Can McIlroy rediscover his groove on Bay Hill debut?
One of just five ‘invitational’ PGA Tour events, this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational brings together 120 of the Tour’s best players. With a $6.3 million purse, there’s a strong field heading to Bay Hill and, in the absence of eight-time winner Tiger Woods, it is anyone’s tournament.
Rory McIlroy will make his debut at the tournament while he is joined by some of the form players of world golf. Keep reading for our preview of this weekend’s event.
Opportunity for low scoring at Bay Hill
The Arnold Palmer Invitational has been played at Bay Hill since back in 1979. Up until 2009 it was considered one of the Tour’s toughest par 70s; now it is a challenging par 72.
Recent improvements include changes to the sand used in the course’s 84 bunkers while some of the fairways and landing areas near the greens have been extended.
The magic score this weekend is -13; each of the last three winners have won with this score.
Rory set to make his debut at Bay Hill
On the whole, invitational events tend to benefit players with previous experience. Much of the qualifying criteria for these tournaments tend to favour Tour players that have competed in the event at least once before, although this year could be different.
Since 1980 only one golfer has won the Arnold Palmer on his debut (Robert Gamez eagled the final hole to win by a shot in 1990) but this year the world number one is in the field for the first time.
Palmer has been pressuring Rory McIlroy into playing this event for three years and the Ulsterman has finally agreed to participate. Ahead of the Honda Classic, McIlroy said: “What Arnold Palmer has done for our game and what he’s done for the PGA Tour, it was about time that I showed up there and played in his tournament.”
It’s not been the smoothest couple of weeks for the world number one but he is the 11/2 favourite.
McIlroy’s biggest challenge could come from one of his Ryder Cup teammates. Henrik Stenson hasn’t finished outside the top 13 in any tournament in 2015 and has finished in the top four in both of the last two weeks.
The Swede also has a six-for-six record at this tournament and has recorded top ten finishes on each of his last two visits. All the signs point to a good week at 9/1.
Jason Day’s worst finish in 2015 is the T31 at the Cadillac Championship and he has already recorded two top 10 finishes and a win on the PGA Tour.
The world number five isn’t a regular visitor to this tournament – just two of the last five years – and he finished T45 on his last trip in 2013. He is 17/1 to win but a better bet may be his Australian compatriot Adam Scott.
Scott may have missed the cut at the Valspar last weekend but that came the week after a terrific T4 finish at the Cadillac. The Aussie led this tournament after each of the first three rounds last year, eventually finishing in solo third place. He is a tempting 19/1.
Outsiders to watch
Jason Kokrak is one of those talented but middle-ranking players who more often than not makes the cut before never really challenging for a title and ending up under the radar in the mid 20s or 30s.
The 29 year old enjoyed a reasonable start to 2015, making four of six cuts and finishing T17, T48, T40 and T41 in those events. However, he finally put four good rounds together last week to finish T7 at the Valspar, his first top ten finish since this event last year.
He was 4th at Bay Hill in 2014 and could have the perfect game for this course. He led the field last weekend in par-4 scoring and with length mattering at Bay Hill he could easily replicate last year’s finish. Kokrak looks a good each way bet at 69/1.
Kevin Na has been enjoying the Florida leg of the PGA Tour this year and is a man to follow this weekend. The 31 year old finished T10 a fortnight ago at Doral before improving to end T9 at Copperhead a week ago.
Na has a good record at Bay Hill with four top 15s in his last five visits, including a T2 in 2010 and T4 in 2012. He offers good value at 39/1.
Sean O’Hair had a terrific week at Copperhead where he lost in a playoff to Jordan Spieth and this performance followed his T25 a fortnight ago. His only top 10 of last season was his T10 at Bay Hill and he is a 49/1 chance here.
Check out all our pre-tournament odds on the 2015 Arnold Palmer Invitational over at our main site now!