Will Zalatoris can secure his first PGA Tour win
Will Zalatoris can secure his first PGA Tour win

Ben Coley's golf betting tips: Arnold Palmer Invitational preview and best bets

Ben Coley has bagged three PGA Tour winners already this year, and he's hoping another young star can shine brightest in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Golf betting tips: Arnold Palmer Invitational

2pts e.w. Will Zalatoris at 30/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. Paul Casey at 40/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Justin Rose at 60/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Keegan Bradley at 80/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Sebastian Munoz at 110/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Carlos Ortiz at 125/1 (Sky Bet, William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

Just as the west coast swing built nicely towards a Riviera crescendo, a weak Honda Classic is now followed by a strong Arnold Palmer Invitational, with an almighty PLAYERS Championship to come. The hope is that selections on these pages manage to follow a similar path, after a frankly rotten set at PGA National where Alex Noren thankfully undid most of the damage.

The Arnold Palmer hasn't always managed to get the world's best, and there are still some Floridaphobes who will seemingly only turn up for Sawgrass, but the sport's top-ranked player is joined by its number one (playing) draw, so there can be no complaints this time. For Jon Rahm it's a tournament debut; for Rory McIlroy, a return to one of his most comfortable haunts, where four years ago he spectacularly rebounded from an indifferent spell to win.

The gap between these two in the betting is narrow, reflecting that course edge which McIlroy boasts, the consistency he's found, and the underwhelming nature of Rahm's play so far this year. Quite simply he's slowly regressed since an excellent start in Hawaii and while there's no cause for alarm, his short-game and strike-rate suggest we're better off looking elsewhere – even if he's almost the price he was in a far better field in LA.

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With those two beatable as McIlroy continues to struggle with his approaches, I think I might be a little more troubled by the prospect of seeing either Scottie Scheffler or Viktor Hovland getting off to strong starts, or indeed both, and the former was close to making the staking plan. As Hovland has demonstrated, when a world-class player gets on a roll wins can multiply, and Scheffler's tee-to-green brilliance here in 2020 suggests he could soon follow up.

He will have plenty of backers but I'm content to try and get the next cab off the rank with WILL ZALATORIS considered the best bet here at around the 30/1 mark.

Zalatoris came very close to pipping Scheffler to the post and winning the Farmers in February, just his second start back following a prolonged break, and on the back of that was sent off at around the 28/1 mark for the Genesis Invitational.

Some might see 26th at Riviera as a disappointing effort but it was always possible he'd suffer a post-Farmers hangover especially as he'd missed Pebble Beach with Covid and to finish where he did, in an elite field, without driving the ball well, has to be taken as a positive on balance.

After another week off, he now begins phase two of the season over on the east coast and despite being Californian, he's been based for a long time in Texas. Perhaps that explains why, although it's early days, his putting stats on bermuda are better than poa annua and include several really good displays last year, such as when ranking ninth at Southwind and 15th in Mississippi.

Only time will tell if this is his best surface but the change is a good thing anyway, as it gives him something fresh to work with having been beaten at Torrey Pines because of one club and one club only. His tee-to-green performance was outstanding and if we do get something like that here at Bay Hill, I'm willing to take my chances – he could, after all, win despite a quiet putting week, and if he somehow ranks ninth again then the rest are in trouble.

The course itself is difficult, especially with reports of the rough being up this year, albeit the wind which wreaked havoc at times in both 2020 and 2021 appears set to lay down somewhat. Regardless, this is a proper test and Zalatoris did particularly well to overcome inexperience and fatigue and finish 10th last year, showing an immediate affinity for Arnie's home.

Crucially, that was his sixth start running and with The PLAYERS a week later, he confessed that had it been any other tournament, he wouldn't have been here. Zalatoris studied on an Arnold Palmer scholarship at Wake Forest, and felt duty bound to take up his invite despite the fact he'd not only played in each of the previous five events, but made the cut in all of them, too.

One year on and with the benefits of being able to choose his schedule, everything looks in place for another serious crack at securing that inevitable breakthrough title and while getting off the mark here is not easy, Zalatoris is no ordinary maiden. Indeed there are parallels with Scheffler at Scottsdale and I'll take the 2021 rookie of the year to upstage the big four in the betting, at odds similar to those quoted in a much better field last time out.

