The Punter

The Punter's In-Play Blog: Rory the value at Bay Hill

Golfer Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler in action in round three

Kurt Kitayama still leads the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a round to go but our man likes the chances of former winner, Rory McIlroy...

  • Kitayama still leads at Bay Hill

  • Rory the value with a round to go

  • Nico Echavarria hits the front in Puerto Rico


10:45 - March 5, 2023

With Bay Hill firming up and the wind continuing to harass, the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational was its usual war of attrition and there was a sizable list of casualties.

The 36-hole leader, Kurt Kitayama, looked highly likely to be included on the list after a three-over-par front nine but to his credit, he dug deep on the back-nine to claw back to parity and he's the only one of the eight players that started the day inside the top-five and ties to finish there.

Justin Thomas matched Kitayama's level par 72 to slip from tied fifth to tied seventh but the other six all shot over-par.

Xander Schauffele, who sat at the head of the market at halfway, shot a disappointing three-over-par 75 and Patrick Cantlay shot 74. That was perhaps more understandable though given his poor record in Florida and that this is his first visit to Bay Hill.

Jordan Spieth never got going and shot 74, Corey Connors fell away after a bright start to the round and David Riley limped round in 77 strokes, but the most surprising casualty was arguably England's Matt Fitzpatrick, who shot a very disappointing 76.

With the leaders treading water or floundering in round three, the defending champ, Scottie Scheffler, who sat tied for ninth at halfway, is the only player inside the top-six with a round to go, apart from Kitayama, that sat inside the top-12 at halfway and he now heads the market. Here's the current state of play with prices to back at 10:40.

Kurt Kitayama -9 7.87/1
Scottie Scheffler -8 3.259/4
Viktor Hovland -8 5.14/1
Tyrrell Hatton -7 9.08/1
Rory McIlroy -6 8.88/1
Harris English -6 36.035/1
Justin Thomas -5 28.027/1
Jordan Spieth -5 42.041/1
Pierceson Coody -5 120.0119/1
Max Homa -4 55.054/1
Cameron Young -4 85.084/1
-3 and 130.0129/1 bar

Francesco Molinari won here in 2019 having sat tied for 17th with a round to go. The Italian was trailing by five and trading at 130.0129/1 and the 2020 winner, Tyrrell Hatton, is the only third round leader to convert in the last six years but it's notoriously difficult to win from off the pace here and 27 of the last 28 winners have been inside the top-five after 54 holes.

Although Hatton's the only 54-hole leader to convert recently, as many as 13 have gone on to win here this century and the leader has successfully converted two of three previous third round leads but I can't help but think Kitayama is very much up against it here.

Getting the job done on the Asian Development Tour or even at the Mauritius Open on the DP World Tour back in 2018 is quite different to holding the world's best at bay when you're in search of your first PGA Tour title and as highlighted below, the last 11 in Kitayama's position have all failed. If you followed me in on Friday morning at 70.069/1, looking to take out some profit may well be a prudent move.

Scheffler, who birdied his last three holes on Saturday, is the one to beat if his putter behaves but he too will surely feel some pressure.

Justin Ray has pawed over the record books and no player in the last 40 years has successfully defended each of his first two PGA Tour titles so it would some feat for Scheffler to follow up his win in Phoenix with another here.

After a stunning 66 on Saturday, Viktor Hovland is looking to go one better than he did last year when finishing tied second to Scheffler after a two-over-par 74 on Sunday but he makes little appeal at 4/1.

Hovland began the tournament with a hole out from the fairway at the first, he made an ace at the seventh in round two and he produced this gem on the 14th yesterday.

Holing out from off the green three times will tidy up your score and I just wonder if he's playing as well as his score suggests. He was very disappointing on the last occasion he was in-the-mix - shooting 74 at St Andrews to fall from tied first to fourth in the Open Championship and I'm happy to swerve him.

Having backed Tyrrell before the off, Kitayama on Friday and Thomas yesterday, I've got chances heading into the final round but the one I fancy at the prices this morning is the 2018 winner, Rory McIlroy.

After a pedestrian start (sat tied for 68th after his 73 in round one), Rory has gone about his business nicely with rounds of 69 and 68 and he looks a massive threat with a round to go.

There was quite a turnaround at the Puerto Rico Open too with pre-event 110.0109/1 chance, Nico Echavarria, catching and passing the 36-hole leader, Carson Young, with a brilliant seven-under-par 65.

I haven't given the event any attention over the weekend and I'm happy to continue that stance but for the record, in 14 previous editions, the 2010 winner, Derek Lamely, and the 2015 champ, Alex Cejka, are the only winners to be outside the top-three places after three rounds and they both sat fifth, so it's a hard place to make up ground.

9:35 - March 4, 2023

Having been matched in-running at just 2.56/4, pre-event favourite and world number one, Jon Rahm, endured a torrid time on Friday morning at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as his ragged tee game caught up with him.

The Spaniard hadn't driven the ball brilliantly on Thursday afternoon, but he'd still managed to construct a seven-under-par 65 to lead by two but he shot 11 strokes worse yesterday and he now trails the 36-hole leader, Kurt Kitayama, by six strokes.

Kurt Kitayama at Bay Hill.jpg

Play was suspended due to darkness yesterday, with Justin Suh (-2) and Greg Koch (+2) still needing to finish off their second rounds this morning but they're not in-contention so here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 9:25.

