With a much deeper field than last week, trying to narrow down the winner at Bay Hill will be quite the tall order for a gambler this weekend.
- 2018 – Rory McIlroy (-18)
- 2017 – Marc Leishman (-11)
- 2016 – Jason Day (-17)
- 2015 – Matt Every (-19)
- 2014 – Matt Every (-13)
- 2013 – Tiger Woods (-13)
Most of the names on this list shouldn’t be a surprise given that some of the best ball-strikers in the world lay claim as champions at Bay Hill.
But Matt Every? Two time champion? Huh?!?!?!
Some of you probably don’t even know who Matt Every is. Nor should you. Bay Hill were his only two victories on the PGA Tour. After his win in 2015, he didn’t record a Top 10 in over three years and plummeted all the way down to 790th in the world.
So how did he do it? And were there any tell-tale signs he was primed for two victories at Bay Hill? For one, Every finished in the Top 10 on the week in both Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and Putting in both of his wins. While the strong ball-striking statistics were an outlier to his season long performance, Every did show well in putting statistics in the years he won. Every ranked 4th in Strokes Gained – Putting in 2014 and 87th in 2015.
Every also came into the 2014 event red hot, notching two Top 10’s in three starts heading in and was averaging over a stroke gained per round putting during that stretch. His 2015 win, however, was completely out of nowhere, as both his ball-striking and putting were wildly erratic and inconsistent before he went back to back at Bay Hill.
Given that the field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational is one of the strongest in years, I anticipate a winner closer to the ilk of those seen in 2013 and from 2016-2018, not a journeyman like Matt Every was.
Who will win this year? Here are my picks (with odds courtesy of mybookie.ag):
Justin Rose – 10/1: For the record, if I were writing for Golf Channel, or CBS, or ESPN, Justin Rose wouldn’t be my pick to win.
My pick would be Rory McIlroy.
Rory is showing all the signs that he’s ready to go on a dominant run like he did in 2012, 2014 and 2016. The signs that he’s ready to pop is how well he’s striking his wedges and short irons. On the year, Rory’s proximity to the hole ranks are 64th from 50-125 yards, 52nd from 125-150 yards and 21st from 150-175 yards. That doesn’t look impressive, but given how long and accurate Rory is off the tee he’s hitting from these distances far more often than his competitors. These statistics are also right in the ballpark to where they’ve been when he’s won his four majors and the Tour Championship. When he’s on a long track like Bay Hill, if he’s accurate with his wedges and rolling the rock as well as he has of late he’s incredibly tough to beat.
But I write for a sports gambling website. And everyone and their mother is picking Rory this week. And as I write this his odds are all the way down to 6.5/1 on mybookie.ag to win at Bay Hill. Those odds are just far too low for me to consider as a good option to bet given how strong the field is this weekend.
Consider this – last week Justin Thomas went off at the Honda Classic at 5.5/1, and he didn’t even crack the Top 20 despite being the defending champion (like Rory is this week) and was playing exceptionally well heading in (also like Rory this week). Thomas was also up against a much weaker field than there is at Bay Hill. I’m not saying Rory will fall flat like Justin Thomas did at PGA National, but there are better bets to be made on golfers just as talented at longer odds.
Make no bones about it – Rory is playing good enough to win the Masters this year. Because of that, I’d recommend taking any money you were planning on betting Rory to win at Bay Hill and invest that instead at 12/1 to win the Masters. If he bombs out this week, no worries – he’s still a viable candidate to win at Augusta in April and his odds won’t be going any lower than that. If he wins at Bay Hill, though, the hype on him heading into the Masters will be completely out of control. His odds will start to creep up to 8/1 or 7/1 range. At that point, you can feel good you have a ticket on Rory at longer odds than the market is offering, or you could go to a prop-swap establishment and sell the ticket for a profit.
