2024 Cognizant Classic Preview

2024 Cognizant Classic Preview

A new name. But the same tournament you know and love. The PGA Tour heads back to the East Coast for the newly minted 2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches from PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. As always, here is your early look at the 2024 Cognizant Classic and a preview of how to bet.

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2024 Cognizant Classic Preview

The Field

All the non-signature event fields are struggling to attract top names. But because the tournament is a stones throw from many mansions owned by stars on the PGA Tour, there are more than a few recognizable names at the 2024 Cognizant Classic.

Highlighting the field is Rory McIlroy. Rory’s success at this tournament is mixed. He won this tournament in 2012 and lost in a playoff in 2014. But sandwiched in between these finishes was one of his most immature moments as a professional.

After sending his second shot into the lake on the Par 5 18th, he walked off the course and withdrew. He later apologized, but people don’t forget.

Rory comes into the 2024 Cognizant Classic in not the best of form. After getting a win in Dubai, his West Coast swing left much to be desired. He’ll try and right the ship on a golf course where he’s seen past success.

Other notables in the field include Daniel Berger, Matt Fitzpatrick, Rickie Fowler, Sungjae Im, Tom Kim, Shane Lowry, J.T. Poston, Justin Rose, and Cameron Young.

For the full field, click here.

The Golf Course

In 2007, the Honda Classic was moved to PGA National after a major investment in the golf course by a few private equity groups. The Champions Course at PGA National has held the Honda Classic ever since.

Tom Fazio and his uncle George built the Champion Course at PGA National in 1981 in order to host the 1983 Ryder Cup. In 2002, Jack Nicklaus tackled the course for a redesign in order to have it ready to host a tournament on the PGA Tour.

Among the changes Nicklaus made was the re-routing of Hole No. 14, more water hazards and bunkers, new tee boxes to increase the length of the golf course, and green enhancements.

Jack Nicklaus has made quite a name for himself in golf course design, and the PGA Tour makes stops at several of his golf courses. This includes Muirfield Village, the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West, The Concession Golf Club, and Valhalla. He has a reputation for creating golf courses that are demanding and penal. The Champion Course at PGA National is no exception:

Penal. Narrow. Unimaginative. Those are words to describe PGA National. There is trouble lurking everywhere on the golf course.

Most fairways are no wider than 30 yards, and almost all are pinched in with a bunker. While, as advertised, the tournament boasts overseeded ryegrass rough, players will get inconsistent lies out of it as the bermuda begins to emerge from dormancy.

And there is water everywhere. Literally everywhere. There are only four holes on the golf course where a water hazard isn’t theoretically in play. Some holes require a much bigger miss to reach the water than others. But they’re still there and still accessible with a very poor shot.

Not only is this a tough layout for most amateurs, but this time of the year, the wind plays a major factor on the golf course. Wind plays havoc on shot trajectories and dries out the greens. When this happens, balls ricochet off the rock-hard surfaces. All in all, this tournament provides some of the stiffest tournament conditions on the PGA Tour.

If you’re someone who likes to watch a PGA Tour event and see low scores, birdies, and players firing at pins, this event likely isn’t for you. But if you’re someone who watches NASCAR for the crashes, well buckle up – you’re in for a weekend full of funnies and fails where some of the best players in the world are humbled:

The most notable part of the golf course is “The Bear Trap,” which is a nightmarish stretch from holes 15 to 17.

There’s nothing spectacular about these holes. The 15th and 17th are basically the same holes. They are moderately long Par 3s over the water towards elongated greens with a back greenside bunker.

On the 16th, the fairway runs out 280 yards off the tee and creates a forced layup. All three approach shots into the green require a left-to-right shot shape. Nicklaus often played a fade, so it’s no surprise a fade is required to succeed in this stretch.

But what makes this stretch of holes brutal is that they all run smack into the prevailing ENE winds. That increases the difficulty significantly.

The high fades that are required to reach the greens can get caught up in the wind and end up in the water. The wind swats those shot shapes like Dikembe Mutombo, and the strokes pile up in a hurry.

Betting Strategies

To begin the betting strategies for the 2024 Cognizant Classic, here is general information about the Champions Course at PGA National.

Yardage: 7,147 Yards

Par: 71

  • Typically, this tournament plays as a Par 70. However, this year, the 10th will revert back to its natural state as a Par 5. All Par 5s will be under 570 yards. However, with water lurking on all of them, a birdie isn’t a guarantee.

Fairway Width: ~30 yards on average

  • The fairways were actually widened a bit for the 2024 Cognizant Classic. In the last few years, the fairways were only 25-30 yards wide. Now they’re about 30-35 yards wide. The widths were restored to what they were back in 2012.

Average Green Size: ~7,000 sq. feet

  • The greens at PGA National are on the bigger size for PGA Tour standards.

Agronomy

  • Greens: TifEagle Bermuda – 12 on stimpmeter
  • Fairways: Celebration Bermuda
  • Rough: Ryegrass Overseed – 2-2.5″

Those who want to simply isolate bermuda putting for handicapping the tournament should do fine. However, for those who prefer to isolate just TifEagle specifically, here are golf courses that feature non-overseeded TifEagle greens:

  • Plantation Course at Kapalua – The Sentry
  • Sea Island – RSM Classic
  • Albany – Hero World Challenge
  • The Concession Golf Club – WGC Concession
  • Bay Hill – Arnold Palmer Invitational

Past Champions

  • 2023: Chris Kirk (-14, playoff)
  • 2022: Sepp Straka (-10)
  • 2021: Matt Jones (-12)
  • 2020: Sungjae Im (-6)
  • 2019: Keith Mitchell (-9)

As shown below in the predictive skillset chart, this is a pretty eclectic group of past champions. Keith Mitchell hits it a long way. Sungjae Im and Chris Kirk do not. Matt Jones is primarily known for his scrambling abilities but a lack of ball striking. Sepp Straka is a really good iron player but horrible around the green.

