Tiger Woods is the favourite to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week on the PGA Tour. However, his best price of 8/1 reflects the current state of his game as in the past he has been as short as 2/1 to win on the Bay Hill Course that is one of his favourites throughout the Tour. Woods is going for a ninth win at Bay Hill this week and will have plenty of backers and layers.
His followers will say 8/1 is a huge price on a course that is ideally suited to Woods’ game. He repeatedly is a multiple winner on courses that are a good fit and Bay Hill is undoubtedly in that category. If it was a matchplay event he would be two up on the first tee and positive mental associations with the venue help him compete.
Another factor in his dominance at Bay Hill is the tournament host, Arnold Palmer. Woods wants to be remembered as the best player ever and has total respect for the ability of few players, past and present, but Palmer would be one of them. The veteran did much to promote the game of golf and was a huge draw for spectators and television viewers.
Palmer made a massive contribution to the growth and development of the PGA Tour because he attracted a new audience, both via television and live at the events. He was one of the first American superstars to regularly play in the British Open and other players like Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and more recently Tom Watson embraced the tradition and appeal of links golf.
It’s fair to say Woods is inspired by the Palmer legacy and there’s no doubt one of the highlights of his year is when he receives the trophy from the great man. It’s no coincidence that Woods also has a good record at the tournament named in honour of Nicklaus, another icon of the game. Woods appreciates the role of these players in promoting his sport and without their influence he would not be playing for vast purses.
Woods has also boosted viewing figures and tournament directors all over the world pay him huge fees to play in their events. His achievements in the context of his background and race make him the modern day Palmer and Nicklaus in promoting his sport. However, his reputation won’t count for a great deal now when he tees off on Thursday.
As much as Woods loves Palmer’s tournament he would probably swap 10 of his invitationals for that elusive 15th major. Tiger has not won a major since the US Open of 2008 and his pursuit of 19 to surpass Nicklaus is looking unlikely. Woods seems to be increasingly affected by injury and a back condition is his latest complaint.
Spasms in his back have handicapped Woods in his last two tournaments, withdrawing from one and looking in serious pain in another. If the problem is chronic Woods will be not be competitive at the highest level and won’t win another major. The Masters is just 23 days away so Woods must show signs of physical well being this week at Bay Hill. He could start second favourite behind Rory McIlroy for the first major of the season.
At just over 7400 yards the Bay Hill course is average in length by modern standards. The big hitters will have an advantage at the par 5s but the greens are undulating and difficult to find so players that excel in hitting the putting surfaces in the correct number of shots should do well. Overall, Bay Hill is a thorough test of golf and thick rough adds to the challenge.
Course form and current form seem to be much more important guides to the event than tournament stats. The course length and the nature of the fast greens help a certain type of player but embracing the importance of the tournament is more key than an identikit type of player. However, good driving and a solid and accurate all round game helps.
For those betting in running its worth noting that Bay Hill is no place to play catch up golf and there’s not much movement on the leaderboard over the weekend. Any player able to card a really low round is likely to find themselves in contention. The average winning score over the last six years is 10 under which suggests bogey avoidance is more important than birdie conversion.
The trends are distorted by Woods’ dominance but since the event was first named the Bay Hill invitational in 1996 12 of the 18 winners have been major champions. Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have won at Bay Hill before or after winning one or more major championship. Strangely in the other years outsiders have done well.
The field for this year’s renewal is above average in strength. In Adam Scott and Justin Rose we have two current major champions but both have made a slow start to the new season. Scott traditionally plays a light schedule and maybe put in a great deal of physical and mental energy into his tour of the Australian majors at the end of last year.
Rose’s career has been building toward winning a major since finishing fourth as an amateur in the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. He turned professional immediately, perhaps too soon as he struggled in the paid ranks. He rebuilt his career and graduated through the levels of the sport before winning the US Open last June. His current and course form suggests Rose could be another major champion to win at Bay Hill.
Bubba Watson also has a great deal in his favour this week and has also won at the highest level. The 2012 Masters champion had a slump after reaching the pinnacle of his career but he has won a regular tournament this season. He combines distance off the tee and accuracy to the greens so looks ideally suited to Bay Hill. However, whatever Scott, Rose and Watson achieve this week the main story will be the condition of Tiger’s back.
On Par Profits