We preview this week's PGA Tour event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The first incarnation of this event since the 'King’s' passing, there is bound to be a fair amount of emotional afterglow at this year’s event. The familiar sight of the great man greeting the winners at the 18th holds a special resonance in the collective consciousness of golfing fans. That being said - the likes of Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth have decided to give the event a pass - saying something about the inherent selfishness of professionalism in relation to the poignancy that this year’s event should have.
Additionally, the absence of eight-time champion Tiger Woods will also detract somewhat from the emotionality of proceedings. However, four of the top five players in the world are present this week, with Rory McIlroy looking for some real momentum ahead of his push to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta. The metronomic figure of Henrik Stenson also tees it up while Jason Day - the recently dethroned world number one - looks to give some credence to his status as one of the world’s leading golfers after a stuttering start to the season.
Bay Hill is really a typically picturesque Floridian course, with water hazards and bunkers ensuring an interesting dichotomy between recent traditional low scoring and more adventurous scores. John Daly famously shot an 18 on the 6th hole in 1995. In fact - to cut the corpulent, chain-smoking American some slack - there have been 22 double digit scores at the 6th since 1983, more than any other hole on course by some margin. So one should expect a low winning total this week, with a few horror-shows scattered about in good measure.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational | Thursday 16 March - Sunday 19th March | Bay Hill Club and Lodge, Florida
2016: Jason Day (-17) | 2015: Matt Every (-19) |2014: Matt Every (-13) | 2013: Tiger Woods (-13) | 2012: Tiger Woods (-13)
To Win Outright
Rory McIlroy 8/1 | Henrik Stenson 12/1 | Jason Day 12/1 | Hideki Matsuyama 14/1 | Ricky Fowler 18/1
Justin Rose - To Win 20/1 & To Place 44/10
Towards the upper end of the betting spectrum, I think that the the evergreen Englishman is well worth a gamble this week. Justin Rose has had three top 5 finishes in five starts this year, clearly indicating that he seems dialled in for a highly competitive year. He was runner-up here in 2013 and 3rd behind Laird in 2011. He finished in the top 10 last season and currently ranks first in shots gained off tee, while his putting has been solid. His chipping and pitching have been poor, which should be less of a factor here on the East Coast. He is a previous champion at Muirfield Village, which is seen as a powerful corollary to Bay Hill. Furthermore, Rose is the man for the big occasion. This was evident in his gold medal victory in Rio, so expect him to put in a rousing performance in honour of the great man.
Adam Hadwin - To Win 60/1 & To Place 13/1
The Canadian has come out of nowhere this season. This pick is based purely on form, and what form it is. Adam Hadwin became a buzzword in golf following that spectacular third round 59 at the CareerBuilder Challenge, likely prompting most golf enthusiasts to enter his name into their respective search engines. He won last week, thus ensuring his place at this year’s Masters. He has five top 15’s in his last 8 starts and looks ridiculously long at 60/1. Defending champion Day is sitting at 12/1, despite being able to really string two decent rounds together this season - Pebble Beach aside. He currently sits 3rd in shot gained putting, which indicates that he should be equipped to avoid those hazardous double digit scores that have afflicted so many in the past at Bay Hill.
David Lingmerth - To Win 175/1 & To Place 38/1
Always game for a spot of sporty speculation, I think you could do a lot worse than a man perpetually on the cusp of breaking through on the PGA Tour. His breakthrough really came at corollary course Sawgrass in 2013, where he finished in a credible tie for 2nd behind the indomitable Tiger at the Players. He has also finished 6th and 3rd at that venue whilst also picking up an 8th at the 2014 Honda. He clearly has shown a propensity for the hazardous Floridian layouts. He has made four cuts out of four at Bay Hill, and finished 13th two years ago. His ball striking was particularly impressive that week: in fact, he hit all 14 fairways in round 2 before hitting 13 in round 4. His high price is reflective of missed cuts at the Honda and Valspar where he missed both cuts by a mere one shot. He finished a shot outside the top 10 on debut in Qatar and finished a creditable 27th last week, and I expect him to profit on this course. He looks especially good in the place markets.
The Man to Beat
Henrik Stenson -To Win 12/1 & To Place 26/10
It seems that I have adopted a rather Slavic bent to my thinking this week, with Swedes accounting for half of my pick-pool. But to not back Stenson - giving the combination of historical precedent and current form - would just be me being contrarian for the sake of it. He has played 10 consecutive sub-par rounds at Bay Hill, a record that extends to 17 in his last 18. His accuracy off the tee has been particularly influential in seeing him finish T3, 2nd and T5th in the last three editions of this tournament. He will be disappointed with finishing T7 at the Valspar, especially after shooting an opening round 64. But Stenson - discounting that withdraw from the WGC Mexico - has seven top 10 finishes on the bounce.