2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational: Bay Hill Club & Lodge (3/13/18)
The Arnold Palmer Invitational starts Thursday in Orlando at Bay Hill. The clear headline is Tiger Woods returning for his attempt at his ninth victory at the event. As we mentioned last week, Innisbrook was a great track for Tiger considering the lack of the need to hit driver. His second place finish may have been the last time we'll be able to bet on Woods for the foreseeable future. He's already got the top odds on the board this week at +550 and the second-best odds to win the Masters.
Bay Hill plays a bit like a beefed up Innisbrook. The players will be required to hit more drivers off the tee, but can still lay back where the danger lies. There's a lot of water facing the players, again, and precise iron shots will be of key importance. The greens are not overly difficult, but there can be quite a few three putts on the speedy, large greens. The two most important aspects of taking the trophy this week are long iron shots and shots around the green.
The driving accuracy at Bay Hill is favorable to the players as most will be taking less than driver frequently, but those decisions counteract their ability to hit greens. Hence, the longer iron shots require a player to do so along with chipping/bunker play when those greens are missed.
This is obviously a track Tiger Woods can win, he's done so eight times. However, at +550 odds, the number is just too insane and his sample size is just to small this season to suggest he should be a massive favorite. If we use this year's statistics alone, we do rate Woods as the favorite at Bay Hill, but it's still well short of the value needed at nearly five to one odds.
Marc Leishman will return to defend his title at Bay Hill and may be getting a bit of a "Tiger bump" in his odds this week. Other recent past winners include Jason Day and Matt Every the previous two seasons.
As stated above, Leishman is defending his title and is getting quite a favorable number this week. In previous events, we've seen Leishman as low as 20 to 1 odds prior to playing just one event since mid-February. His most recent tournaments have not gone well considering what has become expected with a T31 at Phoenix, a missed cut at the Genesis, and T37 in Mexico City.
Nonetheless, even with his declining driving and putting in those events, he's still relied heavily on his impressive iron and short game. Leishman still ranks 18th in the field in shots gained on approach shots and third in shots gained around the green.
As a typical good all-around player, Leishman has struggled quite a bit off the tee box as of late. He ranks just 117th in shots gained off the tee in the 2018 season. This is mostly due to his inaccuracies with the driver at 55.7% of fairways hit. A good sign at Bay Hill is Leishman can lay back off the tee if he's still hitting it wayward this week and rely on his impressive iron and wedge play.
Other Favorites with value in order of preference: Patrick Reed (+3000), Rickie Fowler (+2000)
Jason Kokrak isn't a player we've written much about in the past at all, but he's been climbing the rankings among the world's best this season. Historically, Kokrak has been a bomber off the tee with a putrid short game. He's been a negative player in both shots gained aorund the green and putting for nearly his entire career. However, it seems he's figured it out as of late.
At +0.351 shots gained around the green, Kokrak ranks 22nd overall on tour this season while also improving his putting to +0.171 from a putrid -0.468 last season. Surely, he's not a great putter right now, but he's much better with little loss, if any, in the rest of his game.
He's hit an impressive 69.4% of greens this season including 68.9% of greens when going for it on par-5s. With four par-5s on the course, Kokrak has the length and ability to take advantage on the rest of the field. Kokrak is coming off of a T8 at last week's Valspar Championship and has finished inside the top-10 three times this season including five top-20s. His history of finishes at Bay Hill also include T56, T20, T6, and solo-4th. Surely Kokrak's odds of winning are quite low, but they are still a bit higher than 80 to 1.
Other Long Shots with value in order of preference: Francesco Molinari (+8000), Brandt Snedeker (+6600), Zach Johnson (+7500)