The Punter's De-Brief: Rory roars back as Stenson stutters

Rory McIlroy - Arnold Palmer Invitational Result & Review
Rory McIlroy on his way to victory at Bay Hill

Rory McIlroy produced a remarkable finish to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill yesterday, with some notable names in behind. Read our man's take on the tournament, with his customary look back at all the action here...

“Rory seems to be really ordinary or utterly brilliant in-contention and there doesn’t seem to be very much in-between, so he makes for a frustrating character when it comes to punting in-play.”

A fortnight after Phil Mickelson won his first event in five years and a week after Paul Casey won his second PGA Tour tournament, nine years after his first, we have another comeback winner in the shape of Rory McIlroy. The Irishman's gap between wins wasn't anywhere near as long as Lefty's or Casey's but I don't think anyone expected to have to wait 18 months for Rory's 14th PGA Tour victory when he swooped to win his 13th at the Tour Championship in September 2016.

With form figures in the States reading MC-20-59-MC, Rory didn't look especially generously priced at around 20.019/1 before the off and having been a 4.94/1 chance trailing by two with a round to go, he hit 15.014/1 after parring the first five holes when he trailed Henrik Stenson by four, but a birdie at the par five sixth sparked a most remarkable run.

Rory birdied eight of his last 13 holes and five of the last six to shoot an incredible eight-under-par 64 to win by three and he's the latest in a string of players to head the eagerly awaited US Masters market.

Stenson, a 38.037/1 chance before the off, who opened up the tournament with the week's only other 64, hit a low of 1.584/7 after he'd birdied the par five fourth to go a couple clear of playing partner, Bryson DeChambeau, but a missed birdie putt from ten feet on the fifth appeared to stop his momentum dead and he eventually finished fourth.

Among all the drama, we even got to enjoy a charge from Tiger Woods but having been matched in-running at just 4.1, he drove out of bounds at the par five 16th when trailing by just a stroke.

My Bets

I had a decent bet on Tommy Fleetwood before the off, who I fancied quite strongly, so it wasn't a good week and I layed Rory modestly at the end at 1.141/7 but I did scramble a bit back by laying Stenson at 1.84/5 early on in round four. With hindsight, I obviously wish I'd layed enough back to put myself in profit but I didn't have much on in him before the start at 38.037/1 and I was quite confident he'd convert after such a decent start.

As detailed in the In-Play Blog, I'd backed DeChambeau at halfway, so when he eagled the 16th hole to get to within one of Rory, I still had a small chance of a good week but it wasn't to be. Rory birdied the 18th and DeChambeau bogeyed it so it wasn't even close in the end.

What Have We Learned This Week?

The rough was up this year but power eventually won over accuracy. Stenson had plotted his way along serenely for three-and-a-half rounds, dissecting fairways with enough regularity to finish the week ranking third for Driving Accuracy but when it came to the crunch, power off the tee proved pivotal and the first two home ranked first and second for Driving Distance.

How you play the par fives here is always important and nobody bettered DeChambeau's 12-under-par. Rory ranked only tied for 15th - playing them in nine-under-par - but his challenge for the title sparked into life on Saturday when he eagled the 12th.

Nobody putts on Bermuda greens better than Rory McIlroy and having been in search of his touch on the greens, a three hour chat with putting guru, Brad Faxon, on Monday clearly worked the oracle. He ranked first or second for all the putting stats. And he also ranked number one for Scrambling for the week.

We still haven't witnessed a playoff at Bay Hill this century and yet again, nobody shot four rounds in the 60s. A feat only three men have ever achieved at Bay Hill.

Rory Remains Tough to Predict and Rickie Remains One to be Wary off

In the In-Play Blog yesterday, I highlighted how poor Rory's record had been when he'd trailed by two with a round to go and to a degree that looks ridiculous today. He spoke after his win about being aware he was four adrift early and I wonder if that, in some small way, helped him to relax and shoot such a ridiculous score. He was remarkably impressive yesterday but he remains a hard player to catch right given how poorly priced he usually is.

Anyone that backed him earlier in the year in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai, where he was disappointing in-the-mix when only a stroke back with a round to go, will not have enjoyed last night's display but we just have to accept it with Rory. He seems to be really ordinary or utterly brilliant in-contention (see video below) and there doesn't seem to be very much in-between, so he makes for a frustrating character when it comes to punting in-play.

Rory may be a bit unpredictable and hard to catch right but Rickie Fowler continues to flatter to deceive. He was matched at just 3.7511/4 as early as Saturday when he tied for the lead during round three but he dropped three shots over the last two holes and he was never a factor in round four, eventually finishing tied for 14th after a two-over-par 74.

He's never been great in-contention but he's been especially poor this year and I wonder if last year's disappointing final round at the US Open has anything to do with how poorly he's performing. He's clearly one to be wary of and possibly one to take on in the top-five and top-ten markets in-running.

Is Tiger Value to Win the US Masters?

Given he didn't pick up a club for six months of last year, having undergone back fusion surgery, the fact that Tiger Woods has contended at all so soon is incredible. Having only played five events this year, he's been in-the-mix in each of the last two weeks and he's now just a 13.5 chance to win the US Masters for a fifth time. He's already been matched at only 10.519/2 for the year's first major and he looks incredibly short to me. It's ten years since Woods won his last major (the US Open) and with so many of the world's best playing so well, there's no value in his price whatsoever.

I'll be back later today or tomorrow with my preview for this week's only event - the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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