Honda Classic First Round Leader Picks & Predictions: Back Harman for a Hot Start

We return for another edition of this First Round Leader article, as Tom Jacobs tries to identify some value on the Thursday market.
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Honda Classic First Round Leader Picks & Predictions: Back Harman for a Hot Start

Honda Classic First Round Leader Strategy

With a move to the East Coast, comes a weaker field and a tougher golf course, but there have still been some great opening day scores here, and sometimes it is a case of posting early and hanging on for dear life here over the weekend.

It is going to be tough to draw a line in the sand when it comes to the AM V PM debate this week, as it is equally split over the last decade which wave the First Round Leader has come from. With that in mind, I would recommend picking your guys and sticking with them, unless there is any significant weather that suggests a better time to play.

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Here are the last ten first-round leaders at the Honda Classic:

All tee times are local (EST)

2021 - Matt Jones (7:36 am) - 61

2020 - Harris English (11:35 am) & Tom Lewis (8:35 am) - 66

2019 - Jhonattan Vegas (7:45 am) - 64

2018 - Alex Noren (7:55 am) & Webb Simpson (12:05 pm) - 66

2017 - Cody Gribble (7:15 am) & Wesley Bryan (8:15 am)- 64

2016 - Michael Thompson (13:15 pm) & Sergio Garcia (12:35 pm) - 65

2015 - Jim Herman (8:35 am) - 65

2014 - Rory McIlroy (12:25 pm) - 63

2013 - Camilo Villegas (11:55 am) - 64

2012 - Davis Love III (8:00 am) - 64

Who in this field started fastest on Tour Last Season?

Here are the 10 fastest starts in the field based on Round 1 Scoring Average in the 2020/21 PGA Tour season. As we get further into the season we can move on this season's Round 1 Scoring Average, but with the top of the category currently littered with players who have played very few events, it's not yet an accurate representation.

  • Brian Harman (T5 overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.37) - Low Opening Round - 65 (Open Championship)
  • Patrick Reed (9th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.55) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Farmers Insurance Open)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (11th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.63) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Open Championship)
  • Joaquin Niemann (18th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.69) - Low Opening Round - 62 (Sony Open)
  • Chris Kirk (19th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.72) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Wyndham Championship)
  • Doug Ghim (20th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.77) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Bermuda Championship)
  • Nick Taylor (22nd overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.85) - Low Opening Round - 65 (Wyndham Championship)
  • Kevin Streelman (23rd overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.86) - Low Opening Round - 66 (Wyndham Championship)
  • Sungjae Im (25th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.94) - Low Opening Round - 66 (Masters Tournament and Wyndham Championship)
  • Mark Hubbard (31st overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 70.03) - Low Opening Round - 63 (Phoenix Open)

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What Score Is Required To Lead After Round 1?

Over the past ten years here at PGA National, the average round 1 leading score has been 64.2 with Matt Jones' 61 an anomaly in the scoring. Given this information, 64 is very clearly the most obvious target, as that score has been the best score on Thursday in 4 of the last 10 renewals here. 64 has only been eclipsed here twice in the past decade (Jones 61 and McIlroy 63) and the score has actually been higher than 64 on four occasions, so I wouldn't make the target any lower.

The Favorites

Sungjae Im +2900 (Bet $100 to win $2900)

He's the outright favorite this week, which is not a surprise given Daniel Berger's questionable injury status, and his final results of 51-1-8 here have been powered by some low rounds.

When finishing 51st on debut, he hit a 64 in round 2 to put himself into the lead thru 36 holes, before a blow up on Saturday where he shot 77. When winning two years ago he posted two rounds of 66 and last year he posted two rounds of 68 as well, which is solid enough on this course.

He ranks inside the top-10 of fastest starters in this field from last year (25th overall) and this year he ranks 18th overall in that department, so he's capable of starting fast, even on this tough layout.

Sungjae has been within two of the first-round lead 26 times already in his career, 11 of which came on the PGA Tour since 2018. He was two back at the Shriners, which he won, back in October and he was in the same spot after day one at the Tournament of Champions to start 2022.

He's ranked 48th, 63rd and 15th after round 1 here so far after three starts, doing his best work on day two instead, but he can change that at any time here. He's not a bad price at 30's and it might be a way to bet Sungjae, without having to swallow the short outright price.

Daniel Berger +2900 (Bet $100 to win $2900)

When 2nd here on debut in 2015, Berger opened with a round of 68 to sit in 6th place, and he went one better in 2018, shooting 67 to sit 3rd at Thursday's end. On his most recent start here (2020) he opened with a 69 to sit 11th.

