After another dramatic event last week in Palm Beach Gardens, the Tour moves down the road to Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
As suggested by its title, this is an invitational event and it attracts a stellar international field and that may well be why we see so many different nationalities win here. Over the past four renewals we have seen an Italian, a Northern Irishman and two Australian’s win and there have been four more international winners since 2006, so this is far from a home event.
With this in mind, the Americans will surely be desperate to take back the title from International shores, in memory of one of their beloved golfers.
The Course and what it will take to win here
Bay Hill Club & Lodge, 7,419 Yards, Par 72
This is another challenging layout, which seems to be the tale of the tape in February and March, but you can get well under par in the right conditions with the score getting as low as nineteen-under-par back in 2015.
The course was made easier in 2014 and the winning scores since reflect that, so it’s likely going to be a double-digit under-par scoreline that wins here.
To score well, crushing the Par 5’s is a must, with only two winners (Molinari and Every) winning without ranking inside the top-5 in Par 5 performance. This makes sense given the low nature of the scoring and the toughness of the par 3’s and 4’s.
Those that putt well on the Bermuda greens are going to succeed here, just as they did last week and if the wind picks up, the weather could well be a factor as well.
Like last week, Scrambling and Par 4 scoring will be important to scoring, but a general all round game is necessary to win here.
Henrik Stenson 40/1 (BetFred 7 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Henrik Stenson absolutely loves Bay Hill, which makes sense giving he is a Florida resident, as well as how well the conditions tend to suit Europeans, and his price seems generous given he’s won recently.
Whilst he’s arguably some way off his best currently, Stenson is at home at this course, with five top-8 finishes in his last eight starts here, and it’s not as if his game is in the doldrums. His best finish came when 2nd to Matt Every in 2015 and he should realistically have won. A final-round 70 was four shots worse than Every’s 66 and thats the only really knock on his record here.
Last year, Stenson finished 17th here despite coming into the event with three missed cuts in the desert and a T54 finish in Mexico, in a field of 72. He had to bounce back from an opening-round 77, but he did so in spectacular fashion, with rounds of 66-69-71 and his game is better than it was this time last year.
In his last two events, Stenson has posted Sunday rounds of 76 and 75, costing him realistic top-10/15 finishes. In Singapore when 23rd he posted rounds of 68 and 66 but middle rounds of 72 and 74 also cost him a much higher finish there, so he just needs to keep the odd big score off his card. He’s effectively one round away from another big week, like the one in the Bahamas when winning the Hero World Challenge in December and it’s about time he got over the line here.
If he can avoid a poor opening first round, Stenson is likely to contend here, as he’s done so over 50% of the time in his last eight he starts.
At 40/1 he is just simply too big on a course he loves.
Tyrrell Hatton 50/1 (PaddyPower 8 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Given the recent success of Europeans in this event, I am happy to have Englishman, Tyrrell Hatton alongside Henrik Stenson in the staking plan, after a very encouraging return in Mexico.
Hatton had 2.5 months off after wrist surgery, but he still managed to finish T6 at the WGC-Mexico, despite his lengthy layoff and that is enough for me to pull the trigger here, on a course he’s also comfortable on.
In three starts here, Hatton has made all his cuts, finishing no better than his T4 on debut in 2017. He shot no worse than 72 that week, and he can put in a similar performance this week, despite disappointing returns to this course since. He finished 69th in 2018 and 29th in 2019. He had two bad rounds here a year ago that cost him a better finish, but a third round 66 shows what he is capable of here and I like his odds to produce again.
Hatton was in stellar form before his surgery, culminating in a victory at the Turkish Airlines Open in November, and similar to compatriot, Tommy Fleetwood I think he has the game to win Stateside. Perhaps more volatile than Fleetwood, consistency hasn’t always been something associated with Hatton’s game but his best golf is as good as many on Tour and certainly enough to win in this field.
At 50/1 I think he’s a fair price in a standard of field he is more than used to competing in.
Maverick McNealy 100/1 (SkyBet 8 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Maverick McNealy has been superb on the PGA Tour this season, finishing inside the top-17 in four occasions.
A fine talent coming out of college, big things were expected of the Stanford graduate, who matched records set by a certain Tiger Woods during his collegiate career. It hasn’t been plain sailing for the former world no.1 amateur though, as he’s taken a little while longer than expected to get his PGA Tour card.
Nowadays players are coming fresh out of college and winning events straight off the bat, or locking up their cards early, but to hold McNealy to this standard is unnecessary and he is now performing at a high level – enough so that I am confident he can take the next step and win on the PGA Tour.
