Honda Classic 2021
A rollercoaster!! With 8 holes to play on Sunday, it was perfectly possible that we could return 110pts from the advised bets, or just 10pts! Such was the tight nature of the positions we were in. The bet I was most confident about (fully banked in my head!!) was Chris Kirk obliging in the Top 20 market. He had been incredibly consistent over the past few weeks, his long game pretty much on a string, and was far enough back that he wasn’t really involved for nerves to be a big factor. What was a factor was an absolute shambolic display on the greens, which ultimately led to his approach game giving up the ghost.
Sergio Garcia really should have been landing us a nice 15/2 winner in the Top Continental Euro market. That we needed a late bogey from Jon Rahm to land us a 3 way consolation split was also down to some poor putting from the Spaniard. Though it was his tee shots on 10 and 12 that ultimately made the difference.
Given our lack of luck from those two excellent positions, I would have been in a horrid mood Monday morning had JT not got the job done. He looked home and hosed a couple of times on the back 9, but some silly 3 putts and a dogged Lee Westwood kept things interesting right until the final green. Indeed Thomas needed a stroke of luck off the 18th tee, as his drive really should have found the water. We deserved that! It was an extremely exciting final round watch, and hopefully most readers will have been on Justin. Once again a plethora of big names failed to perform around here, and as ever I would be willing to forgive most if not all for an off week at Sawgrass.
Just a reminder that next week is a blank week for me in the preview schedule. I have very little interest in the WGC Matchplay, am unlikely to have a bet, and given my record when I do I wouldn’t trouble you with my opinions on it!
Not only does this week’s Honda Classic now have the mantle of ‘after the Lord Mayors show’, but it also coincides with the Cheltenham Festival. This will mean a few things. Firstly, the re jigging in its calendar slot certainly has taken a toll on the quality of field lining up. Secondly, the Cheltenham effect will see bookies much slower to price up the golf, especially the alternative markets. But thirdly, hopefully it will see prices hold longer as bookies generally increase exposure this week, trying to snaffle new accounts.
The venue for this week’s fare, PGA National, really does deserve a better field than will assemble this week. A top class layout, this 7150 yard Par 70 has teeth aplenty. Even without any wind, players are kept very honest around here, especially on the back 9 where water hazards aplenty and strategic bunkering, can wreck a card in no time at all. If the wind does get up, then it becomes very much a Major style examination. Given the forecast for the week, with only Friday looking what you would call ‘friendly’, I will be surprised if double figures under par is required to win. Typically not a venue that can be overpowered, you will see plenty of steady tee to green merchants amongst the roll of honour here.
Keeping the ball in play, greens in regulation, a steady putter and a pair of balls is what is required from would be winners here, and to my mind DANIEL BERGER fits the bill perfectly. It could be said that is pretty obvious as he is the market favourite, but in this weak field I really couldn’t be chalking him up any bigger than 8/1. The 11/1 on offer is a very good bet indeed. I mentioned ahead of his success at Pebble Beach that I expected the Georgia man to take the next step up the ladder and be challenging for majors shortly. The way he closed out that tournament firmly backed that up in my opinion. The two shots into the 18th green were the sign of a man more than capable of sealing the deal given the opportunity, and the putt was the icing on the cake. I firmy expect him to have another opportunity this week.
I mentioned to a friend on Sunday afternoon that if we could get 11/1 on Berger here that it would be a cracking bet. I wasn’t overly hopeful though. When he started a Sunday charge at Sawgrass, I felt all hope had gone out the window. Thankfully I was wrong, though to be honest I would have backed him at anything from 10/1 upwards. He is in a different league to the vast majority of this field, and it’s just the general lack of hype around him and his game that sees him chalked up so big here. I didn’t really fancy his chances last week, but it was an excellent display all told, especially after a horror show on the greens on Thursday. As brilliant as Justin Thomas’ tee to green game was on Sunday, Berger’s wasn’t much inferior. He was one of only 3 players in the top 20 to lose strokes to the field on the greens over the 4 days, and that just highlights how efficient his long game was. For a typically excellent putter like him, I don’t worry about one bad week.
