Paul Krishnamurty previews the annual PGA Tour fixture at Bay Hill with his eye trained, as usual, on finding value bets at odds higher than 99-1...
The connection may not seem immediately obvious but the biggest talking point in golf has implications for our column. As the Arnold Palmer Invitational market illustrates, if Tiger Woods is indeed once again a frontline contender then the standard of players available to back at more than 99-1 will rise significantly.
The obvious counter is that players within our price range, or basically anyone for that matter, rarely got any sort of look in at Bay Hill when Tiger was at his peak. Back in the day, taking less than 5.00 about Woods for this event was one of the best bets of the year. For now though - at the very least until he's won again - this one-time Tiger advocate is happy to take what are suddenly enhanced odds about alternatives.
Tiger's Bay Hill record gives the impression that this is a course where the cream always rises to the top, but the reality is mixed. Leaderboards behind him weren't stacked with market leaders and the likes of Rod Pampling and Matt Every (twice) produced massive upsets.
Strangely, despite decades of course form, there are few obvious statistical indicators for Bay Hill. Steve Rawlings rightly observes in his tournament preview, none of the long game stats seem particularly essential to contend. Rather he notes the importance of form at the course and on Bermuda greens. For me, this and Florida form in general are the best angles to follow and all three of this week's picks have credentials in this regard.
Back Kevin Na 2u @140.00 Place order to lay 10u @ 15.00 Place order to lay 20u @ 4.00
Last week, I noted how even mid-ranking contenders were now trading at double their best High Street quote on Betfair's win only exchange market. Steve Stricker didn't ultimately deliver but, finishing 12th, I feel the selection was vindicated at odds of 140.00. At the same odds, Kevin Na presents an almost identical scenario.
Na is unarguably a Bay Hill specialist. Prior to missing last year's cut, he'd finished no worse than 30th here since 2006, recording top-11 finishes in five out of six visits since. Add in plenty more Florida credentials at various courses, plus the fact he was runner-up last time out at Riviera and we have a rock-solid case.
Sure, Na is wholly unreliable in contention but that is not such a worry if you're prepared to cash out once he gets there. The lay targets set to bank a profit here do not feel overly ambitious about a fairly obvious contender.
Back Kyle Stanley 2u @250.00 Place order to lay 10u @ 25.00 Place order to lay 15u @ 10.00
Although the overall stats don't offer any real clues regarding long game, numerous short yet very accurate drivers have done well here - most notably Francesco Molinari. Here I'm backing a player who ranks fourth for both accuracy and greens in regulation among this field over the past year with, also like Molinari, a decent record in Florida.
When you hit as many fairways and greens as Kyle Stanley, every so often you are going to contend. Last year he managed a win and four further top-eight finishes in good events. Stanley seems rather dismissed in the betting right now because this term has been less productive but there's nothing wrong with tenth at the Sony and a respectable 25th in Mexico last time. I think he'll get a big payday somewhere soon and, having finished 12th and 17th in two of his last three events, why not Bay Hill?
Back Sean O'Hair 2u @260.00 Place order to lay 10u @ 25.00 Place order to lay 15u @ 10.00
Finally a likeable outsider with fond memories of Bay Hill. O'Hair has only missed two cuts since his 2006 debut and contended down with stretch with Tiger in both the 2008 and 2009 renewals. While those were by far his best results, seven top-30 finishes from a very inconsistent type suggests he loves the place.
In fact following O'Hair generally in Florida is a decent plan given good efforts on various courses. He's won four times on the PGA Tour and tends to pop up in very serious contention every so often. In each of the last three seasons, he's finished runner-up somewhere. These odds correctly reflect a pretty poor run until last week but the Valspar offered much promise - finishing 12th, ranking top-15 for both gir and putting.
Finally, a few alternatives. Ollie Schniederjans looks particularly interesting at 160.00. Here we have an outstanding prospect, with a stellar record on Bermuda greens, at around four times the odds he was a month ago. Almost every top young prospect in history has lacked consistency - be wary of over-reactions.
At 110.00, Jamie Lovemark has strong credentials in terms of recent form, previous Bay Hill numbers and Florida generally. Likewise Ben Martin - fifth in 2015, 12th in 2016 and a strong previous contender at Sawgrass - came in for very serious consideration at 280.00.