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Steve Bamford's Tips for the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational. Follow Us On Twitter @Golfbetting
Bay Hill is the classical jewel of the Florida swing. Greats win here - Woods, Singh, Mickelson, Els, Couples, Kite, Crenshaw, Payne Stewart...and Martin Laird. Now it might be a stretch to classify Scotland's Number 1 as a 'great' but Laird won on merit last year and entered the tournament in hot Bermuda green form after finishing 5th at Copperhead, 10th at Doral and 3rd at TPC Scottsdale. His 45/1 victory was hardly the biggest of shocks. Current form is king at the classical, tough, wind-swept Bay Hill.
Punting on form players means only one thing in my mind - short priced winners. Indeed when you look across 2009 through 2012 at stretch between Doral and Humble (Shell Houston Open), you see a pattern that's hard to miss. Quality rises to the top as the best players in the world hone their games for Augusta. The winning prices are thus: 2009: 18/1-40/1-5/2-40/1 2010: 40/1-30/1-16/1-25-1 2011: 20/1-100/1 (Gary Woodland @ Copperhead) – 45/1-18/1 2012: 66/1 (Justin Rose @ Doral) – 11/1. Sorry but I'm not expecting a long-price winner this week and I still can't believe that Justin Rose was 66/1 to win at Doral!
Bay Hill is a classically tough Florida test based near to Orlando. Traditionally it's a tournament and a course that Tiger Woods has dominated at. Tiger has always seen Arnie's Tournament as one of the biggest domestic PGA Tour events and his game has always been perfect for the stern test that is Bay Hill. Palmer remodelled his beloved Bay Hill after Tiger's win in 2009. The course was lengthened to a stretching 7,381 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-positive Els (honestly!) won in 2010 with 23 birdies and 10 bogeys (-11) and Laird won with 1 eagle, 18 birdies, 10 bogies and a double on his way to a 280 total (-8) and victory by a single shot. Also worthy of note is the fact that to win a player has to devour the 4 Par 5s, which by modern standards are all reachable and played as the 4 easiest holes in 2011.
So we're looking for players who are upwardly mobile in the World Golf Rankings and who love classical Par 72 setups. In truth I wouldn't put you off any of the Top 5 in this week's Bay Hill Predictor Model which, by the way, has pulled out George McNeill at 55/1 and Luke Donald at 11/1 in the past 2 weeks.
Ask yourself this: is Tiger Woods a better player now than he was 12 months ago? Well since his win at Thousand Oaks in December, Woods has delivered 3rd (Abu Dhabi), 15th (Pebble), 2nd (PGA National) and WD (Doral). Taking Doral first, his achilles injury doesn't seem to have given him any problems at the Tavistock Cup this week to date, so I'm taking the positives from Doral i.e. he was in line for another Top 10 on a course where scoring was always going to be a little too low for him. Back to the year-on-year results and leading up to Bay Hill last season Woods results read 44th (Torrey), 20th (Dubai), 10th (Doral). So it's clear that he's producing better results in 2012. So let's look at the state of his game in 2012 vs 2011 by comparing key PGA Tour skill categories. Total Driving: 1st vs 186th; Driving Accuracy: 9th vs 186th; Greens in Regulation: 21st vs 37th; Eagles: 6th vs 63rd; Birdie Average: 14th vs 16th; Scoring Average: 2nd vs 51st; Strokes Gained Putting: 39th vs 45th. Now I'm very aware that golf tournaments aren't won by statistics, but there is absolutely no doubt that Tiger's game is in a far better state. He's now hitting the short-stuff far more regularly and that's allowing him to attack greens with short irons on far more occasions.
