Expert Picks: Honda Classic

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 27, 2013, 3:45 am

This week the PGA Tour heads to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. for The Honda Classic. Rory McIlroy returns to defend his title at PGA National, but a strong field will be chasing him, including last year's runner-up, Tiger Woods. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel includes: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams and staff writer Ryan Lavner. They will also be joined by former 'Saturday Night Live' star Norm Macdonald, who will serve as a celebrity guest throughout the fantasy season.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Rory McIlroy: Forget those 75s to start 2013, forget the wayward iron play at the Match Play and the poor driving in Abu Dhabi, he was downright dominant last year at PGA National and has the look of a new man this week.

Group 2: Peter Hanson: Although off to a slow start in his Tour debuts this year, the Florida Swing is where he started to heat up last year (T-4 at Doral) on his way to a T-3 at The Masters.

Group 3: Geoff Ogilvy: The move back to Scottsdale hasn’t exactly produced the results he’d hoped for but he has a good history at this event (runner-up showings in 2001 and 2006). Besides, when the Australian is on there are few who can control their golf ball in the wind as well as he can.

Group 4: Chad Campbell: Not a lot of great options in this group, but the Texan is used to playing in the wind and has played some of the best golf of his career in Florida (won 2004 Arnold Palmer Invitational).

Win McMurry

Group 1: Tiger Woods: Really tough to pick in this group. I narrowed it down to Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel, and local resident Tiger Woods. Ultimately going with Tiger because of this particular statistic thanks to the folks at Shotlink. Instead of looking at him getting knocked out in Round 1 of the Match Play as a negative, I view it as a positive because when you look at the six times it's happened, he's managed to go on and finish inside the top 10 in his next start each time, including last year, when he finished T-2 at Honda.

Group 2: Fredrik Jacobson: The Swede, who makes his home in nearby Hobe Sound, has a great resume at the Honda for a player in this group. He finished T-16 last year, T-6 in 2010 and T-5 in 2009. He has three top 10s this season with a T-3 the best of the year at the Northern Trust Open. He also advanced to the third round last week at the Match Play. He is second on Tour this year in strokes gained putting and second in scoring average, as well as 13th in scrambling.

Group 3: Brian Harman: He tied for 12th last year and has made a paycheck in each of his last four starts. This is what I liked best about him in this group, he is one of only eight players who played the Bear Trap bogey-free last year in all four rounds. He had three birdies and nine pars.

Group 4: Stuart Appleby: The 1997 winner has finished inside the top 25 here the last two years, tying for 10th in 2011. This season he has made a paycheck in three of his four starts.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Lee Westwood: In a year where it seems like every top player is getting a turn, this ball-striker’s course should suit Westwood’s game well. 

Group 2: Ernie Els: His last three wins in the States have come in Florida; after a T-13 in his last stroke-play event, this could be a big week for the Big Easy. 

Group 3: Ted Potter, Jr.: Trust me on this one: The Florida kid will find a lot of success playing on home turf during this year’s Florida Swing.

Group 4: Patrick Reed: Man, that’s a packed Group 4 filled with players who can contend, but I’ll go with young Reed, who has shown a lot of promise.

Will Gray

Group 1: Justin Rose: A key to success on a difficult course like PGA National is hitting the green in regulation. It was important last year, as 12 of the top 15 on the final leaderboard finished T-10 or better in GIR percentage for the week, and it makes me lean to Rose, who led the Tour in the category in 2012. He is one of many looking to rebound from an early exit at Dove Mountain, but I think he gets his third top-five finish at this event in as many starts. 

Group 2: Ernie Els: A winner here in 2008, Els has notched a pair of top-25 finishes since that victory, including a T-21 showing last year. While he left Dove Mountain earlier than planned, I think his play this week will more closely emulate the form that yielded a T-13 at Riviera the week prior. 

Group 3: Billy Horschel: The Florida grad has now made the cut in 16 consecutive events, one shy of the best active streak (Ian Poulter 'made' his 17th in a row at the Match Play). In Group 3 I want solid cash, and Horschel will provide it as he is not the same player that missed the cut here in 2011, his lone prior appearance in this event.

Group 4: Jerry Kelly: The former Players champion has been feast or famine in this event lately. In six starts at PGA National, Kelly has three missed cuts but he also has three top-20 finishes, including a solo third in 2011. With the veteran in decent form of late on some difficult tracks (T-27 at Torrey Pines, T-38 at Riviera), I'll take my chances.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”