Arnold Palmer Invitational 2015

We are pushing ever closer to the first major of the year and the excitement is building steadily. The field for PGA Tour events, as is usual at this stage of the season, are consistently of the highest quality. What most intrigues us though, is how in-form so many of the top players are at the moment; making it a salivating thought to the riches of Augusta.

Jordan Spieth won in a playoff last week, defeating Patrick Reed, whilst Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy et al have been winners in 2015.

And we are sure there will be a winner of similar ilk in one of the oldest and most famous events in the States this week – The Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The field assembled matches that of previous weeks with Rory, Bubba, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Day, Rickie Fowler and many more teeing it up at the famous Bay Hill Club and Lodge.

Formerly the ‘Bay Hill Invitational’ was founded in 1979 and is widely regarded as one of Arnie’s all-time favourites, hence the name change by the now owner in 2007.

With it being the anchor leg of this Florida-Swing, form across the last few weeks definitely should be looked at. Similar, tricky and demanding layouts haunt the fields in Florida and it will be no different over the coming days.

Bay-Hill-Tiger-Woods

Tiger Woods in his playground

Bay Hill measures in at 7,419 yards after its redesign in 2009 and the Par 72 has consistently ranked amongst the most difficult ‘2nd shot’ courses – with GIR percentages at their lowest compared to the rest of the season.

We have said it so often over the past couple of months that the 3 words make us feel slightly queazy, but tee-to-green importance is absolutely paramount. Take a sneaky peak at the Total Driving and Ball Striking categories, because the guys at the top of them will most likely be at the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.

Good course management with the ability to control your shots will be a big factor, whilst it’s undeniable that skills in and around the greens could make a massive difference to your score. Because you will miss at least 25-30% of greens, scrambling will play a part, simply to save that vital par or to just consider the damage limitations.

-10 is the average winning score in recent years, but Tiger Woods has pretty much dominated here with eight wins since 2000. Ludicrous. Obviously he’s decided not to accept his invitation, so it’s down to the rest to overhaul defending champion Matt Every.

Before you enjoy (we bloody hope so) our picks, do take a look at our 1st Masters Preview, where we’ve gone into great detail, considering the trends and stats of recent years. We whittled down the entire field using this ‘trend’ system and were left with 3 intriguing names…

Harris English (33/1 various)

Harris has all the abilities off the tee  Sam Greenwood/Getty Images North America

Harris has all the abilities off the tee
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images North America

We will often mutter the words ‘last chance saloon’ with certain players and considering our poor form recently, it’s understandably going to crop up here and there because we keep getting let down.

Obviously the majority of our bad displays is because of us, but when you add up our bets final day scores, even Jim Furyk would be made to look like a Sunday specialist…

Obviously the majority of our bad displays is because of us, but when you add up our bets final day scores, even Jim Furyk would be made to look like a Sunday specialist…

English completely reversed that horrendous running theme last week, finishing with a wonderful 65, climbing right up to a T10 finish. Yes, that still means no returns for us, but it does show that his game is on.

We had similar thoughts in our preview for the Valspar about where he is at the moment and that hasn’t changed, only enhanced after his performance. We’re confident that a tad more consistency in the middle 2 rounds would have guaranteed a challenge for the trophy.

But he seems to like these tough tracks (playoff defeat at the Farmers Insurance) and the simple answer is because he’s got that sorta game.

18th in total driving and 13th in ball striking prove his tee-to-green abilities. You will be hard pressed to find a better striker of the ball and when he’s on it, he is so consistent.

We really like the fact he’s 20th in scrambling and 39th in strokes gained putting as well, because that equals the perfect all-round game for this track and a strong contender.

Plus, he managed to finish in a tie for 14th last year, which should give him plenty of confidence and we’re hoping he can better that in 2015.

Webb Simpson (60/1 StanJames)

Gunning for another victory on a touch course

Gunning for another victory on a touch course

A US Open champion. That should say it all really for what type of player Webb Simpson is and in short, it pretty much does.

The ideal tee-to-green stalwart, who prides himself on an outrageously consistent all-round game with wonderful putting abilities.

We are sure he’s going under the radar slightly at the moment, understandably so in some respects, but 4 finishes inside the top 13 in his 6 starts this season proves where he’s at right now.

We were impressed with his T7 finish last time out at the WGC, although there would have been obvious disappointment in a +1 Sunday finale. He was 35th in both driving accuracy and putting for that week, whilst T12 for GIR, so his game is there or there abouts.

But he’ll be coming onto a track that should suit his style and where he’s managed to find a T11 in the past.

22nd in total driving, 13th in ball striking, 16th scrambling and 7th strokes gained putting put the icing on top of the cake and should prove how worthy a bet the American is.

Louis Oosthuizen (80/1 various)

He does like trophies, don't forget that! -Photo Courtesy of Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

He does like trophies, don’t forget that! -Photo Courtesy of Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

A hunch. If there was ever a bet that defined the word gamble, it would be us and going with Louis Oosthuizen this week.

We have actually plumped for him a couple of times this season, but both times he’s bloody withdrawn for one reason or another. BUT he has played a couple of weeks in a row now for the first time in ages, so he will finally be fully fit and raring to go.

