There are no off weeks on the PGA Tour. A stop between a WGC and The Players Championship should include a weak field and not have as much juice as normal. Instead, this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational includes multiple-time major winners and a healthy international contingent of Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup players. It's headlined by 2018 champion Rory McIlroy, while he's joined by an exciting cast of characters that will carry the tour into next week's Players at TPC Sawgrass.
Let's take a closer look at this week's contest with odds and prop bets provided via William Hill Sportsbook.
What: Arnold Palmer Invitational
When: March 4-7
Where: Bay Hill Club and Lodge -- Orlando, Florida
Three things to know
1. Bryson driving 6? John Daly once took an 18 on this hole after trying to clear the lake from the tee box, but Daly was never as long as Bryson DeChambeau. I don't think Bryson will go for the green on this par 5, but if he does, it will be must-see television. It's also a hook for the bigger conversation about Bryson, which is how his insane length will help him at a place where he's been incredibly successful over the past few years. Two top-five finishes in three appearances plus the extra power off the tee means he's going to be a force this week.
Bryson can definitely reach the green in one on the sixth hole at Bay Hill. It is a par-five. Expect to hear talk of this during the next three days before he plays the hole like everyone else. Or else he'll actually try it which would be quite something to watch.— Ben Coley (@BenColeyGolf) March 1, 2021
2. Stay hot, Hovland: If you haven't been paying attention, Hovland is probably the best player in this field and maybe the best player in the world right now. Here are his strokes gained rankings of the players in this field for specific periods of time dating backward from right now.
- Last 30 days: 1st
- Last 3 months: 2nd
- Last 6 months: 1st
- Last 12 months: 3rd
- Last 24 months: 5th
He's been beaten by 11 golfers in his last four tournaments and won just before that stretch started. Collin Morikawa has the trophies, but Hovland has been a more consistently good player across the board and has improved a lot in his short game over the last year. He went from -1 stroke per event in chipping and putting from March 2019-March 2020 to 0 strokes per event from March 2020-March 2021. That sounds like not very much, but for somebody of his caliber, one stroke across an event is a big deal.
3. Players prep: This is primarily a Rory McIlroy story, but it's not only a Rory McIlroy story. Rory will go to Sawgrass next week as the defending champion (from 2019), which is an odd thing, but he said last week at The Concession that his game is not really where he wants it to be right now.
"I'm still searching a little bit," said McIlroy. "There was signs that there's some good stuff in there. I think, if anything, I felt good with the putter this week, changed from the spider back to the blade which felt good, which was nice. A little better off the tee as well. Wedges are good. It's sort of when I get into 8-iron down to 4-iron is where I'm sort of struggling. ... Still got a little bit of work to do. I guess if I can come to a World Golf Championship with the best players in the world and not feel like I'm my best and still contend, I guess that's a good sign."
He's not the only one with work to do. A hopefully tough Bay Hill (last year the winning score was 4 under!) will be good work for top players hoping to contend for a Players crown next weekend.
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Grading the field
It's really strong at the top with Jordan Spieth, Tommy Fleetwood, Will Zalatoris, Patrick Reed and defending champ Tyrrell Hatton joining DeChambeau, McIlroy, Hovland and Co. Spieth is particularly interesting as this is not an event where he normally tees it up. However, with three straight top-15 finishes under his belt and the Players on deck, it's time to keep the momentum going. Grade: A+
Arnold Palmer Invitational picks
|Winner (12-1): For all the reasons I mentioned above, Hovland is the pick for the second time in three weeks. You don't get a ton of value here with him at 12-1, but he's playing better golf than Rory McIlroy (8-1) and should mash on the par 5s at Bay Hill (Hovland is currently 19th in par-5 scoring average this season). Morikawa and Hovland winning in back-to-back weeks leading into a Players week that will bookend the 68s they both shot in Round 1 last year would be awesome.|
|Top 10 (+150): He's still been within striking distance of top-10 finishes even without his best stuff over the last month. I trust the history here (4th last year, 2nd in 2018), and I love the +150 number for him to top 10.|
|Sleeper (100-1): List is among the leaders in this field in strokes gained tee to green over the last 90 days. His putting has been truly abysmal -- he's gained strokes in just six of his last 35 rounds -- but his history at Bay Hill is terrific (T10, T7 and T17 in three career appearances).|