Coming to a venue like PGA National it is a massive confidence booster to have your long game in such good nick. And it is clearly a layout which fits his eye. Perhaps unlucky to lose to an inspired Padraig Harrington in a playoff here in 2015, he was also a close 4th here last year. It is rare enough for the winning score here to hit double digits, and this is another aid to Berger. He isn’t blessed with the most natural talent in his profession, but what he has is grit and determination by the bucket load. He not only makes the best of his skill set, but also of each position or set of circumstances he finds himself in. He is no shrinking violet, and will roll up the sleeves and grind out pars here when required. We have a couple of shocks in recent years, but also plenty of examples of the cream rising to the top. In the last 5 editions we have seen Adam Scott, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler prove successful. Last year Sungjae Im was strongly fancied in the market, and Rory McIlroy was victorious in 2012. One of the ‘shocks’ was 3 time major winner Padraig Harrington, so not exactly a nobody! In truth, there isn’t much cream in this event, and as was the case at Pebble, Berger will really fancy his chances of notching another win. We saw there that when he gets the bit between his teeth, he is mighty hard to stop.
Given his game looked in excellent shape last week, that he puts these Bermuda greens so well here at PGA National, and the general weakness of the field he faces, and I think he is must bet material this week.
Since I wrote this, and sent out the early bets on Monday, it has come out that Berger was having an MRI for a rib injury. I am not going to dwell too much on it. It didn’t affect him on Sunday, and if he lines up this week I can only assume he feels he can give it 100%. If he doesn’t, we get our money back.
Defending champion Sungjae Im is a deserving second favourite, but I would have a much bigger gulf between himself and Berger. At just 12/1 I don’t have any interest.
I didn’t expect Lee Westwood to face the starter, but it now looks like he will. He mentioned being pretty tired by the end of Sunday’s round, has since gone and played 36 holes around Augusta, so I can only assume the tank will run empty here.
In truth I really don’t like much else in the field as regards an outright bet. Adam Scott has been disappointing of late, and though he has typically performed very well here, that is because his long game is usually in much better shape coming here.
I had considered leaving Berger as a sole outright bullet, but have come down in favour of including two more. The reason I was slightly put off both is their exchange odds are quite a bit bigger than that available with fixed odds each way firms.
The first of those is BYEONG HUN AN. Many will have seen him humbled by the 17th hole last week, when he took 11 shots to get the ball to disappear into the hole. The problem being that it had disappeared 4 times before that, but each time to the water surrounding the island green. In truth he wasn’t playing badly at all prior to that. The only reason he was over par was a silly 4 putt on the par 5 11th. His ball striking was good, and I certainly wouldn’t be condemning him for one freak show on the 17th. It happens! He was poor on Friday, but that was no surprise, and I actually laid him for that 3 ball. It was a massive ask to come out and produce the day after. But he is just the type of character to go away and have a good laugh about it now, and it wouldn’t surprise at all if he bounced right back here. I backed him here last year at just 33/1, and in a weaker field, having once again 12 months ago proved just how much this layout suits his game, I cannot understand how he is so big this week. In his 3 outings here, he has been 5/36/4th, and on only 3 rounds from 12 has he shot over par. Around a tough Par 70 like PGA National, that is no mean feat. One of those over par rounds was an opening 76 last year, from which he rebounded very well from, outscoring the winner over the closing 3 days to finish in 4th. It also backs up what I’m saying about him quickly putting last week out of his mind. At the risk of repeating myself, this is a pretty shocking renewal, and Ben should not be a bigger price than plenty chalked up around the 33-40/1 mark. He is definitely worth including at 60/1.
My final outright selection is IAN POULTER, and in all honesty I wasn’t sure if I should be putting him up given the discrepancy between his fixed odds price and the 120 available on the exchange on Monday evening. I didn’t send him out then, in the hope a few firms may push him out slightly. I did take some of that 120 for trading purposes, though he is still very much on the big side in my opinion at 80. I won’t let that put me off though, and am happy to back him at a shorter price to extended places.
We were on board with the Englishman last week, but the plane never left the runway there, with him never likely to recover from an opening 77. A double bogey, bogey start to his Thursday round set the tone, and though he rebounded with a decent 71 on Friday it wasn’t enough to make the weekend. It will have erased the memory of those first 18 holes though, and send him here in a more confident mood. He was seen on Twiter to be having a laugh about it on Thursday evening, and Poulter has been around long enough now to get over it quickly. I am always prepared to forgive a missed cut at Sawgrass, even for one I fancied to go well there, it’s just that sort of course. If you’re even a tiny bit off, it will ruin you. I really like the makeup of this week’s test for the Englishman.
