Bradley the bet at 40/1

  • By: Ben Coley
  • Last Updated: February 27 2013, 21:17 GMT

Ben Coley bids to follow-up last week's 40/1 Match Play winner with three similarly-priced selections for the Honda Classic.

  • Keegan Bradley: Can contend if finding form with the putter
  • Rickie Fowler: Loves to battle the elements 
  • David Lynn: Could play well at a price 

For the seventh year running, the Honda Classic returns to the Champion Course at PGA National, where defending champion Rory McIlroy will bid to kick-start his season once more.

To do so he'll have to conquer the toughest course these players will have faced so far in 2013, one which ranked 11th hardest of all PGA Tour courses used in 2012 and one whose famous closing stretch is among the most demanding in America.

Quite simply, it won't be easy, as this 7,110 yard par-70 tests every aspect of a player's game.

Despite being redesigned by Jack Nicklaus, space off the tee remains at a premium, and with heavy bunkering and water playing a huge part, danger lies at the end of every stray shot on a course whose proximity to the Florida coastline means that wind is usually a big factor, as it's set to be this week.

It's little surprise, then, that some real grinders have won here, grinders who have that little extra something that separates regular winners from regular PGA Tour professionals.

Names like Mark Wilson, Y-E Yang and Rory Sabbatini might not exactly scream top-class, but between them this trio own 13 PGA Tour wins, including a major championship.

Add Camilo Villegas, whose CV includes the TOUR Championship, multiple major winner and course fanatic Ernie Els along with the aforementioned McIlroy, and you get the picture. Whoever wins this week, I fancy it won't be their first nor their last.

With any such track, tee-to-green supremacy will be rewarded, but the last two champions have topped the scrambling stats and the overriding memory from last year's edition is how impressive McIlroy was around the greens.

With that in mind, ball-striking statistics may help identify those set to perform well but the difference between first and second will more than likely be what happens on and around these greens.

Other than their ability to win titles under pressure, it's hard to tie past winners together. All cope with high winds despite what's often said about McIlroy, but otherwise they're quite different.

Many will notice that Wilson is the only home-grown champion since the event switched here but plenty of his compatriots have placed, although with eight of the first nine in the betting from outside of the USA there's of course every chance that we'll have another international victor come Sunday.

So the formula simply seems to be quality players who promise to produce the goods from tee-to-green, scramble well and know how to get it done.

Step forward Jason Day*, who looks made for this test and good value.

The cocksure Australian endured a tough 2012, as he struggled with injury and adapted to life as a father. However, the evidence so far this year is as we might've expected; that was a minor stall in a career which remains firmly on an upward trajectory.

It's easy to forget that Day is just 25 years old, which makes qualms about just one PGA Tour victory seem a trifle harsh, and he's therefore young enough and fit enough to cope with what must've been an exhausting week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

Day's performances there were excellent throughout, bar perhaps the semi-final where he struggled to raise his game against eventual champion Matt Kuchar.

To respond to that by beating Ian Poulter in the third-place play-off took some courage and speaks to his powers of recovery, and that's why I'm convinced that there's nothing to worry about from a fitness perspective.

After all, both Villegas and McIlroy had played six matches at the Accenture prior to taking this title (Villegas played Phoenix in-between, too), so instead of being seen as a negative we should be looking upon Day's effort as further proof that his game is back where it needs to be.

The numbers back all of this up. Day has finished in the top 10 in three of his four starts this season, building on a late-2012 share of fourth in the JT Open, and key to his improvement is how well he's hitting the ball.

So far, he's 29th in greens in regulation with a total of over 72 per cent, and that's backed up if we look to late 2012 when he really began to hit greens again during the Fall Series.

Compare these numbers to this time last season, when Day had failed to hit over 70 per cent in any one individual tournament, and the improvement is obvious.

Given that his short game stats continue to impress, every facet of his game is spot-on and although he's only been here twice, with form of MC-WD, I think the course is perfect for Day's game.

Day has ranked first and sixth for par-three performance over the last two years, always key given how tough they are here, and having made birdie or better on 65 per cent of par-fives (fourth on Tour) this season he's ready to take advantage of the scoring holes too.

Last week, Day spoke of how proud he was with his performances against great golfers and how work on the range was paying off. As a past winner of the Byron Nelson on a similarly tough track, this week looks a great opportunity for win number two on the PGA Tour.

