Arnold Palmer Invitational
Whilst it wasn’t unfortunately our week on the picks front I had a great time personally in Palm Harbor at the Copperhead course.
The weather was good [all be it cold on Thursday!] and the howling gales and storms potentially predicted for Sunday never materialised. As for the golf, Tiger’s performance was sensational. I for one am looking forward to the first time the likes of JT, Rahm, Spieth etc come up against him down the stretch on a Sunday!
Congratulations to Paul Casey though. After so many close calls over recent years no one would begrudge him another victory.
From our point of view it was disappointing to see guys like Streelman & Moore who you’d have thought were bankers to play solidly, if not more, missing the cut, and whilst Bozzelli and Smith again caught the eye in patches the best golf in our team came from our trader Rory Sabbatini who actually ended up making the frame. From what I saw of him he looked really solid and I can see another win coming from him soon, perhaps in his adopted home state of Texas.
Moving on and the tour [and me] make the 90 min drive east to Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The tournament is played at the Bay Hill Country Club.
The field from a betting perspective is headed up by Tiger Woods who as I write is being priced up as a best priced 7-1 favourite.
I am fascinated to see how he performs now that he is in effect over the stage of ‘making the cut and looking healthy is basically a great week’.
His performance at the Valspar on a course where he had no track record has raised the bar massively. He now heads to a course he basically owns and whilst regular and seasoned golf watchers/commentators will still be tempering expectations the general public [& most likely himself] will expect him to win this week, and they will see anything outside of a strong top 5 as a backwards step.
The other names who lag behind Tiger at the top end of the betting market are Day, Rose and a struggling Rory.
As I write the 5th favourite in the market is Tommy Fleetwood. Tommy [quite rightly based on current form] finds himself above the likes of Rickie, Hideki and Henrik in the market, a testament to how far he has come over the past 12 months or so.
Bay Hill is a Wilson & Joe Lees design, which underwent a redesign from Arnold Palmer in 2009.
Bay Hill is a Par 72 playing to just over 7400 yards of the tee. Compared to Copperhead and PGA National, the other two courses played in Florida so far, there is more room of the tee.
The greens are TiffEagle Bermuda.
With more room of the tee Bay Hill can be seen as a second shot golf course. The rough has been grown up more around the greens over recent years so finding the greens and the right spots on them is important.
With dry conditions again in the forecast I would expect the greens to run fast [as they did last year].
As I said above this is an event owned by Tiger over the years with eight [yes really 8!] victories here in his career. He won four times in a row from 2000, back to back in 08 & 09 and again back to back in 2012 & 13.
Putting his wins to win one side the last ten years has seen one other back to back winner in the form of Matt Every. The Florida native got his debut tour win here in 2014, did nothing for the next year and then duly defended his title in 2015.
The last two years has seen two Aussie winners Leishman and Day and there have also been wins in the last ten years for Martin Laird and Ernie Els.
Over the past ten years the winning score has ranged from -5 from Tiger in 09 to -19 from Matt Every in 2015. It’s worth noting though that from 07-09 the course played as a Par 70 before reverting to a par 72 in 2010.
With the course expected to play firm and fast this week I would expect something similar to Marc Leishman’s score last year getting the job done.
As noted above we are in for a week of sunshine and increasing temperatures. The weekend is expected to be in the mid to high 80s. Plenty of sunscreen and water required for me this week!
Wind is not expected to be an issue.
Before moving on to this week’s picks it would be remiss of me not to give my thoughts on Tiger from a betting prospective.
Whilst I can now see him winning again [which in all honesty barely a month ago I couldn’t] I am reluctant to wade in to someone at 7-1 who hasn’t won for so long, even if it is Tiger at his beloved Bay Hill.
As I said above the expectancy will be there now from both him and the public and it’s just possible he doesn’t fly out of the blocks this week.
In addition the most suspect club in his bag, the driver, will be required a lot more at Bay Hill than at Copperhead and this could be his undoing.
Also, whilst totally to be expected, he did ultimately stall on Sunday at the Copperhead when in the heat of the battle. It is of course quite possible and indeed likely, that with that experience under his belt that next time there will be no such blips, after all as he said himself, he’s been there before!
All in all though he’s not for me at the price, and I shall continue to watch his progress as a fascinated bystander.
So on to this week’s picks and it’s five for me as follows;
JUSTIN ROSE – 14-1 - 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 3rd
I shall say straight of the bat that I’m not really looking to reinvent the wheel with my picks this week and first up for me is Justin Rose.
The case for Rose is a pretty obvious one this week and one thing Tiger’s presence at the top of the market does do is create a more than fair e/w price for the Englishman.
After a six week break or so Justin had a fairly low key week at the WGC Mexico before producing a very strong week at the Valspar and it’s just possible he may be on the verge of recapturing the form he had at the back end of 2017.
Whilst he has never won the event his record at Bay Hill is there to see with 5 top 15 finishes in his last 6 starts and it is hard to see him not being in the hunt again this week.
In interviews at the Valspar Justin admitted that he didn’t actually have his A Game going at the Copperhead, however the encouraging thing was that his general nemesis the putter seemed in good working order and he actually finished the week 3rd in the SGP stats.
Hopefully now with another week under his belt and back on a course he is very familiar with he will push on and I see a big week ahead for him.
TOMMY FLEETWOOD – 20-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 26th
Having backed Tommy in the Honda to good rewards three weeks ago I just had a hunch to be wary at the WGC Mexico when he returned to a course that he’d had such success on the year before.
I just felt he would have big expectations on himself and with a world class field headed up by DJ, JT, Rahm etc I just couldn’t back him at 16-1.
Roll on a fortnight though and I have a different view.
