The PGA Tour continues to may its way through Florida this week when it heads to Bay Hill for the popular Arnold Palmer Invitational, one of the better events which leads us into The Masters which is now just five weeks away.
Bryson DeChambeau warmed up for Augusta in style here last year when he took this tournament down in an epic final day duel with Lee Westwood. The champion isn’t here to defend the title though so we will get a different winner this week.
2021 – Bryson DeChambeau
2020 – Tyrrell Hatton
2019 – Francesco Molinari
2018 – Rory McIlroy
2017 – Marc Leishman
2016 – Jason Day
2015 – Matt Every
2014 – Matt Every
2013 – Tiger Woods
2012 – Tiger Woods
We are back at the famous and wonderful Bay Hill Golf Club and Lodge this week where the best players in the world battle it out on a par 72 track which measures 7,454 yards once again. The scoring was very high here last year and the winds had a lot to do with that. The forecast is for a bit of breeze deeper into the weekend which could keep those teeing it up for the weekend honest to say the least.
They say this is an all-round test of golf and that is perfectly true. There is the belief it has got easier off the tee but with the amount of water waiting for errant tee shots around here I’m not so sure that is the case. Even if it is they have started to grow the rough and firm up the greens in recent times so you want to be hitting in from the fairways. It is very much a second shot golf course because precision into these strongly guarded greens is a necessity. They are small greens though so scrambling still remains another key requirement around here.
While we aren’t quite to the level of the fields of the California leg of the tour, with The Players Championship next week you would understand why, we are much stronger in depth than we had at The Honda Classic last week. One of the reasons for that is because the world number one Jon Rahm tees it up this week. In something of a European assault on this event the likes of Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick are also in the field.
This is a tournament where internationals tend to have a decent record and the Asian pair of Hideki Matsuyama and Sungjae Im will look to extend that, as will the Australian dup Marc Leishman and Adam Scott. In terms of the Americans, Phoenix winner Scottie Scheffler and Billy Horschel look to be the pick of the bunch. This is an invitational event so only the best players in the world will have received an invite and it is goo that a number of them have taken their invitation.
Jon Rahm continues to set the pace in the betting markets even though his game hasn’t looked all there in recent times. He took last week off so he might come out here firing with his batteries recharged. He will need to though, especially with the putter which has been cold on him for some time. Interestingly it is the Spaniard’s first appearance in this tournament which might tell us that he recognises his game needs some work. There is no value in him at 8/1 here.
Rory McIlroy will tee it up as a 12/1 shot to win the title this week. Good drivers go well around here and the longer ones are beginning to come to the fore. McIlroy has gone on a last six outing record of 14-1-6-12-3-10 so he is in great form at the minute and could well set the standard here. You do need to find the fairways here these days though so the driver will certainly need to cooperate if he is going to win here. McIlroy has five straight top 10s here including the win in 2018. If 12/1 is your thing he should be high up on your shortlist.
The third favourites this week are Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland. You would imagine that the floodgates will open for Scheffler now that he got over the line in Phoenix. He can be excused for fading a touch at Riviera as the emotion of winning drains any player but you would imagine he’ll kick on now. He was T15 here last year after an opening 67 and can’t be ruled out at 18/1. Hovland has won three times in the last five months and is turning himself into a machine. He missed the cut at Riviera last time out which is a slight concern but he is missing nothing that is required around here.
Sungjae Im surprisingly had the weekend off last week but that might have done him some good because he seemingly never misses a week and I’m glad he isn’t missing this one because I think he is a leading candidate around here. You have to have had a good record around here to win if recent evidence is anything to go by and Im’s record of 3-3-21 fits that requirement. Last year he was -5 heading into the final round where everyone struggled in the wind. As it was Hatton won the year before on -4 so that -5 through 54 holes was perfectly competitive. When you look at Im’s strokes gained tee to green statistics he is a little down on usual but off the tee he is excelling. The Genesis was the first time in six recorded outings that he has been outside the top 10 in the field off the tee. That place is favouring the bombers more than more at present so I’m not going to criticise Im there. Instead I’ll ignore that and take the rest of his form and if he plays to that level here and handles the wind, and he’s won in Florida before so that shouldn’t be an issue, he should go very close.
