Arnold Palmer 2021
F**k Collin Morikawa!! A superb display from the young star no doubt, but Hovland backers and indeed those on Koepka can feel aggrieved to some extent. Who knows what way things would have worked out had Hovland not made that 8 late on Friday evening, or how Brooks would have fared on Saturday without the annoying neck pain. Maybe one would have won, maybe neither would have placed, who knows. But it would be nice to have found out. I didn’t think the roll of the ball went with Hovland on Sunday either, but he can blame no one but himself for the two 3-putts and the short birdie miss on 14/15/16. A cracking event on a course which they will surely have to revisit soon, and self interest aside, a winner worthy of the title.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout never got to grips with an on form Louis Oosthuizen, and our brace of Englishmen never threatened. Not after a decent opening for Canter anyway. He will be one to keep an eye out for back in the shallower waters of the European Tour. His game from the tee held up well in the toughest examination he has faced, and with that serious asset he will give himself many opportunities in the weeks and months to come.
A very sad week for fans of Tiger Woods, golf, or indeed sport in general. Hopefully he has avoided any lasting damage that may inhibit his day to day life. If we see him on a course again, that will be a bonus. He’s already won a US Open at Torrey Pines with a broken leg, but repeating the feat 13 years later is surely a dream too far.
We move to Bay Hill, a long standing feature on the PGA Tour rota, and home of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. A 7450 yard Par 72, it is an old style Classical layout that tests every part of a players game. Unlike many venues in recent weeks a strong and accurate tee game is quite beneficial here. Thick rough awaits wayward drives, and on a lengthy layout such as this, Pars will be a struggle when you stray from the fairways. A strong putting performance has also been a big factor in recent winners, and with many playing their first event on Bermuda after toiling on Poa earlier in the year, it can signal a change in fortune on the greens for some. Shaven run offs await any less than accurate approaches, and all told it’s a very good all round test.
A little akin to last week, when I approached the week not expecting to be backing Brooks Koepka, the same can be said here re RORY MCILROY. It’s a bit of a rock and a hard place. I fervently believe what you have backed in previous weeks shouldn’t cloud your judgement for the week ahead, but also recognise that readers may start thinking, “ah jesus is he putting him up again”. Obviously I have gone to the well many times recently with Patrick Reed, but seeing as that has been to profit more often than not, it’s easier to slip him back in! Rory on the other hand has not been kind to us the twice I have put him up since the turn of the year, but all that aside he is just too big a price here this week.
He has played here on 6 occasions, starting favourite on every one, and never as big as the 9/1 on offer this time. Typically he has started at approx 11/2-6/1. Is the field any stronger this year? No. Is he playing poorly? No. Maybe not quite the form he was in last year, but we are talking fractions. Take out his horrid display at Riviera, which I feel we can as he showed it to be just a one off with his display last week, and he has 4 top 20’s including two top 6’s since his return. His approach play had been the butt of the problem, and that looked in better nick last week. More pin high approach play was in evidence, and he will have been happy to shrug off that Riviera nightmare. It is also no surprise that he bounced straight back, Florida has been kind to him, and returning to Bermuda greens was sure to give him more confidence with the flat stick. 6 times a winner on this surface, he has waxed lyrical about the putting surfaces here on more than one occasion. He led the field in strokes gained putting here whe successful in 2018, and given how much of a ‘confidence player’ that he clearly is, that feeling of comfort is a big plus in my mind.
Bay Hill also clearly suits. Length is required here, and Rory will be one of the few attacking these Par 5s with the height to produce eagle opportunities, and those towering long iron shots will also be a huge advantage on the set of lengthy par 3’s here. He made 25 birdies last week, the second most in the field, and that not only gives me confidence but will please Rory also. The Concession is a course where the wrong miss is punished more often than not, and Rory’s naturally attacking game mixed with a lack of course knowledge led to too many bogeys. He knows Bay Hill well, 4th/1st/6th/5th on his last 4 appearances, he can make those birdies count this week. Many will point to his recent Sunday disappointments as reason to leave him alone here, but there is simply no one in this field that Rory will fear, and if he gets off to a typically good start around here he may just begin to freewheel. For those of less confidence, I wouldn’t put anyone off putting in to lay off at 3.0 (2/1) on Betfair. Make no mistake about it, this is a pretty poor field, and Rory could go low early.
He probably should have more than one win here to be honest. He will have felt one got away in 2019, and a Sunday 76 12 months will also be rued. He could easily be coming here looking for a 4 timer, and Tiger who won here 8 times proved how players of their class can put those of slightly less talent to the sword here. Rory is consistently in the mix in this event, I feel he will have had his confidence restored last week, comes to a venue that clearly suits his game and where he feels comfortable on the greens. Add in that he would no doubt love to win an event that Tiger had made his own, and I am surprised we are being offered anything bigger than 13/2.
He is my only outright bet. I do like a few at big prices, but will play them elsewhere. Plenty of my confidence in McIlroy this week stems from being pretty lukewarm on those directly behind him in the market.
