Nick some Bay Hill value
The Florida Swing draws to a conclusion at Bay Hill Country Club this week, and it's a tournament many expect to serve as a perfect way for Tiger Woods to finalise his Augusta preparations.
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Woods may not quite be the force of old but he's the best player in the world right now and victory here would take him back to the top of the Official World Golf Rankings, as if he needed any extra incentive.
As will be well-documented, Tiger's renaissance since that incident and his subsequent fall from grace has relied on one thing more than most: familiarity.
- 1pt e.w. Nick Watney in the Bay Hill Invitational at 66/1 (Stan James 1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6) - big price for top talent and regular winner.
- 1pt e.w. Webb Simpson in the Bay Hill Invitational at 40/1 (Boylesports 1/4 1,2,3,4,5) - should be inspired to play well for The King.
- 1pt e.w. Jason Dufner to lead after round one at 50/1 (Ladbrokes 1/4 1,2,3,4,5) - fine first round record especially in this event.
- 1pt e.w. Bubba Watson to lead after round one at 40/1 (Ladbrokes 1/4 1,2,3,4,5) - led after round one at Doral, fourth here last two years.
When he's been asked a new question - to win at Olympic Club or Kiawah Island for example - he's flattered to deceive. When he's returned to a place he used to own, he's reminded us all of his exceptional talent and awesome ability to get the job done.
Bay Hill and the Arnold Palmer Invitational are very familiar to Tiger.
Since the turn of the century, he's won seven of the 12 renewals he's taken part in, and fears that some alterations to the layout would diminish his superiority were allayed last year, when he stormed to victory as all others around him failed to cope with the typical Florida winds that can make this golf course a proper test.
Now a par-72, Bay Hill played to an average of almost two-over par in 2012, and winning scores since changes made prior to 2010 have come in at -11, -8 and -13. Scrambling is a real challenge and nothing beats patience and experience here - champions have in the main had both in abundance.
Obviously, there's a big decision to be made and that's whether you're prepared to take 3/1 about Woods. He is hands down the most likely winner and it is very, very simple to argue that 3/1 is fair - his overall strike-rate, his strike-rate here, his 2013 strike-rate, his record post-2009 on courses he knows best.
The quandary many will face, though, is that most of those points applied prior to tee-off at Doral and at Torrey Pines, two courses he also adores, yet we were able to take significantly bigger prices.
To an extent, that shouldn't have a bearing on your policy this week, but after much deliberation and everything considered I don't believe that 3/1 is a gift.
Yes, Tiger has won more than 50 per cent of his last dozen starts here, but let's look forward - would I expect him to maintain that strike-rate? No. There are players capable of competing with him when on-song and Tiger's price creates superb each-way value, particularly with some firms paying six places.
And so to that value, which is best found with 66/1 chance Nick Watney.
With two victories in his final eight tournaments of 2012, there were understandably hopes that Watney could kick on this season and re-establish himself as one of the most likely candidates for major glory.
While he's not quite shown what he's capable of yet, there's been plenty of promise, most notably a share of fourth behind Woods at Torrey Pines before an opening 65 in Phoenix.
To step up and start competing for titles regularly again, Watney simply has to start putting better. He currently ranks eighth on Tour for greens in regulation but a lowly 118th for strokes gained putting, which is even more concerning when we consider that he ended the 2011 season ranked 12th.
Just when it clicks on the greens remains to be seen, but a ball-striking test like Bay Hill will suit more than the putting test that was Doral and a return to his Torrey Pines form is more than possible.
Interestingly, Watney has a very strong record at tournaments Tiger excels in. He's a winner at both Torrey Pines and Doral, and his two best major finishes have come at venues Woods has won at more than once.
With that and a previous tie for fourth at Bay Hill to call upon, I don't believe that a player who has won four of his last 50 PGA Tour starts should be the price he is.
At a similar price, twice-Bay Hill winner Ernie Els makes some appeal but having only described his back spasms as 'a bit better', I'm not quite willing to chance him.
Instead, I'm going to side with Webb Simpson again after he continued a solid run of form by finishing 17th last week.
Of course, having backed him at 20/1 that wasn't quite the result I was looking for, but I'm not sure Tiger's presence in the field should be enough to see his odds double.
Part of the reason why I fancied him last week was the return of crucial caddy Paul Tesori, whose influence on Simpson's game has been massive.
Like Watney, Simpson simply needs to start making putts again but we all know he's capable and it was encouraging to see him close out with a bogey-free 68 in Tampa, one which included a birdie putt in excess of 70 feet.
While of course luck played a part in that particular effort, it did serve as another reminder of how good a lag putter Simpson is and that's an important skill at a venue which tends to leave players with some lengthy birdie chances.
It's not as if Simpson is putting terribly, either. At 39th in strokes gained putting he's making his fair share, and he's hitting his irons just about as well as he ever has on Tour if the stats can be believed.
So, I think he's close to a win and where better than at Bay Hill in Arnie's event? Simpson first played here as an amateur in 2006, his invite having followed on from the opportunity to play college golf on a Palmer Scholarship at Wake Forest, the very University that Mr Palmer himself attended.
It's therefore no surprise that Simpson says he feels 'at home' at Bay Hill, and while his record at the course is far from spectacular he was 11th here in his rookie season, while his 2011 missed cut can be put down to his near-miss in Tampa a week earlier.
Nine of Simpson's last 11 starts have resulted in top-20 finishes and this is a good week for him to add another win to his collection.
There are reasons to fancy Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia pretty strongly for this, but with Woods such a threat I don't really want to be taking short prices here.
Instead, I'm going to turn to the first round leader market, one in which we can take on Tiger with a good deal more confidence.
Top of my list is Jason Dufner, who at 50/1 makes a good deal of appeal.
Last year saw Dufner finally break through with a pair of victories in quick succession, but I'm still not sure he should be considered more likely to win a tournament than to lead after the first round.
I certainly don't think that should be the case here at Bay Hill, where his end of round one positions read 1-4-9-102-9 compared to finishing positions of 15-66-66-MC-32.
He's touched upon the problem himself, saying: "Yeah, I always seem to play pretty well the first couple of days here and slowly regress back to poor play but hopefully that won't be the case this week."
That plus the fact that his last 10 Florida starts show two first round leads and two further places lead me to believe that he's worth backing, especially given that he's shown over the last fortnight that he's close to his best.
Along similar lines, Bubba Watson might not seem outstanding value at 40s but to me there's plenty of juice in that price.
Watson led after the first round at Doral last time and in his last 15 Florida starts has that 'win', three further places and a narrow sixth.
Wherever he plays, Watson has become a habitual fast starter. Going back to the beginning of 2012, he's since played 24 events, has led once and placed a further seven times.
His record at Bay Hill shows a place in each of the last two years and although ordinarily it's those at bigger prices who make appeal in this market, this event and these two players rate exceptions to the rule.