There doesn’t seem to be one dominating trait that links the last five winners at PGA National. It could be that the overabundance of water at the golf course can make the outcome of this tournament a bit random at times.

Average Scoring

  • 2023: +0.21
  • 2022: +1.30
  • 2021: +1.11

Historically, PGA National is one of the toughest golf courses on the PGA Tour in terms of scoring averages. Of all golf courses played on the PGA Tour since 2015, PGA National has the 16th-highest scoring average. 

The toughest part of PGA National is, by far, its collection of Par 3s. Of all golf courses featured on the PGA Tour since 2015, PGA National has the 6th toughest collection of Par 3s. And eight times in the last nine years they’ve played as one of the top five most difficult in any given season, including the toughest in 2018.

The Par 4s aren’t a cakewalk, either. Since 2015, PGA National has featured the 23rd toughest collection of Par 4s, including one of the top 12 toughest in any given season in seven of the last nine years.

Between the abundance of water hazards and, at times, windy conditions, PGA National delivers a stern test of golf every season on the PGA Tour. And it tests these guys specifically in the ball-striking categories. Since 2015, PGA National features the 11th toughest conditions off-the-tee and the 3rd toughest approach shots of all golf courses played on the PGA Tour.

Due to the positioning of water hazards, bunkers, and bottlenecked fairways, players often keep drivers in the bag at PGA National. Since 2015, the average driving distance of all drives is 277.1.

Last year, the average driving distance at PGA National was only 281.5. Only five golf courses featured shorter average drives than PGA National. Players who typically are comfortable pounding driver aren’t in such a comfortable position at PGA National.

In addition, PGA National historically features the 2nd toughest approach shots on shots over 150 yards of all golf courses played on the PGA Tour since 2015. This is almost all attributable to the numerous water hazards surrounding the greens, especially on the Par 3s.

Those who can keep the ball in front of them with solid driving and accurate iron play will do quite well at PGA National. Those who don’t show up with at least a B game this week won’t last long.

Predictive Skillsets

Here is the relative skillset chart of the types of characteristics that are most predictive of success at PGA National (per DataGolf). This chart is a preview of the types of players one would expect to do well at the 2024 Cognizant Classic.

2024 Cognizant Classic Preview

This chart isn’t all that helpful. The only trend that reveals itself is that a player’s driving accuracy skill isn’t predictive of success at PGA National.

This is likely due to players opting to keep driver in the bag for most of the week. As such, it levels the playing field between inaccurate players and accurate ones. There’s a higher rate of players who choose a club they can better control off the tee.

Otherwise, there aren’t any other skill sets that are more predictive of success at PGA National than the typical PGA Tour event. In fact, there’s slightly less correlation in approach play skill around the green skill and putting skill. It suggests more randomness to the outcome of the tournament.

With as much water in play at PGA National, particularly with the approach shot, a bad stretch of holes at the wrong time will sink anyone.

In Tournament Success

Here is a chart showing how players have separated themselves from the field at PGA National when compared to the average PGA Tour golf course over the last three years (per DataGolf). This shows what skill sets are more rewarded in the tournament in order to fare better or worse than the field.

2023

2024 Cognizant Classic Preview

2022

2024 Cognizant Classic Preview

2021

2024 Cognizant Classic Preview

These charts are much more helpful than the predictive chart above. Generally speaking, better iron play in tournaments is the best path toward separating oneself on the leaderboard. Intuitively, this makes sense.

Given how much water is around the greens at PGA National, there is a wide delta in your score on a hole on shots that avoid the water and ones that find the water.

So, players who hit their irons the best all week stand a better chance of not piling up penalty strokes. It’s not exactly rocket science.

And generally, off-the-tee play isn’t that impactful towards success at PGA National. In 2021, it was, but in both 2022 and 2023, in-tournament off-the-tee was not a great way to separate yourself from the field.

Given how often players keep driver in the bag at PGA National to play positional golf, everyone has roughly the same objective off the tee and trying to hit it into the same spot.

As far as around the green and putting, their importance has varied year to year in both this three-year stretch and stretching farther back into the mid-2010s. These two areas have been less reliable in previewing what to expect at the 2024 Cognizant Classic.

Approach Shot Proximity

Here is the approach shot proximity buckets for PGA National (per DataGolf). This will preview what types of approach shots players are expected to hit at the 2024 Cognizant Classic.

2024 Cognizant Classic Preview

Last week at the Mexico Open, it was primarily a test of how well players hit their iron shots from 175 yards or longer. This week, however, it is pretty clearly defined as a test from between 125-200 yards. 

There is a higher concentration of approach shots from these ranges than the typical PGA Tour venue. Specifically, about 45% of all shots will come from between 150-200 yards.

Follow the tips in this preview, and one should put together a solid betting card and DFS lineup for the 2024 Cognizant Classic.

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