Sobel: Changing Winds and Less Rough Should Impact the Honda Classic

Credit:

Christian Petersen/Getty Images. Pictured: Rickie Fowler

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – I spent Wednesday afternoon walking PGA National during the pro-am and here are a few observations, plus some reactions from the pros:

Surprise, surprise: It was windy.

As usual for this tournament, there’s a club-to-club-and-a-half breeze blowing through the course, which is expected to continue for all four competition rounds.

The good news for players is that it’s a steady wind and fairly easy to predict, rather than a gusting wind that can change any moment.

The bad news for players is that Wednesday’s wind was out of the southeast, which is forecasted to be the opposite of the westerly winds starting Thursday.

As one player told me, that should make holes 1, 2, 3, 10, 11 and 14 easier than they played in the pro-am, but of those, 2, 3, 10, 11 and 14 aren’t really birdie holes anyway, so the tough holes will still be tough. More importantly, the wind will be blowing right-to-left across most of the famed Bear Trap (holes 15-17), making that brutal stretch all the more brutal.


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The thick stuff ain’t what it used to be.

The rough here isn’t quite as gnarly as it’s been in previous years, especially down the right side of the difficult 11th, which at times could’ve meant a drive that faded too much didn’t leave players in position to take an approach over the water hazard framing the green.

What does all of that mean as far as scoring and which players could own an advantage?

We should expect another tough test that leaves the winner still in single-digits under-par, which mirrors each of the winning totals in six of the past seven years. (Only Rickie Fowler in 2017 finished double-digits under-par, winning at 12-under, while second place that year was still 8-under.)

And though I’m not close to suggesting that players can simply bang driver all over this course and not worry about the rough, the usual advantage to accurate drivers might be negated just a bit by the lower height outside the fairways, which should help the big hitters who aren’t quite as accurate.

Seen on the range.

Greg Norman, who lives nearby, was apparently offering an impromptu lesson to Nick Watney, who owns an intriguing record at this event. In seven career starts here, he’s never missed a cut, yet also never seriously contended for a title, with finishes of 51st-33rd-14th-41st-24th-65th-17th.

I always tend to think of Watney, who grew up in California, as more of a West Coast-type of player, but with three straight MCs to close that swing, maybe he’s ready to heat up on the East Coast instead.

Greg Norman watches on as Nick Watney practices ahead of the 2020 Honda Classic. Credit: Jason Sobel

By the way, there’s an obvious connection between Norman and Watney: The Shark’s longtime caddie, Tony Navarro, is currently on Watney’s bag.

Pro-Am Takeaways

Speaking of Watney, if you’re the type who likes to read something into pro-am scores for the tournament rounds, he might’ve provided a little ammo.

Watney and Fowler finished atop the player-only leaderboard for the day, with Stewart Cink and Ryo Ishikawa also up there. But let’s not read too much into this: Instead of the regular 18-hole pro-am format, each group of amateurs played nine holes with two different pros, so those are combined totals for Watney/Fowler and Cink/Ishikawa.

That might help you less that it does in other weeks, but trust me: Players love this format.

Still searching for a darkhorse this week?

Maybe this could help…

I was standing on the practice green when Robert Streb asked who I was picking this week. As he was about to putt a 12-foot downhill slider, I answered, “If you make this, I’m taking you.” He made it – and the next one, too.

For the record, he started his Honda career with finishes of 18th-59th-26th, but missed the cut in each of the previous three years. Streb is currently 260-1 at FanDuel.

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