Golf continues apace in the Sunshine State this week as the Arnold Palmer Invitational takes place at Bay Hill.
The Florida Swing continues apace with a trip to Bay Hill for one of the most hotly contested non-major events of the season, the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The man known as The King was one of golf’s most iconic stars, and the stars of today flock to his tournament each year to pay their respects to the all-time great. The tournament took on greater meaning a couple of years ago, given his sad death at the age of 87, and this year there is the added intrigue of the event serving as the precursor for The Players Championship due to the revamp to the Tour schedule.
As a result, we have a truly elite field of 123 going to post, though that number no longer includes eight-time champion Tiger Woods, who unfortunately withdrew on Monday due to a neck strain. Just five weeks out from The Masters, the Greatest Of All Time is understandably taking no chances with his health though he does take with him a fair chunk of the market.
Unlocking Bay Hill
Bay Hill has been a staple on Tour since 1979 and is one of the few courses that has continually evolved in order to keep pace with the modern game. As a result, the par 72 track now stretches beyond 7400 yards, with a number of lengthy par 4s requiring careful navigation. Course superintendent Chris Flynn has removed some of the rough around the water hazards on the course, giving a little less protection on wayward drives, though the fairways have been widened to create a fairer test off the tee.
Rough is up at almost four inches in places and the Bermudagrass greens are set to run at up to 13’ on the Stimpmeter so the players will have quite the classical test.
Graeme McDowell, runner up in 2012, has previously talked about how the course has a US Open feel off the tee and an Augusta feel around the greens and that description is somewhat apt in describing the all-around test that is presented to players. There is no cheating at this venue.
A look at performance data of the recent winners here shows no real standout statistical category, just a litany of good players playing well across all facets of their game. One area where all winners have taken advantage, however, is scoring on the par 5s here, with all four playing amongst the easiest holes year on year. Last year’s champ Rory McIlroy talked about needing to be aggressive on the longer holes in order to sustain a challenge and he did just that, playing them in -9 (-18 total) for the week, with 2017 winner Marc Leishman playing them in -7 (-11) during his victory. Clearly taking advantage is going to be paramount for those with designs on winning.
Does Recent Form Play Much Of A Part Here?
Interestingly, current form – whilst never a hindrance – hasn’t been essential in order to be victorious here, with players seemingly inspired by the surroundings and the ambience rather than bringing their A-game with them. Rory won off the back of a missed cut last time out, as did 2015 winner Matt Every, while neither Jason Day or Leishman had recorded top 20 finishes in any of their three prior starts before winning. Only the other hand, only Martin Laird and Jason Day had not recorded a top 10 at the course prior to their victories so chalk one up for Team Course Form at this venue.
A look at the market shows defending champion McIlroy at the head of affairs, closely followed by world number 2 Justin Rose. Last week’s nearly men Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka are in close order, as are 2016 winner Jason Day and 2018 runner up Bryson DeChambeau. It’s 30.0 bar with a long and talented list to consider at longer odds.
Everything Looks Rosey This Week
I am going to start my bets with one from the top, in the form of the highest ranked player in the field, Justin Rose (13.0). Rose was victorious in his last US start at Torrey Pines, another classical venue that Tiger has traditionally taken apart. There he ranked second in GIR and SG: tee-to-green, whilst playing the par 5s in -12 for the week. He can easily be forgiven a rare missed cut in Saudi Arabia, where he looked distinctly uncomfortable about his quick cash grab before exiting stage right, and instead we should focus on his fine record at Bay Hill, where he finished 3rd last season, despite sitting four over par through six holes – the eventual difference between him and winner McIlroy.
That was his third podium finish at the course, to go along with another pair of top 10s and he has been just about the most consistent golfer in the world over the past 18 months, as evidenced by his record of 6 wins, 9 other podiums and further 16 top 10s in his past 50 events. He currently leads the Tour in a multitude of statistical categories and just looks absolutely rock solid at a very fair price at a venue he loves.
Luke Loves The Long Ball
Next up I am going for Tour maiden Luke List (101.0) to add his name to this season’s roll call of first-time winners at a venue he clearly enjoys. He finished tied for 7th here in 2018, following up on 2017’s 17th place finish as a debutant and the par 5s particularly seem to fit his eye as he got around them in an impressive -10 for the week. He disappointed at PGA National last time out, losing 5 strokes putting across his two rounds, whilst recording positive strokes gained splits in every other area. However, he’s generally a solid Bermudagrass performer, sneaking in at 25th on the list of Bermudagrass specialists so I’m not concerned about his longer term outlook.
He was 15th in his penultimate start, ranking 5th in SG: tee-to-green and if he can find something on the greens, he should go very well considering his game generally appears to be firing well in all other areas as evidenced by his 15th placed position in the season long SG:tee-to-green list and 18th ranking in par 5 scoring. He leads the Tour in ‘going for the green’ so he’ll always give himself plenty of looks at birdie and if he can avoid the big numbers, he could run well as a big price in the state where he’s had the most success in his career to date.
Captain America Will Be Underbet As Ever
Finally, at a workable price, I am going to back Captain America to run a big race at the type of venue where he tends to excel. Patrick Reed (51.0) was tied for 7th here last year, despite recording three doubles across the week, as he began his run-up to what would ultimately culminate in a victory at Augusta. He enters this week off the back of five straight top 25s, and played out of the final group in his most recent start at the WGC-Mexico before a disappointing 73 eventually had him finishing down in T14.
For me, his electric 64 in the 3rd round there was indication enough of a player in good form, and a return to the state of Florida where he’s previously tasted success at Doral and suffered a playoff loss at Innisbrook should suit. Both of those courses feature the same TifEagle Bermudagrass greens as Bay Hill – as does Kapalua, where he’s also been victorious – so he’ll have no problem navigating the greens, and the reference made by G-Mac to Augusta has to be favourable given his win there last year.
As a generally unpopular player with punters on this side of the pond, I believe Reed tends to be under bet and I think he’s entitled to be a lot shorter than he’s currently available given his body of work here and at similar tracks.
- Justin Rose – 3.5 points @ 13.0 (lay 6 points @ 3.5 )
- Luke List – 1 point @ 101.0 (lay 6 points @ 11.0)
- Patrick Reed – 1.5 points @ 51.0 (lay 6 points @ 9.0)
On this week’s Golf Podcast Ollie joined Sully to break down his best Tournament Matchup Bets for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Subscribe now to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, or on your preferred Podcast app by searching for ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast’.