Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
The Florida swing gets underway this week with one of the toughest tests on the PGA Tour. Justin Thomas is a short-priced favourite to defend his title after winning in a play-off 12 months ago.
PGA National is a stern examination for the players, especially if the wind gets up, with the closing stretch of holes, 15 through to 17, known as the Bear Trap a daunting prospect. Water hazards lie in wait for the field and the 7,125-yard par 70 is extremely demanding from tee to green. Strong scrambling skills and players in control of their long game are likely to prosper this weekend although calmer conditions will make it slightly easier.
Daniel Berger is extremely comfortable playing in Florida and the two-time PGA Tour winner can challenge for the title this weekend. A wrist injury over the last year has stalled his career but there were encouraging signs for the 25-year-old at the Puerto Rico Open, where he topped the putting stats, on Sunday where a closing round of 66 helped the American finish tied for second.
Berger, who has twice won the St Jude Classic, is an excellent putter on Bermuda greens and he has enjoyed success at the course. As a PGA Tour rookie, he surged through the field in 2015 with a round of 64 to force a play-off where he was beaten by Padraig Harrington. Berger was also inside the top 30 last year and there is no doubting his talent after two top-12 finishes in the 2018 majors. Buoyed by his performance last week, Berger can contend at Palm Beach Gardens at 33/1 each way.
Michael Thompson returns to the scene of his career highlight in strong form and will be relishing this week. A brilliant short game was the key to his victory at the Honda Classic in 2013 which remains his sole PGA Tour title. He also fought back well from an opening 76 to finish tied 24th 12 months ago but his results this year are on a different level entirely.
Thompson has revived his career, after a run of impressive results since last autumn, carrying this momentum into 2019. His last four tournaments have seen him finish inside the top 13 with a tie for seventh at the Genesis Open on his most recent start. He is 47-under-par during this run and ninth on tour for strokes gained approaching the green. With this purple patch, it is worth backing Thompson at 50/1 each way.
Lucas Glover is also in a rich vein of form and the experienced American looks well placed to handle this week’s tough assignment. The 2009 US Open champion comes in off a tie for seventh at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am which followed on from a top 12 finish at the Desert Classic. Dating back to the start of the season, Glover boasts six top 20s from seven tournaments.
Glover also has some useful course form having finished fourth in 2013. He has also been inside the top 21 over the last two years here so will be confident about improving on that this week. His long game remains the strength of his game, sitting 13th in strokes gained tee to green and he is second for greens in regulation. Glover looks equipped to cope with the Bear Trap and merits support at 50/1 each way.
Russell Knox is based in Florida and very comfortable at PGA National. The Scot took an instant liking to it with a tie for second place on his first start at the tournament in 2014. He backed that up 12 months later with third spot and the precision golf required to handle this demanding track suits his tidy game from tee to green.
Knox has two PGA Tour victories including in an elite field at the WGC HSBC Champions in China. His last title came back in July at the Irish Open and he has started this season in solid form. A top ten in Phoenix was followed by 14th spot at Pebble Beach. A mid-division finish in Mexico was noteworthy for ranking sixth for greens in regulation. A return to a much more suitable course should aid his challenge and Knox is another 50/1 shot worth backing.
Sam Burns burst onto the scene last season in the Florida swing with several eye-catching performances including at this tournament. A tie for eighth at the Honda Classic was very impressive, especially as he coped with playing the final round alongside Tiger Woods and even beat his score by two shots.
Burns finished 12th on his next start at the Valspar Championship and enjoyed an excellent year on the Web.Com Tour topped by his win in April at the Savannah Championship. The 22-year-old started this season with a tie for third at the Sanderson Farms Championship and also managed a top 20 at the Desert Classic in January. A return to Florida should bring out the best in the much touted youngster and he is an outsider worth following at 150/1 each way.
Daniel Berger each way 33/1
Michael Thompson each way 50/1
Lucas Glover each way 50/1
Russell Knox each way 50/1
Sam Burns each way 150/1