Arnold Palmer Invitational: Kevin Na the sole selection in Tiger's absence

Can Kevin Na do the business at Bay Hill for Steve?
Can Kevin Na do the business at Bay Hill for Steve?

Question marks surround Tiger Woods, whether it be injury, mental fortitude or even just form but Steve still thinks he's worth chancing at a big price around his favourite track. Read our man's preview of this week's PGA Tour action here...

“Wood’s record at a number of courses is incredible. Torrey Pines, Doral, Firestone, and Sherwood have all proved fertile hunting grounds for Tiger but none more so than Bay Hill, where he has an unbelievable 50% strike rate.”

*Please Note - this preview was published before Tiger Woods' withdrawal and therefore has been un-edited as, other than Steve's main selection, everything remains the same.


Tournament History
The Arnold Palmer Invitational began life in 1966 as the Florida Citrus Open. In 1979, Mr Palmer took control of the flagging event and moved it to Bay Hill, where it's gone from strength to strength.


Venue
Bay Hill Club Lodge, Orlando, Florida
Course Details
Par 72, 7,419 yards, stroke average in 2013 - 72.93

Originally built and designed in 1960 by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee, Arnold Palmer bought the course in 1976 and he's been tinkering with it ever since. It played as a par 70 in-between 2007-09 but after a major renovation it reverted to a par 72 in 2010. 

The Bermuda greens, set to run at a fairly fast 12 on the stimpmeter, are above average in size. There are 103 bunkers and water is in-play on half the holes, especially on the last. The tough 18th year ranks over-par every year and for the last two years it's ranked as the hardest on the course.


Useful Sites
Course Site
Course Tour
Twitter
Tee Times
Weather Forecast
Alternative Weather Forecast


TV Coverage
Live on Sky Sports all four days - 19:00 on Thursday and Friday and 16:30 over the weekend.


Last Five Winners
2013 - Tiger Woods -13
2012 - Tiger Woods -13
2011 - Martin Laird -8
2010 - Ernie Els -11
2009 - Tiger Woods -5


What will it take to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational?
Since the course reverted back to a par 72 in 2010, when the 4th and 16th holes were converted back to par 5s, how you play the long holes has been very important. In each of the last two renewals, Tiger Woods has topped the par 5 scoring stats on by playing them in 12-under-par and Martin Laird did the exact same thing in 2011. And when Ernie Els won here in 2010, he played the par 5s in ten-under-par, ranking second for par 5 scoring.

As is always the case in Florida, an ability to handle the Bermuda greens and often high winds is essential - although at this early stage, the forecast suggests we're in for a fairly benign week.


Is there an angle in?
Each of the last four winners had already recorded a top-five finish on the Florida Swing so think carefully about backing anyone that hasn't. 


Is there an identikit winner?
Yes. His name's Tiger Woods.


In-Play Tactics
The finish at Bay Hill is really tough with the last four holes ranking 2nd, 18th, 4th and 1st in order of difficulty last year. The easy par 5 16th is the only respite. Players can struggle to hold their tee-shots on the par 3 17th green as the putting surfaces speed up throughout the week and the 18th, with water on approach to the green, is always really tough.

In contrast to last week at Copperhead, Bay Hill is not a catch-up course. Since reverting back to a par 72, all four winners have been in the top five after round one and three of them were leading by halfway. Tiger was two back last year but by the end of round three he was two in front and odds-on. Just like the first two venues on the Florida Swing - PGA National and Doral - a fast start is essential.


Market Leaders
The big question this week is what price should Tiger Woods be? His layers will say he's gone at the game - he's injured, he's lost his form and he's lost his confidence in-contention and that he's definitely one to take on. And I honestly can't argue with that point of view.  

I could very easily see him struggling all week or even withdrawing. In fact, I'd say it's odds-on that it happens, but if it doesn't, he's a bloody big price at 9.08/1.

Wood's record at a number of courses is incredible - Torrey Pines, Doral, Firestone, and Sherwood have all proved fertile hunting grounds for Tiger - but none more so than Bay Hill, where he has an unbelievable 50% strike rate. And if you dismiss his first three outings at Arnie's gaff in the 90's, when he finished no better than 9th - his strike rate this century rises to 62%.  

He won here four times on-the-bounce between 2000 and 2003 and he's won four of his last five starts here, including the last two years. He missed the event through injury in 2010 and his only recent disappointment was a year later, but 2011 was poor all round and his sole success came at Sherwood in December.

This is where he finally broke the barren run of three years without a win in 2012 and this is where he feels more comfortable than anywhere else. Will he win this year? That's anyone's guess. Will he still be injured? Again, who knows? Do I want to back him at 9.08/1 to find out? Yes please. 

I was happy to take just 4.57/2 about him when he trotted up 12 months ago to equal Sam Snead's record of eight wins at the same tournament (Greater Greensboro Open) and I'm more than happy to take a big chance this time around that he can break the record and make it nine.

It's all about price, and for me, having witnessed that 66 in round three around Doral two weeks ago, he should be around 6.05/1.

I'm kicking myself for not taking the juicy early prices about the bang-in-form Bubba Watson. He's been a selection of mine here for the last three years as it's a venue I'm quite sure he'll one day win at, but having backed him last year at 38.037/1, in 2012 at 32.031/1 and in 2011 at 44.043/1, I just can't take less than 20.019/1, even though he's in sparkling form. He'll probably win now as that the sort of thing I do with alarming regularity - I see from my records I backed Martin Laird at 240.0239/1 in 2010 and 12 months later he was holding the trophy aloft!

It's testament to how good a player Justin Rose is now that he managed to contend at the weekend last week as his game appeared all over the shop whenever I saw him on TV. There's still the question of whether his shoulder has recovered also and he's not for me here.

A number of players have on occasions performed well here and so can't be dismissed. Adam Scot, Graeme McDowell and Zach Johnson have all at one time or another pushed Tiger for the title but none of done so regularly enough to chance.


My Bets
As already stated, I'm going to risk Tiger Woods at the price but it with the absolute understanding that, with injury doubts a real issue, I could be disappointed very early on. That said, when he won here in 2012 he did so after withdrawing with a leg injury at Doral two weeks earlier so although the back problems he's had are a worry, they don't entirely put me off.

My only other pre-event selection is Kevin Na, who couldn't quite reel in the lucky John Senden on Sunday. Na has some very respectable form at Bay Hill having finished fourth last year and runner-up in 2010. I'm not convinced he's the most reliable in a battle but given he has both obvious current and course form, at 55.054/1 I thought he was worth chancing.


Selections:
Tiger Woods @ 9.417/2
Kevin Na @ 55.054/1

I did write in yesterday's de-brief that this was the only event this week but South Africa's Sunshine Tour's Investec Cup finishes this weekend with the limited field Investec Championship and given it's live on Sky over the weekend I thought I'd have a little look at it so I'll be back later with my preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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