Will Zalatoris rates a strong fancy this week
Will Zalatoris rates a strong fancy this week

At the same kind of price, Sungjae Im makes some appeal despite letting us down in the Honda. The positives remain as they were then: he thrives on these courses in Florida, generally putts well on bermuda, has been one of the best players in the world from tee-to-green for many months now, and is capable of establishing himself among the world's elite.

Last week saw him drive the ball just about as well as he ever has, which makes the fact his approach play and putting were so poor all the more galling. Still, after his last missed cut, in Hawaii, he was the very best player in the field from tee-to-green next time, and when he won the Shriners it came thanks to a less dramatic but ultimately similar turnaround.

Im is of a similar make-up to some past winners here, notably Tyrrell Hatton and Francesco Molinari, and a wider view of his form probably puts him ahead of Matt Fitzpatrick, Hatton, Adam Scott and even Zalatoris in the betting. That being said he was extremely disappointing under ideal conditions at PGA National, and under sufferance I'll cast the net wider.

Euro stars to shine?

There's a strong European contingent in town for this, many of them having made Florida their base over the years, and my shortlist was uncomfortably stacked with them. Sergio Garcia for instance has always been more dangerous here than on the west coast, has often contended at Bay Hill, and could be the one to lead the field off-the-tee in Bryson DeChambeau's absence.

However I find the cases for PAUL CASEY and JUSTIN ROSE to be a little more compelling so it's the veteran Englishmen who are preferred at 40/1 and 60/1 respectively.

Casey was running on fumes towards the end of last year but his game is back now, with four top-25s in as many starts to begin 2022. It's by no means spectacular form, given that one of these was a low-key Singapore Open, but his fundamentals are firing and his approach play has been particularly strong.

Having been on my list for Riviera, a course he's very fond of, the key question I couldn't answer concerned his caddie, with John McLaren taking a period of indefinite leave. We now know that Casey has opted for a familiar face in Shannon Wallis, who had looped for him before and with some success, the pair finishing fifth in the 2017 Travelers when 'Johnny Long Socks' needed a week off.

That's good news in the short-term as we don't need to allow for much of a bedding-in process, and Casey led the field in greens and ranked sixth in approaches at Riviera. If anything is going to suffer on account of a new caddie, it's likely iron play, but there was no sign of that in what was arguably Casey's pound-for-pound best performance since August last year.

Now he heads to Florida, scene of his last two PGA Tour wins, both at the Valspar, and Bay Hill is another course at which he's very capable. Tenth here last year was his first start in the event since 2017, before which he'd been ninth in 2016, and Casey's long-game impressed on both occasions.

"I've always loved this golf course," he said on his way to the first of those top-10s, despite what had appeared to be a modest record there. "It's a golf course I thoroughly enjoy. It fits my eye. I love it and it's certainly a challenging week which I'm enjoying."

Look closer and Casey has persistently threatened at Bay Hill, without quite delivering. That dates back to an opening 64 in 2007, effectively his first try after withdrawing three years earlier, and when 60th in 2014 he'd been right in the thick of things early. A missed cut on the number followed, and since then he's played three times, and sat inside the top 10 at halfway in each of them.

The greens here are similar to those found in Dubai, scene of his last win, and he says he loves them. In fact, I'm hoping the line 'if you can't make putts on this kind of putting surface, then I don't know where you can make putts', which Casey uttered a few years ago, doesn't come back to haunt him. Putting issues aside, he looks to have an excellent chance to contend once more.

Can Rose bloom in Orlando?

Where Rose is concerned, he's not missed a cut for a long time now and while Pebble Beach was a bit of a mess, before that he'd played nicely to begin the season.

Over the last few months all parts of his game have fired separately but seldom together, though it wouldn't have taken much more from the putter to get him into a play-off for the Wyndham or indeed the BMW PGA.

Another who used to call Florida home, his record in this event shows five top-10 finishes and on four occasions he's been bang in the mix entering the final round. It's plainly a good test for him and, like most of my selections, the fact that he boasts a towering ball flight is ideal when conditions are calm, as there are plenty of mid-to-long irons which is somewhat rare in the sport these days.

