By Mick McGill ( @MickSportsNews )
This week is the final leg of the Florida Swing on the PGA Tour and we finish with the ‘Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando.
The event was founded in 1979 and before that it had several different name changes since it began in 1966 when it was known as the ‘Florida Citrus Open Invitational’ and was played at the Rio Pinar Golf Club which is also situated in Florida. Arnold Palmer has owned Bay Hill since 1974 however the tournament was first played under his name in 2007. In the 1966 Inaugural event Lionel Herbert beat the Legend Jack Nicklaus by 2 shots. Arnold Palmer has also won this event and that was in 1971, eight years before he became the host.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational is one of only 5 tournaments given Invitational status by the PGA Tour. The other 4 are The Heritage, Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Memorial Tournament and AT&T National. Invitational events have smaller fields which are usually between 120-132 players.
The field this week is of a very high standard with players such as Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley, Harris English, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler teeing it up.
The bookies top five in betting are 8/1 Tiger Woods, 14/1 Justin Rose, 14/1 Justin Rose, 14/1 Bubba Watson and 22/1 Hunter Mahan.
Tiger Woods is the Defending Champion this week and will be looking for his ninth win at Bay Hill. While he is not in the best of form this season he is a proven winner on the course.
The course is Par 72, 7419 yard with 103 bunkers and water coming into play on 9 of the 18 holes. The Purse is $US6.2M with the winner taking home $US1,116,000. The Pros rank Bay Hill as one of the most challenging and enjoyable courses on the tour. Unlike a lot of the courses on tour where it becomes a birdie-fest, Bay Hill is one of those courses that will require patience and plotting to make your way around all 18 holes. Just ask John Daly who in 1998 hit 6 balls into the water on the 6th hole during his last round to score an 18!!
This week it is all about ball striking and hitting those greens. Looking back at the past winners you will notice that they all ranked highly in Greens in Regulation stats. If you get lost in the Bermuda rough it makes it almost impossible to shoot for the green.
Patience is paramount this week. As mentioned earlier it is vital to play your shots well and maintain those Pars as they are just as important as the birdies this week. It will require a steady head and poise.
Not many rookies or first times fair well at Bay Hill so look for players who have had good experience on the course and know how to plot their way around here. Experience will get you a long way at Bay Hill. Just look at the list of past winners and you will see what I mean.
Taking all this into consideration I have managed to find three players who should fit the bill this week.
Zach Johnson 25/1
When it comes to a cool head and mapping your way around a course then you can not look past Zach Johnson. He is a proven winner on the Tour with 11 PGA Tour victories to his name.
He started 2014 off with victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and has not missed a cut this year. He backed the win up with a T8th at the Sony Open and continued the form with a T3rd at the Humana Challenge.
Next up were a pair of T33rd’s in both WGC Accenture Match Play and The Honda Classic. His last outing was in the WGC Cadillac Championship where he finished T16th.
This will be Zach’s eleventh trip to Bay Hill and in that time he has only missed the one cut! His record from 2004 till 2013 reads as 6th, 8th, 43rd, 42nd, 54th, 3rd, MC, 47th, 11th and 34th. He certainly knows the course inside out.
If you look at Zach’s stats for the season you will see that his game is perfect for Bay Hill. 4th in driving accuracy, 8th in Greens in Regulation, 24th Strokes Gained Putting, 4th in Birdie average, 5th in Scoring average, 2nd in All Round rankings, 3rd in Par 4 Birdie or better, 14th in Ball Striking and 17th in Scrambling.
With Johnson this week you have a play who ticks all the boxes. He has plenty course knowledge and experience, great current form and his stats set up well for what is required. At 25/1 is a fantastic each way bet.
Henrik Stenson 25/1
The World Number 3 had an amazing season last year which saw him win the Deutsche Bank Championship, TOUR Championship and DP World Tour Championship. He also became the first golfer to win both the FedEx Cup and Race To Dubai.
After such a ground breaking season Henrik has eased his way back into this year. He started off with three events on the European Tour with results of a Missed Cut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC, T28th at the Qatar Masters and a T29th in the Dubai Desert Classic.
It was then over to the PGA Championship where he has played three tournaments resulting in two Top 20 finishes. They were T17th WGC Accenture Match Play, Missed Cut in The Honda Classic and T16th at the WGC Cadillac Championship.
Stenson gets the nod this week as we all know how well he hits the ball and finds the green. Last season he was ranked 1st in Greens in Regulation and 1st in Ball Striking. Two stats that are required at Bay Hill. With his game in great shape since joining the Tour this season we can expect to see the Stenson we all know and love play well.
Henrik first played at Bay Hill in 2007 and finished T22nd on debut. He did not return until 2010 where his results have improved each year. 52nd in 2010, 47th in 2011, 15th in 2012 and 8th last year. Let’s hope that form continues on the upward curve this year.
Gary Woodland 50/1
Woodland gets the final position this week as his form is continuing to improve over the last four tournaments as well as having the required stats that set up well for Bay Hill. From seven starts this year he has had no missed cuts and had four Top 20 finishes.
His season to date reads as T13th Hyundai Tournament of Champions, T38th Humana Challenge, T10th Farmers Insurance Open, T37th Phoenix Open, T33rd WGC Match Play, T16th WGC Cadillac Championship and T8th Valspar Championship. It is those last four events that stand out- 37th, 33rd, 16th, 8th. He is on the upside each week. This could be the week to strike while the iron is hot.
Gary’s course form reads as a missed cut in 2011, 48th in 2012 and 27th last year. Again, it’s another upside in results. Stats wide he is 24th in Greens in Regulation, 7th in ball striking, and 4th in Scrambling from the Rough. All positive stats.
Good Luck and Good Punting.