Best bets for Arnold Palmer Invitational

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Collin Morikawa, at 45-1, won the WGC-Workday Championship at the Concession to become only the second player to win a major and a World Golf Championship before age 25. The other was Tiger Woods, who we wish a speedy recovery from his auto accident last week. 

Morikawa led the field over the weekend for both Strokes Gained: Approach and Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. He also gained nearly four strokes putting across four days working with his new “saw grip.” The putter is the shaky stick in Morikawa's bag, but when he gets it going, he is one of the best players in the world. 

Viktor Hovland, along with Brooks Koepka and Billy Horschel (40-1 this week) finished tied for second and finished three strokes back. Hovland (12-1) made a snowman (8) on his final hole in Friday's final round in what may have ended up costing him the tournament, but he still had a great week ranking second in the field for Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, third for SG: Approach and second for SG: Tee-to-Green. 

This week, the PGA Tour continues the Florida swing in Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. While several players are taking this week off to prepare for next week's Players Championship, there is still a strong field at the top with 2018 API champion Rory McIlroy (9-1) leading the way. McIlroy, who tied for sixth last week at the Concession, has not finished lower than sixth in the last four years at Bay Hill. Bryson DeChambeau (12-1) has two top-5 finishes in his last three appearances here. 

Tyrrell Hatton (1-1) is the defending champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Sungjae Im has finished third here each of the last two years and shares a 20-1 price with Patrick Reed. Matthew Fitzpatrick was runner-up here two years ago and followed it up with another top-10 last year. He is slotted at 25-1 along with Hideki Matsuyama and Paul Casey. 

Branden Grace finished eagle-birdie on Sunday to win the Puerto Rico Open for this column at 20-1. He is anywhere from 80-1 to 100-1 in this week's field. 

THE EVENT

The Arnold Palmer Invitational began in essence in 1966 as the Florida Citrus Open in Orlando. In 1979, the tournament moved to its present home at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Arnold Palmer owned the club until his death in 2016. Amy and Roy Saunders, Palmer’s daughter and son-in-law, now own and operate the club. Palmer served as host from 1979 until his death, and the event took on his name in 2007. 

The API is one of only five events on the PGA Tour (Genesis Invitational, RBC Heritage, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament) to have “invitational” status. This means the field is smaller at 123 players and offers a three-year PGA exemption to its champion as opposed to a two-year exemption for other PGA Tour events. In addition, three spots in this year’s British Open are available to the field based on performance as a part of the Open Qualifying Series. The three top finishers, who are otherwise not exempt, will earn a place in the British Open field.

With this event being held a week before The Players Championship, this week’s field has an even more international flavor than normal. Non-American players have won here the last five years and in seven of the last 11 events at Bay Hill. No player has won more here than Woods, who has been victorious here eight times (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013) but obviously is not participating this week. Other notable winners in this event at Bay Hill Club include Francesco Molinari (2019), McIlroy (2018), Jason Day (2016), Ernie Els (1998, 2010), Vijay Singh (2007), Phil Mickelson (1997), Ben Crenshaw (1993), Fred Couples (1992), Tom Kite (1982, 1989), Paul Azinger (1988), Payne Stewart (1987) and Fuzzy Zoeller (1985). 

THE COURSE

The Bay Hill Club and Lodge was designed in 1961 by Dick Wilson and Bob Simmons and was owned by Arnold Palmer, who also did several redesigns, from 1974 to 2016. The stretching 7,454-yard, par-72 features a set of tough par-4s, plus three of the par-5s measure over 550 yards but are scorable. The par-3s average almost 220 yards. 

This is a course that ordinarily tests all facets of a player’s game. Bay Hill features 3 inches of rough plus green complexes that can run as firm as 12 on the stimpmeter. In 2015, all holes and green complexes were re-grassed with the putting surfaces featuring TifEagle Bermudagrass. The track is heavily bunkered (84) and has water in play on nine holes. 

With the recent changes, Bay Hill has rated in the top 10 in terms of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour in three of the last four years. The fairways were widened and some trees were removed, so driving is easier than before, but approach shots, shots around the green and putting provide most of the challenge here. 

The conditions should be relatively firm and fast as there has been hardly any rain in the Orlando area in recent days. The wind wreaked havoc here last year, and Bay Hill ranked as the toughest course on the PGA Tour in 2020 largely because of it. Last year's tournament had 239 balls find the water, 94 in the first round, the highest of any round played on the PGA Tour since 2003. Early forecasts are indicating that the wind should be benign on Thursday and Friday but is expected to pick up over the weekend.  

RECENT HISTORY/WINNERS  

2020: Tyrrell Hatton (-4-284), 60-1 

2019: Francesco Molinari (-12-276), 35-1 

2018: Rory McIlroy (-18-270), 16-1 

2017: Marc Leishman (-11-277), 80-1 

2016: Jason Day (-17-271), 14-1 

2015: Matt Every (-19-269), 175-1 

2014: Matt Every (-13-275), 50-1 

2013: Tiger Woods (-13-275), 3-1 

2012: Tiger Woods (-13-275), 8-1 

2011: Martin Laird (-8-280), 45-1 

2010: Ernie Els (-11-277), 16-1 

TRENDS AND ANGLES

International flavor 

* Non-American players have won this event each of the last five years and seven of the last 11 years. 

* In fact, you must go back to 2005 to find an American player not named Tiger Woods or Matt Every who has won here. 

Stats 

Tyrrell Hatton ranked second in last year's field for SG: Approach, which was the major key to earning his first PGA Tour win.  

