2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational picks: Why we're willing to bet on Rory McIlroy
Though there's no secret to predicting golf tournaments, the key is often deciphering the incredible amount of information available and deciding what's most important. Last week, one of our leading experts, Pat Mayo, found a corollary between PGA National and other coastal courses, where Sungjae Im has found success in the past. And he also pointed to Im's success on Bermuda greens as being predictive to a big week for Sungjae. He was right. It was the eighth winner one of our experts predicted this year, meaning that collectively you'd be up 177 units if you followed our experts' outright winner bets this season (Meaning, if you put $10 on each of those bets, you'd be up $1,770.). Keep up.
That same strategy might apply to the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational. The past two winners have been European, including two European Ryder Cup stalwarts. And Matthew Fitzpatrick, another Euro Ryder Cupper, was the 54-hole leader here last year and finished runner-up to Rory McIlroy. Rory is the big-time favorite this week—and if you buy the corollary between Bay Hill and maybe another similar course, Le Golf National, with accuracy emphasized but also trouble at every turn, you can see why Rory is elicited these Tiger-like odds. Maybe you'd consider Tommy Fleetwood, who nearly won the Honda Classic last week, and will look for his first PGA Tour win at Bay Hill. The job for you—and us, of course, is to decide if that angle is the right one.
Our expert picks this week, just like every week, include a tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green at the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational; picks from two of the most respected experts in the daily-fantasy community, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports, which tracks DFS ownership and sentiment; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational Picks To Win (Odds from MGM Sportsbook)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the Week: Rory McIlroy (5-1) — Tough to pick against Rory these days. Even on his off weeks, he's still finishing in the top 10. Arnie's place is a ball striking paradise and Rory is on top of his game right now, so this pick makes sense. He won here in 2018, so he knows what he's doing around here.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Xander Schauffele (20-1) — His stats couldn’t be better suited for this course ... unless his name was Rory McIlroy. Against this field, over the past 24 rounds, per www.fantasynational.com, he’s the best in strokes gained/approach and proximity from beyond 200 yards. He’s also top 10 in Par 5s gained, Par 3s gained 200-225 yards and Par 4s gained. Despite the disappointing finish in Mexico a few weeks back, he was the best player in the field with his irons, over a stroke better than Hideki.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Hideki Matsuyama (16-1) — Betting Hideki is always scary, but there’s actual reason to believe that this is the week. Matsuyama’s Bermuda putting is not that reason, but he does have decent form at Bay Hill (21st, 6th, 45th, 49th, and 33rd). He has gained strokes putting in a quarter of his rounds here but gained tee-to-green in 80% of those rounds. Matsuyama ranks third in strokes gained/tee to green over the past 50 rounds on the PGA Tour, via FantasyNational.com.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Justin Rose (40-1) — As I've said before, my model favors long-term success over short term. J-Rose has six top-15 finishes in the past 10 years at Bay Hill. I'd say it's a matter of time that J-Rose finds better form, and as my model indicates, this might be the week.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest associate editor: Hideki Matsuyama (16-1) — Sometimes in gambling, you have to smell a fish: One of those lines that just doesn't make sense on the surface. Like, as if oddsmakers know something we don't. This is one of those to me. Hideki's course history at Bay Hill is not good: His last three finishes at the API: 33rd, 49th and 45th. And Hideki hasn't won since the 2017 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. So why do oddsmakers have Hideki as the third-best odds to win this week? It's like they know something. We do know his stats are elite, and he's trending in the right direction. Hideki gained 12.4 strokes/tee-to-green (at the Genesis); and 10.3 strokes/TTG at Mexico. Most important to me? He gained strokes against the field in putting for his first measured round since August, per FantasyNational.com. The ball-striking is never a question with Hideki. It's usually about the putter, and if he has an above average putting week like Mexico, this could be Hideki's breakthrough.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Rickie Fowler (33-1) — My name is Christopher Powers, and I am a Rickie Fowler addict. It’s been seven weeks since my last Rickie bet. I swore I was off him for good, but when the number is right ... the number is right. Last week, Fowler was among the favorites at Honda. Now, he’s outside the top 10—understandable given the strength of this week’s field, and the fact he’s missed two of his last three cuts. But that’s not the norm for Fowler, who missed two cuts all of last season. Do you know how many cuts he’s missed in the last three seasons combined? Eight. And after six of those MCs he’s gone on to finish T-14 or better the very next week. He’s coming off a 68 at Honda where he gained strokes in every area except around the greens, and he obviously loves Bay Hill and everything that comes with playing in Arnie’s event. I’m expecting a big bounce back week for the Rick-tator.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports golf expert: Rory McIlroy (5-1) — The World No. 1 is heads and shoulders above of anyone else this week. He ranks first in our course-suitability ranking–his tee-to-green game on long courses is fantastic. He also ranks second for both strokes-gained/tee-to-green and Opportunities Gained over the past two months.
