Back before Thanksgiving 2009, it wasn’t uncommon for a betting favorite to win a PGA Tour event. That’s because any event in which Tiger Woods was entered, he was the favorite. And, of course, the pre-scandal Tiger was usually money in the bank.
I mention this for two reasons. First being that the favorite did win last week at the Transitions Championship in the Tampa Bay area. Luke Donald went off at 10/1 and beat Jim Furyk, Sang-Moon Bee and Robert Garrigus in a playoff to reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Rory McIlroy, who was off last week.
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My value pick last week was Nick Watney at 22/1, and he disappointed with a T15 finish. The second reason
I mention a favorite winning because that it’s even more unusual to happen in back-to-back tournaments, but Woods enters this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Orlando’s Bay Hill as the overwhelming 7/1 favorite at Bovada (it’s the final stop on the Florida Swing). The last time we saw Woods in an official event – he played the unofficial Tavistock Cup competition in Orlando on Monday and Tuesday – he pulled out of the WGC-Cadillac with a strained Achilles’. But he looks fine now.
More on Woods in a minute.
Even though only two of the world’s Top 10 are in this week’s field – Webb Simpson and Justin Rose – it is a strong group highlighted by Woods and Phil Mickelson. It’s the ninth time since Woods turned professional in 1996 that he and Mickelson are in the field at Bay Hill -- and for the first time in back-to-back years since 2008. Many of the top Europeans are taking this week off to prepare on their own for the Masters, notably Donald, McIlroy and world No. 3 Lee Westwood and No. 4 Martin Kaymer. This tournament is also important for those not yet in the Masters as a win here or next week in Houston would earn a spot at Augusta.
One of those players not yet with a Masters invite is former world No. 1 Ernie Els. He almost got it last week, but he bogeyed the last two holes on Sunday to finish one stroke off that four-way playoff won by Donald. Els has dropped to 62nd in the world and needs to either win or get back in the Top 50 the week before the April 5-8 Masters to qualify for the tournament. The 42-year-old has not missed the opening major of the season since 1993.
The defending champion here is Scotland’s Martin Laird (50/1 to repeat). Last year he became the first European to capture the title at Bay Hill, two-putting from 90 feet on the 72nd hole, the second from three feet for par that gave him a one-stroke victory over Steve Marino. The latter lost his lead with a bogey at No. 15 and a double-bogey 5 at No. 17 before making a closing birdie for a 72 that left him one stroke shy of his first PGA Tour victory.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: Arnold Palmer Invitational Favorites
Tiger probably should be the favorite with his track record here. He has won it six times overall, including four in a row from 2000-2003. He also won in 2008 and 2009, making birdie on the final hole to win in both of those seasons. During his run of four titles in a row at Bay Hill, Woods won by four or more shots three times, including an 11-shot victory in 2003. The only players in PGA Tour history to win any event more than Woods' six wins here are Sam Snead at the Greater Greensboro Open (eight) and Tiger at the WGC-Bridgestone (seven).
Lefty is No. 2 at 14/1. Mickelson has won the Arnold Palmer once, in 1997, shooting 65 in the final round to win by three shots. Woods tied for ninth that year, six back. Mickelson didn't play at Bay Hill from 2003-2006, then again in 2009; he has four career Top-10 finishes in 12 Bay Hill starts. Here’s an interesting stat from ESPN.com about how Lefty often doesn’t play all that well in Florida. Since the beginning of 2010, Mickelson has made seven PGA Tour starts in the state. In that span, he has never finished in the Top 10, and his lone Top-20 finish came at The Players Championship in 2010.
Rose and Simpson are next at 16/1, followed by Hunter Mahan and Sergio Garcia at 22/1. Rose is an early candidate for Player of the Year as he hasn’t missed a cut in six PGA Tour events this year and won the WGC-Cadillac. He was T29 last week and tied for third at this tournament a year ago. Simpson doesn’t have a good record here with zero Top-10s in five starts and having missed the cut the past two years. Sergio hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in four years but has six Top-10s in 10 Bay Hill starts and was eighth a year ago. Mahan has yet to finish outside the Top 25 in five starts this year, highlighted by his win at the Match Play.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: Arnold Palmer Invitational Predictions
Els is worth a look at 40/1, I believe. His game looked back last week despite the late hiccup and he has won here twice, last being two years ago (his last official win). Els simply has to start making those short putts. He ranks 158th on the PGA Tour this year for putting inside 10 feet and 146th on putts between 4-8 feet.
Bo Van Pelt is worth a look at 28/1 (and worth a finish in Top 10 bet, like Els). Throw out a bad finish at the Match Play, and he has four straight Top-10 finishes. Last week he led the field in putting. And Van Pelt hasn’t missed a cut at Bay Hill in all seven starts (but no Top-10s).
But as much as I hate to do it, I think this is the week Tiger gets it done. Other than having to withdraw at Cadillac, he hasn't finished outside the Top 20 in the three tournaments he's finished this year. But it’s usually all or nothing here for Tiger. Outside of his wins, he has just one Top-10 finish; Tiger was T24 a year ago.