Sports Betting Weekly

Arnold Palmer Invitational

When: Thursday, 19 March 2015 (FINISHED)
Where: Bay Hill Club and Lodge Florida
Having already taken in the Honda Classic, WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Valspar Championship over the past few weeks, the USPGA tour’s Florida Swing continues this weekend as another all-star cast of runners and riders take their place at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

A mainstay on the USPGA tour since 1966 – when it was called the Florida Citrus Open – the event was taken over by Palmer in 1979 and moved to the Bay Hill Country Club, where it has gone from strength-to-strength despite being the subject of numerous course tweaks and renovations.

Spending a brief stint as a par 70 from 2007-2009, a major renovation restored the course to a par 72 and it has remained that way ever since, despite a trio of recent alterations which we’ll cover in more detail later on in our preview. In general terms, the course features larger-than-average Bermuda greens that usually run about 12 on the stipometer, 84 bunkers for golfers to navigate and water hazards on half of the holes – especially the 18th, which is recognised as the most difficult.

In terms of the recent alterations to the course, Bay Hill has seemingly been made more player-friendly, with five acres of fairway added to restore its original shape and 1,700 tons of G-Angle sand spread over the bunkers to hold the ball up better. Trees have also been trimmed back – or, in some cases, even removed entirely – meaning that all in all, the new layout will be easier for the average player while also increasing the risk-reward factor for golfers attempting more adventurous shots.

As is the case with a lot of courses on the USPGA tour, most winners at Bay Hill rank highly for greens in regulation (GIR), but of perhaps even more importance is how you play the long holes. Ernie Els ranked second for par 5 scoring in the first year after the course reverted to a par 72, with the next three winners all ranking first before Adam Scott – who played the long holes better than anyone else last year – broke the streak by limping home in third despite a halfway lead of seven.

This being Florida, an ability to handle the Bermuda greens and often high winds is naturally important, but with a calm week forecast at Bay Hill, it is more course experience that matters. Outsiders tend to fare well on the course, but debutants do not – Robert Gomez was the last player to win on his first visit to Bay Hill in 1990 – and despite the failings of Scott last year, it is a destination that favours frontrunners given the three previous winners have all lead after 36 holes.


As has been the case in most of our USPGA tour previews this year, Rory McIlroy is again the bookmakers favourite for glory at odds of 11/2 – but just as we warned against backing him in the outright markets at the WGC-Cadillac Championship a couple of weeks ago, there are again some reservations about his form and experience that make such a short price look less than appealing.

As we already know, McIlroy has disappointed on the USPGA tour this year, missing the cut at the Honda Classic and labouring to a ninth place finish at the WGC, and he’s also never appeared at Bay Hill before. True, the course would seem to suit his game, but given debutants’ generally poor record at Bay Hill, it looks hard to back him with any degree of confidence in this year’s renewal.

Below McIlroy in the betting – and certainly of more interest based on current form – is Henrik Stenson at odds of 10/1. The Swede was right in the mix at the Valspar Championship earlier in the week before missing the play-off by one shot and also boasts a strong record at Bay Hill, having never failed to make the cut at an Arnold Palmer Invitational previously. Couple that with the fact that Stenson has finished fifteenth, eighth and fifth here in his last three outings and he certainly has the requisite combination of form and course experience to warrant our betting attention here.

In third place in the outright market sits Bubba Watson at 14/1, though whether that price is a fair reflection of his chances is honestly anyone’s guess. Certainly there can be no doubt that he has the necessary attributes to succeed at Bay Hill, but his record there is something of an enigma, having recorded three top-15 finishes in nine starts but also pulled out after an opening round 83 last year.

At his best, Watson could turn up and dominate the field – especially if the forecast changes to windy conditions – but at his worst, he’ll cut the same frustrated figure who came up short at Doral earlier in the month. Such unpredictability does not a banker make, so if we are to back Bubba in this one, we must do so fully in the knowledge that it comes with a fair degree of risk attached.

Rounding out the bookies’ top five favourites for this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational are Jason Day and fellow Aussie, Scott, at 18/1 and 20/1 respectively. With the former showing little pedigree in the event – Day has recorded only one sub-par round in his four visits to Bay Hill – his prospects don’t look great despite his decent run of form, while the latter missed his first cut in 46 events last week; perhaps not-so-coincidentally only a short while after becoming a father for the first time.


With none of the top five picks for this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational really offering the most convincing case for our investment, we therefore need to delve a little deeper in the market to find value for an event which – as previously mentioned – isn’t the most unfriendly towards outsiders.

Having featured in our picks last time out, Brooks Koepka again seems to offer a viable option at Bay Hill at odds of 35/1. The up-and-coming 24-year-old has finished in-the-money in each of his starts post-Phoenix (where he of course won his first PGA title), recording a credible T17 finish at the WGC-Cadillac Championship to continue his impressive start to the year. A big hitter and a Floridian to boot, course history at Bay Hill certainly suggests he’s likely to finish up in the payout places again.

Below Koepka at slightly longer odds of 40/1 is John Bradley Holmes, who has made the cut in all eight of his previous appearances at Bay Hill and recorded a career-best T10 finish there last year. Couple that with the fact that JB came within a whisker of winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship only to lose out to Dustin Johnson by one stroke and he looks to be another golfer who has the perfect combination of form and previous course experience heading into this year’s renewal.

Another outside pick who currently seems to be showing up on a lot of bettors’ radars is Kevin Na, who is currently trading at 50/1 with his odds shortening rapidly. Despite missing his first two cuts at Bay Hill, Na has since recorded course figures which read 11-2-30-4-14 – indicating that he’s usually there or thereabouts – and that form is further strengthened by the fact he arrives at this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational on the back of two top-10 finishes on the Florida Swing, somewhat belying his long odds.

As is usually the case regardless of where he plays, Hideki Matsuyama is another golfer who will have his fair share of backers, but at 35/1 we’re not sure the Japanese star stacks up particularly favourably alongside the other names mentioned in our preview. The reason for this is nothing to do with form given he has five top-10 finishes to his name already this season, but rather experience – Matsuyama is making his Bay Hill debut and, historically-speaking, that’s too big a hurdle to ignore.

The final spot on our shortlist therefore goes to Graeme McDowell at huge odds of 60/1. True, G-Mac is cold in two starts on the Florida Swing having missed the cut at the Honda Classic and finished T56 at Doral, but he does have top-10 finishes in two of his last three starts at Bay Hill and certainly knows his way around the course. A restaurant owner in Orlando, there’s no denying if McDowell can rediscover his home state mojo, he’s capable of serving up a tasty profit in this one.