Arnold Palmer Invitational – Golfers to Target

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The PGA Tour continues its Florida swing with a trip to Bay Hill Club and Lodge for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This event is an invitational which means the field is reduced to 123 golfers. With the PLAYERS Championship next week, many of the top PGA Tour players are taking the week off. 

Golfers will face a tough test this week. Bay Hill is a Par 72 and stretches out over 7,400 yards. As with almost all Florida courses, the fairways and green complexes are Bermudagrass. Weather will be a factor this week, in particular the wind. Last year, Tyrrell Hatton claimed victory at Bay Hill despite shooting over par on both of his weekend rounds. There’s plenty of water hazards and bunkers scattered throughout the course. The majority of the holes play over par, with the Par 5s being the major birdie opportunities.

Each week, I will highlight 10 golfers from different price tiers to help you build your betting card! The three price tiers I will highlight will be the: the top tier, mid-tier, and longshots. Top tier golfers will consist of golfers who are 30-1 or less. The mid-tier will consist of golfers who are longer than 30-1, but shorter than 70-1. Longshots will consist of golfers who are longer than 70-1.

Top Tier (Under 30-1)

Viktor Hovland 12-1

Viktor Hovland is quickly becoming one of the top players in the world. After finishing his second round at the WGC Workday Championship with a quadruple bogey, Hovland was able to bounce back right into contention. Since his win at Mayakoba in December, Hovland has played four PGA Tour events. In those events, Hovland has recorded two runner-ups and a T5 finish. Hovland is one of the best pure ball-strikers on Tour. He constantly finds himself on the green with a birdie chance. He is an elite birdie-maker, especially on Par 5s. The two-time PGA Tour winner has been knocking on the door for another victory, and this could be his week.

Sungjae Im (21-1)

Sungjae absolutely loves Florida. He won the Honda Classic last year, which was the first event of the Florida swing. In 2019, he recorded two Top 5 finishes during the four events in Florida. Im has played this event twice in his career with back-to-back third place finishes. 

Sungjae is very good off-the-tee and around the green. While this event is not usually a low-scoring birdie-fest, it will be important to target golfers who can score. Using 2020 ShotLink data, Sungjae ranks amongst this field are: 10th in Birdie or Better Percentage, 19th in Bogey Avoidance, and ninth in Par 5 Birdie or Better Percentage. Scoring on the Par 5s will be crucial this week because those are the main birdie opportunities. Im’s T28 finish last week was less than stellar, but I’m looking for him to bounce back in a big way this week.

Matthew Fitzpatrick (23-1)

Fitzpatrick has been playing very good golf in his recent outings. Coming off of a win on the European Tour in December, Fitzpatrick made his 2021 PGA debut at the Genesis Invitational, where he finished T5. Last week, at the WGC Workday Championship, Fitzpatrick finished T11. Bay Hill is a course that Fitzpatrick has performed well on in the past. He has back-to-back top 10 finishes at this event, including a runner-up finish in 2019. In his career, Fitzpatrick has found success on courses that require strategy. Fitzpatrick is a shot-maker who plays clean golf. He won’t rattle off birdie streaks like some of the other top players, but he rarely makes big mistakes. If the scoring conditions at Bay Hill are tough, I expect Fitzpatrick to be on the first page of a leaderboard for the third straight week. 

Hideki Matsuyama (28-1)

Hideki Matsuyama is a golfer that my stat model loves. Using 2020 ShotLink data, in this field Matsuyama ranks: 19th Off-the-Tee, first Tee-to-Green, second in Approach, 25th in Greens-in-Regulation, ninth in Scrambling, third in Around-the-Green, 11th in Birdie or Better Percentage, ninth in Bogey Avoidance, and 10th in Par 5 Birdie or Better Percentage. There is a reason why he grades it so well in my model. It’s just a question of whether or not he can convert his strokes gained into a win. 

Last week, Matsuyama finished T15 at the WGC Workday Championship. Matsuyama has shown up at tough courses. In his last seven appearances at WGCs or Majors, Matsuyama has finished inside the Top 25. Matsuyama’s biggest struggles come with his putter. He is an elite ball-striker and gives himself scoring opportunities. In order for him to break through and win again, he will need to get hot with the flatstick. 