Results from this season: We correctly predicted eight of the first 19 winners to start the season. DraftKings expert Pat Mayo correctly predicted Sungjae Im’s win at 28-1. FanDuel’s Brandon Gdula has predicted four outright victories on his own, netting +118 units this season alone on his outright bets (the equivalent of being up $1,180 on $10 bets), after predicting Justin Thomas’ win at Kapalua. Mayo and our tour caddie also had JT as their pick to win. FanShare Sports’ Lee Alldrick picked Rory McIlroy at the WGC-HSBC Champions, giving him three winning predictions early in the season. Three members of our expert panel correctly picked the favorite in the fall at the CJ Cup, Justin Thomas (8-1), so we have a lot of positive momentum. Check out everyone’s records in the betting card above.
RELATED: Everything you need to know about betting on golf—legally](https://www.golfdigest.com/story/how-to-bet-on-golf-legally)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational (odds from MGM Sportsbook)
Caddie: Wyndham Clark (80-1) — This guy is going to win this year. He has such a complete game with so much power. His ball-striking will help him around this course, and his length will allow him to take advantage of many demanding holes, including the four par 5s.
Mayo: Tyrrell Hatton (55-1) — Fourth in his debut in 2017, Hatton has made the cut in each of his three appearances at API, and enters having quelled the concerns many had about his wrist injury at WGC-Mexico. Making his first start since a T46 at the DP World Tour Championship in November, Hatton gained in all four strokes gained metrics in Mexico City, finishing tied for first in strokes gained/tee-to-green for the week at +10.4. Plus, if the wind picks up, that’s always an advantage for Hatton.
Gdula: Abraham Ancer (60-1) — Ancer’s got two top-12s over his past three starts and has gained strokes with his ball-striking data in three straight events. His Bermuda putting isn’t anything to get excited about, but Ancer can linger here with his great all-around profile.
Riccio: Kevin Na (80-1) — Don't forget that Kevin Na has two victories in the past 10 months. My model gives him the seventh-best odds to win this week, but he's not priced that way. There's serious value in Na on a course where he has three top-10s in the past 10 years.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Henrik Stenson (40-1) — Contrary to my Hideki take, Henrik is someone with such stellar course history, and I'm willing to take a shot on him. He has five top-10s in the past seven years at Bay Hill, and though we haven't seen much of Stenson in 2020, he did win the Hero World Challenge before the end of 2019. And would any of us be surprised if Stenson's elite ball-striking is sharp enough to win at API? I'm willing to invest in a third straight European victory here.
Powers, Golf Digest: Ian Poulter (90-1) — Poulter has made a ridiculous nine consecutive cuts at Bay Hill, including finishes of 12th and third, though those came in the ancient times of 2011 and 2012. Since then it’s been a bunch of top 25s and the rest outside the top 40. But I like his chances this week for a number of reasons: 1. Loves bermuda 2. Home game (Poulter has been in Orlando since 2012) 3. Narrative play. Not sure if you noticed Poulter’s tweets from last Sunday, but they were fiery. Paul Azinger’s Euro Tour comments were not just a shot at Tommy Fleetwood, they were a shot at every prolific Euro Tour winner who hasn’t had the same success on the PGA Tour. Poulter, a 12-time Euro Tour winner with three wins on the PGA Tour, obviously took offense. I love me some angry Poults, and I’d expect he and a number of other Euros to be out to prove something this week.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Bubba Watson (50-1) — Bubba has recorded four top-20 finishes in his past five events which includes a sixth and an eighth. Bubba ranks 13th in our course-suitability ranking due in large part to how he performs tee to green on similar length courses. This suitability has helped Bubba on his way to 5 top 25 finishes here at Bay Hill which includes 2 top 10’s.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Tommy Fleetwood (14-1) — Last week was obviously draining for him, mentally especially. As much as I'm sure he'd like to shut Azinger up, I can't see him at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the week. All of Euro Golf Twitter is relying on him, but I think it's too much pressure, really.
