Outside of the majors, it does not get much tougher than this on the PGA Tour.
Finally into the Florida swing, the Tour goes to the brutally tough PGA National Champions Course in Palm Beach Gardens for the next edition of the Honda Classic. In the past six years, only one player has reached double-digits under par (Rickie Fowler in 2017), and the course consistently ranks as one of the most difficult every year.
Defending champion Justin Thomas will be on hand, as will a handful of other elite players. We like these 15 most, however:
15. Stewart Cink
Coming off his best season in a long time, the 45-year-old Cink has not seen the results in 2019, yet, but he has still been solid, as nine of his 10 rounds have been in the 68-72 range, with the outlier being a second-round 62 at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Cink currently ranks fifth on Tour in strokes gained: around-the-green, and has a well-deserved reputation for being able to hit greens. It would be surprising if this is not his best start of the new year.
World Rank: 86th
Field Rank: 25th
Last Six: 50, MC, 20, MC, 70, 13
14. Alex Noren
Noren has been abysmal in 2019, but he has had so much success in his career (mostly abroad) and the short game is too good to write him off completely this week.
A year ago, Noren finished solo-third in this event, and that was despite a second-round 75. That tertiary finish was one of three top-3 finishes that the 36-year-old from Sweden had last year.
World Rank: 26th
Field Rank: 7th
Last Six: 62, 44, MC, 8, 9, 18
13. Daniel Berger
The Florida native finished runner-up in his 2014 debut in this event, falling short in a playoff to two-time event winner Padraig Harrington, but he has not done much at PGA National since.
He did, however, break a two-cut slump in Puerto Rico last week, finishing T2 at the opposite-field event. Berger’s short game has been mostly a disaster this season, but he is still an excellent shotmaker at a course that calls for it.
The two-time PGA Tour winner has two great starts and two terrible starts this year. Expect closer to the former this week.
World Rank: 67th
Field Rank: 19th
Last Six: 2, MC, MC, 12, 35, 15
12. Billy Horschel
The former FedExCup champion has not been great in 2019, but his best outing was at a similarly tough course to PGA National: a solo-eighth at Torrey Pines at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Horschel is one of the streakiest players on Tour; could this be the week he starts his next hot streak? He finished T4 here in 2017 and T8 in 2018, so it should not be shocking if he does. He will need to find the approach game that has recently eluded him, however.
World Rank: 39th
Field Rank: 12th
Last Six: 45, 39, 8, 25, 21, 11
11. Kiradech Aphibarnrat
As talented as the 29-year old from Thailand is, he has done surprisingly little in the States outside of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. In the current season, he has a T4, a T3, and four poor outings, with those two top-4s coming in two events outside the U.S. (one in China, one in Mexico).
That T3 was last week, however, so he should be feeling pretty good heading into his first try at PGA National. He was second in the field at Club de Golf Chapultepec in greens in regulation, in an outing where he was extraordinarily consistent, posting three 68s and a 69.
World Rank: 36th
Field Rank: 10th
Last Six: 3, MC, 33, MC, MC, 14
10. Michael Thompson
It feels like Thompson’s name has barely been uttered on Tour in recent years, but he has been quietly tremendous as of late, with his last four starts resulting in finishes of T9, T13, T10, and T7 respectively.
The strongest part of his game has been his irons, as he currently ranks 9th on Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green, a good sign for his chances at this shotmakers course.
Also, his one career victory? It came here in 2013. He will likely fall back down to earth soon, but it would be a mistake to expect it this week.
World Rank: 136th
Field Rank: 47th
Last Six: 7, 10, 13, 9, 69, MC
9. Brooks Koepka
The world No. 4 has been in a bit of a slump lately, posting three consecutive poor results. He is a local, which in many cases would be a good thing, but it does not seem to have helped Koepka here much; his best showing in five Honda Classic start was a T26 three years ago.
Still, he is way too talented to count out in any week, and the field is not especially strong. He has more than shown that he can contend at tough courses, having claimed three of his past six major championship starts.
World Rank: 4th
Field Rank: 2nd
Last Six: 27, 57, 9, 24, 12, 16
8. Webb Simpson
Simpson was surprisingly mediocre in Mexico last week (T39), but that is an anomaly for him over the past year, as he has posted eleven top 10s, in addition to a plethora of other top 25s.