Mid-Tier (Under 70-1)

 Francesco Molinari (35-1)

Francesco Molinari is a horse for the course. Molinari has played in this event seven times in his career. He has one win, four Top 10 finishes, and he’s never missed a cut. In his last 20 rounds at Bay Hill, Molinari has gained 2.04 total strokes per round. Molinari quietly has been in top form. He has three Top 10 finishes in his last four events. Molinari is coming off of a lost year, where he only played three times in 2020 following the PGA Tour’s resume to action last June. Molinari moved his family from Italy to California and wasn’t able to focus on golf. Now that he’s back, he looks like he is back in his 2019 form. Molinari’s strength is his tee-to-green and his around the green play. When everything is clicking for Molinari, he is constantly at the top of leaderboards.

Jason Kokrak (49-1)

Kokrak won the CJ Cup in 2020 at Shadow Creek, and has been playing really well since then. The leaderboard from the CJ Cup, reads pretty similarly to last year’s Arnold Palmer leaderboard. Kokrak, Hatton, McIlroy, Fitzpatrick, Schauffele, English, Danny Lee, Gooch, and Morikawa all finished inside the Top 25 at both events. That is a lot of crossover between the two events, and Kokrak won at one of them! Kokrak is coming off of a T9 finish at the WGC Workday Championship. He was never really in contention, but he was solid all around. Kokrak was ninth among all PGA Tour players in Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee in 2020. At Bay Hill, off-the-tee play will be very important because of the hazards that are in play. Kokrak also has the potential to go nuclear with his putter. When he won at Shadow Creek, he gained over 10 strokes putting on the field. This is a solid number for a small field event.

Marc Leishman (55-1)

Marc Leishman is a very volatile golfer. Some weeks he looks lost, and other weeks he is completely dialed in. Recently, Leishman has been trending in the right direction and now is the time to buy in. After the Tour resumed play in June, it took Leishman five months to record a Top 20 finish. Leishman’s struggles have come mostly from his off-the-tee. He has lost strokes in that category in three straight events. However, the last time he did gain strokes off-the-tee was at the Sony Open when he finished T4. Leishman has three Top 10 finishes at Bay Hill in the last four years including a win in 2017. Over his last 22 rounds at Bay Hill, Leishman has gained .09 strokes per round off-the-tee. The recipe for success with Leishman is pretty clear. If he can remain neutral or gain with his driver, the rest of his game can carry him to the top.

Sleepers (Longer than 70-1)

Keith Mitchell (100-1)

Keith Mitchell’s lone PGA Tour win came at the Honda Classic in 2019. The Honda Classic is played at PGA National, which is a Florida course that features Bermuda greens. Mitchell has played at the Arnold Palmer Invitational twice, finishing in sixth (2019) and fifth (2020). Mitchell has not gotten off to a great start in 2021 with three missed cuts in four events. His lone made cut was the Sony Open where he finished inside the Top 15. Adding Mitchell to your betting card would be completely based off of his performances at Bay Hill. In his eight rounds on the course, he has gained 2.36 total strokes per round. Mitchell loves this course and at 100-1 he could be worth a look. If you have access to top finishes, Mitchell is a prime candidate for Top 40, Top 30, and Top 20 bets. 

Emiliano Grillo (140-1)

Grillo is a good ball-striker who has the talent to win on the PGA Tour. His lone PGA Tour was six years ago at Silverado where he defeated Kevin Na in a playoff. In December, Grillo had the 54-hole lead at Mayakoba. Grillo is coming off of a T11 finish at the Puerto Rico Open. Grillo resides in Bradenton, Florida so he is no stranger to Bermuda grass or Florida courses. Grillo has played at Bay Hill four times, recording one Top 10 finish. In this field, using 2020 ShotLink data Grillo ranks: fifth in Greens-in-Regulation, eighth in Approach, 11th Tee-to-Green, and 25th Off-the-Tee. Similar to Mitchell, Grillo is a great way to fill out the backend of your betting card and should be looked at for top finishing bets.

Alex Noren (140-1)

This number is surprising for Alex Noren. The former top 10 ranked golfer in the world has been really inconsistent recently. However, he is still one of the top short game players in the world. When courses are tough, short game specialists seem to always rise to the top. Noren does not have great course history at Bay Hill but he has made the cut twice in his three tries. Since 2006, only two Americans have won this event (Matt Every and Tiger Woods). European players have dominated this event. The last three winners of this event (Tyrrell Hatton, Francesco Molinari, and Rory McIlroy) have all won the BMW Championship on the European Tour. Noren won that event in 2017. Noren finished T12 at the Genesis Invitational two weeks ago, which was an event that saw extremely windy conditions. If the weather is forecasting for a windy weekend, Noren will be a guy to target.