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Preview: PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational

Preview – PGA Tour – Arnold Palmer Invitational – Bay Hill Club & Lodge – Orlando, Florida –

The PGA Tour’s Florida Swing reaches its final stop this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational without its greatest champion Tiger Woods. But, he has been replaced by World No. 1 Rory McIlroy making his first appearance and, of course, the tournament host himself The King.

Woods, an 8-time champion here, was unable to return this week. He has been battling injury troubles and confidence issues with his game. With Woods out of the picture, the range of players have a chance to win at Bay Hill Club & Lodge.

The limited-field event  features the Top 5 players in the Official World Golf Ranking including former Masters champion Adam Scott, current Masters champion Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson and Jason Day, who won the Farmers Insurance Open in February.

Emerging Americans Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka and Harris English are also competing along with international sensation Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey and J.B. Holmes, a near winner at the WGC-Cadillac Championship finishing a shot behind Dustin Johnson. He was also runner-up to Day this season.

In its 37th year, the Arnold Palmer Invitational features a par-72 layout at more than 7,400 yards, including No. 17 and No. 18 as two of the most difficult holes on tour. The course’s par-3s should challenge the world’s best players, but the layout is known as a “second-shot” design placing a premier on greens in regulation (GIR).

The course tests talent, evidenced by only a small hand full of “longer shots” winning here in the last 15 years. With the Masters just three weeks away, several players are gearing up for the year’s first major and looking for momentum.

Recent past champions include Ernie Els in 2010 and Martin Laird in 2011. Both are in the field this week.

2014 Outcome:

  • Matt Every (13-under) chased down Scott, the 54-hole leader, in the final round to win his maiden PGA Tour title. Every, who shot 66 in the third round, edged Keegan Bradley by a shot. Scott was third at 11-under followed by Jason Kokrak at 10-under. Erik Compton, Stenson and Francesco Molinari were T-5.

FANTASY: Take Kevin Na in this spot. He has two Top 10s in the Florida Swing and ranks 25th in the world. He also has four Top 15s at Bay Hill. Consider Sean O’Hair, a runner-up last week losing in a playoff to Jordan Spieth. O’Hair was a runner-up here at Bay Hill in 2009. Take Keegan, who was runner-up last year and T-3 in 2013. Among the favorites, play Bubba who is perhaps the hottest player in the field. He leads the PGA Tour in a number of categories including Driving Distance, Scoring Average and Strokes Gained Total.

BETTORS: Although Rory is the outright betting favorite at 5-to-1 odds at www.ladbrokes.com, he has been spotty of late after winning earlier in the season on the European Tour. Stenson (9-1) is the trendy play. At third in the world rankings, Stenson enters on a roll including fourth-place finishes in his last two starts in the U.S. He is also 6-for-6 in making the cut at Bay Hill including a T-5 last year. For better payouts, consider Bradley (33-1) and Ian Poulter (50-1). Poulter has been contending during the Florida Swing losing a shot to win at The Honda Classic after a late-Monday collapse.

Golf Channel has the television coverage all week, while NBC Sports brings home the leaders in the third and fourth rounds. Weather is expected to be perfect in the Orlando area with temperatures in the low 80s with light winds.

Other Golf News:

  • Bernhard Langer (5 1/2-1) is the favorite when the Champions Tour returns to action this week in Tuscan. Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie and Kenny Perry also are competing in this inaugural event.
  • The LPGA Tour returns to the U.S. this week in Phoenix for the Founders Cup. Rolex Ranking No. 1 Lydia Ko is the headliner and favorite at 3 1/2-1 odds. Stacy Lewis and Amy Yang are expected to contend. Both are in the Top 5 in the Race to the CME Globe standings.
  • The European Tour hosts the Madeira Islands Open this week in Portugal. Kevin Phelan is the favorite on the betting side at 22-1 odds.