Read The Line Betting Breakdown: Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

Read The Line Betting Breakdown: Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

This article is part of our Golf Picks series.

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2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches: Let's All Be Cognizant

Let's get real, we have 15 days until THE PLAYERS Championship and approximately 40 (days) until round one at Augusta National. One player in the top 10 of the OWGR has won this year (Wyndham Clark) and Jake Knapp just stole the show in Mexico. We all love a Cinderella story, but to be honest, the stars need to step up. Thirteen of the top 40 in the world rankings are in the field for the Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches. Rory McIlroy is the favorite and playing for the first time since 2018.

I believe there's a serious sense of urgency at the top of the betting board. You cannot blame the TOUR's distractions for why the favorites aren't winning. Tiger's influence over the evolution of professional players is real and the young guns are proving it. All 144 players will have their hands full in Palm Beach Gardens. PGA National's Champion Course is historically one of the toughest non-major tests on the schedule. Known for "The Bear Trap" (holes 15, 16, 17) the layout has water in play on 15 of the 18 holes!

The TOUR has competed on the Champion course since 2007. For the 2024 edition, we have one slight change to the scorecard. The tenth hole is going to be a par 5 (530 yards) rather than a par 4. Par is now 71 and the yardage measures 7,147 yards. The average winning score over the last decade is 9 under par. Will this alteration affect the field enough to change our approach, definitely not. People get hung up on par, but lowest score wins. Players will still make 3s, 4s, and 5s there. The television total may look a little different, but overall, this small advantage against par is not a key factor in handicapping the event.

I'd like to focus more on course conditions. Through December and January, the Palm Beach region received nearly 10" of rain. It has been a difficult winter for the agronomy team. Rain brings clouds and grass needs the sun to survive and flourish. The Bermudagrass fairways, tees, and greens along with the overseeded Ryegrass rough is in fair condition. The penalty for missing the fairway will be reduced this year giving length a considerable advantage. Temperatures are expected in the low 80s, high humidity, and the breeze blowing. That will keep the ball flying especially in the Bear Trap which will be playing downwind all week.

Even with less aggressive rough conditions, players do need to keep the ball in play. Almost every hole has a penalty area. The best ball strikers and short game aficionados excel at PGA National. The par 3s are a great microcosm for the challenges of the Champion. All four play over par and have an average bogey rate of 18%. If 20% of the field is struggling with these holes, they are important to pay attention too. TV will promote the Bear Trap all week, but the three holes stretch of five, six, and seven on the front play to a cumulative score greater than the back nine trap.

Thirteen holes have a bogey rate over 15% while only seven holes have a birdie rate over the same value. This is partly why scoring volatility at PGA National is so common. In the last 14 years, seven winners held pre-tournament odds of +8000 or higher. Conversely, seven winners in that same time had odds of +3500 or lower! For every Justin Thomas, Adam Scott or Rickie Fowler who has won, we have a Keith Mitchell, Sepp Straka and Russell Henley.

2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches: Keep it in Play

RTL won here with Chris Kirk (+3000) in a playoff over Eric Cole last year. Both names will be mentioned frequently this week. Their skill set fits this test quite well. Each is excellent with a wedge and keeps the ball in play. Having played the Champion Course and been on-site for this event in 2023, I know the simple keys to winning. Recent champions (last 10 years) display a well-rounded skill set, but a couple trends really catch my attention. The last ten winners have gained over six strokes on the par 3s. Par-3s require two very important skills, approach and around the green play.

Those same winners gained over six strokes (average) on approach in the year they won. The field secures well below the TOUR average of GIRs. This week we are selecting GIR machines. Getting up and down to save par is even more important than hitting the fairway historically. If 10 under par wins in seven of the last 10 years, then bogey avoidance is key. You won't hit all 16 par 3 GIR opportunities and saving a stroke or two with your short game is imperative.

The last five winners have gained over seven GIRs on the field which creates more realistic birdie chances. The greens at PGA National's Champion course aren't small at 7,000 sq/ft (on average). Wind, design, and pressure all add to the anxiety of the moment(s). Bermudagrass can befuddle some, but we know who the good putters are on Florida greens. The putting is not nearly as difficult as the ball striking on these 18-holes. Players tend to make more putts than the PGA TOUR average at lengths greater than 5' from the hole. The greens are pretty flat. Read the beak correctly, and you can make a bunch of sub-par scores.

I'm also favoring guys this week who start quickly. Over the last 14 years, every winner has been inside the top nine (and within five shots) of the lead after 36-holes. Comebacks at PGA National are near impossible. The course has not had a cutline below one over par in those 14 years as well. Sixty bunkers, fifteen holes with water, and precisely placed palm trees define landing areas and keep the driving accuracy below the weekly TOUR average. Going back to an earlier point, I think we will see a much more aggressive approach off the tee this year and that adjustment by the competitors will create an edge. To compound this point, PGA National has added an acre of fairway grass since last year to the 18-holes.

Diving deeper into the field, past winners have gained on the par 4s. If you want to make the weekend cut (top 65 and ties) and grab a piece of that $9 million dollar purse, then you will need to win the battle between BoB% and bogey avoidance. Scrambling plays a big role in scoring this week. Not just saving par but scoring on those three par 5s from close range. When you break down the approach scoring, the biggest scoring separation happens in the 175-200 yard range.

A majority of the winners in the last decade have come in showing good form. This event has moved several times on the calendar, so the lead up tournaments are not as important as the ability to contend recently.

2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches: Outright Winners

Russell Henley (+2800)

PGA National was built for a player like Henley.

  • Henley is sixth in the field in par-4 scoring and seventh SG: T2G.
  • Russell's best surface is Bermudagrass by a mile.
  • Hard courses favor Henley, he hits fairways and greens more consistently than a majority of the TOUR.
  • This will become a GIR contest, and Russell is ranked top 15 for GIRs gained.

J.T. Poston (+3500)

Poston continues to play exceptional golf. Starting 2024, he has finished 5-6-11-20-MC-10.

  • We know JT can putt and Bermudagrass is his best surface. He has won on it.
  • Poston has 10 top 20s in his last 15 starts.
  • JT ranks thirteenth T2G and second in par 4 scoring.
  • Poston is ranked third in BoB% mainly due to the combination of his approach and putting.
  • In his last five starts, he is positive in every SG category and gains and average +5 strokes per event.

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