A close look at the chances of the leading contenders at the Honda Classic

The PGA Tour’s Florida Swing moves to Palm Beach for the Honda Classic hosted by the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA National.

After the thrills and spills of the last few weeks the Honda Classic has a lot to live up to.

In fact, pretty much every PGA Tour stop in 2021 has provided a top class finale.

Hawaii kicked things off with Harris English's playoff victory in the Tournament of Champions and Kevin Na's weekend blitz at Waialae.

The West Coast Swing witnessed Patrick Reed conquering Torrey Pines and yet more controversy, Brooks Koepka rediscovering the winning touch in Arizona, and Max Homa claiming an emotional victory on the Riviera course he walked as a young boy.

Then Bryson DeChambeau biffed up both Bay Hill and Lee Westwood, before Justin Thomas sliced through the field at last week's PLAYERS Championship.

High quality winners, dramatic conclusions, great golf.

Can we expect more of the same this week?

It's a tall order, but PGA National is a course good enough to have hosted the 1983 PGA Championship and it is a beast of a place.

Originally designed by Tom Fazio, it has twice been renovated by Jack Nicklaus and holes 15, 16 and 17 are better known as 'The Bear Trap' - a brutal stretch that can tear a good card to shreds.

Expect a blustery wind this week - it's something of a given and it regularly sorts the wheat from the chaff in this event.

Let's take a closer look at the leading contenders.

Daniel Berger (10/1 with Paddy Power)

He lives up the road and that local knowledge has born fruit in the past, with second on debut in 2015 and fourth last year. He was also in contention for most of the 2018 event before dropping away on Sunday.

On paper he's a great fit for the test again. Strokes Gained Tee to Green is a category winners here thrive in and Berger has shone with the long game during the last 15 month. He's also become a superb scrambler, another key stat here, leading the seasonal rankings last year.

He's in the form of his life with 15 top 25 finishes from his last 25 starts, two of them wins including the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. The only worry would be that he's a short price on a course that can play tough and where the weather can be capricious.

Sungjae Im (12/1 with Paddy Power)

On debut in 2019 the rising Korean star gave a hint that he liked the test, striking a second round 64 to share the halfway lead. By the end of the week he had drifted to T51st, but a year later he maintained the run to the line.

Even then, he had to recover from a first round 72 that left him on the cut line, but 66-70-66 to finish saw him win by one shot and lift a first PGA Tour title.

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He's not made the top 10 since his first start of the year, but he's bubbling: he's always played four rounds and has featured in the top 10 at some stage in each of the last three weeks. Waved goodbye to Sawgrass with a Sunday 66.

Joaquin Niemann (18/1 with Paddy Power)

Opened 2021 with runner-up finishes in both the Tournament of Champions and Sony Open in Hawaii and then found himself second at halfway in his next start, the Genesis Invitational.

However he ended that week T43rd and has been T28th-T29th in his two Florida Swing starts. He's a fine talent, and that Hawaii form shows he can play in the wind, but it's a short price.

He's also yet to display much on the course, going T59th-MC and in six laps he is yet to break the par of 70.

Lee Westwood (20/1 with Paddy Power)

An undoubted star of the Florida Swing so far and, but for two sensational performances by Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas, it's entirely possible that he'd have claimed a win. Instead, he's logged two 54-hole leads that became 72-hole second places.

The cynics would say "classic Westwood", but that would be churlish in the extreme - he's been very, very impressive. That said, he has also admitted to being tired and this is a fourth week on the road and another tough test.

That has to be a concern, but he does boast a very solid course record. Given how much it batters many into submission, his 7-for-7 logbook is extraordinary and it also includes four top 10s.

Shane Lowry (22/1 with Paddy Power)

The Irishman woke from something of a slumber last week in finishing tied eighth at THE PLAYERS. It was his first top 10 finish anywhere since August last year and just a third since he won the 2019 Open.

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His Sawgrass effort was also noteworthy stats-wise because he ranked fourth for Scrambling and 11th for SG Tee to Green which, as we've established, are important aspects of the game when playing at PGA National.

At first glance his course record is average with three cuts made but a best of only T21st last year. Look closer and he lay tied fifth after the first round on debut in 2016 and was bang in the mix at halfway 12 months ago. Won't be afraid of the wind.

Adam Scott (22/1 with Paddy Power)

Played the par-3 17th hole in sensational fashion through three rounds last week (kick-in birdies every time) and then it bit back on Sunday when he found water and made double bogey-5 as he finished T48th.

He did grab T10th at Torrey Pines earlier this year but that is his only top 20 finish since he won back-to-back at home in Australia and then at the Genesis Invitational last February. He also hasn't gone sub-71 in his eight Florida Swing rounds this year.

He's got a good course record, however. He won here in 2016, added three top 20s either side of that, in-between missing the cut on debut and in his last appearance in 2019.

Russell Henley (25/1 with Paddy Power)

The 2014 winner and that successful week is far from the only time that he has thrived on this track: he's 7-for-8 at making the cut, was T13th on debut, and tied eight last year.

The stats also like him: he's been high up in the SG Tee to Green and Scrambling stats both this season and last.

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Since getting off to a flier in the Sony Open, where he was fourth with 18 holes to play, his form has been a little chequered however. He finished that week T11th, thrashed a third round 65 in Scottsdale, but missing the cut last week at Sawgrass might be no bad thing ahead of a tough test.

Talor Gooch (30/1 with Paddy Power)

One of the circuit's most consistent performer, he has landed three top five finishes this season, the most recent of them last week at Sawgrass. He'd be in many observers notebooks as a likely first-time winner sooner or later.

Will it be here though? He missed the cut on debut in 2018 and in two starts since then has been very consistent: always opening with a 71, always going sub-70 in round two, always shooting a big Saturday number, always responding with another score in the 60s on Sunday, but T20th is his best finish.

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