Arnold Palmer’s love for Bay Hill has stemmed all the way back to the mid-60s when a younger Arnie won a charity event there. He later went on to purchase the resort in 1974. Forty years later we find ourselves looking at one of the most prestigious tournaments on the PGA Tour. Fitting that the modern day golfing phenomenon Tiger Woods has made this his playground, 8 wins no less. So what is the course looking like these days?
It plays 7,400 yards and includes four par 5s. This immediately shouts ‘big hitter’ at us but with the penal rough and many labelling this one of the toughest non-major tracks, accuracy is pivotal too. If you find yourself on the PGA website, the Total Driving section is what you need, which takes into account both accuracy and distance. On average since a re-design in 2009, people winning this (usually Tiger) have averaged around the -10 mark, meaning scoring is relatively tough. Then you have to factor in the lightning fast greens, every aspect of the winner’s game will have to be firing on all cylinders. GIR, proximity to hole, ball striking and scrambling have also had to be looked at.
Now Tiger is of course going to be favourite, but if he were to ever have a poor showing at Bay Hill, it will be this week. And with the other top boys not possessing amazing course form, that is doing Justin Rose an injustice, the door is open for someone further down the field to take this. But be warned, if Tiger even has a sniff going into Sunday, it could be game over for everyone else.
Our picks this week were also picked prior to odds release, so if there are any horrendous odds for our picks, we can only apologise!
Bubba Watson (16/1 BetVictor)
Bubba looks like he’s found that spark again in his golf and these are exciting times if you love him as much as we do. His last 3 stroke play finishes look like this: 2nd, WIN, 2nd. With form like that you can understand why he is such short odds. His record at Bay Hill for someone who is known for an erratic week or two is very consistent reading 14th, 4th and 24th. But those finishes are irrelevant, it seems Bubba could go low on any track the way he is striking it at the moment.
He is top once again in the driving distance stats, that’s a given. But what he has included in 2014 is GIR, where he finds himself 20th. That is down to some superb wedge play. It means if the putter gets hot on a weekly basis (29th strokes gained-putting), there is no reason why he would not challenge. One worry could be his accuracy off the tee, but his recovery game is up there with the best of them and 8-time winner Tiger is known for a spray or two off the tee. Whatever the outcome, Bubba will always give you value for money!
Zach Johnson (25/1 PaddyPower)
One of the best performers in 2014, Zach Johnson has consistently impressed us and when you think about the course, he could suit it perfectly. He may not be the longest off the tee and that could worry when you look at the yardage, but it has never effected him in the past because he is simply so good and accurate with his irons. From tee to green he is sublime and if you want anyone in the world over a wedge shot (maybe barring Phil Mickelson) you would want Zach – 2nd driving accuracy, T32 total driving, 12th GIR, 29th proximity to the hole, 20th scrambling. The ridiculously quick greens will obviously be tough to putt on, but here we have one of the best short stick gurus in the game – 24th strokes gained putting.
On this tight course where accuracy, attacking prowess and putting will be vital, he is in the sort of form that will stand him in great stead. A win at the Hyundai back in January set him up for a cracking start to the season, followed by two further top 10s. This is a course where he has recorded 3 top 10s, including a T3 in 2009. Zach simply loves the sort of courses that warrant thinking and strategy and Bay Hill couldn’t fit that bill more. Plus, on a course that could definitely be considered a second home to Tiger Woods, it would be wonderfully ironic symmetry if Zach was to defeat the world number one twice in the space of a few months at a place like this.
He beat Tiger in a playoff in his own backyard at the Northwestern Mutual Challenge and wouldn’t it be just beautiful to see him doing it again?
Ryan Moore (50/1 Betfred)
Just like Zach, when you back Moore you always feel confident. His game is solid all round and with his impeccable driving, he always gives himself chances. His season so far has been a real success, with 4 top 10s including a win back at the CIMB Classic. And he comes to a course where the American has played consistent, 4th in 2012 being the pick of his finishes.
It will be a solid performer like Moore who will inevitably prevail with the streakier players falling foul of the very testing Bay Hill course that awaits. If you want convincing further, his stats read 16th driving accuracy, 38th total driving, 4th GIR, 15th proximity to the hole, 17th ball striking and 51st strokes gained-putting. The man excels in all areas and could be a massive contender this week.
Will Mackenzie (55/1 StanJames)
Mackenzie is someone we looked at before his T4 finish at Copperhead this week and we can only see his form continuing at Bay Hill. We monitored him closely last year on the Web.com Tour and he often caught our eye. He eventually finished 40th on the money list and regained PGA Tour status through the Tour Finals. After rekindling his love for the game in 2000, the American has since won two PGA Tour titles, so he is no stranger to success on the tour.
He comes to Bay Hill not only with the T4 this week but an outstanding T6 at the tough Honda Classic in his previous event and also T7 back at the Farmers Insurance. He is in the best form for some years currently and his statistics back this up. 24th total driving, 41st GIR, 15th strokes gained-putting and 6th par 5 performance. He will be exciting to be back at courses like Bay Hill and a win here would truly assert his place back on the PGA Tour.
William McGirt (140/1 Bet365)
William McGirt represents a cheeky outsider whose stats and ability could see him challenging this week. He will be coming to a course where he will have gained confidence from a T8 finish last year and he has shown that he is in decent knick this season, after a strong showing at the Northern Trust Open. He finished T6, but was over par on the final round, meaning he dropped down quite significantly down the leaderboard. But if he comes here without any fears, then his game should suit the testing nature of Bay Hill – 40th driving accuracy, 47th GIR, 34th strokes gained putting and 42nd scrambling.
He has never won on the PGA Tour, but there have been so many first time winners in the past year, so its all about being on them at the right time. And this time it could be McGirt.
Justin Hicks (300/1 SkyBet) and Brendan Steele (125/1 BetVictor)
Our two mentions this week go to Justin Hicks and Brendan Steele, both of which look intriguing at such high odds. Firstly Hicks may not be in the greatest form and may have only played here once, but a T32 last week on a similarly tough course will give him the world of confidence. Admittedly a top 10 has past him by this year, but when you think about his game and the stats that he has, you cant help but not ignore him.
T9 total driving, 6th driving accuracy, 1st GIR, 79th strokes gained putting and 40th proximity to the hole. That is some going for an outsider! As for Steele, he is actually in decent form of late, after a T6 at the Waste Management, T10 at the Northern Trust and T33 The Honda Classic. All 3 of those tournaments are not easy courses by any means and he could definitely continue that here if his whole game clicks together like it has done recently. T4 total driving, 10th driving distance, 56th GIR, 80th strokes gained putting, 28th scrambling and 45th proximity to the hole – this is a beast from tee to green.