Yes last week he missed the cut at the Valspar, but at the WGC he scrambled his way to 6th and that is where our extra confidence is coming from.

He was 10th for driving distance, 30th for driving accuracy, T23 for GIR and 6th in putting average. That is one of the most consistent tournaments golf you will see, so we just feel that he could come here and prove what sort of a top player he is.

You can’t forget the fact he’s a major champion and tee to green he is sublime when it’s all working properly.

As we said before, it’s a proper gamble but at 80s, with the sort of calibre we’re talking here, it’s 100% worth it.

Martin Laird (80/1 Coral)

Martin Laird has a really odd forehead...

Martin Laird has a really odd forehead…

Martin Laird is currently 51st in the world rankings and agonizingly close to scraping into the Masters. His publicly declared goal in the coming weeks is to get an invite to Augusta and when you look at his recent form, he probably deserves a place.

T33 last week at the Valspar after a spirited -3 fightback on Sunday to salvage a respectable T33 finish.

Preceding that he managed a T5 at the Waste Management Phoenix and a T15 at the Humana, but the biggest intrigue for use was his T7 at the Farmers Insurance Open. A really testing course, so to shoot 3 rounds in the 60s is impressive and was it not for a horror show 76 on the Saturday, he could have easily challenged for the title.

Interestingly, he has been in this situation twice before – desperately close to The Masters and needing to qualify. In 2011 he won this very event by a stroke, whilst in 2013 he outplayed the field at the Valero to get his invite.

Very impressive balls of steel from the Scot who hasn’t managed to fully reproduce that winning formula here since, but we have a sneaky feeling he is ready to burst through again.

54th for total driving, 17th for ball striking, 11th for scrambling and 69th for strokes gained putting. Great outside shout.

Justin Thomas (80/1 various)

Justin Thomas has been in and out of form this season, but right at the back end of 2014 and sneaking into this year, he showed some consistency with really positive performances.

3 top 10s in 5 outings, with a T23 and T17 filling the gap and that is some effort. He deserved more with that T17 in Phoenix though, he just struggled on the final day.

But in and around that there are some average performances and he has seemed to struggle slightly in Florida, which may worry, but we are looking past that because he came back strongly at the Valspar last week with a T10.

He was 13th for driving distance, T55 for driving accuracy, T18 for GIR and 10th in putting. That would give anyone some confidence ahead of a maiden trip to Bay Hill, but factor in that he’s 54th for scrambling on Tour, then you’ve got another interesting outsider.

Shawn Stefani (100/1 various)

Shawn Stefani showing his prowess off the tee Scott Halleran/Getty Images North America

Shawn Stefani showing his prowess off the tee
Scott Halleran/Getty Images North America

We feel that Shawn Stefani is a slight enigma. When we’ve seen him challenging, he’s one of the most eye-catching and brutal players in the game. Destructively straight and long, with a genuine ability to attack flags on the approach.

Tee to green, you couldn’t argue for a better outsider and these are the sort of weeks where you can’t help but be overawed by his prospects.

With the length of the track and penalties for going array, his driving is a perfect fit – 14th in total driving tells the story and he has the undeniable ability to find greens – 4th in ball striking (which is 7th GIR by the way…) so when you look at the fact he finished T17 last week, you got to think he has a chance.

His putting let him down really, because he was 18th for distance, 19th for accuracy and T3 for GIR – by far the most consistent stats tee to green.

So if he gets it all going then there is no doubt that Stefani is a player that can challenge the best – remember him going head to head with Justin Rose in a playoff at the notoriously difficult Congressional last year? Same sort of track, same sort of layout, same sort of distance, same sort of difficulty.

Golf Monthly £10 ChallengeGM_masthead-630x176

Every week we’re running a weekly betting competition on both Tours with esteemed magazine Golf Monthly.  It is a bit of fun between us and them to see who has the better tipsters!  We have £10 to put on each tournament and will write up a weekly post for their site detailing the horrors we are sure to endure throughout the year – so keep an eye out.

It will also (for the first time from us at DownThe18th) show some sort of staking plan we have for out bets.  Obviously, this isn’t the exact stakes we will put on our players, some weeks we won’t even enter a couple of our picks, but at least it can be shown roughly where our thoughts are money wise.

Our £10 against Golf Monthly will be as follows  –

£1.50 e/w Harris English 33/1

£1 e/w Webb Simpson 50/1

£0.75 e/w Martin Laird 60/1

£0.75 e/w Justin Thomas 66/1

£0.50 Louis Oosthuizen 66/1

£0.50 Shawn Stefani 100/1

Each way bets ¼ odds for top 5 finish. Prices sourced from Paddy Power

Find the Golf Monthly Preview here (http://www.golf-monthly.co.uk/news/tour-news)

Current Standings after 9 weeks

DownThe18th                                 Golf Monthly

European Tour: £-16.60               European Tour:  £-36

PGA Tour: £-27.28                           PGA Tour: £71.75

Total: £-43.88                                   Total: £35.75

Golf Monthly leads by: £79.63

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