This week an all-star field has come together to make this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational one to remember.
Eight-time winner of this event, Tiger Woods withdrew on Monday citing a neck injury, but the field is still stacked with world-class players.
World No.2, Justin Rose is joined by World No.3, Brooks Koepka, No.5 Bryson DeChambeau and defending champion, Rory McIlroy. Rickie Fowler who finished 2nd last week at the Honda, and won recently in Phoenix also returns to this event.
Aussie duo, Jason Day and Marc Leishman, both of whom are past champions here also tee it up this week, with the pair in strong form this season.
The Course and what it will take to win
Bay Hill Club & Lodge, 7,419 Yards, Par 72
The formula to success here seems quite apparent. Your tee shots are decided for you off the tee, given the layout, meaning a real emphasis is on your approach game. As a result those who are gaining strokes on the field in SG: Approach in recent weeks, and over the course of the season should prosper here, if they can make enough putts.
Taking advantage of the Par 5’s, which requires good putting on these Bermuda greens will be the main focus this week however. Since 2010, only one player (Matt Every) has won this tournament without ranking inside the top-5 in Par 5 Performance on the week. This suits the aggressive types, as all the Par 5’s here are definite birdie chances, so this is not a course you can be defensive on, even if it is a tough examination of one’s golf game.
After the course was made easier in 2014, we have had winning scores of -13, -19, -17, -11 and -18, so it is fair to say that somewhere around the 16-under-par mark is the minimum target this week, to contend.
As is often the case in Florida, wind can be a factor here, so keep an eye on weather conditions as the week progresses, especially considering the amount of trouble that faces the players on this course. With 84 bunkers and water in play on 9 holes, there is a chance for disaster seemingly everywhere you turn, should you be slightly off line or not account for the blustery conditions, should they come.
How a player was playing on the Florida swing used to be a key indicator, but with the first WGC of the year moving to Mexico, and the schedule change this season, we have only seen the players play the Honda Classic so far, so it’s less of an indicator this time around.
To summarise, crushing the Par 5’s and holing your fair share of your putts on these Bermuda surfaces are the two key factors to winning here, with strong approach play a factor as well.
Bryson DeChambeau 18/1 (Unibet and 888) 3pts win:
Bryson DeChambeau has played here twice, once in 2016 as an amateur when he finished T26 after three-straight level-par rounds, and a Sunday 66 and he then returned last year, pushing Rory McIlroy all the way, eventually settling for 2nd. Since then DeChambeau has won 5 times worldwide, including four more times on the PGA Tour. The guy simply wins, and a return to his favoured putting surface this week will see an uptick from his performance in Mexico.
DeChambeau is the 11th best performer on Bermudagrass greens since 2014, and ranks 15th in Bermuda Performance v Expected Strokes Gained, both according to futureoffantasy.com. This suggests the greens he will face this week will suit him, as does his course form and he can put a tough week in Mexico behind him.
Before finishing T56 at the WGC-Mexico, DeChambeau had played seven times worldwide this season, winning twice (Shriners, Dubai), and finishing inside the top-15 on all five other occasions.
He finished T15 at Riviera despite lacking his best golf, and also struggling on the Poa Annua greens, something he won’t have to deal with this week. Despite a relatively poor performance, he got better every round, after opening with a round of 75 in Mexico (73-73-69), and he would have enjoyed taking last week off.
Byrson ranks 3rd in Par 5 Scoring Average and 33rd in SG: Approach this season, and we know he can putt on these greens, so he fits the model perfectly here.
Four wins in his last twelve starts makes him the winningest player during that span, and I see him making it five in his last thirteen this week.
At 18/1, I think he represents the best value in the field considering his winning form, especially with Tiger now absent from the field.
Marc Leishman 28/1 (Betfred 7 places 1/5 odds) 1.5pts e/w:
Marc Leishman returns to an event he won in 2017, and finished 7th at 12 months ago, so he will be full of confidence this week.
The Aussie is in imperious form this season, with a win at the CIMB Classic already under his belt, as well as a further four top-4 finishes. Three of those top-4 finishes came in a row as he finished 2nd at the Australian PGA in December, before finishing T4 at the Tournament of Champions and T3 at the Sony Open a week later. A T43 finish at Torrey Pines halted this hot run, but he bounced back with a T4 finish again at Riviera.
Like DeChambeau, Leishman will be glad to escape the Poa greens and get on his favoured surface as he ranks one spot ahead of DeChambeau in Bermuda performers, in 11th.
Statistically Leishman will love this test this week, as he ranks 12th in both Par 5 Scoring Average and SG: Approach, and he will look to keep those efforts up here. If he can, he’s going to contend for a second win at this course.
Leishman finished 3rd here on his second course start in 2011, and whilst he struggled over the next four years, his last three efforts here read 17-1-7, so he clearly relishes the test Bay Hill presents.
