The traditional finale to the Florida Swing differs in two respects this year. Firstly, the title looks within range for many more players than usual, due to the absence of six-time champion Tiger Woods. Still, at least Tiger will be at Augusta, so at last we can start to take informed positions on the Majors and long-term markets. More on that next week.
Secondly, the course has undergone substantial renovation over the past year, with virtually every hole changed in some way or other. Those changes leave a big question mark over the value of previous course form, although finding clear trends was never easy in the first place. To look simply at the places, this is an outsiders’ tournament. Half of all the players to make the top five since 2005 started at more than 100/1.
That stat may be slightly misleading though, as Tiger’s presence in all of them will have ensured many more players moved into that range. His six titles also rather disprove the idea that this is a hard tournament to solve, even if there’s no question that this is more wide-open than any Bay Hill event in living memory.
Course and stats
Bay Hill is always a tough test, a long par-70 with hazards everywhere and tricky, large, undulating greens. Greens in regulation has tended to be the most important stat, as is the norm on any ‘second shot’ course. That’s unlikely to change too much with the renovations, but given the extent of the changes, pretty much everyone will be starting from scratch.
2pts ew CAMILO VILLEGAS @ 25/1 (GENERAL)
The very best, most in-form players have tended to thrive at Bay Hill, and Villegas can probably lay as much claim to that title as anyone else. From all recent evidence, it appears that Camilo’s tireless workrate is paying dividends, as he looks an improved player in every respect. It was impossible not to be impressed with Villegas’ ability to hold his form through four big weeks in contention, the highlight of which was a runaway win in the Honda Classic. After a week off to freshen up following that tough schedule, he must be one of the men to beat here.
2pts ew ROBERT ALLENBY @ 28/1 (GENERAL)
Florida resident Allenby has gone well here before, finishing fourth in 2006, and so long as greens in regulation remains the key stat then he must be there or thereabouts. I can’t remember a time when Allenby has been in such consistently good form than the past few months, especially in the long game department. The only downer is that he’s been uncharacteristically wasteful when offered various chances of a fifth PGA Tour title, but we shouldn’t read too much into that. With 22 worldwide titles to his name, Allenby has one of the best temperaments in the game.
1.5pts ew STEPHEN AMES @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
I’m sticking with Ames despite frustratingly missing out on a place payout by one shot over the weekend. That effort confirmed that this Florida specialist retains the form shown over the past few months, which is certainly good enough to warrant an interest at 40/1. Again, his usual reliability from tee to green should prove a massive asset, as does the fact he’s made the top ten on four previous occasions here.
1pt ew RICKIE FOWLER @ 66/1 (GENERAL, 70/1 SKYBET)
After his near-miss at Scottsdale, I doubted we’d get these sort of odds about Fowler again, or at least outside the Majors. Two disappointing results later, and this outstanding prospect is back out to 66/1. The bookies are playing a dangerous game here, because Fowler is popular with punters and, while inconsistency is to be expected this early in his career, he is clearly capable of winning top-class events. Bay Hill has proved a happy hunting ground for brilliant young players before, with Els, Mickelson and Woods all winning here early in their career. Most interestingly, Fowler has already won a junior title here.
0.5pt ew BRYCE MOLDER @ 100/1 (BET365, SKYBET, BETFRED)
Normally, it would be risky backing a course debutant in this well-established event, but with the course changes any disadvantage should be negligible. In which case, 100/1 about such an in-form player looks very attractive. Molder’s last ten starts have yielded six top-15 finishes, including at some tough venues. A breakthrough PGA Tour title looks a very plausible target for 2010. Another positive is his Nationwide Tour record in Florida, which reads one win and three top-six finishes from five events in the Sunshine State.