I must confess that I thought long and hard about siding with Tiger Woods this week. I thought he played solid golf at the Match Play, unlike McIlroy, and his Torrey Pines victory beforehand was as straightforward as they come.

However, there has been a simple way to profit from Woods lately, and that's to follow him on courses he's devoured in the past. A closing 62 for second here last year bodes well, but you have to go back to 2009 for the last time Woods won at a course for the first time, and at 8/1 I'm not prepared to chance him doing so here.

McIlroy, who has struggled when defending titles on the PGA Tour, makes no appeal. Only a razor-sharp short game got him home last year and as well as struggling to control distance with his irons, he's missing too many short putts.

Instead, both Justin Rose and Charl Schwartzel look likely candidates having held their form for close to six months now. At 16/1 or so, though, neither looks a gift and my next best is Keegan Bradley.

Like Day, Bradley is a former winner of the Byron Nelson, a performance which saw him produce the goods as winds swept across the course.

His next success came in famous fashion at the 2011 PGA Championship, and winning scores of -3 and -8 in these two events tell you all you need to know about what sort of test suits Bradley's game.

A further win in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational confirms that this is a player who produces in the big events, and the Honda Classic certainly ranks as one of them.

Twelve months ago, Bradley sat fifth entering the final round only to fade to 12th, but even so that performance confirmed a liking for the layout .

"It's really important to stay real calm when it's really windy like that and not get too excited, up or down. I did a really good job of that today, but also I was really striking the ball well," he said after a third-round 68, and although disappointed with his finish there was plenty to like about the performance.

So far this season, it's been a case of nearly but not quite for Bradley. He was right in contention in Phoenix before fading at the weekend, never truly threatened with 16th at Riviera and likewise played well without threatening the leader for fourth in the Tournament of Champions.

Quite simply, he needs to putt a little better to contend but a switch to bermuda greens should help in that regard and there's little else wrong with his game, despite a first round exit at the Match Play.

One of several of this field who live nearby, Bradley fits the profile of a tough, gritty competitor who already has a big win or two to his name, and at 40/1 he rates a smashing each-way bet.

I'll complete my main fancies with Rickie Fowler, who is a similar price to the first two selections.

Like Bradley, he's a Florida resident with form in this event courtesy of a share of seventh last year, when only a double-bogey at the sixth marred an otherwise flawless final round.

Fowler's golf on the weekend was better than McIlroy's, and that's no surprise after he'd professed to "love playing in the wind" when performing superbly in the 2011 Open Championship.

Like Day, Fowler is hitting a lot more greens that has been the case in the past and at 17th in bogey avoidance, he's eliminating the mistakes which have too often held him back.

Fowler also ranks highly in par-four performance and his game looks in good shape, despite a missed cut in Phoenix and a first round exit in the Match Play which put an end to a run of consecutive top-six finishes.

Neither represents ideal preparation, but he had a short putt to make the weekend at Scottsdale and may have suffered playing alongside an electric Phil Mickelson in round one, while his Match Play defeat came on the 19th which shows that he was doing something right - he finished birdie-birdie to force extra holes.

Fowler's sole PGA Tour win to date came on a tough, east coast course, which underwent a redesign by original PGA National architect Tom Fazio, and I think there's every chance we'll see a much improved display this week.

Finally, I'm going to surprise even myself by putting up England's David Lynn at 250/1.

Having stated that the winner will most likely be a proven PGA Tour winner, it may seem odd that I'm selecting a player who has only started a handful of events in the States, but I think there are reasons to expect a vastly improved display.

As I look back through Lynn's career, it's impossible to miss the fact that his better performances have almost always come under a certain set of circumstances, that is at tough courses when the wind blows.

Think back to last year's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island when he finished second, his share of fourth in the Open de France not long before that, a third in the 2011 Portugal Masters when he closed with a 64 as the wind picked up, a second in the same season's Iberdrola Open won by wind specialist Darren Clarke as another wind specialist Chris Wood threw away a big lead, a strong set of KLM open form figures which include a victory - Lynn is a straightforward wind specialist in his own right.

So far, his venture to the PGA Tour hasn't paid off, but an opening 67 at Riviera, a second-round 66 to just miss the cut in Phoenix and another opening 67 in the Farmers show that he's not playing badly, he's just perhaps waiting for the right venue.

PGA National could be exactly that and although far from convinced he can actually win this, he could go close at a very big price with conditions seemingly set to be ideal.

  • * Please note that since this preview was published, Jason Day has withdrawn from the event.

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