On course form alone he’d be an intriguing option this week, but given his early win and season-long form, he looks a must bet to me at 28/1.
Matt Every 100/1 (PaddyPower and SkyBet 8 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
I’ll make no apologies for putting up what seems to be the obvious bet of the week. Every returns to Bay Hill where he is twice a winner, and this time he plays knowing he is without full status on the PGA Tour, so victory this week would be all the sweeter.
Since his last victory here in 2015, his game has largely been in tatters, with a lethal combination of on and off-course issues proving too much during that span. In the last six months though he has turned it around.
A T9 finish at the DAP Championship on the Web.com Tour last September ended a run of 13 events, where he had either missed the cut or withdrawn on 12 occasions, and the one time he did make the weekend he finished T61.
That was clearly the confidence boosting week he needed, as since then he has played eight times across the PGA and Web.com Tours, and is 8/8 for cuts made and has finished inside the top-21 six times.
He has made four PGA Tour starts this season, finishing inside the top-20 in each, with his T14 at Pebble Beach his best effort so far.
Every currently ranks T26 in Par 5 Scoring Average and T27 in SG: Putting, whilst also ranking T20 in SG: Around-the-Green, and T38 in SG: Tee-to-Green, all good enough to rank T14 in SG: Total. Yes his approach numbers of T80 could be better, but he’s now returning to a course he loves, and I expect each of his rankings to improve this week.
Any golfer that has finished inside the top-20 in each of their four starts this season would make appeal at three-figure odds, but one who is a two-time champion on this course and is a Floridian through and through, should not really be left out at 100/1.
Michael Thompson 100/1 (Unibet/888.com 6 places 1/5 odds) 0.5pt e/w:
Talking of revivals, Michael Thompson is enjoying one of his own this season, as he’s missed just one cut in eight starts this season, and has finished T20 or better in each of his last five, three of which were also top-10’s.
His long game has been in great shape this season, which has been a significant factor in his strong form, and a return to Bermuda greens was expected to be the deciding factor between top-10/20 finishes and being in contention last week.
The putting came to the forefront last week as he ranked 3rd in SG: Putting at the Honda Classic, gaining over 8 strokes on the field, but unfortunately the rest of his game didn’t hold up for all four rounds. Before last week Thompson ranked 9th in SG: Approach and 25th in SG: Tee-to-Green, but he fell to T37 and T46 respectively after last week.
There’s no reason to panic too much about his long game last week, as it’s bound to return to the mean at some point, but hopefully he can find the swings he’s been making all season, so he can take advantage of what should be a good putting week.
Still a third-round 66 gave him a chance to place inside the top-10 or even contend once again last week, but a final-round 73 saw him fade into a tie for 16th.
It was a good effort again last week nonetheless, and his form cannot be ignored when he’s double the odds this week. It appears people are ready to give up on him after failing to place at the Honda, the only PGA Tour event he’s ever won, but I am willing to give him another chance on his favoured surface, even if he’s only played here once.
In 2012 Thompson finished in a tie for 36th, but he wasn’t playing anywhere near as well as he is right now, and I fully expect him to make a run at the top-10 again, at the very least.
Thompson has finished T2 at the U.S. Open (2012) and also has T25 finishes at the Masters (T25 in 2013) and the PGA Championship (T22), so whilst he has only won twice as a pro, he is clearly a player with plenty of talent, especially when it’s all going right as it is at the moment.
Talor Gooch 125/1 (SkyBet and PaddyPower 8 places 1/5 odds) 0.5pt e/w:
Another player, like DeChambeau and Leishman who makes a great claim statistically this week is Talor Gooch. Gooch currently ranks 4th in SG: Approach and T24 in Par 5 Scoring Average, and he can use that to contend for his first PGA Tour victory this week.
Gooch burst on to the scene early in this sophomore season, with a T14 finish in his first start at the Sanderson Farms Championship. A 4th place finish at the Desert Classic followed, which he backed up with a T3 finish at Torrey Pines on his next start. Two missed cuts at Pebble Beach and in Phoenix derailed the train slightly, but he bounced back last week at the Honda Classic, finishing in a tie for 20th.
Only JT Poston (-7) played the Par 5’s better than Gooch last week, as he was 6-under-par on the long holes, and that sort of form would serve him well here as well.
Gooch finished T26 here on his course debut, after opening rounds of 65-70 saw him sitting in solo 3rd going into the weekend. Weekend scores of 73-76 saw him fall down the leaderboard, but it was an impressive showing nonetheless and with some more experience behind this time around, he should fare better.
A man who’s having a good season so far, Gooch fits the bill statistically and played well here 12 months ago, so makes a good claim here at 125/1 and bigger if you sacrifice a few places.
Total points staked this week: 10
Profit/Loss for 2019: -53.3