I can not hide my liking and respect for Viktor Hovland, who went up another notch in my estimation with how he responded to the Friday 8, both on and off the course. The boy has game and class. But this week is not the week to row in with him again. He is on record as saying that the Florida courses don’t really suit him. I wouldn’t put a huge deal of weight into that to be honest, he will like them once he starts playing better at them! And there is no reason why he won’t. More of a worry is the effort he put in last week, and the mental energy expended to get back into contention come Sunday evening. He did look out on his feet coming the closing couple of holes, those 3 putts down to fatigue fuelled lack of concentration as much as anything else. He’s young, he’s fit, he may bounce straight back, but at 12/1 top price this week I couldn’t be having it.
I am more worried about Bryson DeChambeau this week than most, but still don’t see anything resembling value in his quote of 12/1. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more ho hum weeks from him prior to Augusta where we may then see inflated odds about him. Coming in under the radar would surely suit him better there than the fanfare which surrounded him last year.
Tyrrell Hatton. Defending champion. In form. Too short.
Patrick Reed threatened at times last week, his long game in better shape, but not quite at the level to ease the pressure off his brilliant short game. That cannot keep bailing him out to the extent required to win tournaments. He also has rarely produced around here, so I can leave him alone. There will be better opportunities to get him on side in the coming weeks I feel.
The market certainly hasn’t missed Sungjae Im. Eye catching thirds in both his appearances here to date, along with his all round Florida form meant he was never likely to be coming in over priced. Clearly his chances have to be respected, but at 20/1 I couldn’t be making a case for backing him. Matt Fitzpatrick really isn’t convincing in contention, and I would rather play him at bigger odds in better events, where the place part would offer more appeal.
For those that don’t want to wade into Rory again at short odds, there are at bigger prices that are worth a look.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout 80/1, Si Woo Kim 90/1, Matthew NeSmith 125/1, Chris Kirk 125/1, Keith Mitchell 150/1, Erik Van Rooyen 150/1 and Nick Taylor 150/1 all hold appeal at the other end of the market.
If I was to whittle that down to just three, it would be Bezuidenhout, NeSmith and Van Rooyen, who I feel have plenty of upside this week. As it is I have only had the one outright bet, and plan on leaving it at that.
Top 20 Finish:
More action in this market than I have ever had or recommended before, but unusually in the current day I don’t see the head of the market gathering up too many of these positions. Most weeks, even if the likes of Rahm/JT/Xander etc play somewhat below par, they are still finishing inside the top 20. In reality there aren’t many places for those lower down to be fighting for. This week has a different shape to it. Bryson can be very hit and miss, both Viktor and Fitz are coming off a couple of tough in contention weeks, and Reed has only twice finished inside the top 50 here.
I generally stay away from the likes of Si Woo Kim here, as he is very much a win or bust type.
The 9/2 on ERIK VAN ROOYEN looks tasty. I dismissed him out of hand last week, but was keeping a watchful eye on his progress. Not for the first time the return to Florida could prove the catalyst for igniting a players season. Not only did his long game seem in much better shape, but leaving Poa greens behind saw him hole more than his fair share also. He makes his debut here, but that has been the case in most of his outings on the PGA Tour, and he has some excellent finishes to his name. Just outside the Top 20 in the most recent US Open and Memorial, 20th in the WGC St Jude, and 3rd at the WGC Mexico suggests Van Rooyen can certainly handle these tougher than average layouts. He is certainly a better player, and better prospect going forward than many ahead of him in the market, and given the standard of ball striking he displayed in a Sunday 66 last week I feel he is now in the type of shape to prove it. He withdrew from The Masters late last year with a niggling back issue, and that can go some way to explaining his poor early 2021 form. From the 67 on Friday in Phoenix into last week, there has been a marked improvement in all aspects of his game. In a weak field here, 9/2 on him landing his 8th Top 20 in PGA sanctioned/co-sanctioned events from just 28 starts seems too big. The vast majority of those previous starts have been in fields far deeper than this, 13 of them being in Majors or WGCs.
CHRIS KIRK is also 9/2 in this section, and given he has notched a Top 20 in 4 of his last 7 visits here, and also has 3 such finishes from just 4 events played in 2021 I find that somewhat surprising. How is the likes of Sam Burns a quarter the price of Kirk outright on the machine? Burns is a burgeoning talent, and his win upside is perhaps slightly greater than Kirk here, but for one to be 15/8 for a Top 20 and one to be 9/2 is plain wrong. Obviously the Burns price being shorter than it should doesn’t make the Kirk one a good one, it’s just an example. I did a piece with Pete from Smart Betting Club last week, and this type of thing was discussed. Kirk hasn’t won since 2015, and has had a few chances since, but he is very consistent at a certain level. He, in my opinion, is more likely to be there or thereabouts come Sunday evening than many ahead of him in the outright market. The likes of Si Woo for example. He is shorter than Kirk outright, probably deservedly so, as he is notorious for popping up and winning out of nowhere. But Kirk is definitely more likely to Top 20 in my mind, yet is a bigger price. Outright prices can sometimes just be imported directly into these sub markets, and that for me is wrong plenty of the time. Second in the Sony, 16th in the Amex, 16th at Pebble, Kirk is clearly playing near the top of his game. Given his high end finishes here also, the 9/2 looks an excellent wager.