However the real key fact that has got me on board Woods this week is recent improvement in putting which makes him an extremely dangerous animal this week at Bay Hill, one of his favourite courses. At PGA National Woods gained 1.34 strokes to the field putting and at Doral 0.25 strokes. To put that in context he lost 1.2 strokes to the field putting at Pebble Beach. So, to conclude, the tee to green game is excellent, the putter is starting to warm on the Florida Bermuda grass greens he loves and he's available at 8/1 compared to 9/1 prior to the tournament 12 months ago. You can't do anything else than cover the Former World Number 1 this week on a course where the relatively high scoring in breezy conditions will suit. Another interesting angle that will keep Woods' motivation high is that he currently sits 16th in the US Ryder Cup standings. There is absolutely no doubt that qualifying automatically will be one of Tiger's major targets this season as forcing Couples to use one of his 2 picks on the former World number 1 would be a major problem for Team USA. Number 1 in this week's Predictor Model. RESULT: Win
The boy from Bagdad, Florida certainly in the ascendancy as a WGR of 21 at the turn of the year has improved to 16 so far this season. Would it surprise you if I told you that Bubba was No1 on the PGA Tour in 2010 and 2011 for Par 5 birdies or better and that he's slackened in 2012 to No5. Thought not! I'm a lover of Bubba both for his obvious birdie-making ability and the fact that his form in 2012 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 Trivialis), 2nd PGA Championship. 2008 – 2nd Quail Hollow. 2007 – 20th Augusta, 5th US Open. Not bad for a slogger! Bubba's current Bermuda form is also first class; 2(Doral)-5(Phoenix)-18(Kapalua). Indeed he should have won his first WGC title at Doral but lost the plot over the front 9 on Sunday from tee to green – a category he ranks No 1 across the PGA Tour in 2012. However what really jumped out at me at Doral was the vast improvement in his putting where he gained 0.735 strokes on the field across the 72 holes. 24th at Bay Hill last year and 8th in 2008 when the course played as a strict Par 70, I'm thinking that Bubba, who won as recently as TPC Louisiana (a Florida style Bermuda greened Par 72) last May, will be licking his lips at the opportunity to right the wrongs of 2 weeks ago and the way he's devouring Lake Nona in the Tavistock Cup this week highlights that Bubba is at his ebullient best right now. Jump on him whilst it remains! Top 5 in this week's Predictor Model. RESULT: T4
Typically I was aboard Webb Simpson when he lost in a play-off to Bubba at TPC Louisiana last season – yet another 2nd place! Now some may say that Webb Simpson has had a disappointing start to 2012, but I'm not one of them. 3rd at Kapalua has been followed by 8th at TPC Scottsdale 35th on debut at Doral and 10th last week at Copperhead. I'm sure you'll all recognise that these results were all on Bermuda greens and the eagle eyed amongst you will have spotted that Scottsdale and Copperhead feature Bermuda Poa Trivialis greens. Check the World Number 7's golfing resume and you'll find victories at Sedgefield and TPC Boston with Top 8 finishes at TPC Summerlin, Cog Hill, Copperhead, Liberty National, Aronimink, Muirfield plus 5th at PGA West(09) and 8th at TPC Scottsdale (10) adding to his Bermuda Poa Trivialis pedigree. You don't need to be a nuclear scientist to work through the understanding that the North Carolina resident has the perfect pedigree to play well and contend this week at Bay Hill. At 17th in US Ryder Cup standings, Simpson is well outside the automatic spots - behind the likes of Kyle Stanley, Johnson Wagner and Mark Wilson - so the need for his 3rd PGA Tour win will build week-on-week. If Webb hits a couple more fairways this week he'll contend. Top 5 in this week's Predictor Model. RESULT: T36
In a sea of short prices, I'll go for a little value. I've publicly dropped Sean O'Hair who has let us down for 3 consecutive tips – but do not be surprised to see the Pennsylvanian Florida specialist popping up from nowhere this week! Instead I'm going for another Eastern seaboard player who is having an unbelievable 2012 – step forward Johnson Wagner. When Wagner won on the classical coastal course of Waialae I, like many, didn't take too much notice – after all we've seen many a professional win and then disappear from the golfing map with the 2 year PGA Tour exemption in their hands. But it's well worth remembering that Wagner has now won at Humble, El Camaleon and Waialae – that's 3 PGA Tour wins and a mix of tough Bermuda greened tracks and a “flat out” resort style Par 72. This guy has a mix of talents in the locker. Taking 2012 in isolation Wagner's Bermuda form is exceptional 9th(Kapalua)-1st(Waialae)-2nd(PGA West)-55th (TPC Scottsdale)-30th(El Camaleon – defending)-MC(PGA National)-13th (Doral on course debut). I'd classify Johnson in my 'Bermuda monster' category and he thrives on Bermuda Par 72s. However scratch the surface you'll also see an improvement on tougher tracks like TPC San Antonio, Old White TPC and TPC Boston. Indeed since Bay Hill was remodelled in 2008, Wagner's 2 appearances in Orlando have delivered two 30th places (2011 & 2009) – it would be difficult to argue that Johnson hasn't improved since. Fact is, you won't find a better putter this season on Bermuda – he sits 12th in Strokes Gained Putting overall in 2012 – and he makes Eagles/Birdies for fun plus punishes Par 5s. I'm snapping up the 125/1 on offer (he's rightly 80/1 elsewhere) and Wagner could be the surprise package of the Ryder Cup team. Remember Jeff Overton in 2010. RESULT: T4
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