The Arnold Palmer Invitational is one of the most prestigious tournaments on the PGA Tour calendar, attracting a world-class line-up. Not for the first time at this venue, however, all the talk is about one man...
It's almost like the old days. Having become used to ever tighter golf betting markets, with double-figure priced favourites almost the norm, punters are suddenly faced with a dilemma that was frequent before 2009. Is there any realistic point or hope in taking on Tiger Woods and if not, is it better to take short pre-tournament odds or wait for something better in-running?
The case in favour is so obvious it barely warrants repeating. Tiger has won at Bay Hill seven times, by an aggregate of 27 strokes. He's won twice, easily, in the past couple of months at other happy hunting grounds Torrey Pines and Doral. At the latter, his game looked closer to his best than arguably any moment since his career nosedived. While world number one Rory McIlroy is in poor form and other rivals struggle for consistency, Tiger's return to the top of golf's tree looks inevitable.
The next step should be an eighth Bay Hill title, providing the perfect warm-up for a fifth US Masters crown next month.
Since last week's recommendation to back him at 6.411/2 for the Masters in expectation of punters making the link with Bay Hill and Augusta momentum, Tiger's odds have shortened to 6.05/1. Another win this week and those odds will tumble, probably below 5.04/1. Narrow defeat and they'll barely move at worst. Only a highly improbable poor performance on one of his favourite tracks would produce the opposite market reaction.
Trading a longer-term market like the Masters, however, is a very different proposition to taking a risk at just 4.216/5 pre-tournament for this week's event. It is here that Tiger layers can present their own strong case. Very, very few tournaments are won without the favourite trading considerably bigger than this at some stage in-running. Even when Tiger was winning everything going, it was perfectly possible with good timing to successfully employ a 'lay-to-back' strategy.
Naturally, the likelihood of an in-running drift increases with stiffer opposition. As the recent series of shock winners on the PGA Tour illustrates, the opposition gets stiffer with every year. There are certainly no pushovers in a Bay Hill field that includes, among others, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker. Even if you don't fancy laying Tiger, there are no shortage of attractively-priced trading alternatives.
Without wishing to sound like a fence-sitter, I really can see both sides of the debate. I fancy Tiger to win this week and have backed him for the Masters accordingly, in expectation of a price-plunge. However, I've always erred towards the lay-to-back strategy and generally laying short-priced favourites early on.
Moreover, while it was impossible to not be bowled over by his Doral performance, is the Tiger we've come to know as a mere mortal really returning to his old-self, when just about any odds were acceptable? I just can't believe that genius can be so easily tossed away and picked up again. He's proved us all wrong at some stage during his remarkable career and it will be no surprise to see him win this in a canter. The value-seeker in me, however, just has to look elsewhere for now and hope he trades bigger in-running.