2pts each-way Tyrrell Hatton @ 33/1
2pts each-way Rory McIlroy @ 9/1
1pt each-way Will Zalatoris @ 18/1
1pt each-way Keith Mitchell @ 50/1
0.5pt each-way Keegan Bradley @ 60/1
0.5pt each-way Francesco Molinari @ 150/1
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At the risk of being certified insane for opposing the hottest golfer on the planet, the man who is 93 under par for his 20 rounds and the winner of three of five starts, let’s go for a European whose name isn’t Jon Rahm for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
This is a tournament which has had a distinct Euro bias over the past five years with Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari and Tyrrell Hatton reeling off three in a row from 2018-20 and Lee Westwood, Hatton again and Viktor Hovland finishing just one shot shy of a playoff.
Clearly the demanding Bay Hill course, owned by the legendary Arnie from 1974 until we lost him in 2016 and lovingly renovated by him in 2009, fits the European eye. At 7466 yards, this par 72 has plenty of teeth and with $20m on the table now the tournament has been upgraded, we have the strongest field of the year so far.
Last year only ten golfers finished under par on a lightning-fast golf course in some of the toughest conditions in Bay Hill history. With Hatton’s four-under the best of the week two years earlier, 2020 was an even more searching test. Hot and at times windy, it is again likely to sort the men out from the boys.
It’s Hatton at 33/1 who looks the each-way value against the obvious market leaders Rahm, McIlroy and defending champion Scottie Scheffler in this second leg of the Florida Swing at the Orlando course where Arnie used to chew the fat with his golfing buddies every day.
Not even Rahm can win every week – or can he? – and as the big fella has played Bay Hill only once without taking a starring role (17th) he is more vulnerable than usual and with the world No. 1 tag back round his neck, he’s there to be shot at.
Why Hatton? The temperamental Englishman has been first, second and fourth there in the last six years and shown encouraging form this year with seventh first time out in Abu Dhabi and sixth at Phoenix. And he’s back at the scene of his lone US victory.
With everybody who’s anybody – bar Open champion and LIV defector Cam Smith – in the field of 120, the massive $3.6m first prize will take plenty of winning.
Scheffler has put Rahm in his place once this year when posting his first victory since the Masters at Phoenix but defending a title is extra pressure – though he never looks like he feels any.
He and Rory want that world No. 1 ranking back but McIlroy will need to step on his last two uncharacteristic performances, down the field at Scottsdale and Riviera. Better to judge him on his Dubai Desert Classic victory and a Bay Hill record right out of the top drawer, there or thereabouts (13-10-6-6-1-4) in each of the last six renewals.
Two who thrive on hard courses, Will Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick, shouldn’t be far away while the man from Chattanooga, Keith Mitchell, impressed massively when fourth at Pebble Beach and fifth at Riviera, matching Rahm shot for shot in the latter assignment, could surprise them all.
Zalatoris, runner-up in two Majors and breakthrough winner at St Jude last year before succumbing to a back problem that grounded him for months, was quickly back on the horse after his long layoff in finishing 11th at Kapalua and fourth at Riviera. And he has a bit of Bay Hill form – tenth in 2021.
US Open champion Fitzpatrick, second to Molinari in 2019 and top-ten every year since, has failed to build on his top-ten start at Kapalua this campaign but it’s only a question of when not if, while Molinari, Bay Hill winner four years ago after three course top-tens, is coming back to that sort of form just in time for a Ryder Cup place in his home country.
Keegan Bradley, Bay Hill runner-up in 2014, was noted driving it beautifully when runner-up at Torrey Pines and ZOZO victory in Japan towards the end of last year has given the 2011 USPGA champion the self-belief boost he had been missing.
Max Homa, gallant runner-up to Rahm in a titanic Riviera battle, is on such a roll, like his conqueror, that he has to be short-listed while Sunday’s hero Chris Kirk, a 20/1 pick for Fitzdares Times readers last week, has first-rate Bay Hill form and would have been put up again had he not had such a gruelling week at the Honda. Besides, this is a much stronger field than the one he beat.
1.5pts each-way Ryan Gerard @ 28/1
1.5pt each-way Akshay Bhatia @ 22/1
1pt each-way Brice Garnett @ 33/1
1pt each-way Andrew Novak @ 18/1
1pt each-way Erik van Rooyen @ 25/1
There’s no golfing action on the DP World Tour this week but the PGA Tour has provided $3.8m-worth of gainful employment in Puerto Rico for those not good enough for the $20m all-star bonanza in Florida – and what a woefully weak line-up it is.
In a market headed by world No. 264 Nate Lashley at the Puerto Rico Open’s regular venue, Grand Reserve, it’s a surreal mix of young wannabes, journeymen who have never won or whose odd victory is so far back they’re scarcely remembered, and old-time stars like 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy and 2011 Players champion KJ Choi, 52 now but still trying to find a putting method that actually works.
Last year Ryan Brehm, then 35, firmly in the journeyman category and barely a household name even in his own household, ran away with the trophy when winning by six at massive odds. He’s no isolated case. Who now remembers the 2010 champion Derek Lamely or even Frenchman Martin Trainer whose 2019 triumph was shortly to be followed by missing 14 cuts in a row?
Nobody in this year’s field rates within sniffing distance of the world’s top 100 and when you’re talking about unreliable golfers for whom consistency is a foreign word you are always going to get upsets.
It should pay to look for younger talents not yet tainted by years of failure and one who fits the bill admirably is Ryan Gerard, the 23-year-old who finished fourth on only his second main-tour start at the Honda on Sunday. Confident and fearless, he went for his shots and it paid off with a $411,600 cheque that will take him a long way towards getting a PGA Tour card.
That amazing finish got the world No. 302 a late place in Puerto Rico and if the Honda was no fluke and the adrenaline has been replenished, he can further cash in on this blaze of form which kicked off with third place on the satellite Korn Ferry circuit earlier in February.
Another young prospect who arrives in Rio Grande carrying no mental baggage is the gawky Californian Akshay Bhatia, a Korn Ferry Tour winner last year who has settled down well among the big boys having made all three cuts he has contested in 2023.
Brice Garnett has the best recent Grand Reserve form – seventh last year and fifth in 2021, both his best placings on an underwhelming CV over that period – while Andrew Novak has made five of seven cuts this wrap-around year (three top-20s) so is more consistent than most at this selling-plate level.
South African Erik Van Rooyen’s award-winning moustache is talked about more than his golf these days but at least this long, straight driver is a winner on both main tours and has one good 2023 showing to his name, sixth at the AmEx.
He and compatriot MJ Daffue are place material as is 45-year-old Jim Herman, a triple main-tour winner whose 14th at the Honda suggests he still has a bit of petrol left in the tank. The 7506-yard course with two par fives over 600 yards will test the old plodder especially when the wind blows off the Caribbean.
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