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Scott to Defend Honda Classic Title on Tour’s Toughest Course

Golf has welcomed a new number one player in the world ahead of the Honda Classic beginning Friday. Dustin Johnson has scaled to the summit of golf and confirmed his status as the form player on the globe (along with Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama) with a win last week at the Genesis Open.

And chasing him is a group of accomplished players who next get a chance to catch him in the Honda Classic hosted at PGA National (Champion). That group includes players in the field, like Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler. See who else might contend at this week’s PGA Tour stop below:

The Course

PGA National (Champion) is widely regarded as one of the toughest challenges in golf. The Champion features the infamous Bear Trap, a series of three holes (15,16,17) designs by Jack Nicklaus, and like the entire course often described as one of the toughest stretches in golf. The stretch that Nicklaus once said could stand the test of time even if golf balls were developed that could travel 1000 yards, often makes or breaks the leading pack – “there are no bailouts”, as Tiger Woods also commented.

The original Tom and George Fazio design was re-designed by Nicklaus in 2014, and it hosts the Honda Classic every year. The Champion features generous landing areas and some of the biggest TifEagle Bermuda greens on the circuit, however, there is a premium on accuracy in all areas of the game.

Playing 7140 yards, the course played the toughest during the 2013 PGA Tour season, proving the tremendous challenge golfers will face this week.

The Defending Champion

Last year, Australia’s Adam Scott outlasted Spaniard, Sergio Garcia to win by one stroke, after the pair were tied for the lead after round 3. Scott, one of the best ball strikers in the game, but the poster child for the broomstick putter anchor ban, won with a final round 70. His margin would’ve been significantly bigger had it not been for a quadruple bogey 7 on the par-3 15th during the third round.

Scott’s win was built around his ball striking (1st in greens in regulations and 10th in driving accuracy) as well as a fine performance with the shorter putter (23rd in strokes gained putting), in an indication of the sort of performance needed to win at The Champion course.

Following Garcia was Blayne Barber, Justin Thomas, Graeme McDowell and Rickie Fowler. The defending champion is at $13 to defend his title and coming off a tie for 11th last week.

The Contenders*

Rickie Fowler $17

Rickie led the Honda Classic last year at the halfway stage before drifting badly over the weekend to finish 6th. In addition to his 6th place last year, he also finished 7th here in 2012, proving a liking to the course. Rickie has a tendency to do well on the same courses time and time again. Like Sawgrass and like the Waste Management in Phoenix (where he’s gone 2, 4th over the last two years), so it won’t be a surprise if he features again this week.

Sergio Garcia $17

Sergio was off last week despite being tipped by a lot of analysts to do well. However, despite a disappointing 49th, mainly on the back of an inconsistent putting display, he still struck the ball well and had good GIR stats. Including his win in Dubai, he’s ranked 3rd, 21st, 4th, 1st and seventh for GIR in his last five starts. Ball strikers are rewarded here, so don’t discount.

Justin Thomas $19

After a Hawaiian holiday to remember – wins in the Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open – Thomas has gone cold. He missed the cut at the Waste Management and was 39th last week at Riviera, but we prefer to use his Sony Open success as a guide for a strong performance here rather than recent form. If his putter gets a bit warmer, he could go well here as the rest of the game seems on point.

Ollie Schniederjans $67

The talented youngster is finally starting to deliver the results week in, week out that his amateur career promised. A tie for 8th last week was his third top ten of the season and positions him nicely at 35th on the FedEx Cup standings. The form is attributed to reverting back to a lower ball flight, something that won’t hinder him on The Champion course.

Tyrell Hatton $31

Hatton is a superstar in the making. After picking up his first European Tour win at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October, Hatton hasn’t finished outside the Top 25 in any event he’s played. Success in the US won’t come immediately, so he’s still probably an outsider, but a name to keep an eye out on the leaderboard and in the future.

*Odds from Sportsbet.

The Winner

Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker not featured above are also contenders, but we like Fowler. He’s the freshest in the field after missing last week and very consistent on his favourite courses.

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