Arnold Palmer, known simply as ‘the King’, has hosted a PGA Tour event at his Bay Hill Club and Lodge every year since 1979 and every year he attracts some of the biggest names in golf. Such is the pull of the tournament that Tiger Woods made a big deal publically about the fact that he would not be competing this year.
Instead – as has been the case with many things over the past few years – Tiger’s loss is Rory’s gain as the world number one this week makes his maiden appearance at this tournament. McIlroy is joined by the four other members of the world’s top five, all of whom are at the top of the outright betting. As well as the elite five, major winners and previous winners on tour this year will be competing.
The Bay Hill Championship course may not have a name for its final three-hole stretch, but it remains one of the toughest finishing challenges in golf. The course, measuring some 7,300 yards off the tournament pegs, has undergone some minor changes of late. This will play into the hands of McIlroy as many of his competitors will also be learning about the course as they play it. In fact, many of the changes actually suit Rory’s game. Tree surgeons have tended to a number of big trees and the rough has been scaled back in places. These are encouraging signs for a big-hitter. His disappointing form in America so far (a missed cut was followed by ninth at Doral) make the 13/2 that BetVictor are offering for a Rory win decent value.
Everywhere you look in this field are players you can make a case for. Bubba Watson can win almost anywhere, Jason Day can be unstoppable at his attacking best, Rickie Fowler is looking to build on a very good 2014, Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington have re-found their form. But, one player to pluck from the quality is Brooks Koepka. He’s a big hitter with two wins and three top 10 finishes from his last 11 outings. The course changes can see him improve on his finish of 26th in his first attempt at winning the Invitational last March. Betfred go 35/1 for Koepka to become the first player to win twice on the PGA Tour this season.
The final recommendation for this week comes, unapologetically, out of the top five and that man is Henrik Stenson. Officially third in the world, the big Swede rarely tops the driving distance stats because he generally opts to hit his three wood off the tee. However, don’t let that fool you. His average distance with the fairway wood is 280 yards, longer than many players reach with their driver. That power bleeds down into his irons which allows him to hit shorter irons than most into greens; that really helps when you’re as good with an iron in your hands as Stenson is. He also has a strong partnership with his caddie, Gareth Lord, which saw him win the FedEx Cup in 2013. If that’s not a big-enough build up for his chances this week, Stenson has finished fourth in both his events on the PGA Tour this season. At 10/1 generally, Stenson should push McIlroy and company all the way.