You sense it is only a matter of time before Matthew Fitzpatrick gets his hands on this title. He was the 54 hole leader three years ago when Francesco Molinari was perfect in the final day to beat him by one but he arrives to Bay Hill with three successive top 10 finishes and better still the two events he has played on the PGA Tour have led to top 10 finishes as well at Pebble Beach and Phoenix. He’s had a couple of weeks off to continue his swing changes which he has said he is encouraged by and at a course that he loves this brilliant driver of the golf ball surely had to contend here. I think he has every chance at 30/1 this week.
I’ll take a stab at four outsiders this week. The first of those is Corey Conners who played in the final group last year. He was alongside Bryson DeChambeau who was anywhere but the property in the first six holes and the Canadian clearly had no rhythm to his round and slumped out of contention but straight hitters are the key around here and there aren’t many in the field better in the long game department than Conners. You don’t have to be an exceptional putter around here. This is more of a long game test which is where Conners excels. His overall results are nothing to write home about but those California events probably don’t suit his skillset. The bare statistics still bode well for him and I think he’s a leading light this week.
Tom Hoge has already won this season when he surprisingly took down the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. I say surprisingly but that would be doing him a bit of a disservice because he was a runner up at the American Express two weeks prior to that and fourth at the RSM Classic so you could say he was knocking on the door for a while. I see no reason why he can’t continue to do that. Since he won at Pebble he finished T14 in Phoenix when the win the previous week caught up with him and then missed the cut at Riviera but that track is all about the big hitters of which he isn’t one. At The American Express and Pebble, Hoge led the field in the all-round ranking and at a test of your whole game that is very encouraging here. Nothing in the long game numbers rules Hoge out and while he has only gone 26-15-MC here he was -4 through two rounds two years ago. That was the winning score so he was there or thereabouts and now he has the confidence of winning he shouldn’t be far away.
Sebastian Munoz probably isn’t someone who comes to the fore when you consider likely winners of a tournament like this but nobody hit more fairways than him at Riviera a couple of weeks ago which when you consider the field that was at that tournament is pretty incredible. Only two men hit more than him in Phoenix as well and when you consider he was hitting those fairways averaging well over 300 yards off the tee he is clearly striking the ball brilliantly right now. There is work to be done in the putting department but I keep stressing you lap the field here with a decent long game and few are in better shape than Munoz’s right now. In his last two outings he has gained 9.748 and 8.890 shots on the field from tee to green. If he does that here and gets just a couple more putts to drop he’s a huge runner despite his relatively poor record here. He did open with a 68 last year though so he can score here. He’s a live dark horse at the very least.
I’ll also make a play on Lee Westwood, a player who wasn’t far from winning this tournament last year, eventually coming off second to Bryson DeChambeau. He was probably in better form coming in here last year which is one concern but I very much doubt form has much bearing on the mindset of Westwood at this stage of his career. The fact he has gone very well around here in the past is more likely to be of interest to him and it is a course where his usually immaculate long game can bring him to the fore. As you would imagine it has been his putter which has let him down so far this year but even then he has a couple of top 25 finishes on courses which would be too long for him and would have had another but for a disaster final round in the Dubai Desert Classic, a round he began T11. That suggests he is playing better than his form would appear and around here he can really get stuck in.
Back S.Im to win Arnold Palmer Invitational (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 29.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back M.Fitzpatrick to win Arnold Palmer Invitational (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 31.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back them here:
Back C.Conners to win Arnold Palmer Invitational (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 61.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-8)
Back S.Munoz to win Arnold Palmer Invitational (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with Coral (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
Back T.Hoge to win Arnold Palmer Invitational (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back L.Westwood to win Arnold Palmer Invitational (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back them here: