2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational
The 2019 season is starting to hot up now with the Masters just over a month away and the Players Championship in its new March date next week.
Firstly, we continue the Florida swing with a trip to Orlando for the Arnold Palmer International (API) at Bay Hill. In honour of the great man himself it always attracts a strong field and this year is no different with 12 of the world’s top-20 featuring.
Bay Hill is a 7,419 yard Par 72 with a risk reward layout. Palmer himself made changes to the course in 2009 to encourage attacking play, but there is plenty of water and sand lurking and the margins can be fine between shooting in the low 60s and playing themselves out of contention.
Everything has to be in order to compete here but with four ‘gettable’ Par 5s on offer, these have to be taken advantage of. Indeed, the last nine winners here went at least 8-under over these holes, so Par 5 scoring averages is a key performance guide.
Hitting the greens at Bay Hill is also key. Rory McIlroy was ranked 45th for Greens in Regulation when winning last year, but he topped the putting and scrambling stats. Four of the six previous champions were ranked inside the top-seven for GIR.
It goes without saying that to win golf tournaments, they’ve got to putt well and the average rank of the last 10 winners here is just 12.1. Having done a stretch on the west coast, this Florida swing sees a return of the fast pace of the Bermuda greens, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for specialists on the Bermudagrass.
There was a shake up in the market on Monday night as eight-time course winner, Tiger Woods, pulled out due to a neck strain.
As a result, defending champion McIlroy has hardened at the top of the betting. The only thing missing for the world no.6 this season is a victory after beginning the year with four top-five finishes from as many starts.
Given his game appears to be in great order and his liking for the course, he is a worthy favourite.
However, the Northern Irishman hasn’t returned to the winners’ enclosure since his success 12 months ago, whereas those directly behind him in the betting – Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Bryson DeChambeau – have all been more prolific than the four-time major winner over the last few seasons. Of those next in the betting, it’s the latter that peaks our interest.
‘The Scientist’ disgraced himself in Mexico last time out, using his putter to take his frustration out on the Poa Annua greens, but he’s proven time an again his ability to bounce back from a disappointing performance.
What’s more, he returns to a putting surface much more to his liking having won on Bermuda greens in the Dubai Desert Classic in January, while this year also finishing 7th at the Tournament of Champions, 10th in Hawaii and 6th at the Saudi International on the same surface.
It is clearly a venue he enjoys having finished runner-up here 12 months ago on just his second API start, and since then, he’s certainly learned how to close out on the big stage, lifting five titles in his last 18 starts.
The 25-year-old’s attributes fit the course with a power game suited to attacking play. It’s a ball-strikers track, and he ranked first in this last year, while this season he’s ninth for birdie average on the PGA Tour and as high as third on Par 5 scoring average, making him first in this week’s field.
DeChambeau is available at 14/1 for Fansbet, but our second selection is a much juicier 61/1. After being hampered by injury for large parts of last season, Daniel Berger is starting to show the kind of form that saw him crowned Rookie of the Year in 2015.
That season, incidentally, was his only previous visit to Bay Hill where he managed to finish 13th, despite an opening 73. He played the following three rounds in 11-under and nobody shot lower than he did on the par 5s that week. This season he’s finished 12th in the Desert Classic, second in Puerto Rico, while 36th last week at the Honda Classic was a perfectly solid effort.
Playing in his home state and attending Florida State University, Berger grew up on this type of terrain and is very comfortable on Bermudagrass greens, so is expected to go well this week.
*all odds are subject to change