down cross

No reason to doubt Thomas hopes in Honda

Justin Thomas in action at last week's Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club
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Sky Sports 4, 7pm Thursday
Tournament starts midday

Palmer's top tip
Justin Thomas 18-1

Three victories early in the season – the CIMB Classic, SBS Tournament of Champions and Sony Open – have made Justin Thomas a prime FedEx Cup contender and the brilliant youngster can keep his pedal to the metal on home turf this week.

Thomas was nothing short of awesome in Hawaii at the start of the year, winning by three shots at Kapalua before opening with a 59 on his way to a seven-shot romp in the Sony. His power has been harnessed at the age of 23 and he has become a ball-striking colossus.

Keeping up the pace set in Hawaii was impossible and Thomas missed the cut by a shot in Phoenix on his return to action. That is no reason for alarm, though, and neither was his share of 39th place in the Genesis Open last week. Bad weather scuppered the chances of the late starters in the Genesis and Thomas was in the half of the draw who were seriously handicapped.

Putting standards dipped in Phoenix and Los Angeles, but Thomas is still bursting with long-game confidence. That tee-to-green assurance should stand him in excellent stead this week at PGA National, where finding the dancefloors in regulation is far from straightforward.

Thomas moved to Palm Beach Gardens in December, 2014, building an intimate knowledge of the Champion Course at PGA National. He teed up in poor form there for last year's Honda, but finished in third place, underlining his comfort on this terrain.

Thomas was also third in last year's Players Championship – he is a proven Florida performer – and there are grounds for believing this massively in-form local lad should be Honda favourite. Thomas has one of the best caddies in the business alongside him in Jimmy Johnson.


Next best
Rickie Fowler 18-1

The main threat to Thomas may be his good pal Rickie Fowler, who also relishes a difficult tee-to-green test in the Sunshine State. Fowler appears to be peaking for one of his favourite assignments.

Fowler went bogey-free for the final 44 holes of the Phoenix Open last time out – and he made only two bogeys all week – on his way to finishing in fourth place. It was such a tidy performance and one which will be rewarded even more handsomely if repeated at PGA National.

Fowler, world number four this time last year, has hinted he is getting his act together again. Sixth place in the WGC-HSBC Champions and third in the Hero World Challenge were encouraging pre-Christmas outings. The Honda will go a long way to deciding whether he will join Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson as a serious American candidate for the Green Jacket in April.

Fowler was seventh as a US Tour maiden in the 2012 Honda, with Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods among those who finished ahead of him, then 13th the following year. The closest he has come to Honda glory was when leading at the halfway stage 12 months ago, before events of the previous week appeared to impact on him mentally and he ended up in sixth spot.

Fowler threw the Phoenix Open title away with late blunders, suffering a painful playoff defeat to Hideki Matsuyama, and a third-round 74 in the Honda followed six days later. This time, the fresh and firing 28-year-old looks much better equipped to sustain a 72-hole Honda challenge.

Fowler, who has lived in Florida for six years, won the 2015 Players Championship in majestic fashion and could follow up on another tough Florida layout this week.

Other selection
Kevin Kisner 45-1

A disdain for poa annua greens means Kevin Kisner usually skips the West Coast Swing of the US Tour and he rarely performs well in California. His friend Charles Kelley, a country singer, convinced Kisner to team up with him in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am this year, though, and the result was eyecatching.

Kisner tied for tenth place at Pebble, underlining how solid a state his game is in at the moment. His previous visits to Pebble yielded two missed cuts, and shares of 39th and 64th. Kisner has started the new year with renewed focus and polish, finishing fourth in the Sony Open and 25th in the CareerBuilder Challenge. He missed a putt for a 59 in the Sony.

A return to the east coast of America, and putting surfaces on which he is comfortable, should bring even more success. The 2015 RSM Classic champion has excelled in the Players Championship before, losing a playoff to Fowler two years ago, and the Honda layout appears equally suitable.

Others to note
Adam Scott
The defending champ was swinging nicely at Riviera last week, but 11th place was nothing special from perfect tee-times. His only successful title defence was on the Asian Tour (Singapore Open). Obvious runner but no value

Sergio Garcia
The mercurial Spaniard was runner-up to Scott last year on a track which rewards their ball-striking quality in spades. Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic earlier in the month and must be respected

Charles Howell
The Florida-based money-making machine has churned out seven top-15 finishes in a row on the US Tour. Top-20 finish backers are raking it in

Daniel Berger
The 2015 Rookie of the Year is a born and bred Floridian who lost a playoff for the Honda two years ago. He won the 2009 FCWT National Championship, a top junior event, at PGA National

Russell Knox
The accurate, Florida-based Scot has twice finished in the top three in this event (2014 and 2015), and has since won his first two US Tour titles

Emiliano Grillo
The Argentinian has made a scrappy start to the year, but PGA National suits him and his Tour victory came in Florida

Staking plan
J Thomas
2pts each-way 18-1 Coral, Power

R Fowler
2pts each-way 18-1 Sky Bet

K Kisner
1pt each-way 45-1 BetBright, bet365

Course PGA National (Champion Course), Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

Prize money $6.4m ($1.098m to the winner)

Length 7,140 yards

Par 70

Field 144

Course records – 72 holes 267 Camilo Villegas (2010) 18 holes 61 Brian Harman (2012)

Course winners taking part Mark Wilson, Ernie Els, Camilo Villegas, Rory Sabbatini, Michael Thompson, Russell Henley, Padraig Harrington, Adam Scott

When to bet By noon tomorrow

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 7pm tomorrow

Time difference Florida is five hours behind the UK and Ireland

Last week – Genesis Open 1 D Johnson (9-1), T2 T Pieters (125-1), S Brown (300-1), T4 J Rose (28-1), W Bryan (400-1), K Na (125-1), C Hoffman (200-1)

Course overview The Champion Course is one of the toughest layouts on the US Tour and was designed by George Fazio with a view to staging major professional tournaments. The 1983 Ryder Cup and the 1987 USPGA Championship were held there, before Jack Nicklaus oversaw a 1990 redesign. The Honda Classic has been at this venue since 2007, and 72-hole totals of just six under par or worse have been enough to top the leaderboard on three occasions. The back-nine is particularly difficult, while the famous Bear Trap – a trio of brutal holes from the 15th to the 17th – are where the event is often won and lost. The two par-fives – the third and the 18th – are where players will expect to pick up shots on the card. The 365-yard, downhill par-four first is another golden birdie opportunity

Story of last year Adam Scott edged Sergio Garcia by a shot in a thrilling duel, the Australian ending a 21-month US Tour victory drought

Weather forecast A breezy, thundery opening day is expected to make way for three calmer, sunnier days

Type of player suited to challenge The Champion Course, with heavy bunkering and plenty of water hazards, is a strong tee-to-green test where only crisp ball-striking will produce results. Accurate grinders typically flourish

Key attribute Accuracy

Bad weather scuppered the chances of the late starters in the Genesis and Thomas was in the half of the draw who were seriously handicapped
E.W. Terms
Sky bet