Mayo: Tony Finau (33-1) — A better number for Finau than we’ve been seeing lately, but it’s still too tough to back him at this elevated of a number. Kinda hope I’m wrong, as I’d like to see him breakthrough eventually.
Gdula: Bryson DeChambeau (18-1) — DeChambeau has been great tee-to-green in 2020 and is putting well. All that points to him and the low number. However, if we look at his strokes gained/approach data, it’s just not on par with the other studs in the field, and that stat is most important weekly — and particularly at Bay Hill. I have interest in many of the top guys in the field, but DeChambeau doesn’t make my list.
Riccio: Hideki Matsuyama (16-1) — I'm not so sure why oddsmakers are so bullish on Hideki this week. My model makes his odds more so in the 35-1 to 40-1 range. Sure, his short-term stats are good. But my model considers his course history and history on similar length holes. Those are two weaknesses in the argument of why Hideki could win this week, which is why I'm passing on taking an overvalued price on him.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Tommy Fleetwood (14-1) — It would be a lot to ask Fleetwood to turn around, after coming up short at the Honda, to come out and win this week. Sure, it wouldn't surprise me so much. But this is a stronger field, and I'd rather back someone with more value than Fleetwood.
Powers, Golf Digest: Brooks Koepka (28-1) — Koepka was 25-1 at Riviera and I argued that week that Koepka ever being 20-1 or higher should be an auto bet. But something is clearly off with the guy, whether it be the knee or his actual play. I have no doubt he’ll get right for Augusta, but I’d like to see him contend or finish in the top 10 before we start backing him again.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Tommy Fleetwood (14-1) — Last week will hit Tommy hard. He played brilliantly tee to green and still couldn’t get his first PGA Tour win. A lot has been made of the difficulty of winning a PGA Tour event compared to a European Tour event thanks to Paul Azinger’s comments. This will be another week on Bermuda greens for Fleetwood which I’m afraid will mean more disappointment for him.
2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational: Matchups
Caddie: Adam Scott (-105) over Hideki Matsuyama (Sportsbook) — His recent form combined with this course that demands strong driving and great ball-striking, two things Adam is currently doing very well.
Mayo: Henrik Stenson (+110) over Byeong Hun An (Bet365) — Nothing against Benny An, but only one of these players can putt themselves out of a made cut. And it’s not King Henrik. Plus, we’re getting juice here.
Gdula: Henrik Stenson (+102) over Jason Day (FanDuel) — Day is second in the field in strokes gained/putting on Bermuda greens over the past 100 rounds, via FantasyNational.com, but he’s 86th in strokes gained approach over the past 50 rounds on the PGA Tour. Stenson is second in approach and has had pristine ball-striking of late. I’ll side with the more predictable stat here and the value on Stenson’s name.
Riccio: Adam Scott (-125) over Patrick Reed (BetMGM) — Patrick Reed does boast a seventh-place here in 2018, but other than that, he has three really bad results (a MC, a 50th and a 52nd). I'm willing to fade that course history, despite the recent win, in favor of Scott, who also has a recent win but slightly better course history.
_Hennessey, Golf Digest: Three-way tourney matchup: Rory McIlroy (-134) over Francesco Molinari and Justin Rose (BetMGM) — I'm looking for ways to find some value in Rory this week. One of those is a tournament double with the European Tour (see below for my degenerate bets of the week), but another solution is taking a bet like this. Do I think Rory will beat Molinari this week? I think I'd put my (limited) savings on it. So this is essentially a Rory vs. J-Rose matchup. I really think if you simulate this 100 times, Rory probably wins 75 or 80 percent of the time. That's a bet I'm willing to take. Make it three units.
Powers, Golf Digest: Jason Day (+100) over Brooks Koepka (DraftKings) — I’m on Fowler at 33-1 to win, but I’ll also be on Day, a former winner, at that same number. And I’m fading Brooks. Ipso, facto, I’ll take Day over Koepka.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Tyrrell Hatton (-112) to beat Matthew Fitzpatrick (BetMGM) — We love Hatton this week. He has a 6th and a 1st in his last 3 events. Fitzpatrick has not played well recently and this course does not suit.
