Overview and markets
Next up on the calendar is the Perth International in Australia and the Honda Classic from PGA National. The Perth International has been moved from its regular slot on the schedule and as such we didn't see it in the year 2015. By all accounts the setup is mooted to be faster and firmer this time around, and from Twitter, the general consensus amongst the pros is a strong liking for the course. Thorbjorn Olesen - 21.00 - was the last man to lift the trophy here at Lake Karrinyup back in October 2014 and he's third in the betting behind Louis Oosthuizen - 11.00 - and Victor Dubuisson - 13.00.
The Honda Classic comes from PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida - an area in which many of the big names of the PGA Tour reside in or around. This is a home game for a lot of the market leaders to kick off the Florida swing, including one Rickie Fowler - 10.00. It's an event that often throws up some unexpected winners and a lot of that is down to the elements. The wind often gets up in this region on an exposed layout, and when you add that to the infamous "Bear Trap” - arguably the most intimidating trifecta of holes on the PGA Tour, rivalling the "Green Mile" – 15, 16 and 17 down the stretch - anything can happen here.
Course features and trends
PGA National - Champion Course - par 70, 7,140 yards
I mentioned anything can happen here and Ian Poulter - 67.00 - had an attack of the shanks last year and found himself in a number of the water hazards in the final round. Four of the five players that held a lead visited the aqua down the stretch including home kid Daniel Berger in the play-off with wind Specialist Padraig Harrington. This was a Monday finish due to wind delays and Harrington captured his second Honda title.
Rory McIlroy - 7.00 - was blown away in 2014 with a final round 74 having started with a two stroke lead. There is a strong theme developing here and the premium at PGA National is on ball striking and keeping it in play. From my notes, the pros mention scores can be made from the fairways but pins on large greens are hard to get near from the rough. Bogey avoidance and par 4 scoring are always key here.
Lake Karrinyup - par 72, 7,143 yards
Three years ago for the first edition of the Perth International I likened the track to Wentworth in my preview - referring mainly to the treeline and tee shots to dog-legged fairways, and also swirling winds. These landing areas are generous though and rough is very sparse so it's perhaps no coincidence that we saw big hitters Dubuisson, Olesen and Bjerregaard all in the top four in 2014. The trio had a ranking of 8th between them in the driving distance department that week. Driving accuracy was not a theme at all while GIR% was the dominant stat. With conditions set to be fast and firm, a top scrambling game will also be needed this week. Similar to Wentworth, the course comes with elevation changes and numerous bunkers.
Top betting tips - Perth International
Lucas Bjerregaard - 29.00 or 6.50 - found himself in a great position but stalled down the stretch in 2014 here. I put the Dane up that year due largely to his efforts at the US Open at Pinehurst - a course I personally thought shared some characteristics with Lake Karrinyup. Lucas finished T-4th, and this year he seems to be rounding nicely into form, with his best finish to date in 2015 a top 25 in Malaysia last week. Lucas just missed out to Justin Rose on a short Hong Kong GC treelined track at the back of last season and has moved up a notch. He hit eight birdies in a 12 hole stretch on the desert swing to show signs of top form.
Peter Uihlein - 34.00 or 7.50 - and James Morrison - 46.00 or 10.00 - are must bets this week for me. The latter is a bit of a Wentworth specialist who was also T4 with Bjerregaard last time here. Morrison is showing progressive 57-40-15 form and could be a big feature.
I was pointed in the direction of a tweet from Uihlein describing Lake Karrinyup as his "favourite course". He was 9th on his debut in 2014 and also carded a top 10 last week in Malaysia despite a second round 75. Uihlein also has a Wentworth top 12 to his name in only a couple of starts there.
Honda Classic tips
The best bet of the week here for me could be Camillo Villegas - 126.00 or 23.00 - who resides in the Palm Beach Gardens area. Villegas burst into form with a first round -8 at Riviera last week meaning he must have been striking the ball extremely well. Villegas used to "own" PGA National with a 1st place and a runner up finish around the turn of the decade. He posted another top 20 there last year after rededicating himself to the game.
I'm also going to go with two top ball strikers at PGA National: Ryan Palmer - 67.00 or 14.00 - has solid course form here with 41st being his worst finish in the last four starts. He was one of those to miss out in a four-way play-off in 2014. Palmer has been simmering this year with an average finish of 23rd in his last four. Ryan is currently 20th in ball striking and 3rd in the all-round ranking.
I'm going to stick with Shane Lowry - 46.00 or 10.00 - despite a mediocre performance at Pebble Beach. In hindsight, a pro-am format with an easy set up maybe wasn't the test for him. It's served to inflate his price this week though following on from a top six in Phoenix. Lowry is a wind and ball striking (30th) specialist who, despite no course experience, I think will be very much at home on the Champion course. His lack of track experience didn't hamper him when winning at Firestone.