At 5/1 MATTHEW NESMITH also warrants inclusion here. A player vastly better than his current OWGR of 134th would suggest, it won’t be long until he leaves that lowly perch behind. He has really hit the ground running in 2021, and if returning to purer Bermuda greens can spark an improvement in his putting, he will be a threat to all this week. An excellent 7th at the Phoenix Open, he was then better than the result when 16th at Pebble. A poor opening round at Spyglass in the easiest of the conditions, came ahead of 3 excellent displays at the host course. They came with absolutely no help at all from the flat stick, and I definitely felt that performance deserted upgrading. I toyed with the idea of including him at The Genesis, but that was a seriously deep field. He still managed a 20th place finish there, and there is no reason not to expect similar or better here in a field far removed from that quality. He tops the Tour stats for greens in regulation, lies 17th in strokes gained tee to green, and seems to have more to his game than your typical flash in the pan merchant. I want to have him on the team sheet here.
One more selection for me here, and that is KEITH MITCHELL. The Tennessee man not only loves it here at Bay Hill, but also just simply comes alive in Florida. He is all at sea on the putting surfaces earlier in the year, and once again arrives here off some abject displays. True, his long game hasn’t been great in 2021 to date either, but given his clear affinity with the layout here, the fact that he comes off pretty much an identical preparation as when he won he won the Honda in 2019 and he starts to look a big price. The weather for the first 3 days looks set fair, though Saturday has the potential for a storm and then Sunday looks quite windy. On Payday last year in very tricky conditions Mitchell shot the joint low score of the day, so he will have no worries if things do get tough. Again, I don’t see this event as having much strength in depth, and it’s clear from Matt Every’s two wins that certain players really up their game around here. Mitchell has the makings of one of those, and quotes of 6/1 are enough to entice me in.
I understand some may raise an eyebrow at a 4 pronged attack on the Top 20 market, but there have been plenty of weeks when we have gone 4 and more each way in the outright market, and there is only one winner and 8 places there. I am sweet on the chances of all the above 4 having good weeks, and with a chunky enough bet on Rory, I felt it wise to get with these here instead. Hopefully my confidence is repaid.
I feel there is a really good bet to be had here, but delayed committing to it, as initially it was only Bet 365 who priced it up. Coral, Lads, PP and BFSB have now followed suit, so with all being above the required price I feel it fair to officially put up.
He did us a favour two weeks ago, and NICK TAYLOR is once again my go to man here. I really like the way he has been going about his business in the early part of 2021, and feel he is being unjustly overlooked by the markets. He only just got home for us by a shot at the Genesis, but he always looked the likely winner to me. Corey Conners is a short priced favourite here, and I for one wouldn’t like to be getting involved at an awful skinny looking 5/4. He has missed both his cuts here to date, shooting 71/73/75/78 in his 4 rounds, and arrives off the back of another weekend off. A risky proposition, and one to take on. That leaves Adam Hadwin. He has fared better around here, including a 6th place finish in 2017, but at the moment I rate Taylor to be the better player of the two, and more likely to grind it out if conditions get tricky. Given that, I see no reason for him to be the bigger price, and outsider of 3 here. 5/2 is a bet for me. As is the 9/4 and 12/5 available elsewhere.
That is all for me this week, a different make up to the bets than we typically have, but the shape of the head of the market has dictated that this week. If Rory doesn’t get the job done, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we have a big priced winner. The bigger priced players I mentioned were all at industry prices, a little dabble on them all at inflated prices on the machine wouldn’t be something I would discourage to small stakes.
4pts ew Rory McIlroy 9/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH) **Recommended yesterday *For those not on, I would take the 9/1 available on Betfair win only and anything from 3.25 upwards for a Top 5. Currently available there at 3.45, liquidity will improve closer to the off.
Top 20 Finish:
4pts Chris Kirk 9/2 (WH/PP/BFSB/Unibet/Betway/Sporting Index) *4/1 upwards acceptable 4pts Erik Van Rooyen 9/2 (Basically Everyone)
4pts Matthew NeSmith 5/1 (PP/BFSB) * 4/1 upwards acceptable
3pts Keith Mitchell 6/1 (WH/PP/BFSB) *7/1 with Spreadex. Currently 7.8 on the exchange. Again, liquidity will build there.
6pts Nick Taylor 5/2 (Coral/Lads) *12/5 PP/BFSB + 9/4 Bet365 all acceptable
Running Totals 2021:
It’s been two steps forward, followed by two back the last few weeks, but we are arriving on Sundays with plenty to play for. The luck on payday will change, hopefully sooner rather than later.