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Cognizant Classic tips: Reigning champion Chris Kirk ready to pounce again if Rory McIlroy falters

The USPGA Tour heads across the country to the east coast, where the Cognizant Classic kickstarts the Florida swing, with golf pundit Martin Colwell casting his eye over the star-studded field.

Cognizant Classic key stats:

  • When: February 29 - March 3 2024
  • Where: PGA National Championship Course, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
  • How long: 7,125 yards - par 71
  • What to expect: Exposed layout, tough bunkering and tricky rough - gets tough when the win blows
  • Who won last year: Chris Kirk (-14)

After 40-plus years of being known as the Honda Classic, the new sponsor will not change the nature of this competitive event, although we’re confronted with a top-heavy betting market as Rory McIlroy turns up as the stand-out name in the line-up.

On paper, his game should be far superior to anyone else in this field, so he’s impossible to leave out of our reckoning, although Tony Finau was much the same in Mexico last week and the American failed to deliver.

Suggested bet: Rory McIlroy (7/1) each-way in the Cognizant Classic

 

If Rory falters, then Cam Young could have a great chance to break his Tour duck here after being bridesmaid on six occasions, while Russell Henley has placed form on this course and his accurate ball-striking skills look an ideal fit for this set-up.

We were perhaps a tad premature in calling McIlroy the only A-lister in the field, as that would be a disservice to his Ryder Cup team-mate and former US Open Champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who loves the kind of difficult course that he will face this week, and he obviously has the game to make a nonsense of his pre-tournament odds.

The same case could be made for the always threatening Sungjae Im and Tom Kim, who have not quite kicked their undoubted talent into gear yet this season, while Australian Min Woo Lee would be there or thereabouts every week if he could cut out the unforced errors. 

The big Austrian Sepp Straka won here in 2022 and also placed last year, and while inconsistent generally, this could be right up his street this week.

Chris Kirk is the defending champion and also placed in 2022, so this tournament might come at just the right time to spark a revival to his faltering campaign.

He hit the ground running when winning The Sentry in Hawaii in January, but was never in contention in his three subsequent outings before missing the cut completely when last seen at the Genesis Invitational two weeks ago.

If we can forgive that last performance as a one-off blip, then odds of 28/1 it might be considered as generous for a defending champion who has already got a Tour win under his belt this season.

Suggested bet: Chris Kirk (28/1) each-way in the Cognizant Classic

 

Outsiders to watch:

  • Akshay Bhatia (55/1) - undoubted talent who appears to be just a modicum of consistency away from landing his first Tour success
  • Brandon Wu (70/1) - A streak golfer who made a bad start last week before coming through the field to place, and his price could look very big if he can bring that form to Florida.
  • Robert MacIntyre (80/1) - Ryder Cup hero Bobby Mac found his form to place last week in Mexico, and his game should fit this course well if only he can get off to a decent start.
  • Parker Coody (125/1) - A star golfer at collegiate level, with a rich family pedigree - his grandfather, Charles, won The Masters in the 70s, and his twin brother Pierceson is also playing in this tournament. 

Suggested bet: Brandon Wu (70/1) each-way in the Cognizant Classic

 

Suggested bet summary:

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