Like Berger, Poulter has made the absolute best out of his abilities. A grinder who loves a tough test, can deal with anything the wind throws at him, it’s no surprise he has made 5 from 6 weekends here. He probably should have won in 2015, but a relatively poor final round of 70, and some errant approach shots meant that he missed out by two shots to Ryder Cup captain Harrington. POD is also playing this week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is paired with Poulter for the early rounds. Poults will be keen to impress the Irishman, and show that he still has what it takes to contend on Tour. The exploits of the 2 year older Lee Westwood these past two weeks will give our man great encouragement on that front, and given his extremely competitive nature, he will be very eager to go well here.
Top 20 Finish:
I wanted to get with BRENDAN STEELE here, and having set up yet another Sporting Index account this week, I will back him at 9/4. That however is the lowest price I would be prepared to go, and seeing as it is only available with Sporting Index and 888 (firms I don’t like to quote) I won’t be putting it up as an official bet. Those that have accounts, and can get on, I would recommend a 7pt stake. He is also currently 3.2 on the machine, with no liquidity. If this is left alone until 2 hours before the event gets underway, I imagine 3.5 could well be available for relatively decent money.
The case for Steele is an obvious one. He relishes these tough tests where keeping the ball in play is both tough, and critical. The forecast wind will also boost his chances here. On 4 of his previous 5 visits here, he has notched Top finishes. The two toughest years, 2020 and 2015, were when he posted his best efforts. 4th last year, and 11th 6 years ago show he can knuckle down and grind with the best of them. Further proof comes from his display in the 2020 Sony Open, where again in tougher than normal conditions he was only beaten in a Playoff, and also his consistent high end finishes on his trips to Le Golf National for the Open de France.
Taking 2/1 here would not be a bad bet, it just wouldn’t have enough edge built into it for me. But I would recommend any 9/4+ that can be attained.
Top Continental European:
I feel this one owes us after Sergio not delivering the full loot last week! It’s his Spanish compatriot that I turn to this time, RAFA CABRERA BELLO. An excellent wind player, Rafa has been 37th and 29th in his two visits here, and in all honesty I wouldn’t be surprised if either of those efforts were good enough to land this particularly weak section this week.
He has been steady without being spectacular here in his 8 rounds to date, though a Sunday 74 on debut in 2017 did take the gloss of what was a pretty decent week up to that point. Unlike a few in opposition here, he didn’t wage war with Sawgrass last week but arrives here fresh off a two week break. It’s only 5 outings since he was 4th in Abu Dhabi, and this field isn’t a whole lot better than that.
The opposition don’t appeal. Favourite here is Martin Kaymer, and I don’t know why! I couldn’t have him half the price of RCB, not a bit of it. Alex Noren would be more of a danger in my opinion, but I would have our selection shorter than him too. Henrik Norlanders‘ game has gone right off the boil in recent weeks, and he was particularly disappointing last week at a Sawgrass layout that should really have suited. Along with Noren, it is only really Rory Sabbatini of the others that slightly worries me here, but again I would have Bello at a shorter price than the adopted Slovakian.
Al told, I would have made the selection a 4/1-9/2 shot, and view the 7/1 available across the board as very generous indeed. You could say that all the odds compilers are hardy wrong, and me right, but the truth is they will have just copy and pasted whoever went up first. In my opinion we have ourselves an excellent bet.
3pts ew Daniel Berger 11/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH) **Recommended Monday and still available *11/1 with 365 to 5 places. 10/1 general to 8 places is also fine. Non Runner
.5pt ew Byeong Hun An 60/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, PP/BFSB/Skybet) **Recommended Monday. *Currently 60/1 8 places with Skybet/888/Betfred. 70/1 to 5 places 365.
.6pt ew Ian Poulter 55/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/PP/BFSB/Skybet/Betfred)
Top Continental European:
3pts Rafa Cabrera Bello 7/1 (General)
Top 20 Finish:
See Note in Section
Running Totals 2021:
Best of luck, and enjoy the week of sport.