschel has operated at a much higher level than everyone around him in the betting for a long time now. He deserves to be best of the rest and is a bet at anything down to 20/1.
With Adam Svensson’s short-game having done all of the work at Riviera and the same true of Harris English, there’s nobody else I like at less than 50/1. The strong record of overseas players and his run of cuts made earns Thomas Detry maximum respect, but it’s hard to argue he’s overpriced when he sits next to Horschel and alongside English in the market.
Contrastingly, I felt the middle of the market provided a number of interesting options including An, and I’ll get this one out of the way quickly: CAM DAVIS is overpriced and worth all the associated risks.
Davis was a shorter price to beat Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Sam Burns, Tom Kim, Will Zalatoris, Xander Schauffele and more in the AmEx last month, on the back of a good effort at around 33-40/1 in the Sony Open. That was his first start since ending last year with a win back home in Australia.
For context, English was twice the price of Davis in the Amex, as were Taylor Pendrith, Kirk, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Denny McCarthy. All now are shorter than he is, and while this kind of analysis does have its flaws, an example so egregious as Davis deserves a second look.
In doing so, we find that while he did disappoint there, Davis’s subsequent appearances have come at Torrey Pines and Riviera, two seriously difficult courses. He’s putted abysmally at both of them but shown some signs of encouragement with his long-game, especially last Friday when the third-best driver in the Genesis Invitational field.
Also improved with his approaches, the bottom line with Davis is that he’s in a miserable run on the greens, and it’s not something we can gloss over given just how many short putts he’s seen slide by the hole. However, there is at least the opportunity for him to draw a line under a fortnight of struggles on poa annua and perhaps, as many before him have, find some improvement for a switch to bermuda.
The key though is that he comes to a course where he’s made all three cuts, including when arriving in miserable form last time he played here. Ninth in 2020, he ranked third in strokes-gained tee-to-green, but he hit the ball even better upon his return in 2021, and across the three renewals in which he’s featured, his ball-striking has been among the very best.
Behind only Im, Lowry, An and Straka in adjusted scoring average, this is a course Davis knows he can play and I am happy rolling the dice with regards his putter. It may not seem like it, but out of form golfers do win PGA Tour events and especially ones as weak as this. Davis can’t be a confident selection, but at 40/1 and upwards he is an essential one.
One of the best angles into a Honda Classic has long been the scope for certain players to improve for the move from west coast to east, which applies here to halfway Riviera contender Lee Hodges. A neat and tidy player who I like, he was ninth here last year and went on to play well under difficult conditions at the CJ Cup, so he’s one to consider if you can get 50s.
I marginally prefer ROBBY SHELTON, big talent whose form has a little more substance to it.
Shelton finished 20th in spite of his putter at Pebble Beach last time, he made the cut and continued to hit quality approaches at Torrey Pines, and before that was sixth in the AmEx where again his putting wasn’t sharp.
It can be, though, as he showed when sixth last time he played on the east coast. Born, raised and educated in Alabama, Shelton’s first three Korn Ferry Tour wins came in South Carolina and Tennessee (twice), whereas he’s tended to struggle in similar tournaments in Utah, Oregon, California and so on.
Returning east could be a major positive then and he’s in much better form than when 11th here in 2020. Back then, Shelton’s five previous starts showed three missed cuts and a best of 36th; his following five a best of 56th and more weekends off. This time he’s a much better player who has looked close to contending.
Runner-up here in a junior event once upon a time and refreshed having not been eligible for the high-intensity events in Phoenix and LA, Shelton has plenty in his favour and my hope is that his quality iron play marries up with a better week on the greens. With his waywardness off the tee less of a factor here than you might think, that would make for a potentially winning formula.
It’s fair to argue that amateur form can be overrated at times but Daniel Berger almost made it pay at 125/1 when losing out to Padraig Harrington, should’ve won last year having led by six, and wouldn’t be the only contender who knew PGA National really well.
That’s part of the case for Shelton as it is for BEN GRIFFIN, who finished alongside him in one of those Polo Junior events and was runner-up in another, too.
Griffin had been one of the stars of the rookie class before missing the cut at Pebble Beach and that combined with the fact he was first alternate at Riviera should have him raring to go back under more suitable conditions.
A heartbreaking third in Bermuda late last year, a tournament he probably should’ve won, that performance added to a growing list of good ones on bermuda greens, including fourth in the Wyndham behind Tom Kim, 12th in the Sony Open, 16th in Houston, 24th in the Sanderson Farms and 29th in the RSM Classic.
Runner-up on his last start in Florida, Griffin will feel at home back on the east coast and aside from the RSM Classic, where he perhaps felt a little pressure given that he’s based at Sea Island, his putting on bermuda greens offers real encouragement.
Griffin was very well-regarded at college in his home state of North Carolina and has an excellent game for this. He’s a tournament debutant but knows the course really well and on most of his form this season looks a solid each-way contender.
Major men worth considering
So weak is this field that the usual policy of scanning those with the best major records doesn’t take very long. Lowry of course stands out but it was more tempting to chance Harrington, runner-up back on the Champions Tour last week and fourth in Abu Dhabi to start the year, on an exposed course which might tie in well enough with this one.
The trouble is, he has two top-10s on the PGA Tour since winning here eight years ago and while he’s produced some quality form on the DP World Tour, I do worry about his ability to bring it with him even to this kind of company.
Webb Simpson’s approach play last time out was as good as it’s been since 2021 and his form here means the former US Open champion merits a mention at 66s, as does Masters winner Danny Willett.
Willett should’ve won the Fortinet Championship back in September and also played well in Mexico before a poor end to the year, but after getting back on track at Pebble Beach he took a step forward to finish 18th at Riviera last week.
All aspects of his game fired there, with even his negative putting figure down to just one bad day versus three decent ones, and this longtime Florida resident has a good record in the state. In fact he almost won a WGC at Doral months before his Masters triumph.
Although missing the cut on his PGA National debut in 2017, he flushed it here last year only to put abysmally and finish down the field. Still, rounds of 67 to open and 68 to close give him something to work with and he has correlating form, too, having contended at Muirfield Village more than once.
He made a pretty long list of options along with a back-to-form Garrick Higgo, whose effort in the Memorial Tournament, reasonable debut here and win at Palmetto all caught the eye. So did the fact that Brandon Wu’s rookie season turned on his second round here last year and he’s certainly proven himself in what will still be breezy conditions even if the forecast isn’t exactly terrifying.
If I knew Chris Stroud was fit I’d be siding with him at 500/1 while I’ve selected Luke Donald at huge odds here in recent seasons, but the flier who appeals most is ERIC COLE.
Based nearby in Delray Beach, Cole has been a prolific winner on the Minor League Golf Tour down the years and he’s also been runner-up here on the main course at PGA National.
This is his rookie PGA Tour season and he’s done pretty well lately, making six of his last seven cuts and only failing at Torrey Pines. To be frank, I doubt there are many courses less suited to his game so that doesn’t worry me in the slightest.
Granted a shorter, more technical set of challenges at Pebble Beach last time, Cole finished 15th without holing much and that was his first time playing those courses, so he’s set up nicely for a return to his adopted home and a course of which he has plenty of experience.
Last time he played in Florida was when contending in the Suncoast Classic last February and his game, which is all based on what he does after the tee shot, looks a potentially good fit for an always demanding Honda Classic.
Cole proposed to his fiancee at Pebble Beach three weeks ago so life is good and what better way to celebrate than to go ahead and bag his first top-10 finish at this level, something which is well within reach if he remains in the form he showed last time out.
Posted at 1050 GMT on 21/02/23
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