Friday, February 23, 2024

2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational Best Bets: Expert Picks for Hovland, More

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The PGA TOUR moves to Orlando from Palm Beach Gardens in the second week of the Florida Swing for the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. The TOUR features another designated event at Bay Hill Club and Lodge with a star-studded field as 44 of the top 50 players in the OWGR will tee it up this week at the API.

Jon Rahm is the favorite to win again this week as he has won three of his five starts on TOUR in 2023, but our golf betting experts are wagering on other players to pull through this week.  Find which favorites they’re backing, their top long shot picks, their favorite fades and, of course, their best bets for The Honda Classic below.

Favorite We’re Backing

Best Long Shot

  • Jason Sobel: Danny Willett
  • Chris Murphy: Sepp Straka
  • Matt Vincenzi: Shane Lowry
  • Spencer Aguiar: Aaron Wise
  • Nick Bretwisch: Si Woo Kim

Biggest Bust

  • Jason Sobel: Tom Kim
  • Chris Murphy: Patrick Cantlay
  • Matt Vincenzi: Will Zalatoris
  • Spencer Aguiar: Wyndham Clark
  • Nick Bretwisch: Cameron Young

Contrarian Player to Target

  • Jason Sobel: Tommy Fleetwood
  • Matt Vincenzi: Rickie Fowler
  • Spencer Aguiar: Alex Smalley
  • Nick Bretwisch: Sahith Theegala

Trend That Guides Your Betting Strategy

Sobel: Bay Hill is just plain hard. Whether you play it on a Monday morning in July or a Saturday afternoon in November or certainly four consecutive days here in the first week of March, it’s always going to be a difficult golf course.

I like players who have had success in other events where the winning score is closer in relation to par who are also elite ball strikers. Of the eight events which have been played so far in 2023, half of ‘em have been won by the player who led the field in SG: Approach. You can narrow down your player pool by seeking out great iron players who fare better in tough conditions.

Murphy: There is no faking it around Bay Hill. The players at the top will need to have their game working throughout their entire bag tee to green, but I’ll be leaning most heavily on overall ball striking. I would do that in a normal week around this course, however the projected winds just amplify the need to be really hitting the ball well both off the tee and on approach, and consequently, I’ll lean much more heavily on that than anything with the short game.

Vincenzi: Six of the past eight winners had recorded a top-five finish at Bay Hill in a previous season. This makes me feel even stronger about my best bet on Viktor Hovland.

Aguiar: Florida always emphasizes the need for ball striking since wind and water come into play. We see that with atrocious weather forecasts expected to hit late Friday afternoon, and the fact that half the holes feature water will only enhance the three-inch rough that will make stopping second shots more challenging on these fast Bermuda greens. Look for players to struggle when it comes to controlling their apex and spin rates because of those factors.

Bretwisch: The course is going to test these players more than likely any course on TOUR for these non-major designated events. In addition, the weather looks absolutely disgusting for the opening rounds. I’ll be prioritizing elite ball strikers and those who are elite around green scramblers (if not a top-tier ball striker).

Your Best Bet

Sobel: Will Zalatoris (+400) and Matt Fitzpatrick (+700) Top-Five Finish

It essentially came down to a toss-up between my two favorite plays on the board this week, so rather than choose between them, I’ll play ‘em together. As top two on last year’s U.S. Open leaderboard, each player fits the profile for what we’re looking for this week. Hit one of the two, and you’re making a profit. Hit ‘em both and you’re up 11 units. I love the chances for Zalatoris and really like the chances for Fitzpatrick.

Murphy: Keith Mitchell Top 10 +350 (BetMGM)

We have seen a bit of a breakout so far this year from Keith Mitchell as he found his way near the top of the leaderboard in Pebble Beach and then put himself in the final grouping on Sunday at Riviera. I look for him to continue that trend this week on another course that highlights his ability to hit it long and straight off the tee and utilize his sharp iron game.

Vincenzi: Viktor Hovland +3300 (BetRivers)

Last year, Viktor Hovland almost broke through at Bay Hill, but a final-round 74 was his undoing as he finished one shot behind a red-hot Scottie Scheffler. The conditions were tough that day, so him contending in those extremely difficult conditions is a good sign for his chances this week. For the week, Hovland gained 10.3 strokes from tee to green, which was third in the field.

Hovland is yet to contend in the 2023 season, but he’s started off the year solidly enough. He has three top-20 finishes in four tries and is hitting the ball well off of the tee, which is crucial for playing well at Bay Hill. In his past 12 rounds, he’s third in the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, gaining 3.6 strokes on the field per event. Long and straight is most definitely the recipe for the Arnold Palmer Invitational and can make up for Hovland’s (more than) occasional short game woes.

Historically, international players have dominated Bay Hill, winning five straight at the event prior to Bryson DeChambeau in 2021 and Scottie Scheffler in 2022. This would be far and away Hovland’s biggest win of his career as he’s yet to win in an elite field. With all eyes on Bay Hill in a designated event this week, I believe the 25-year-old will breakthrough and become the star many hoped he would be.

Aguiar: Adam Scott (-110) Tournament Matchup Over Wyndham Clark (DraftKings)

There are reasons to be optimistic about what we have seen from Wyndham Clark over the past handful of starts. Gaining in six of his last seven appearances with his irons should be a massive boost when handicapping his 2023 profile, but I tend to believe the American is a West Coast specialist who thrives at wide-open Poa tests above anything else.

Clark’s decrease on Bermuda is felt when we see him drop from 40th to 101st in Expected Putting for this surface, and the negative expectation for par-five scoring only further decreases his projection since he ranks outside the top 80 of this field. Add to that mix poor accuracy and past declines at challenging courses, and you get a weaker profile than the public may perceive.

Bretwisch: Viktor Hovland +3100 (FanDuel)

I didn’t have access to Hovland’s 33/1 number on BetRivers like Vincenzi did, but for the exact same reasons he discussed, I’m firing up Hovland +3100 on FanDuel. My implied probabilities have Hovland as short as +2300, and I rarely get a perceived edge when betting outright on a top-15 golfer in the world. It’s a number grab that follows a trend for recent Bay Hill success.

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