He seems to shine at difficult courses, which makes him a solid bet at PGA National this week, a place where he finished T5 last year off the strength of two impressive 66s. Also helping Simpson’s chances is that he is currently ranked 3rd on Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green.
World Rank: 21st
Field Rank: 4th
Last Six: 39, 20, 8, 3, 15, 4
7. Cameron Smith
This will be the talented Aussie’s first career start at PGA National, which does not help his chances, but this is still a man who has established himself as one of the best players on Tour over the past 12 months.
Six of his eight PGA Tour starts this year have resulted in a finish of 22nd or better, including a T6 against a very strong field in Mexico last week.
Smith could not miss in the short game last week, finishing 3rd in the field in strokes gained: around the green, 4th in strokes gained: putting, and 3rd in scrambling. Everything outside of his driver has been clicking this season.
World Rank: 24th
Field Rank: 6th
Last Six: 6, 49, 15, 9, 22, 1
6. Luke List
List very nearly won this event last year, playing solidly all four days, until Justin Thomas got the better of him on the first playoff hole. It is surprising that List has not yet added that career victory No. 1, but he clearly likes PGA National, and it feels like a good bet that he will contend.
He has three top 15s on the new season and currently ranks third on Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee. List also finished T10 here in the 2016 edition, and in 2017, he opened with two rounds of 68 before fading on the weekend.
World Rank: 69th
Field Rank: 20th
Last Six: 15, MC, 40, MC, 4, MC
5. Sergio Garcia
With some arguably petulant behavior, Sergio has not made a lot of fans in the new year, but it cannot be argued that he is playing some really good golf. He finished T6 in Mexico last week, finishing 10-under for the week, largely off the strength of a tremendous approach game, which is important at PGA National.
He also posted two top-7 finishes last month in European Tour events. In addition to hot recent form, Sergio also has a great history in this event. His best outing came three years ago, when he lost to Adam Scott in a playoff, but he also posted top 15 finishes in two other of his past four starts here.
World Rank: 29th
Field Rank: 8th
Last Six: 6, 37, DQ, 3, 7, 6
4. Gary Woodland
He did not contend last week in Mexico, although a T17 in the elite 72-man field is far from disappointing. For the season, Woodland has been fantastic; his six top 10s in just nine starts ties a career high, and is double what he posted in 27 starts last year.
He ranks very highly on Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee and greens in regulation, and he has played well at PGA National before, finishing runner-up to Rickie Fowler in 2017.
World Rank: 23rd
Field Rank: 5th
Last Six: 17, 7, 9, 80, 2, 8
3. Adam Scott
The 2016 Honda Classic champion has been very hit-or-miss in February. He played poorly and finished outside the top 60 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
In his other start, he played fantastically through three rounds at the Genesis Open, reaching the final pairing, but absolutely imploding with a 76 in round four. For the season though, Scott has been much more good than not, and his game in its current form is a phenomenal fit at a PGA National Course that he routinely plays great at.
World Rank: 31st
Field Rank: 9th
Last Six: 7, 61, 2, MC, 18, 10
2. Rickie Fowler
The 2017 Honda Classic champion has been up-and-down in the new season. He did not play well in Mexico last week, but his previous start was a victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
He seems to be alternating between good and poor starts, and if he keeps the trend going, he is in for a good showing this week.
Fowler ranks in the top 5 on Tour in both scoring and birdie average, which can be largely credited to a hot putter.
World Rank: 9th
Field Rank: 3rd
Last Six: 36, 1, 66, 5, 16, 4
1. Justin Thomas
The defending champion has to be the favorite this week. He has not added a win in the 2019 season yet, but he has been in the top 16 of his past five starts, including a runner-up, two third places, and a ninth in Mexico last week, where he closed with a field low 9-under 62.
Thomas currently ranks second on Tour in both scoring and birdie average, and even with PGA National not being a scoring course, his all-around game is too good to knock him down any. Besides, he is still 21st on Tour in bogey avoidance.
There could be some questions if he holds the 54-hole lead, but overall? He is an easy No. 1 at the Honda Classic.
World Rank: 3rd
Field Rank: 1st
Last Six: 9, 2, 3, 16, 3, 12
Five More: Russell Henley, Padraig Harrington, Zach Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Danny Lee