Welcome to Three Shots at the Green, where each week I’ll use my experience as a PGA Tour caddie and golf writer to identify the three best bets on the board.
It’s time to say goodbye to California and turn our eyes to the east for the annual Florida Swing, beginning with the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens.
PGA National (Champion Course) is the host and the Jack Nicklaus design is annually the most difficult non-major test on the PGA Tour. The winning score is generally single digits under par and the 36-hole cut has been over par each year for the last decade.
What makes the par-70, 7,125-yard layout so difficult? Penalty areas, water hazards, whatever you prefer to call them. Trouble among the gators.
Pros face the potential of the dreaded one-shot double bogey on 15 of 18 holes. There are also narrow fairways, heavily-bunkered greens, and because we’re in South Florida, always the threat of wind, although the forecast for this week is rather benign – temperatures in the mid-80s and light breezes.
It’s basically a zoo @TheHondaClassic 🐊🐍
Gators, snakes and everything in between! pic.twitter.com/6t7XTcfiTS
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 21, 2023
We targeted ball strikers, in particular, elite iron players in the 150-200 yard range this week. Strong bunker play is a bonus as is comfortability on Bermuda grass greens. Some players will be thrilled to see them after two months putting on poa annua and other overseeded mixes. These surfaces should be firm and fast, demanding players place their approach shots in the right position, similar to what they faced last week at Riviera in that regard.
Let’s take three shots at the green.
Jhonnatan Vegas – Low South American +120
The competition from this continent is much weaker this season because a host of players – Mito Pereira, Joaquin Niemann, etc. – opted to take their games to the LIV Tour. Vegas is one of the Tour’s best ball strikers.
He’s healthy after missing time last year due to back and arm injuries. And he gained 19 shots Tee-to-Green the last three weeks, finishing in the top-25 twice. He’s made the cut in 9 of his last 10 Honda trips with five top-30s.
Ben Griffin – Top 20 +260
Over the last 36 rounds, Griffin is top-10 in this field in SG: Ballstriking, Approach and Tee-to-Green. He’s gained strokes with his iron play in eight consecutive starts and earned enough points to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs less than halfway through his rookie season.
From nearly quitting the game to thriving on the PGA Tour it’s been a wild ride for Griffin and he’s played his best on Bermuda greens over the last 12 months.
Hayden Buckley Top 20 +250
The best ballstriker in the field over the last 36 rounds, Buckley showed his affinity for Bermuda putting surfaces in Hawaii, gaining a career-best 4.4 shots on the greens in a runner-up finish.
He’s also elite at avoiding double bogeys (2nd in the field) and appears to be growing more comfortable on the PGA Tour in his second season.
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