Just a few weeks into The West Coast Swing, we saw Tiger Woods open his 2018 comeback campaign at a course he had won at eight times – Torrey Pines. He was not perfect but he was good enough to finish 21st. Last week at The Valspar Championship, playing in a tournament he’d never even entered before, Tiger turned anticipation and interest into global hysteria by holing a 44-foot putt on the 71st hole to finish 2nd for the tournament and come up just one shot shy of forcing a playoff. Bookmakers are seeing more betting handle on golf than they have in decades. Woods has gone from 100-1 to the 3rd favorite to win The Masters and he is the shortest choice this week at The Arnold Palmer Invitational – another golf course – Bay Hill – he has won at an incredible eight times in his career.

Arnold Palmer bought The Bay Hill Club & Lodge in 1976 and forty years ago, the golf course began hosting this week’s event. The course has seen many changes over the years but probably most noticeably in recent years is the switch to TifEagle Bermuda Grass on the greens. The greens are of good size and don’t have much undulation to them. They putt excellent and how one fares on the greens at Bay Hill has become a prominent indicator of success in this golf tournament – much more so now than in years past. Ball Striking has always been a key factor at this course no matter what tweaks to the course were performed.

As is typical of Florida golf, the course has a great deal of water coming into play along with 84-sand bunkers. On our first two stops along The Florida Swing, we saw “The Bear Trap” and “The Snake Pit.” This week we do not have a brutal three hole stretch as such but we do have a finishing hole with some serious teeth and a catchy nickname. A massive pond guards the 18th hole green, setting up one of the more difficult second shots in golf. “The Devil’s Bathtub” will swallow up quite a few shots this week and has turned the Par 4, 18th at Bay Hill into one of the harder holes on Tour. Last year, the hole averaged almost half a stroke over par.

The Favorites

Tiger Woods (+6.79 Pinnacle) This is Tiger’s first trip back to Bay Hill since he won in 2013. That marked his 4th victory in five trips. From 2000 to 2003, he won here four times in a row. For Woods to win again here, he’ll need to score better on  the Par 5’s as he currently ranks 179th on Tour in this category.

Justin Rose (+12.76 Bookmaker) Rose went into last Sunday at The Valspar tied with Tiger, just one shot off of the lead. He ended up finishing 5th. He too has had success at Bay Hill, missing only one cut in twelve tries, notching four Top 10 finishes and two Top 15’s.

Jason Day (+13.73 Pinnacle) We have not seen Jason Day since his two week run in California where he won at Torrey Pines and followed that up with a 2nd at Pebble Beach. He won here at Bay Hill two seasons ago and we talked about putting being important this week – Jason Day is number one on Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting

The Contenders

Tyrrell Hatton (+28.27 Pinnacle) The Englishman was particularly upset about his performance on the 18th hole in Mexico two weeks ago that kept him out of a playoff with Mickelson and Thomas. Looking to make amends for that and finishing 4th here last year, I believe he’s ready for another very solid week.

Adam Scott (+3000 5Dimes) It is a similar song and dance for Adam Scott right now.. the tee to green game and ball striking are spot on but the putter is yet to come around. If he can get the flatstick right, Scott is going to win again soon.  He’s finished 3rd here twice and was 12th last year.

Brian Harman (+52.50 Bookmaker) There is very little wrong with Brian Harman’s game right now. He is one of the best putters in the world currently and at the same time, he also ranks 14th on Tour in Par 5 Scoring. He’s finished 13th and 17th here the last two years.

The Long Shots

Zach Johnson (+6600 5Dimes) This will be Johnson’s 15th time playing The Arnold Palmer Invitational. He’s only missed the cut once and has finished in the Top 10 five times. 4th on Tour in Hole Proximity and took 16th last week at The Valspar.

Keegan Bradley (+9000 5Dimes) Much like Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley is a tee to green machine and while that ought to fare very well here, he has to improve the putting. Bradley has two Top 5 finishes here in six tries.

Martin Laird (+9000 5Dimes) Martin Laird won here in 2011 and has never missed a cut at Bay Hill. His stats are very strong and his putting has been excellent so far this season. I feel he is a much better shot here than this price suggests.

The Pick

Alex Noren (+31.77 Pinnacle) The Swede from Oklahoma State continues to be one of the hottest golfers in the game. He’s only missed one cut world-wide since last July. In five events in 2018, he has two Top 5 finishes and hasn’t done worse than 21st place. He kicked off The Florida Swing at The Honda Classic three weeks ago, missing out on a playoff by one shot. He is 8th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, 21st in Putting, and 2nd in Par 5 Scoring. He took 49th in his first ever trip to Bay Hill last year. I like him to pick up his first ever PGA Tour win this week.

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