ARNOLD PALMER INVITATIONAL: After a grueling week at PGA National the PGA Tour heads up the Florida Turnpike to Arnie’s place, Bay Hill, where a star-studded field has gathered for one of the oldest events on the Florida Swing, the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
First staged in 1970, this tournament moved to Bay Hill in 1979 and became Arnold Palmer’s baby. Not only did he host the tournament and, in his later years, determine who was invited and gently pressure the big name guys to play, he also famously tinkered with the course itself several times, adding and then removing bunkers, lengthening several holes, changing the contouring of the greens and the strain of Bermuda grass being used… this may be the same piece of property that Arnie first fell in love with in the 70s, but the course itself has been radically changed and modernized.
Measuring over 7,400 yards from the tips and featuring numerous water hazards and sticky Bermuda rough, the 21st-century Bay Hill can be a beast. In 2020, for instance, the wind blew and Tyrell Hatton needed only 4-under to get the job done, and while the conditions were calmer last year, Bryson DeChambeau’s 11-under total was still a higher winning score that one would normally see at a regular Tour event. DeChambeau won’t be defending this week due to
his Saudi masters telling him he can’t play a hand injury, but the field is stacked nonetheless, with names like Rahm, McIlroy, Hovland, and Matsuyama sitting atop BETDAQ’s Win Market. Due in part to the demanding tee-to-green nature of Bay Hill, the list of recent champions here is impressive– DeChambeau, Hatton, Molinari, McIlroy, Leishman, Day– so I’d take a hard look at some of the names near the top of the market. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Scottie Scheffler (20.0)- Jon Rahm may be world No. 1, but there’s nobody hotter than Scottie Scheffler right now. In his past eight starts, Scheffler has posted seven top-25 finishes, including a T4, a pair of runner-ups, a 7th-place showing at the Genesis last time out, and a victory in Phoenix three weeks ago. A second-round 72 at Riviera in his last start was Scheffler’s first over-par round of 2022, but it was bookended by a 65 and a 66, and you have to go all the way back to November’s RSM Classic to find a week that he didn’t finish double-digits under par. Bay Hill is a ball-striker’s track that is tee-to-green Bermuda, Scheffler’s preferred surface, so it should fit him nicely, and he fared quite well in his only appearance in this event, finishing 15th in 2020. With the taste of victory still fresh and a course that suits him, Scheffler is a slam-dunk this week at a price like 20.0.
Jason Kokrak (40.0)- Though there have been whispers about Kokrak potentially taking the Saudi money and leaving the PGA Tour behind, he’s still plugging along stateside and still playing well, finishing 26th at the Genesis two weeks ago and 17th at the Sony in his previous start. One of the longest guys on Tour, he’s figured out how to bomb his way around Bay Hill and has found the top-20 here in each of the past three years, including a T8 last year that could’ve been even better were it not for a final round 74. So this is one of Kokrak’s preferred venues for sure, and he’s only four starts removed from a victory at the Houston Open, his third win in the past 18 months. When you add it all up he seems like a pretty sensible play at nearly 40/1.
Beau Hossler (82.0)- Hossler has quietly put together a nice start to the season that includes a T3 at the AT&T Pebble Beach and a pair of top-20s, including a T16 at last week’s Honda Classic. He has a good history on the Florida Swing due to his affinity for Bermuda greens, and he’s been rolling the rock beautifully this year, ranking 16th on Tour in strokes gained putting. While he’s yet to seriously contend at this tournament, he does have a solid history here, making the cut in all three of his appearances and achieving better results each time (T66 in ’18, T58 in ’19, T24 in ’20), so Bay Hill is clearly a course that suits his game. The arrow is definitely pointing up for Hossler this week, making him one of the better values on the board at a price like 82.0.