Here are the SG: Approach leaders (last 24 rounds) in this week's field: 

1.     Matthew NeSmith + 27.0  

2.     Keegan Bradley + 24.7 

3.     Cameron Tringale + 21.1 

4.     Henrik Norlander + 20.0 

5.     Will Zalatoris + 18.6 

6.     Tyrrell Hatton + 18.4 

7.     C.T. Pan + 18.4 

8.     Chez Reavie + 17.6 

9.     Max Homa + 16.2 

10.  Russell Knox + 15.5 

In 2019, Francesco Molinari led the field for SG: Off-the-Tee in his victory. Like Riviera two weeks ago, Bay Hill plays a little longer and there are doglegs that will force some layups, so a mix of distance and accuracy is paramount. 

Here are the SG: Off-the-Tee leaders (last 24 rounds) in this week's field: 

1.     Rory McIlroy + 24.7 

2.     Bryson DeChambeau + 23.5 

3.     Viktor Hovland + 23.4 

4.     Luke List + 18.2 

5.     Cameron Champ + 15.4 

6.     Sungjae Im + 14.9 

7.     Cameron Davis + 14.9 

8.     Emiliano Grillo + 14.8 

9.     Billy Horschel + 13.5 

10.  Corey Conners + 12.9 

The par-3s at Bay Hill rank as some of the toughest on the PGA Tour and three of them measure 200+  yards.  

Here are the SG par-3 leaders (last 24 rounds) in this week's field: 

1.     Cameron Percy + 19.5 

2.     Bryson DeChambeau + 15.3 

3.     Pat Perez + 14.8 

4.     Francesco Molinari + 13.1 

5.     Harris English + 11.7 

6.     Charley Hoffman + 10.8 

7.     Billy Horschel + 10.7 

8.     Justin Rose + 10.3 

9.     Cameron Tringale + 10.1 

10.  Shane Lowry + 8.7 

DeChambeau, Percy, Perez and Horschel also rank in the top 10 when limiting the par-3 parameters to 200-225 yards. Other players in that top 10 include: Luke List, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Harold Varner III, Paul Casey, Marc Leishman and Rickie Fowler.  

The last three winners at Bay Hill have ranked seventh or better (Hatton 7th; Molinari 5th; McIlroy 1st) in the field for Scrambling during their respective winning weeks. 

Here are the Scrambling leaders (last 24 rounds) in this week's field: 

1.     Ian Poulter + 16.1 

2.     Nick Taylor + 12.3 

3.     Francesco Molinari + 11.5 

4.     Marc Leishman + 9.9 

5.     Jason Day + 9.9 

6.     Bo Hoag + 9.2 

7.     Henrik Stenson + 9.0 

8.     Wyndham Clark + 8.3 

9.     Chris Kirk + 7.8 

10.  Matt Jones + 7.6 

SELECTIONS

Tyrrell Hatton 18-1  

We got a winner in this column with Hatton here last year at 60-1. Obviously, the price is much lower, but he is now the OWGR No. 6 player, his price is similar to last week and this is against a weaker field as the defending event champion.  

Hatton ranks fifth in SG: Ball Striking (Tee +  Approach), sixth in SG: Approach and ninth in SG: Putting over the course of the last 24 rounds.  

Last week, he finished tied for 22nd at the Concession and was a mess around the green, losing almost 6.5 strokes, but ranked top 10 for Approach and Putting.   

Francesco Molinari 30-1  

After missing much of 2020, Molinari has begun 2021 with three top-10 finishes in his last four events. Last time out at Riviera, he shot 66 on Sunday to finish tied for eighth.

Molinari is a former winner here and in fact won at Bay Hill the last time he appeared in 2019. Furthermore, he has mustered three other top-10s here since 2014.

Now sitting at OWGR No. 91, this is as good of a spot as any to play well and make a statement that he wants back on that European Ryder Cup team.

Tommy Fleetwood 45-1 

Here is the other half of the “Moliwood” duo that led the European Ryder Cup team to victory in 2018.

Fleetwood has been out of form lately but has two top-10s here in four starts. Furthermore, he has five top-10s in nine Florida swing starts.  

His missed cut here last year came just a week after he found the water on 18 to come up short on Sunday at the Honda Classic.  

Jason Kokrak 47-1

Kokrak has three top-10 finishes here in his last seven years. However, he comes to Bay Hill for the first time as a PGA Tour winner having won the CJ Cup last year against an elite field at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. 

He finished tied for ninth last week at the Concession and rated fourth in the field for SG: Off-the-Tee and ninth for SG: Putting.

Sam Burns 50-1 

Burns nearly pulled off the wire-to-wire feat at Riviera two weeks ago before settling for third. He led after each of the first three rounds but failed to close the deal on the back nine.

He has gained 11.7 strokes putting over eight rounds in the last two years at Bay Hill on the lightning-fast Bermuda greens. He also should be able to take advantage of the par-5s and rates second on tour over the last 24 rounds for Strokes Gained on the par-5s.

Burns is knocking on the door for a win. Aside from Riviera, he was also in the final group on Sunday at Torrey Pines before faltering. Sometimes a player needs to get close and experience some Sunday pain before getting that first win, and Burns has had his fair share of that pain in 2021. However, he may have learned his lessons.  

Wyndham Clark 100-1 

Clark comes in with some momentum having finished tied for eighth last time out at Riviera.  

He is a big hitter who will take advantage of the par-5s and has smooth touch on the greens as indicated by his Scrambling and Putting stats.  

Chris Kirk 130-1 

Kirk regained his full PGA Tour playing privileges with a tie for second at the Sony Open earlier this year.

He followed that up with two top-20 finishes at the American Express and Pebble Beach. He has four finishes of 16th or better in his last seven appearances here.

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