Welcome to Three Shots at the Green, where each week I’ll use my experience as a PGA Tour caddie and golf writer to identify the three best bets on the board.
After a one-week hiatus – and a thrilling finish to the Honda Classic – the designated events continue on the PGA Tour this week in Orlando.
An elite 120-man field has gathered at Bay Hill Golf Club for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, vying for the red cardigan and a $3.6 million first prize in a $20 million purse.
Bay Hill has evolved into one of the more challenging tests on the circuit in recent years. Its combination of length, wind, rough and firm, fast greens demands excellence throughout the bag and we wouldn’t recommend wandering too far down the odds board to find the outright winner.
Looking back at the top finishers from the last three or four years on the par-72, 7,544-yard Dick Wilson layout reveals players who arrived in strong form Tee-to-Green, possessed a deft short game – in particular strong bunker play – and the touch and feel to navigate slick Bermuda putting surfaces.
Beautiful Bay Hill from above 😍 pic.twitter.com/CIupV1uY0E
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 28, 2023
In two of the past three APIs, nobody shot lower than 5-under for 72 holes around Bay Hill and with strong winds in the Friday forecast, more carnage could lie ahead. Water comes into play on nine holes and the thick three-inch rough can wreak havoc on distance control into large greens that average 7,500 square feet.
Attacking the four par-5s and surviving the four long par-3s – each measuring 200 yards or longer – is another ingredient required for success in what will likely be a crowded leaderboard late Sunday afternoon.
Let’s take three shots at the green.
Nick Taylor +110 over Russell Henley
The wrong golfer is favored in this head-to-head matchup and we’ll gladly take a swing at the plus money. Taylor arrives in excellent form with a runner-up in Phoenix, T-7 on Bermuda greens at the Sony and a top-20 at Pebble Beach.
He thrives in difficult scoring conditions and is stellar in the wind. On the other hand, Henley has slumped since his win last fall at Mayakoba, losing at least two shots on approach in his last two starts and ranking near the bottom of the field in approach shots outside of 200 yards over the last 100 rounds.
Will Zalatoris +275 Top-10
The former Wake Forest star would love nothing more than a victory at the tournament named for the man who put that university’s golf program on the map. Zalatoris excels when ball striking is rewarded and scoring is difficult, leading the field in SG: Approach on longer courses with firm greens.
He’s top-20 in par-5 scoring and possesses the power to set up birdie opportunities. Zalatoris gained 10.2 shots Tee-to-Green at Riviera two weeks ago in finishing fourth, putting to rest any concerns about his recent back injury or modest swing alteration.
Gary Woodland +125 Top-40
After skipping this tournament for several years, the 2019 U.S. Open champion returned in 2022 and finished fifth, gaining 4.9 shots Tee-to-Green and putting well above his normal Bermuda baseline.
Landing in the top-40 shouldn’t be an issue considering his game is rounding into form again. He led the field in L.A. by ganing more than nine shots on approach and has gained shots Off-the-Tee in 9 of his last 10 measured starts.
YTD: -7.3 units