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The Arnold Palmer Invitational: Tiger looks great to make it eight, says The Punter

Tiger Woods - A great bet this week, according to The Punter

“I started out thinking that I’d want 5.04/1 to back Tiger this week and I’ve finished up thinking he shouldn’t be much bigger than 3.02/1, so somewhere in the middle he’s a very confident selection. “

Tiger Woods is bidding to win his eighth Arnold Palmer Invitational and our man fancies he will. Read Steve's preview of this week's PGA Tour event here...


Tournament History
In existence since 1966 (when first played as the Florida Citrus Open), the event was floundering badly when Arnold Palmer took over and moved it to Bay Hill in 1979. The Arnold Palmer Invitational is the final leg of the Florida Swing this year and once again, it's attracted a high calibre field.

Venue

Bay Hill Club Lodge, Orlando, Florida

Course Details

Par 72, 7,419 yards, stroke average in 2012 - 72.95

As per usual with a Florida track, the entire course is laid to Bermuda and wind is often a factor. The greens are very fast at 12 on the stimpmeter and slightly larger than average.

The course was changed to a par 70 for the three events between 2007 and 2009 but the 4th and 16th holes were reverted back to par 5's before the 2010 renewal. There are 108 bunkers on the course and water is in-play on nine holes.

Bay Hill is true test, where there is no hiding place.

Useful Sites
Course Site
Course Details
Twitter Link
Tee Times
Weather Forecast
Alternative Weather Forecast

TV Coverage
Live on Sky all four days, 7.00pm on Thursday and Friday, 4.30pm on Saturday and 5.00pm on Sunday.

Last Five Winners
2012 - Tiger Woods -13
2011 - Martin Laird -8
2010 - Ernie Els -11
2009 - Tiger Woods -5
2008 - Tiger Woods -18

What will it take to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational?
A good all round game, the capacity to handle windy conditions and the ability to putt on Bermuda greens are all vital.

Total Driving is a good start to examine as length off the tee is a big advantage, but only if you can keep out of the tricky Bermuda rough. Martin Laird two years ago, at 20th, is the worst any winner has ranked for Greens In Regulation in the last five years and good scrambling is key too but since reverting back to a par 72, without doubt, the most significant stat has been Par 5 Performance...

Both Laird and Tiger played the 16 long holes in 12 under par, ranking first for the week and Ernie Els played them in 10 under in 2010, ranking second.

Is there an identikit winner?

If you take Tiger Woods out of the equation, international players have a very fair record. Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell are the only Americans, other than Woods, to win here this century.

Americans have won all 12 PGA Tour events so far in 2013 but if Woods fails to shine, that run might just come to an end here.

In-Play Tactics
The finish is tough with the last four holes ranking 3, 18, 7 and 1 in order of difficulty last year. The easy par five 16th is the only respite. Players can struggle to hold their tee-shots on the par 3 17th green as the greens 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 three winners have been in the top five after round one and leading by halfway. Just like the first two venues on the Florida Swing - PGA National and Doral - a fast start is essential.

Market Leaders
It doesn't take a genius to work out who's the favourite this week. Tiger Woods' record here is simply incredible. He's played the event on 15 occasions and he's won seven times, including four in-a-row from the year 2000! He was injured in 2010 and didn't play the event so this year he's looking for his fourth win in five starts and should he do so, his strike rate will be 50% spanning a period of 16 years.

When you consider how well he's played at his favourite venues so far in 2013 - a winner at Torrey Pines and at Doral last time out, together with his record here and the fact that he broke a barren spell of getting on for three years with a five-stroke margin win in this event 12 months ago, it's almost impossible to think he's unlikely to challenge.

Phil Mickelson, a winner here in 1997, runner-up in 2002 and third in 2003, is second favourite but he hasn't finished inside the top-20 in five starts since.

Third favourite, Justin Rose, won in Florida at last year's WGC Cadillac Championship, has finished inside the top-ten in his last two starts and was third here two years ago but he looks short enough to me at just 22.021/1.

Three others all trade below 30.029/1 - Sergio Garcia, Brandt Snedeker and Graeme McDowell.

Garcia stuck at the task better than I thought he would last week at Copperhead and he does have a few high finishes here (five top-10s in his last 10 starts) but he's only once broken 70 on the weekend, way back in 2001.

Snedeker was the hottest player on the planet before he was struck down with a rib injury and this is his first start in over a month. The chances are he'll be a bit rusty with Augusta on his mind and given he has an ordinary record at the track too, he's readily overlooked.

G-Mac was Tiger's closest challenger here last year, as well as last time out at Doral and he was also the runner-up here in 2005. He's in fine form, isn't intimidated by Woods and of the market leaders, other than Tiger, he's my idea of the best value.

Selections
Tiger Woods has the iron-will to get the job done here even when he's not up to his best. If one aspect of his game hasn't been up to scratch, he's somehow been able to shine elsewhere to compensate. When he won here in 2008 and 2009, he did so despite not driving well, and in 2009, he only ranked 50th for GIR too, but he was still able to win because he was the best scrambler and second best putter that week.

He was easily beaten here in 2010 but his game was in a poor state that year and he'd also put in distinctly ordinary efforts at both Torrey Pines and Doral that year too.

I started out thinking that I'd want 5.04/1 to back him this week and I've finished up thinking he shouldn't be much bigger than 3.02/1, so somewhere in the middle at 4.1n/a, he's a very confident selection.

I've also had a small saver on Bubba Watson, who I backed last year when he finished fourth. I've played him a number of times already this year and he hasn't quite shined yet but I gave up on him last year, just as he won the US Masters and that still grates.

Bubba is one of the world's very best players on his day and he often looks over-priced. This is one of those occasions.

Selections:
Tiger Woods @ 4.216/5
Bubba Watson @ 38.037/1


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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19 March 2013

The Punter

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