Bay Hill preview

A preview and best bets for this week's PGA Tour event - the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida

By Dave Tindall Twitter: @DaveTindallgolf.   Last Updated: 19/03/14 9:29am

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The 18th hole at Bay Hill

The 18th hole at Bay Hill

Sky Bet

The PGA Tour moves 85 miles north-east from Tampa to Orlando for this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

First staged in 1979, the event is one of the more prestigious stops on the calendar and also the final event of the March Florida Swing. For some, it will be their last outing before next month's Masters at Augusta.

Opened more than 50 years ago, Bay Hill was given a facelift by Palmer himself in 1989.

The tournament has been totally dominated by Tiger Woods in past years, with the World No 1 collecting his eighth win there last year.

At the other end of the scale, since 1980 only won debutant has ever won the event - Robert Gamez in 1990 when he produced a spectacular hole-out for eagle on the 72nd hole.

As usual, Sky Sports will have live coverage of all four days, with the first broadcast beginning at 7pm (SS4 HD) on Thursday.

Tiger Woods: The eight-time winner has withdrawn with a bad back

The course

Bay Hill will play as a 7,419-yard par 72 this year. The 1961 Dick Wilson design was proclaimed the "best course in Florida" when Arnold Palmer first tried it and he liked it so much he bought it. The course has undergone various tweaks down the years but the current layout will be just as it's been for the last four years when it switched back to a par 72. The winning scores were -13, -13, -8 and -11. There are more than 100 bunkers on a course that offers plenty of fairway space for the big-hitters. The tournament records here all came in the 80s with the late Payne Stewart posting 264 in 1987 while the 18-hole record of 62 was set by Andy Bean in 1981 and matched by Greg Norman in 1984.

Last year

Bad weather meant the tournament went to a Monday finish and Tiger took victory to return to World No 1 for the first time since October, 2010. Putting was the key to success with Woods ranking first in Strokes - Gained Putting, fourth for Total Putts (110) and first in Putts Per Hole. No-one ever got really close to him in the final round and he could afford a bogey at the final hole as he recorded a two-shot win over Justin Rose. Mark Wilson, Keegan Bradley, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Rickie Fowler were three shots further back in tied third.

Lowest rounds at Bay Hill since 2000

63: Davis Love (2000)
63: Darren Clarke (2006)
63: Sean O'Hair (2008)
63: Graeme McDowell (2012)
64: Nine players

The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)

Tiger Woods (13/2): (Tiger has now pulled out with a back injury)

Tiger and Arnie share a joke after Woods' victory last year

Justin Rose (12/1): The Englishman didn't have the final round he wanted in Tampa on Sunday but an eighth place represented a solid week's work in what was just his third strokeplay appearance of 2014. Rose declared that his previously injured shoulder is now "perfect" so there's every reason to expect another good week here. The US Open champ is a big fan of the course and as well as his second place last year he was 15th in 2012 and third in 2011. As a local, Rose has also stressed how sleeping in his own bed has helped him play well in Orlando - both in this tournament and the Disney event.

Bubba Watson (14/1): The monster-hitting left-hander whose swing and approach suggests he'll be either hit or miss is just about the most consistent golfer on the planet at the moment. In his last three strokeplay events he can boast a first (Riviera) and two seconds (Cadillac and Phoenix) so everything is working well. At Bay Hill he was fourth in 2012, 14th last year and also third going into the final round in 2011 before slipping to 24th. It's a course he plays well on so, in this form, he's likely to be a big factor.

Adam Scott (16/1): Such is his ability to peak for the majors, it's easy to think that everything else is just a dress rehearsal for the Aussie. He's rather given that impression this year with some of the higher gears being left untouched in finishes of sixth (Hyundai), eighth (Sony), 12th (Honda) and 25th (Cadillac). The Masters champ has only played here once since 2006 (a missed cut in 2009) but a third place in 2003 suggests he has no problems with the course.

Zach Johnson (20/1): Johnson has cooled off since his rapid start to the season which saw him win the season-opener in Hawaii and place third in the Humana Challenge in California. A 16th in tough conditions at the Cadillac was a decent effort though and the bookies are giving him plenty of respect. The 2007 Masters Champion is a regular here and in the last 10 years he can boast a third (2009), a sixth (2004), an eighth (2005) and an 11th (2012).

Graeme McDowell (22/1): The Northern Irishman is a two-time runner-up at Bay Hill, his first second place coming back in 2005 when he was still a newcomer to PGA Tour events and his other when second to Woods in 2012. That year he carded a second round 63. G-Mac didn't begin his 2014 until February but he's already produced some strong showings with a seventh at Pebble Beach, a run to the quarter-finals of the World Match Play and a ninth at the Cadillac last time out.

Hunter Mahan (25/1): Mahan has made his last six cuts at Bay Hill although a sixth place in 2008 is his only top 20 (he was 21st last year). He's hinted at a victory several times this year but has yet to get it done and end a winless streak that stretches back to the 2012 Shell Houston Open. He was fourth in Phoenix, sixth at Pebble Beach (third at halfway and second after 54 holes) and ninth at the Cadillac last time out when round two leader and second when teeing off in the final round. He looks close.

Hunter Mahan: Ready to win

Henrik Stenson (28/1): The magic he produced in the second half of last season appears to have vanished so far in 2014 although a tied 16th in the Cadillac Championship looked like a step in the right direction (certainly on the greens where he ranked 1st in Putting Average). The horror shank in round one was more an isolated embarrassment than a sign of his struggles. The Swede has improved his performance in each of the last four years here so after finishes of 52nd, 47th, 15th and 8th perhaps he can kick on again and challenge for the win.

Conclusion

Bubba Watson is in superb form and deserves a very close look but it may just be the turn of fellow American Hunter Mahan to get his name on the trophy.

Mahan is knocking on the door right now and his fourth place in the Strokes Gained - Putting stats (not normally regarded as his strength) suggests he has all the elements in place to get an overdue win.

He's made the top 25 in four of his last six visits here so, in his current form, this could be the year it all comes together. Take the 25/1.

It can only be a matter of time before Henrik Stenson clicks back into gear and his closing 69 to finish 16th in the Cadillac could be the warning signal we need.

His putter heated right up at Doral and if he can get in the mix then all that recent winning experience should stand him in good stead and make the 28/1 look a very big price.

Rickie Fowler won a junior tournament at Bay Hill and last year shot 10-under over the middle two rounds to put himself in the final group with Woods.

Fowler gave it a good shot and was just two back with three to play but a triple at 16 ended his challenge although he still came home in tied third.

There are plenty of positive memories then and this could be the stage for him to shine again after some promising recent play.

A third place in the World Match Play suggested his new swing changes were bedding in and although he was only 44th in the Cadillac, Fowler topped the Greens In Regulation stats for the week so was hitting it well.

At 40/1 he's worth an each-way punt.

As for an outsider, turn to Aussie Aaron Baddeley at 150/1.

Hopefully he'll get a little boost from watching compatriot John Senden win in Tampa last week and he's always bullish about playing well here.

At this venue Baddeley was sixth in 2003, fifth in 2005 and 12th on his last but one visit in 2011.

Although he missed the cut last week, his previous start had produced an 18th at Riviera where he was second at halfway after opening 69-65.

Aussies have a strong record in Florida events so Baddeley could just produce a surprise.

Best bets

2pts e.w. Hunter Mahan at 25/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
2pts e.w. Henrik Stenson at 28/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Rickie Fowler at 40/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Aaron Baddeley at 150/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)

(Preview written on Tuesday lunchtime. Prices have changed due to Tiger's withdrawal on Tuesday evening)

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