With all that said, whatever changes to his swing, or his putting, or even his general outlook on life, Justin Rose is playing as good of golf as anyone over the last year, and there’s no signs of it letting up. Even with new sticks in the bag at Torrey Pines, he cruised to a win with some big names breathing down his neck on Sunday. Everything about the state of his game is humming right now, from his driving to his short game, and he’s putting as well as ever in his career. Take Justin Rose at a little longer odds as he looks to finally capture a win at Bay Hill following several close calls.
Jason Day – 16/1: In order to win at Bay Hill, Jason Day must be better with his approach shots. On the year he’s only 149th in Strokes Gained Approach. While he’s faring well in his Relative-to-Par statistics on approach shots inside 175 yards, it’s been his short game and putting that has saved him. There’s signs of optimism, though. He’s driving the ball well per the norm, and at Pebble Beach he averaged over a stroke gained on his approach shots to show some signs of life in that department. If he can find some stability in that area of the game this weekend, then he’ll be raising the crystal for his second career win at Bay Hill.
Marc Leishman – 28/1: Things were going swimmingly for Big Leish until his game contracted Montezuma’s Revenge down in Mexico City. He was uncharacteristically awful at the WGC – Mexico Championship. Leishman putted horribly on the fast poa-annua greens and was very mediocre with his ball striking tee-to-green. But at a venue he won at in 2017, I expect a bounce back from him. Before the trip to Mexico, Leishman had averaged over a stroke gained tee-to-green and was putting very well, gaining strokes on the field in all four of those events. Unless something more foul is afoot, look for the Aussie to be back in contention at Bay Hill with a shot to win on Sunday.
Francesco Molinari – 35/1: It’s been a quiet six months for Francesco Molinari after the blistering hot summer of 2018 where he won three times and captured the Claret Jug.
Maybe this explains why:
🇯🇵 @F_Molinari's new irons from Japan are one of only 3 sets in the world.
Take a look at Moli's new Callaway clubs. pic.twitter.com/AmmxeKAAJL
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 5, 2019
Apparently, Francesco has been experimenting with Callaway equipment since last fall. Now he’s finally all in with the company and was formally introduced as a team member starting at Bay Hill.
For most golfers, an equipment change can set their game back, and it seems that may be the reason why he was so lackluster of late. But Molinari showed some signs of life with his ball-striking at the WGC – Mexico Championship where he finished inside the Top 20 in Strokes Gained – Tee-to-Green and inside the Top 10 in Strokes Gained – Approach. Molinari also putted well for the week to quietly finish inside the Top 20.
Molinari has a good track-record at Bay Hill with three Top 10’s in his last five appearances. If Molinari is truly in a good place with the new equipment, there’s no reason to think he can’t have another fine finish at Bay Hill with an outside shot at a victory.
Luke List -125 over Adam Hadwin: While List’s struggles with the putter are a bit of a concern, Hadwin hasn’t been much better with the flatstick either. Therefore the tie-breaker between the two are their ball-striking statistics, and List has been far superior over the Canadian so far in 2019. List has averaged 0.8 Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green over his last five tournaments, besting Hadwin who hasn’t gained any over his last five. While I don’t have high hopes for either to contend at Bay Hill, I expect List to best Hadwin one on one this weekend.
Henrik Stenson -125 over Billy Horschel: I already touched upon the reasons why I have a hunch Henrik Stenson shows well at Bay Hill this week. As for Billy Horschel, I’m 0-2 in the last two weeks fading him in matchup props, so reader beware. Nevertheless, I’m tripling down on betting against him once again. The vast majority of Horschel’s scoring of late has come almost exclusively with his putter. Over his last three events, Horschel has gained over a stroke on the field in putting, but has lost strokes to the field tee-to-green, on his tee shots and on his approach shots in each event. On the season he’s 153rd in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green, 174th in Strokes Gained – Off the Tee, 151st in Strokes Gained – Approach, and he ranks sub-100 in almost every proximity to the hole metric out there – the mediocre ball-striking HAS to catch up with him at some point. I’ll go one more time to the well and fade Horschel against a superior player who has nowhere to go but up.