After a record-breaking week at the prestigious Riviera Country Club, the East Coast Swing begins as the PGA Tour head to Florida for the Honda Classic.
Joaquin Niemann recorded his second PGA Tour title in Los Angeles, as he broke the 36-hole record after a scintillating pair of 63s to begin his tournament.
His dramatic lead proved unassailable, despite the best efforts of PGA Tour Rookie Cameron Young and the ever-inspiring Collin Morikawa.
Matt Jones will be returning to Florida to defend his title, as he broke a seven-year duck to win last year’s event.
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Jones decimated the field during the 2021 edition of the Honda Classic, as he finished champion with a five-stroke winning margin.
The tournament doesn’t typically attract the world’s best players but notable participants from last season include: Harry Higgs, Adam Scott, Sungjae Im and Lee Westwood – with the latter missing the cut.
Similarly, to last week in LA, Jones started in brilliant fashion; a score of 61 tied the course record at PGA National and opened a three-stroke advantage over Russell Henley and Aaron Wise.
After such a monumental start, Jones cruised home to victory after three rounds of 70-69-68.
Brandon Hagy, winless on the PGA Tour, finished second and would have surely put together a more impressive charge if he had negotiated his third round better, carding 76 yet still finishing runner-up.
The victory marked Jones’ first on the PGA Tour for almost seven years, having previously won the Shell Houston Open in 2014.
PGA National has a par of 70 and measures 7,125 yards, just shy of 200 yards shorter than last week’s Genesis Invitational.
A Tom Fazio design, the golf course has since been remastered twice by Jack Nicklaus, firstly in 1990 before revisiting and adjusting again in 2014.
Those who are losing interest in low scores and the target-style courses that have previously been utilized by the PGA Tour this season will be thrilled to know that this is traditionally one of the harder courses the tour visits.
The Bear Trap – holes 15-17 – have marvelous designs that scream danger from every angle.
Last year, the field played these three holes at 230-over, which highlights the difficulty and the strenuous moments that players must overcome late into their round(s).
Providing no-one produces a dazzling 61 like Jones expertly crafted last year, The Bear Trap holds the potential of making or breaking champions come Sunday afternoon.
Since 2007, there have been over 1,500 golf balls in the water that is found around The Bear Trap, meaning the leader will need to be dialed if they are to convert their lead into victory.
A collection of British players will mark their first start on the PGA Tour this calendar year, with Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter, Shane Lowry and Lee Westwood all scheduled to tee it up in Florida.
Fleetwood is still yet to taste victory on American soil and the previous 12 months have been a struggle for the Englishman, but his class will soon prevail and with a weaker field, this is a competition he should target.
Westwood was sensational during March last year and if he can recapture the form he displayed in successive weeks at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship, then he could win his first PGA Tour tournament since 2010 – St Jude Classic.
Brooks Koepka will be the most recognized player to tee it up at PGA National, and only 12 players ranked within the world’s top 50 have committed.
Koepka has been rather inconsistent across the last few weeks, finishing cut-T3-cut in his last three starts, although his putter had carried him during his defense of the Phoenix Open.
If there’s one area of the 31-year-old’s game that looks hot, it’s on the greens where he is surprisingly ranked 82nd for SG: Putting this term – a direct contradiction to his previous outings.
Whilst it may be lacking in renowned names, the competition between the very best and the very good is typically minor, which allows rising stars to increase their profile at these sorts of events.
Sungjae Im heads into the week as one of the favorites and it’s becoming difficult to look past the machine-like golfer, who carded the most birdies ever in a PGA Tour season last year.
The South Korean has been in tantalizing form this season, currently ranked 11th for Greens in Regulation and 11th for scoring average.
Billy Horschel is another golfer you should keep an eye on, after a string of excellent performances and subsequent finishes.
Of the six PGA Tour events he has played this season, he is yet to miss the cut once and he has recorded finishes within the top 11 on three occasions.
His game is in a good place, ranking 29th for driving distance and 18th for Greens in Regulation.
However, it is his putting that has truly elevated him recently, where he’s gained .972 strokes on the field and ranks 2nd throughout the tour.
Daniel Berger is another highly ranked player who will be in the field, as he looks to build on his successful 2021 and record his fifth PGA Tour title – and third since June 2020.
What the American lacks in driving distance (290.6 yards), he makes up for in accuracy as he locates 72.22% of fairways which positions him 2nd on tour this season.
He’s 3rd for eagles per hole (60) and he has the best sand save percentage, getting up-and-down from the bunkers 85.71% of the time.
Nicolai Hojgaard, one of Europe’s finest young golfers, will be making his PGA Tour debut this week and he’ll be looking forward to showcasing his game on the premium tour.
The 20-year-old has recorded two DP World Tour wins and it will be interesting to see if he can replicate his fine form previously displayed on the aforementioned tour.
If Jones can successfully defend his title, he will become only the second golfer in history to have done so – Jack Nicklaus is the only man to accomplish this, having won the 1977 and 1978 Honda Classic tournaments.
Stewart Cink, Shane Lowry, Zach Johnson
Billy Horschel, Patrick Reed, Cameron Young
Joaquin Niemann, Brooks Koepka, Mackenzie Hughes
Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Rodgers, Harry Higgs
Lucas Herbert, Sungjae Im, Louis Oosthuizen
Matt Jones, Daniel Berger, Gary Woodland