It's a good showing of fast starts here then for Berger, and if he's healthy not only could he cash in this market, but he could win outright as well. Given he missed Riviera last week, and missed the weekend at Phoenix, he may well have got the rest he needed, to perform well here.

He fired a final-round 64 here to get into the playoff with Padraig Harrington in 2015, and that is a sign he can take the course apart when in form, which before injury he was.

Berger has been within two of the first-round lead 17 times in his career, with one of those being a first-round co-lead at the Mayakoba in 2014. He's probably due an outright first-round lead for the first time in his career, and if we hear anything about his health later in the week, he's worth a second look.

Brooks Koepka +3100 (Bet $100 to win $3100)

In his career so far, Brooks Koepka has been within two of the first-round lead 33 times in his career, and 8 of those have been leads or co-leads, with the latest of those coming at the FedEx St Jude in 2020.

Koepka finished 2nd behind Keith Mitchell here in 2019, and he opened the week with a 67 and closed with a 66 then, so he can shoot a decent number around this course.

He made his first three cuts here (33-51-26) before missing the cut either side of that 2nd, so his inconsistent form currently matches his course form as well. When 51st on his second start, he shot a second round 64, so again he knows how to go low and that number would probably get it done on Thursday.

He is far too inconsistent both currently and on this course, to be confident so I will look elsewhere, but it would be no surprise to see his name at the top of the leaderboard after any round this week.

Joaquin Niemann +3100 (Bet $100 to win $3100)

Joaquin Niemann was spectacular last week at Riviera and rewarded Oddschecker readers who followed our Early Leans or Longshot selection, at 66/1. He now comes into this week as one of the favorites, and rightly so.

In terms of the first-round leader market, he'd paid off there multiple times in the past as well. Four times already since starting his career on the PGA Tour in 2018, Niemann has managed to lead or co-lead, including last week at Riviera and on another Nicklaus design, at The Memorial.

He has played this event three times, with a best finish of 25th here coming 12 months ago. In his first two starts here (59-MC) he failed to break 70, but last year he broke that number three times, with a round of 67 and 69 twice.

This could go two ways, Niemann will either keep up momentum from last week, and could well start fast here which he has a knack for doing on TOUR in general, or he will be so mentally exhausted from leading wire-to-wire last week, that an early ejection on a tough layout is very possible. I will lean the latter given how demanding Riviera was, alongside the amount of trouble you can get into here, at PGA National.

In total Niemann has been within two of the first-round lead 11 times in his career already and one of his leads includes a 62 opening-round at the correlating Sony Open, so it is not a bad price on Niemann if you believe his hot form can continue.

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Louis Oosthuizen +3100 (Bet $100 to win $3100)

In six starts here Oosthuizen has as many withdrawals (2) as he does top-25's, but he has at least flashed some decent rounds.

In 2012, he opened with a round of 67 to sit 10th after day one, before shooting 74-71 and then withdrawing, and he opened with the same score in 2018, where he sat 3rd after Thursday end.

It has been a long career for Oosthuizen who despite never winning in North America, has had a very fruitful careers, topped by winning the Open Championship at St Andrews in 2010. He's had plenty of near misses since, especially in majors, but he will now want to nail down some PGA Tour victories before he calls it a day, and many believe this may be the week. I am not necessarily one of those, but I wouldn't be opposed to the idea of a fast start.

He has been within two of the lead 50 times in his career, dating back to 2003, most recently on his last start in Phoenix where he sat 6th after day one, and two behind the best score of the day. He led the Open Championship by one stroke back in July when he opened with a 64 and co-led the U.S. Open a month before with an opening-round 67.

Majors are his jam, and I never know what to make of Oosthuizen in regular events, but of those 50 times he's been within two of the first-round lead, one came here in 2018 when he was one back and that's a decent sign at least.

If you are someone that is backing Louis outright, an extra bet in this market may not be a bad idea either.

First Round Leader Picks

Brian Harman +5500 (Bet $100 to win $5500)

Brian Harman is a strong day one player, ranking T5 in Round 1 Scoring Average last year and T21 in that category again this season, so I like his chances on that basis alone, given his current form.

Upon further inspection of his Honda Classic form though, he has had some seriously impressive rounds at PGA National, despite never cracking the top-10 at week's end in nine starts here.

On debut in 2012, he shot a second-round 61 and when 58th two years later, he also opened with a 67 to sit 11th going into Friday. Impressive again in 2014, Harman shot a final-round 64 to finish 11th and again two years later he opened with a 67 again to sit 12th at Thursday's-end.