It's fair to say that in recent years, Rose hasn't been a factor at Bay Hill on the face of it, but his putter was the sole reason for his 2020 demise, and don't forget he'd been in the mix last year until injury struck. Rose fired a succession of shots into the water left of the third green before withdrawing following back spasms which had seen him miss 'basically every golf shot left', as he put it, leaving Jordan Spieth to play the third round alone.

A year on and his form certainly has more substance, so the hope is he can play his way into the mix once more at a course where he was runner-up to Tiger Woods in 2013, third to Rory in 2018, and unable to quite reel in Martin Laird in 2011.

Horses for courses?

Course form has been a great guide here, from Tiger's eight wins to Matt Every's two. Molinari had three top-10s before winning, Marc Leishman had been third, Bryson second and fourth, and even Rod Pampling had contended twice. The same is true of the nearly-men, like Lee Westwood, Sean O'Hair, Greg Owen and Steve Marino, and the fact you need to pick some very specific targets off some fearsome tee boxes plays a part in that.

With that in mind my staking plan very much comes from the 'course form' box and while the crossover with 'bad putting' is admittedly unsettling, I can't resist KEEGAN BRADLEY.

Since missing the cut on his debut here, Bradley has made nine out of nine and while like Rose his best form is dated (3rd in 2013, 2nd in 2014), he was the halfway leader in 2019 and fourth through 54 holes last year.

Straightforwardly, this is one of Bradley's favourite PGA Tour stops and having won a major, as well as at Firestone and in some brutal Texas winds during his rookie season, tougher tests have always been best for a quality driver of the ball.

"I'm very comfortable on this course, it fits my eye well," he said once, later professing his love for both course and tournament, and his form right now looks much stronger than was the case when finishing 10th here last year, after he'd gone MC-MC-22-60 to begin the campaign.

This time around he's made all four cuts, sitting close to the places at halfway in Phoenix and at Riviera, and a tweak to his putting technique has shown flashes of encouragement. With one of the best adjusted scoring averages in the field among those who've been regular visitors, if we can get a few to drop he can be right in the mix once more.

Keegan Bradley can underline his reputation as fast starter on Thursday
Keegan Bradley should go well at one of his favourite courses

International appeal

Cameron Young should be more effective here than at the Honda and is respected along with Billy Horschel, whose long-game was very good last week. He's not necessarily been as comfortable at Bay Hill down the years, but any uptick in his putting would make the in-form Floridian a contender in an event he'd desperately love to win.

But with a general absence of the big US names we could be in line for another international winner, with SEBASTIAN MUNOZ and CARLOS ORTIZ both worth siding with at three-figure prices.

Munoz is simply hitting the ball superbly, with three top-five tee-to-green displays in his last five outings, including each of his last two. He started well and maintained a high level of ball-striking here last year and looks a better fit than course form figures of MC-49 might imply.

Historically, Munoz has been a good putter on bermuda and the last time he was on it, he ranked 19th at the RSM Classic. That and the fact his sole win came on similar greens in Jackson bodes well, and I like that it followed an excellent tee-to-green display at the Greenbrier.

The best driver in a world-class field last time, his ball-striking on a par with winner Joaquin Niemann and not far off Young's, Munoz might be the latest to benefit from the move from west to east and contend for the biggest title of his career.

Sebastian Munoz at the ZOZO Championship
Sebastian Munoz at the ZOZO Championship

Ortiz was greenside to congratulate Niemann and has been playing well himself, ranking 20th and 17th in strokes-gained approach across his last two starts and getting that putter of his rolling, too.

It's only some strange around-the-green performances which have held him back – he ranks 207th of 2011 players this year, but was 68th last – and I doubt he's suddenly developed the chipping yips, so it could be worth focusing on those positives as he too pursues a second win at this level.

As with Munoz, Ortiz secured his first when his approaches had been good, improving his putting for a switch to bermuda, and the fact he did so on a very difficult course in Houston and at the expense of world-class rivals is a major positive.

Here at Bay Hill, he ranked fourth in strokes-gained tee-to-green on his way to 21st on debut seven years ago and 17th in the same category when 29th on his return. Those are two very solid efforts at the course and suggest the Mexican, spurred on by the brilliance of Niemann, could threaten the top of the leaderboard.

Posted at 2020 GMT on 28/02/22

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