Palmer remodelled his beloved Bay Hill after Tiger’s win in 2009. The course was lengthened to a stretching +7,400 yard Par 72 from an extremely strict Par 70 format that was played between 2006 – 2009. Many of the Bermuda Poa Trivialis greens were remodelled as was every bunker on the course. The whole focus of the exercise was to generate more birdies for the fans, but to still keep the course a true classical test where mistakes result in dropped shots. Bermuda specialist Els winning last year with 23 birdies and 10 bogeys and a score of -11 suggest that the balance achieved was about right and that Bay Hill is still a perfect fit for Augusta-positive players.
Making Birdies, especially on the Par 5s, is now a pre-requisite and over the past 3 seasons a huge 62% of all Top 3 finishing players' birdie or better scoring has been on the Par 5s. Watch out for 20 mph winds on Thursday, but they are forecast to move away for Friday through Sunday.
So we are looking for players who can play challenging, classical tracks especially well. Well step forward the increasingly in-form Justin Rose. Here’s an Orlando resident who has finished 13th, 12th, 42nd and 5th on Bermuda carpet so far in 2011. By his own admission he’s totally focussed on the PGA Tour in 2011 and his last 2 outings on tough tracks have garnered a 9th at Riviera and 5th last week in Tampa Bay. Okay Rose didn’t convert his 54 hole lead but he certainly didn’t collapse. That’s the new Rose who won convincingly at the tremendously tough Par 72 Muirfield last year and then promptly led after 54 holes at TPC River Highlands (eventually finished 9th) and won the week after at Aronimink. When he’s hot, he’s hot and I think Rose could well be in the mix again this week. Justin, who lives nearby, knows Bay Hill well and finished 8th here in 2006. RESULT: T3
The boy from Baghdad (Florida) is having a stellar 2011 and he’s become truly world class. His star is certainly in the ascendancy as an OWGR of 32 at the turn of the year has improved to 17 so far this season. Would it surprise you if I told you that Bubba was No1 on the PGA Tour in 2010 for Par 5 birdies or better and that he’s slackened in 2011 to No3. Thought not! I’m a lover of Bubba both for his obvious birdie-making capability and the fact that his form in 2011 has been excellent, but also for the fact that he truly comes alive on classical tough tests. 2011 – 1st Torrey Pines. 2010 – 3rd Tampa (Bermuda Poa Triv), 2nd PGA Championship. 2008 – 2nd Quail Hollow. 2007 – 20th Augusta, 5th US Open. Not bad for a slogger! Bent is certainly his best green surface but top quality players can play all surfaces as his win on Poa Annua at Torrey Pines in February proved. RESULT: T24
35-30-14-24…..Lefty’s game is shot to pieces right? Interestingly this was the form line of Mickelson prior to his Augusta triumph in 2010! Finished? don’t you believe it - and as sure as eggs are eggs Mickelson, with some input from Harmon, will turn his game around. Blink and you’ll miss it! Mickelson, who is down to No 6 in the World Golf Rankings, though offers tremendous value this week as a consequence and I’m sticking to my strategy of backing him at 16/1 or above at a non major/WGC event. It paid dividends last time out at Torrey Pines when he so nearly won the tournament only for Bubba to make that awesome putt on 18. Tough, classical courses are Lefty’s forte and his best results at Bay Hill were when the course was a Par 72 – 1st 1997, 2nd 2001 3rd 2002. His 4 most recent wins have been Augusta (classical Par 72) - East Lake (Bermuda) - Doral (Bermuda Par 72) and Riviera (classical) and I’m thinking 22/1 at a course where he was 11/1 (when not in decent nick) last season is superb value. RESULT: T24
This is an absolutely awesome Each Way price for the hugely talented Florida resident. Anybody who follows golf knows that Marino has all the game. He’s Bermuda carpet positive and also has a number of decent Top 10 finishes on Florida type courses. Recent form ain’t bad either when 2nd at Waialee in January was followed by 4th at Pebble Beach. That’s right Marino comes alive on tough classical tracks where good ball striking is imperative. He is no fair-weather resort course golfer. As early as 2008 Marino finished 2nd at Mayakoba (Par 72 – Bermuda type) and 3rd at Glen Abbey. 2009 brought a Top 5 at TPC Louisiana (Par 72 - Bermuda), 2nd at Colonial and 7th at East Lake (Bermuda). I’d be surprised if Marino wins his first PGA Tour event this week at Bay Hill but the whole nature of his game, his current form and the course marry up well and he was 11th here last year. 80/1 offers a superb Each Way opportunity. RESULT: 2nd
Alabama resident Dufner is very much in the same ilk as Marino on the basis that he still hasn’t been able stumble over the finish line. However I’ve got a feeling that Dufner, who again is upwardly mobile in the World Rankings, will have a decent week on the tough Bay Hill property. I can’t back my claim up with course form as 3 appearances have garnered 32nd (2007), MC (2009) and 66th last year on the new course format. However 2nd at Phoenix this year on Bermuda Poa Trivialis greens shows that he has a liking for this putting surface. 5th on the hugely difficult Par 72 that is Whistling Straits last September at the PGA Championship also jumps off the page as do great results at TPC Boston, New Orleans and Glen Abbey. Worth £10 of anybody’s money at 10/1 for a Top 10 finish. RESULT: T66
Unbelievable! Who’d have foreseen the demise of Spiderman in the latter stages on 2010 and 2011. There is absolutely no doubt that the Jupiter-based Colombian’s game is in a total slump but Villegas is an absolute Florida and Bermuda specialist. If something clicks in his game this week, and his last appearance at Doral did see the flat stick starting to “warm”, don’t be surprised to see Camilo near the top of the leaderboard. A champion at both the Honda Classic and Tour Championship it’s just a matter of time and 135/1 is just plain wrong! RESULT: Missed Cut