So far this season, Harman has only failed to break 70 twice on a Thursday and was within three of the lead at the Phoenix Open and Houston Open already, so I think he can go a couple lower and replicate that final-round 64 he shot in 2014. That would be enough to cash at least an each-way here, and probably give punters a winning bet.

There is enough evidence for me that Harman is both coming back to form and can play well at this course, so with a nice tee time, I suspect Harman can go low enough to contend in this market at 55/1.

Brian Harman tees off #10 tee at 12:40 pm with Jimmy Walker and Martin Trainer

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Ryan Palmer +6000 (Bet $100 to win $6000)

Ryan Palmer loves this event, making 9 of 12 cuts here in his career, and he's notorious for a fast start as well.

When finishing 52nd in 2009, he shot a 66 in round 2, and he opened with the same score in 2012 to sit in 3rd place going into Friday. He shot another 66 in round 2 when finishing 2nd here in 2014 and when he was 37th in 2017 he opened with rounds of 66-65 to lead after 36 holes.

Palmer's last two starts here have yielded finishes of 4th and 17th and he shot a final-round 63 in 2019 to climb into 4th place, so he really does know how to go low here, despite it being a tough layout.

He's 2 for 4 for made cuts in 2022, but he's played four rounds at both the Sony (T12) and the Farmers (T16) where you'd expect him to contend. He opened with a 67 on the North Course at Torrey, and he opened with a 64 and closed with a 65 at the Sony.

Palmer has been within two of the first-round lead 47 times in his career, and he's led or co-led 12 times, so he's great on a Thursday historically. He went wire-to-wire when winning the Sony Open, and that correlates nicely to this event.

Ryan Palmer tees off #1 tee at 12:18 pm with Henrik Stenson and K.H. Lee

Jhonattan Vegas +6600 (Bet $100 to win $6600)

Jhonattan Vegas shot an opening-round 64 to lead here in 2019 and given his current and course form, I believe he could replicate that this week as well.

He finished 8th at the Saudi International two starts ago, and he was the best player over the final two days there, and while a T55 at Riviera didn't necessarily back that up, it was solid enough, especially with his 68 on Saturday.

I mentioned course correlations in my earlier previews this week, and Vegas ticks that box with two wins at Glen Abbey and his T4 here in 2014 and T8 at the Wells Fargo in 2018 are all good pointers.

Vegas has played at PGA National nine times in his career, making eight cuts. When 12th in 2014 he shot rounds of 66 on Friday and Saturday, and when 4th in 2017 he opened with a 67 and closed with a 64.

The opening 64 in 2019 is the cherry on top, and for a player who ranked 34th in Round 1 Scoring Average last year, and is 28th this year, so he's solid enough on the opening day.

I liked him outright, but didn't get to him in the end, so I will take him in this market instead.

Jhonattan Vegas tees off #1 tee at 11:56 am with Denny McCarthy and Taylor Pendrith

Sepp Straka +10000 (Bet $100 to win $10000)

Rinse and repeat for Sepp Straka in this article, but this a tough golf course, where ball-striking will come to the fore, and that suits his game.

In three starts here, he has finished MC-27-33 and his second-round 67 in 2020 is his best round here to date. Last year he opened with a 68 to sit 15th going into Friday and also shot a 69 on Saturday, so he's got three sub-70 rounds here in his last two starts, and I suspect he can post his lowest opening-round here to date, this week.

At the Sony Open, which correlates nicely to this event, he shot rounds of 66, 67 and 65 and he also opened with a 67 the following week at the American Express.

Rounds of 66 and 67 at Torrey Pines were impressive again, and then last week at Riviera he played very well, despite opening with a 74. He finished the Genesis last week with rounds of 68-66-68 and that's a great sign going into an event that should suit.

Sepp Straka tees off #1 tee at 7:01 am with Brandon Hagy and Vince Whaley

Brandon Hagy +14000 (Bet $100 to win $14000)

Brandon Hagy's current form scares the life out of me, at least from an outright perspective but his course form here reads 21-MC-21-2 which for a player of his level is incredibly impressive at such a volatile course.

His current form suggests another MC is coming here, but on his debut when 21st he opened with a 67 and shot a 64 on Saturday, and when he was 2nd last year he shot a 62 on Friday and 66 on Sunday, so he's capable of shooting the scores required to lead round this golf course.

I simply hope that if he does take advantage of the move back East, and to a course he loves, that he does so with a quick start.

Brandon Hagy tees off #1 tee at 7:01 am with Sepp Straka and Vince Whaley

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Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-host the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on the tours on both sides of the pond. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, but his main passion remains golf, and every year he holds onto the hope of Lee Westwood winning his first major championship.

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