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With the Players Championship next week, some top players are sitting out the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational, but Jordan Spieth has work to do. The three-time major champion hasn't won an event since the 2017 British Open, but he is finally back in contention, and he is ready to build some momentum. The 27-year-old has finished in the top 15 in three straight tournaments coming into the Arnold Palmer Invitational 2021, which tees off Thursday at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. He will be vying with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau and 2020 champion Tyrrell Hatton to finish on top of the leaderboard. 

William Hill Sportsbook lists McIlroy as the 9-1 favorite in its latest 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational odds, with DeChambeau and Viktor Hovland the 12-1 co-second favorites. Hatton is listed at 16-1, while Spieth is a long shot at 28-1. Before you lock in any 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational picks or golf predictions, you need to see who Sal Johnson is backing

A media legend and consummate golf insider, Johnson has a strong feel for the players and their strengths and weaknesses. Before last year's event at Bay Hill, he pegged Tyrrell Hatton as one of his top contenders after the Englishman tied for sixth in Mexico in his first event after wrist surgery. The result? Hatton stood strong in the blustery conditions to shoot 4 under, one of only four players to break par for the week, to grab his first PGA Tour victory.

Johnson was spot-on in his picks all last season. He was all over Dustin Johnson at the 2020 Masters, calling him a "man with a purpose" and proclaiming he would be nearly impossible to beat. Johnson simply went out and shot the lowest score in event history at 20 under to win by five strokes.

Earlier in the season, he pegged Sungjae Im as a top contender before his first Tour win at the Honda Classic in March before touting Hatton the following week. Anyone who has followed Johnson's advice has cashed in huge.

Now Johnson, the first producer of "Inside the PGA Tour," a longtime ABC Sports golf producer who worked with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman, and the founder of the world's top golf stats database, has released his highly confident 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational picks, and they will surprise you. You can only see them here.

Top 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational expert picks

Johnson isn't extremely high on McIlroy, even though he is the Vegas favorite. The golf guru has watched for more than a year as the 31-year-old has faltered again and again. He knows the four-time major champion is close, but he did it again last week when he shot 71 in the final round to fall to a tie for sixth. McIlroy hasn't won since the WGC-HSBC Champions in 2019, so it's best to let him work things out before you back him again.

On the other hand, the golf expert has seen Patrick Reed rise to the challenge more times than he can count. The 30-year-old has nine career tour wins, including this year's Farmers Insurance Open, and he comes in off a T-9 finish last week. He missed the cut at the American Express but has been in the top 25 in every other event this season, and he ranks sixth on tour in strokes gained: total. He is averaging more than five birdies per 18 holes, making 133 in 26 rounds, and is 15th in scoring. 

Johnson also loves what he has seen from Spieth over the past several weeks. The three-time major champion and 14-time tour winner will make his Bay Hill debut this week, and he comes in with his best form in a long time. Spieth has finished in the top 15 in three straight events, tying for 15th at Pebble Beach after consecutive top-fives. He has shot in the 60s in seven of his past 12 rounds, going 36 under during those three tournaments.

How to make 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational predictions

Johnson is also high on a triple-digit long shot who has a surprisingly solid history at Bay Hill. This veteran player has had an up-and-down season and his stats aren't near the best in the game, but the track record in Florida can't be overlooked. This golfer has won on tour before, and this could be the week he finally does it again. You can only see who it is here.

Who wins the Arnold Palmer Invitational 2021? Where do Hovland and Spieth finish? And which long shot is a must-back? Check out the odds below, then visit SportsLine to see Sal Johnson's full leaderboard, picks and analysis for the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational, all from the insider who called Dustin Johnson's win at the 2020 Masters. 

2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational odds 

Rory McIlroy 9-1
Bryson DeChambeau 12-1
Viktor Hovland 12-1
Tyrrell Hatton 16-1
Patrick Reed 20-1
Sungjae Im 22-1
Matthew Fitzpatrick 25-1
Jordan Spieth 28-1
Paul Casey 28-1
Hideki Matsuyama 28-1
Louis Oosthuizen 35-1
Jason Day 35-1
Francesco Molinari 35-1
Billy Horschel 40-1
Tommy Fleetwood 40-1
Marc Leishman 40-1
Sam Burns 45-1
Harris English 45-1
Will Zalatoris 45-1
Max Homa 50-1
Jason Kokrak 50-1
Cameron Tringale 60-1
Kevin Na 60-1
Justin Rose 60-1
Branden Grace 66-1
Rickie Fowler 66-1
Kevin Kisner 70-1
Cameron Davis 70-1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout 70-1
Adam Hadwin 80-1
Robert Macintyre 80-1
Victor Perez 80-1
Talor Gooch 90-1
Lanto Griffin 90-1
Shane Lowry 100-1
Maverick McNealy 100-1
Chris Kirk 100-1
J.T. Poston 100-1
Matt Jones 100-1
Matt Wallace 100-1
Henrik Stenson 100-1
Ian Poulter 100-1
Charley Hoffman 100-1
Lee Westwood 100-1
Si-Woo Kim 100-1