Will Zalatoris is one of our expert’s top picks this week.
Welcome to our weekly PGA Tour gambling-tips column, featuring picks from GOLF.com’s expert prognosticator, Brady Kannon. You can follow Kannon on Twitter at @LasVegasGolfer and you can read below to see his favorite plays for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which kicks off Thursday at Bay Hill, in Orlando, Fla. Keep scrolling past Kannon’s picks, and you’ll also see data from Chirp, a free-to-play mobile platform — and GOLF.com affiliate — that features a range of games with enticing prizes, giving fans all kinds of ways to engage in the action without risking any money.
Week 2 of the Florida Swing takes us right back to a tournament with elevated status. It is the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, where just 120 players comprise what is a stacked field.
Nine of the Top 10 players in the OWGR are present, 23 of the Top 25 and 44 of the Top 50 players in the world rankings are scheduled to tee it up this Thursday. Similar to the back-to-back designated events in Phoenix and Los Angeles just a few weeks ago, The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass is next week on the Tour schedule. As we flip the calendar to March, some “madness” in the world of golf is likely on tap in the coming weeks as well.
The King, Arnold Palmer, took over the controls on this event in 1979, moving it to Bay Hill, the club he purchased in 1976. In true Arnie fashion, always tinkering with his swing and his clubs, he did the same over the years with this golf course.
Though Mr. Palmer has passed on, the tinkering at Bay Hill continues. In the last three seasons, we’ve seen this golf course become much more difficult. The Bermuda grass greens are bigger than average Tour size and they are firm and fast. The fairways have been made wider and longer but the rough is about as close to “U.S. Open rough”-length as the players see all season outside of the major championships. 84 sand bunkers dot the layout and water comes into play on 9 of the 18 holes. From year 2000 to 2019, 17 of the 20 winning scores at Bay Hill were in double-digits, 7 of which were at -15 or better. In the last three seasons, the winning scores have been -5, -11, and -4.
The lack of wind last week at the Honda Classic was really an outlier versus what we typically see on the Florida Swing. This week however, it looks like it is back to normal — for least a couple of the four days. Right now, the forecast is calling for calm conditions on Thursday and Sunday but Friday and Saturday could blow well over 20 mph.
Bay Hill is a long par-72 course, measuring nearly 7,500 yards. All four par 3s are 200 yards or longer and that contributes heavily to so many of the approach shots here coming from 200 yards or more. Ten of the last 11 winners of this event ranked in the Top 55 on Tour in Proximity to the Hole from 200 or more yards. Some of the bigger names in this field that check that box are Gary Woodland, Sungjae Im, Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, Wyndham Clark, Tom Kim, Tom Hoge, Keegan Bradley, Collin Morikawa, and Rory McIlroy.
Scoring on the par 5s is crucial to one’s success at Bay Hill, as there aren’t a great deal of real birdie opportunities otherwise, but much like a major championship, the golf course will test all areas of one’s game. We’ve seen elite drivers of the golf ball win here, elite iron players, and those possessing a magical short game. My guess is your winner will have to be excellent in at least two of those three areas this week. In particular, I looked at Strokes Gained: Approach, Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, Strokes Gained: Off The Tee – on long courses, Strokes Gained: Total on hard courses with long rough, Strokes Gained: Putting – on fast Bermuda, Par 5 Scoring, Scrambling, Strokes Gained: Par 4’s from 450-500 yards, and Proximity to the Hole from 150 to greater than 200 yards.
Like TPC Scottsdale, Augusta National, and Harbour Town, Bay Hill is another course in which we see course form repeat itself over time, meaning players that have done well here in the past, tend to continually do so. As far as correlated courses, I looked at Scottsdale. We saw Scottie Scheffler win at both tracks last year. I also looked at Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo Championship), Congaree (CJ Cup 2022), and Southern Hills (PGA Championship 2022).
To nobody’s surprise, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy rank very high for me statistically this week but with their prices so short, I’ve gone a little further down the board for my selections. The Arnold Palmer Invitational has seen shorter-priced players win, however, in recent history, and I believe that speaks to how demanding the golf course is and the often very challenging weather that comes into play. If you look at the pre-tournament odds of the last seven winners at Bay Hill, you will find that long shots are few and far between: Scottie Scheffler (16-1), Bryson DeChambeau (12-1), Tyrrell Hatton (55-1), Francesco Molinari (33-1), Rory McIlroy (20-1), Marc Leishman (100-1), Jason Day (14-1).