Kurt Kitayama -9 11.010/1
Jordan Spieth -7 8.88/1
Xander Schauffele -6 8.415/2
Corey Connors -6 24.023/1
Patrick Cantlay -5 11.010/1
Justin Thomas -5 14.013/1
Matthew Fitzpatrick -5 15.014/1
Davis Riley -5 65.064/1
Scottie Scheffler -4 11.010/1
Cameron Young -4 55.054/1
Adam Scott -4 60.059/1
Ludvig Aberg -4 220.0219/1
Jon Rahm -3 14.5
-3 and 28.027/1 bar

Between 1997 and 2006, all ten Arnold Palmer Invitational winners were up with the pace at halfway. Tiger Woods sat tied for seventh in 2001 but he only trailed by two and that was as far back as any of the ten trailed by. The other nine all sat inside the top four places and five of them were in front but unfortunately, we can't just assume this a frontrunner's paradise.

The 2007 and 2008 winners, Vijay Singh, and Woods (again!), both trailed by seven at halfway, Matt Every was nine adrift in 2014, Rory McIlroy sat tied for 11th and six off the lead in 2018, and Scottie Scheffler was matched at a high of 420.0419/1 when he trailed by eight at halfway last year.

This is still a wide open affair and picking the winner is going to be tricky.

Having backed Kitayama yesterday morning, and having backed Matthew Fitzpatrick before the off, I've got two live contenders heading into the weekend but I'm happy to add Justin Thomas to the portfolio too...

Last year's US PGA Champion, who was matched at a high of 200.0199/1 after his slow start on Thursday, was matched at a low of 6.25/1 yesterday before he stumbled late on with bogeys at 17 and 18 but he looked over-priced this morning at 15.014/1 given he's no bigger than 12/1 on the High Street and he's still a fair price at 14.013/1.

Thomas, who ranks fifth for Greens In Regulation at halfway, won the Players Championship two years ago and he won the Honda Classic in 2018 so he's no stranger to success on the Florida Swing and he'll be inspired to catch his good friend, Jordan Spieth, who caught a big break on the 18th yesterday when his drive should have gone out of bounds.

Over at the Puerto Rico Open, the first round leader, Carson Young, heads into the weekend with a four stroke lead and I'm going to leave the event alone for now.

10:35 - March 3, 2023

It wasn't pretty at times and the world number one, Jon Rahm, found only eight fairways off the tee at Bay Hill during yesterday's first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational but he finished the day in style with an eagle at the 16th and birdies at the two closing holes and who's going to stop him now that he has his nose in front?

Rahm has been relentless since finishing the 2021-22 PGA Tour season with a disappointing 15th place finish at the Tour Championship in August - producing ridiculously strong form figures reading 2-1-4-1-8-1-1-7-3-1. It's almost Tigeresque.

His victory at Riviera two weeks ago saw him return to the top of the world rankings and he's most definitely the man to beat here given the weather forecast.

Jon Rahm at Bay Hill.jpg

Yesterday's afternoon starters averaged just 0.23 better than their morning counterparts but given the wind is predicted to rise as the day wares on today, those drawn PM-AM are likely to be advantaged quite considerably and odds of around 6/4 about Rahm don't look out of line given he leads by two.

Rahm isn't the only player on the leaderboard teeing it up early today though. Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley, who all sit tied for fifth on four-under-par and three behind Rahm, all start their second rounds this morning but the one I like at the prices is Kurt Kitayama, who sits tied for second on -5.

The Californian is a great wind exponent, suited to the course and he looks a very fair price this morning at 70.069/1.

Over at the Puerto Rico Open, pre-event 130.0129/1 chance, Carson Young, leads by three after an opening nine-under-par 63 and he now trades at around 11/2 but I've backed two others this morning.

I was sorely tempted to play Akshay Bhatia, who I mentioned in the preview, who sits tied for second on -6, but I've swerved him at just 8/1 and backed two players priced a little bigger.

Scott Piercy, who sits tied for fourth, look a fair price at 16.5 and William McGirt looks a reasonable bet at triple figures if he can get his putter to warm up a bit.

At 44, Piercy still has plenty of game and he led the 3M Open by four through 54 holes last year. He has strong form at correlating tracks and he's more than capable of collecting in these lower grade affairs. His last individual title came in the Barbasol Championship, which was played opposite the Open Championship.

As highlighted in the Find Me a 100 Winner column, I managed to get a small bet matched on McGirt at 150.0149/1 but didn't put him up because his price contracted too much after that.

Of course, soon after the column went live he drifted back out so could have been a pick but I've topped up this morning regardless. He hit more greens than anyone yesterday when shooting a three-under-par 69 but he ranked only 88th for Putting Average.

Hopefully he can continue to find the putting surfaces and sink a few more putts today.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Pre-Event Selections:
Matthew Fitzpatrick @ 44.043/1
Tyrrell Hatton @ 46.045/1

In-Play Picks:
Kurt Kitayama @ 70.069/1
Justin Thomas @ 15.014/1

Puerto Rico Open Pre-Event Selection:
Brice Garnett @ 55.054/1

In-Play Picks:
Scott Piercy @ 16.5
William McGirt @ 120.0119/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:

Back 1u Sepp Straka @ 440.0439/1

Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

Back 2u Kevin Chappell @ 120.0119/1

Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

Back 2u Roberto Diaz @ 140.0139/1

Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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