I have made my concerns about Tiger and his price clear above and we obviously are on Rose. Day of course is a danger but beyond this it is easy to pick holes in the other players around Tommy in the market.
Tommy made his debut at the API last year a fortnight after his stellar efforts in Mexico and he got off to a very slow start with an opening round of 78.
From there on in though his performance was exceptional to end up with a finish of 10th place, so he obviously likes the track.
In fact with the usual ‘ifs & ands’ if Tommy’s opening 78 had been a 73 he would have tied Leishman’s winning score.
I highlighted above that finding the green’s and the right parts of them is key this week and there are none better in the field at doing that than the Englishman and similarly to Rose I find it hard not to see him contending again this week.
ALEX NOREN – 30-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 36th
No prizes for me for originality I’m afraid as my third pick this week goes to another player who was in our team at the Honda three weeks ago in the form of the inform Alex Noren.
For want of copying and pasting my thoughts on Noren back at the Honda I shall simply say the obvious in that the Swede’s start to his first full season on the PGA tour has been hugely impressive.
Based on current form there is every argument for his price to be as short, if not shorter than Rickie, Rory, Henrik and a returning Hideki and it is only a lack of course form I’m assuming which has sees him priced up as 30-1 shot.
Just as I didn’t at the Honda though I have no worries that the course won’t be to Alex’s liking and to back this up he put in a solid if unspectacular performance here on debut last year to finish 49th.
As I wrote in my Honda preview Noren makes his US base in Jupiter Florida so he is very comfortable on the Bermuda greens.
In addition Par 5 scoring is a key part of success this week and the Swede currently sits fourth in this category for ‘birdies or better’ in the 2017-18 stats, with only DeChambeau of those entered this week above him.
As with our first two picks this week it’s again hard not to see another big week for the Swede ahead.
EMILIANO GRILLO – 66-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 26th
I backed Grillo in this event last year and he duly lead the event on day one before sitting one shot of the pace at halfway.
After a disappointing Saturday the Argentinian bounced back on Sunday to deliver us a share of the e/w place spoils.
Whilst Grillo’s form last year wasn’t great coming in to the week as a really strong iron player I had felt this was a good track for him and this was something that had was backed up by his eye catching debut finish of 17th in 2016.
It was therefore gratifying to see this theory rewarded by his solid play to finish 7th.
Coming in to the event this year he is in far better form than he was this time last year with a string of solid performances on the PGA Tour culminating in an 8th place finish 3 weeks ago at the Honda.
The only negative for me is that he decided to make the trek overseas for the Indian Open last week.
I say negative reservedly, as it is hard to say another top 10 finish is a negative. However all things considered I would have selfishly preferred him to have been resting up at home tinkering on his game than making a 17,000 mile round trip from Florida to India.
Still, hopefully he was back on US soil by bed time Sunday evening and this will give him a few days to get rested up and over the jet lag.
There are one or two concerns over Emiliano when in contention at the moment and these reared there head again in India where he had a poor round three when holding a healthy half way lead.
However at 66-1 we are obviously getting a juicy e/w price for a top 7 finish and I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt based on current form and at a course he clearly likes.
JAMIE LOVEMARK – 66-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 41st
My final selection this week goes to another player I was on in this event last year and who has run in to some eye catching form over the past couple of weeks.
As I am sure most people who read this column will know back in the day the Californian was the ‘can’t miss kid’ coming out of college who was destined for the sort of successe,s which have befallen the likes of Spieth, Thomas and Fowler over the recent years.
Indeed as long ago as in 2009 Jamie featured in a 3 man play off for the Frys.com trophy alongside a certain Rickie Fowler and eventual winner Troy Mattesson.
At that point if anyone had told you that Lovemark would remain winless on the PGA tour more than 8yrs later you’d have said they were stark raving bonkers, however that is unfortunately the case.
The main reason for this of course is that Lovemark’s career was derailed by a major back problem in 2010, which ultimately required surgery in 2011.
After time off for the necessary rehab Jamie a historical fader of the ball had developed a hook in his game, which coupled with the pressure he was under to fulfil a Major Medical Exemption lead to real struggles on the course.
Eventually under the guidance of Chris Como and with a lot of hard work, Lovemark re built his game and career through the Web.com tour and this is now his third consecutive full season back on the PGA Tour.
Each of the last two seasons has seen a string of steady performances and high finishes and the only thing that has been missing from the CV is the win.
The 2017-18 season started promisingly for Jamie with a top 5 finish at the CJ Cup, however it was a slow start to the 2018 calendar year for him with a couple of missed cuts and a 52nd place at Phoenix.
Things started to click however at Riviera and the last two outings in Florida have seen Jamie place 7th at the Honda and 16th at the Valspar.
The weekend was particularly encouraging at the Copperhead for Jaimie, as having made the cut on the number he played really solidly to ultimately finish 16th.
On the back of this encouraging form Lovemark now returns to a course where he has finished 23rd and 6th the past two seasons and with his game trending really nicely in the right direction I can see a big week for him ahead.
In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if a we do see a win for a player this week who’s career has been blighted by back problems and who has subsequently worked with Chris Como...It may just not be for the player you would automatically think!..
UPDATED 13th MARCH
TRADER - G McDOWELL FINISHED 22nd TRADED 110
GMac has shown some signs of life of late with a very solid week at Riviera and a decent showing this last weekend at the Valspar.
He has been saying for a while now that he has been working really hard on his game and that he is hitting it great in practice. Now it's just a case of delivering some results on the course.
With Bay Hill set to play firm and fast this week and with the rough demanding accuracy of the tee the course will hopefully play to his strengths.
GMac has played well at Bay Hill in the past and I am optimistic that he can build on his recent improvements and deliver another good performance this week.
CURRENTLY TRADING AT 360+