2 Picks Not Named Rory McIlroy to Win Arnold Palmer Invitational

Rory McIlroy

Getty Rory McIlroy celebrates birdie putt

Let’s make one thing clear, Rory McIlroy is currently the best player in the world, by far. He’s finished T5 or better in each of his last five starts, punctuated by a win at the HSBC Champions in the beginning of November. Not only has his current form been top notch, but now his world ranking reflects it as well.

McIlroy took over the number one spot from Brooks Koepka on February 9. Unfortunately for bettors, the oddsmakers have taken notice as well. Sportsbooks have priced him so low to win this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that the math no longer supports making Rory one of your picks.

In any given season Rory typically plays approximately 20 events. Over the course of his 13-year career, he’s won 27 events or roughly two per season. With these numbers in mind, an average year is two wins, three wins would be considered good and four wins would be an exceptional season. So, the “true odds” of Rory winning any given tournament are anywhere from once every 10 starts in an average year to once every five starts during an exceptional year.

At 5-1 to win this week, bookmakers are pricing him in the shortest end of his true odds range. Bettors who make a habit of picking players when their odds are this short will be breaking even in the long run as a best-case scenario. It’s no secret that when bettors pick the winner of a 100-plus player field they want to be rewarded with much more than just their money back. Rory could absolutely win this week, but the math shows picking players in these spots will not be profitable in the long term.

Recipe for Success at Bay Hill

Bay Hill shows a very distinct pattern with the players that have enjoyed success there in the past. The par-3s and 4s play as some of the most difficult on tour, so the key is to just survive them while aggressively attacking the par-5s. The most notable example of this was in 2012 and 2013 when Tiger Woods won back-to-back. Those years he combined to play the par-5s a total of 26 under par. Woods simply survived the rest of the course at even par.

Bay Hill’s primary defense is that its design encourages or forces several layups off the tee, yet it’s still a long golf course at over 7400 yards. As a result, players find themselves hitting long irons into a fair number of greens. This puts a premium not only on approach shots but also accuracy off the tee. Players that get in the habit of hitting long irons out of the rough will probably get in the habit of heading for the airport on Friday as well. Taking these keys to success at Bay Hill into consideration, there are two players in the field that present a lot of value this week.

Marc Leishman 40-1

After winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2017, Leishman clearly showed that he can play well at Bay Hill and in his current form, he has a great chance to do it again this year. He won the recent Farmers Insurance Open in late January after shooting a final round 65 and outlasting the likes of Jon Rahm (2) and Rory McIlroy (T3).

Leishman is also excelling this season in two specific areas that bode well for his chances at Bay Hill. He’s currently 4th on tour in strokes gained: approach the green and 16th in strokes gained: tee to green. Leishman’s ability to find fairways and hit effective approach shots gives him a leg up on the field while they’re all trying to survive the difficult holes. If Leishman can play the par-5s well, he stands to be near the lead come Sunday afternoon. At 40-1, Leishman is a no-brainer.

Viktor Hovland 50-1

To most golf fans, the name Viktor Hovland probably isn’t attention-grabbing, but he’s already had an incredible amount of success in his young career. Hovland shined playing amateur and college golf by winning numerous events including the 2018 U.S. Amateur before turning professional in 2019. He didn’t waste any time carrying on his record of success when he won the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open at the end of February, less than a year after turning pro.

Hovland has proven, not only that he belongs on the PGA Tour, but that he is one of the rising young stars. Like Leishman, Hovland has also been strong in two categories that will be key this week. He’s currently 22nd in strokes gained: off the tee, a stat that will be important since there is such a premium on finding fairways at Bay Hill. Hovland also plays par-5s effectively as he’s currently 9th on tour in holes per eagle at 78.

Hovland fits the mold of the type of player that can find success at Arnie’s tournament. Fortunately for bettors, he is only 22 years old and as a result oddsmakers are still giving him decent odds at 50-1. This is a spot to take advantage before he becomes more mainstream and the masses catch on to his potential.

*Odds provided by VegasInsider

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