McNealy finished 11th last week in which was his third top-15 in his last four starts and he now returns to a course he played as an amateur in 2016. That week he shot 69-71-74-71, which is more than respectable given his experience level at the time, and he can use that as a stepping stone to a good performance this week.
McNealy ranked 6th in par-3 scoring last week, 8th in Scrambling, 9th in SG: Tee-to-Green and 10th in SG: Approach and he can use all of these to his advantage on a course that should suit his game. McNealy also played the par-5’s in five-under-par last week, which was only two shots worse than the best in the field, and if he can be as aggressive this week on the long holes, that’ll go a long way to helping him contend here.
With 11-straight cuts now made on Tour this season, dating back to the Safeway it is clear McNealy has got to grips with this level and his winning ability in college should lend itself to him taking the next step.
Considering the level he has been playing at in 2020 and the fact he has previous experience here, I think McNealy represents good value at 100/1+ to get it done here.
Talor Gooch 150/1 (SkyBet 8 places 1/5 odds) 0.5 pt e/w:
I put Talor Gooch up last year and he withdrew before the off with a thumb injury, but I like his chances again this week, as he arrives in better form than last time.
Gooch was coming off a T20 at the Honda last year and although he was T38 last week, that was his 11th straight cut made this season, so his game is in fine shape.
Two top-10’s on the season at the Houston Open (T4) and Riviera (T10) show he’s ready to contend for a first PGA Tour win, and his T17 finish at the American Express was close to being another top-10.
Last week he shot 75 on Saturday which halted his progress, but it was another decent effort in Florida and that goes with his T20 at the Honda last year and his T26 finish here on debut in 2018. That T26 was impressive, especially when you consider his final-round 76 actually undone some excellent work through the first three days, where he shot 65-70-73. He was solo 3rd after 36 holes two years ago, and just four strokes back heading into Sunday and if he finds himself in a similar position this time, expect him to close out better given his recent form and additional experience.
At 150/1, I am happy to back him to improve on that debut, given he was 125/1 last year and he’s a better player now.
Adam Long 200/1 (BetVictor 6 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Whilst I think the market is paying attention to a lot of golfers’ form, including McNealy, I think Adam Long has been overlooked this week, given his 2019 Desert Classic victory and 10th place finish here 12 months ago, and the Florida resident can go well again here.
Long shocked the Tour when he won the Desert Classic as he had missed his last three cuts and only finished T63 before that at the Safeway. This shows however that he has the game to contend even when out of form, but when he’s on song it’s best to pay attention.
It’s been a bit up and down in his sophomore season on the PGA Tour, especially as he’s missed four of his last five cuts, but he was close to a second victory in Mexico in October, where he finished just a shot adrift of Brendan Todd and when he has made the weekend since, he’s finished 8th in Phoenix and T27 at the Honda last week.
A disappointing 74 on Saturday cost Long last week, but rounds of 68 and 69 on Friday and Sunday respectively showed he is capable of playing well on the toughest layout on Tour. Similarly it was just one round that really held him back in Phoenix as well, as a final-round 72 put to bed any chances of him winning, despite him opening with rounds of 66-68-66. Long was just three off the lead heading into the final round, having holed all of his putts inside 10ft on a hectic Saturday and if he can putt at a similar level again, he’s going to be in with a chance of recording a second win.
His 10th last year was very impressive on debut, as this is not the easiest course to get to grips with first time round, and he improved every round. After opening with a 74, he followed up with rounds of 71, 69 and 67 which suggests he took a liking to the layout once he learned more about it. That bodes well this week then, and if he can swing it like he did last week (3rd in SG: Approach and 13th in SG: Tee-to-Green), there’s a good chance he contends again over the weekend. Long also ranks 25th on Tour in SG: Approach over the course of the season, so he’s clearly dialled in, in that department. Sitting 23rd in Par 4 Scoring Average will not hurt his chances either, with these holes particularly difficult at this event.
Long was six-under-par on the Par 5’s last week, and if he can replicate that aggressiveness here, it will no doubt help his case. He was nine-under-par on the long holes here last year and considering he was seven-under-par in total, it’s clear his success on the par-5’s were pivotal to his strong debut. He had the number of these holes 12 months ago and he can do the same again this time around.
Par 3’s are not the strongest area of his game and he was +3 on the short holes last season, where level par would have seen him finished T2. If he can get to grips with those holes though this week, he can certainly contend at a big price.
At 200/1 I am willing to bet that the weaker areas of his game come up to scratch and his ball striking prowess from last week remains.
Total points staked this week: 9
Profit/Loss for 2019: -4.7