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Arnold Palmer Invitational Preview and Picks

   by Matt Fargo - 03/22/2011

The PGA Tour continues the Florida swing with a trip to Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This is a big event with a lot of big names and this will be the final stocked field until the Masters in two weeks. The headliner is of course Tiger Woods who is making a return appearance at Bay Hill after missing last year. The field will consist of three of the top ten in the Official World Golf Rankings, four of the top ten on the PGA money list and 15 past Major winners.

The players had to contend with a revamped layout last year so that experience should help this year. Bay Hill's last significant upgrade came 20 years ago, when four holes were changed. Over the past decade, Arnold Palmer has made annual tweaks to keep his layout a challenge but prior to last year, it was another full overhaul. Despite being raised from a par 70 to a par 72, the added yardage increased the cumulative scoring average as Bay Hill was third highest in difficulty of all par 72 non-majors.

Bay Hill played as a par 70 of over 7,100 yards for three straight years from 2007-2009. It was the most difficult track of any non-major course in 2009, playing at +2.19 strokes to par. Last year, it played at +0.89 strokes over par. In three of the last six years, Bay Hill has played to at least one shot over par and it has been ranked 11th or higher in difficulty seven times since 2000. In 2010, only 23 of the 75 players finished below par and we should see similar results this week.

Two years ago, Tiger Woods (+800) came into Sunday five shots back of Sean O’Hair but he chipped away early and with a birdie on 18, he claimed his second consecutive Arnold Palmer Invitational and sixth overall. It was also his first win since the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods comes into this year's edition without a win since the BMW Championship in 2009. His final round 66 at the Cadillac Championships could provide confidence.

Phil Mickelson (+2000) won here in 1997 but after taking some time off from this event, his return has been sketchy as he finished T30 in 2010, T21 in 2008 and T36 in 2007. He has not missed a cut this season and after posting two top tens in his first three events, he has a T35 and a T55 to his credit as well as a second round loss at the Match Play Championships. He can turn it on at any time though and this is extraordinary value.

With the exception of destroying Mickelson in the Match Play Championships, it has been a quiet year for Rickie Fowler (+3000). He did not play last week but he is coming off a solo eighth place finish at the Cadillac Championships two weeks ago thanks to a Sunday 66. In three of five events, he has a 66, 65 and a 62 so he is capable of going low and despite a T50 at Bay Hill last year, the course fits him well.

We saw the return of Sergio Garcia (+4000) last week and it was a good one for El Nino fans as he finished T15 after coming into the weekend just one shot back. He took a lot of time off from the game and after some good starts in Europe and a ninth place finish at the Qatar Masters in February, he looks recharged. His last five starts at Bay Hill have gone T31, T5, T10, T8 and T31 so he has had solid success here.

Chris Couch (+5000) is hardly a household name but that could change after this week. Who is the only player in the field that had a top five at Bay Hill last year and had a top five at the Transitions last week? Wrong, it's Couch. He finished T5 last week which was his third top ten in five events and he has not missed a cut. He owns a win on tour, the 2006 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

What has happened with Jeff Overton (+6000)? Nothing really as he has been unspectacular but he is not playing poorly. He has made all six cuts this year and finished T6 at the Honda Classic two starts back. He was at the top of his game last year with a stretch of eight events where he finished T3 or better five times. His scoring average is better this year than last and his breakout win will happen. This would be a good place.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Win Bets

Tiger Woods (+800)

Phil Mickelson (+2000)

Rickie Fowler (+3000)

Sergio Garcia (+4000)

Chris Couch (+5000)

Jeff Overton (+6000)

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