5 picks to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational (and finish in the Top 20)
Will Zalatoris (22-1)
I was making an appearance on SportsGrid Radio last Sunday night, recapping the Honda Classic and looking ahead to Bay Hill. Willy Z was the first name I threw out as someone I thought could be your winner here this week. His price is a little shorter than I expected but I took the plunge anyway. We know he is an elite iron player, he ranks No. 1 on Tour for par 5’s with a birdie or better, he is 7th in this field over the last 36 rounds for SG Off the Tee, and his putting has really come around — ranking 35th in this field over the last 36 rounds for SG Putting. Zalatoris was battling injury back in the fall but his 4th place finish two weeks ago at the Genesis Invitational tells me he is back up to speed. Note, he has a 10th place finish here at Bay Hill, a 17th in Scottsdale, and lost to Justin Thomas in a playoff at Southern Hills in the 2022 PGA Championship. A recipient of the Arnold Palmer scholarship at Wake Forest University, there are some ties to The King for Willy Z. A win in Arnie’s tournament would be quite a moment for the young man.
Patrick Cantlay (23-1)
I mentioned that course form or course history, is very strong here at Bay Hill. Unfortunately for our purposes, this is the first time that Patrick Cantlay will be playing in this event. He was excellent two weeks ago in Los Angeles and I just have to believe his game will travel well here in Orlando. Cantlay ranks 5th on Tour in Total Driving, being both long and accurate. He is 19th in Proximity to the Hole from 200 yards or greater. He’s 3rd in Greens in Regulation, 6th in Scrambling, and 29th in SG Putting. He does everything well and that is what is needed at this course. It is also worth noting that he is No. 1 on Tour in Par 4 Scoring and 2nd in Par 5 Scoring. Cantlay challenged Rahm at the Genesis and here we are getting better than three times what the price is on Jon Rahm this week. Let’s also remember, he lost in a playoff to Scottie Scheffler last year at TPC Scottsdale, one of our correlated courses.
Jason Day (33-1)
It has been a while since I’ve made a bet backing Jason Day but the guy is sneaking up on all of us with the way he has been playing the last five months. The former world No. 1 has played in 10 events this season. He’s missed the cut twice but hasn’t finished worse than 21st in the eight other appearances, including three straight Top 10 finishes coming into this week. He’s won here before at Bay Hill back in 2016, he just finished 5th at Scottsdale three weeks ago, he’s won at Quail Hollow, took 11th at Congaree back in October, and last summer, before this transition really blossomed, he made the cut and finished 55th at Southern Hills in the PGA Championship. In this field over the last 36 rounds, Day is 8th in SG Ball Striking, 11th in SG Approach, and 20th in SG Putting. On Tour, Jason Day ranks 11th in Total Driving — his accuracy has greatly improved, he’s 33rd in Greens in Regulation, and 4th in Scrambling. I personally really like to see him returning to prominence and I wouldn’t mind an outright win here this week either.
Sungjae Im (35-1)
Not quite to the level of Patrick Cantlay, but SungJae Im is another player who does everything well with nary the glaring weakness. That has been proven here at Bay Hill with four visits to this tournament and finishes of 21st, 20th, 3rd, and 3rd. In the two areas we pinpointed earlier, Im is 12th on Tour in Proximity to the Hole from 200+ yards and 7th in Par 5 Scoring. He has the short game to go along with it too, ranking 19th on Tour for Scrambling and 78th in SG Putting. Over the last 36 rounds, Sungjae Im is 17th in this field for SG Ball Striking and 15th in SG Off the Tee. Against a watered-down field last week, Im had the pressure of a former Honda winner, carrying the burden of tournament favorite. Now he arrives more in the role of an underdog with the price to go along with it, but at a course at which he’s experienced very high level success. In his brief career, Im’s had five Top 10 finishes in the state of Florida. I think he’s primed for another if not better.
Brian Harman (125-1)
With such a loaded field this week, it is seemingly more of a practice of picking which elite player is going to win. When looking at the Top 26 players in the OWGR, 15 of them are priced shorter than 35-1 to win this week at Bay Hill. Brian Harman is the 24th ranked player in the world yet is priced more than 3.5 times longer than 35-1. Is he going to win? We’ll see, but the price does seem high. I mentioned earlier that this week’s winner will need to be excellent in two of the three areas we highlighted – either off of the tee, with the irons, or with the short game. Harman definitely has the short game — that is his strength — but off of the tee and with the irons he is not too shabby either. He ranks 35th in this field for SG Ball Striking over the last 36 rounds and 40th in SG Off the Tee. Harman ranks 21st in this field over the last 24 rounds on hard courses with long rough. He’s 19th on Tour in Par 5 Scoring and 4th in Par 4 Scoring. In his career, he has three Top 20 finishes at Bay Hill, two Top 10’s at Quail Hollow, and finished 34th in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. Again, we’ll see if he can win it outright but he certainly has the chops to contend.
3 full-tournament head-to-head matchups I really like
Tyrrell Hatton (-135) over Jordan Spieth
Patrick Cantlay (-125) over Justin Thomas
Scottie Scheffler (+110) over Jon Rahm
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