Matchup results last week: Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Harris English (+100) over Joaquin Niemann); Powers: 1 for 1 (Sungjae Im (-110) over Viktor Hovland); Riccio: 1 for 1 (Justin Rose (-120) over Louis Oosthuizen); Gdula: 1 for 1 (Tommy Fleetwood (-126) over Brooks Koepka); Tour Caddie: 0 for 1; Mayo: 0 for 1. Action Network: 0 for 1; Alldrick: 0 for 1.
Matchup results this season (assuming each matchup is a one-unit wager): Alldrick, FanShare Sports: 12 wins, 5 losses, 1 push (up 5.24 units); Hennessey: 6 for 8 (up 3.96 units); Riccio: 10 wins, 7 losses, 2 pushes (up 2.58 units); Tour Caddie: 8 wins, 6 losses, 1 push (up 1.92 units); Powers: 4 wins, 3 losses, 1 push (up 1.44 units); Mayo: 9 for 18 (up 0.37 units); Sobel/Action Network: 9 for 18 (down 0.68 units); Gdula: 6 for 15 and two pushes (down 2 units).
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
Caddie: Byeong Hun An (+430) — Byeong Hun An is playing some extremely impressive golf of late. He might be flying under the radar but definitely a player that's offering decent odds during a time when he could win at any given week.
Mayo: Henrik Stenson (+380) — The Swede is making his 2020 USA debut, but it’s not like he’s given up golf since we last saw him win at the Hero to close 2019. He played in Singapore, then in the Middle East, to middling results, sure, but now returns to a track where he’s raked over the years. He trails just Rory in SG: Total over the past five years at Bay Hill and had produced a Top 10 finish in five of his past seven starts in Orlando.
Gdula: Sebastian Munoz (+1100) — Munoz ranks top-50 in all four strokes gained stats over the past 50 rounds and can be had at a pretty hefty number for a top-10.
Riccio: Bryson DeChambeau (+195) — Three finishes inside the top 5 in his last five starts, including a crushing runner-up at the WGC-Mexico. After taking a week off, he’ll be back fresh and hungry coming off the close call. Also finished second at Bay Hill two years ago in just his second API appearance. Driving it well and putting it well, two keys to winning at Bay Hill. We’ll play it safe with a top 10 for now though.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Tyrrell Hatton (+500) — In his return from his wrist injury, Hatton finished in eighth in Mexico, showing he's back. He continues to flash the great form we've seen from him since the fall (T-15, T-18, sixth, T-14, win at Turkish Airlines Open). Hatton has a fourth-place finish here in 2017, and at these 5-to-1 odds, I'm willing to say Hatton contends for another top-10 this week.
Powers, Golf Digest: Henrik Stenson (+380) — If there is a safer play on the board this week, I’ve yet to find it. Stenson has finished T-8 or better in five of his last seven API starts, which does not include last year, when he still finished T-17 after having missed three of his previous four cuts.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Marc Leishman (+380) — Leishman comes in ranked 18th in our Course Suitability Ranking this week. It’s not surprising then to see that he has posted notable finishes of 7th, 3rd and 1st here previously. He also ranks 10th in strokes gained/tee-to-green over the last two months and 7th for Opportunities Gained. It was just three events ago that the Australian won at Torrey Pines, where you also need to control your long game.
Top 10 results last week: Alldrick: 1 for 1 (Daniel Berger (+280).
Top-10 results for the year (assuming a one-unit wager): Alldrick/FanShare: 4 for 18 (up 4.7 units); Mayo: 3 for 17 (up 4.5 units); Sobel/Action Network: 3 for 17 (up 2.3 units); Gdula 3 for 18 (up 0.2 units); Powers: 1 for 7 (down 4.35 units); Hennessey: 0 for 7 (down 7 units); Riccio: 1 for 18 (down 14.5 units); Tour Caddie: 0 for 16 (down 16 units)
Outrageous, Degenerate Bets of the Week
Hennessey: Like I teased above, and in the podcast (also above), my strategy this week as it relates to Rory McIlroy is to put him in a few "double" bets, which means to parlay him with another winner on the European Tour. That makes Rory's 5-to-1 bettable, and provides some value where there really isn't any outright.
So I'm willing to put five bets down with Rory parlayed with a few of the other favorites on the European Tour's Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. Here are my doubles:
$5 on Rory McIlroy to win Bay Hill, plus Martin Kaymer (14-1 at BetMGM) to win in Qatar --both favorites, but I took this double last week, and I can't miss out in case it hits this week. Pay $890.
$5 on Rory McIlroy to win Bay Hill, plus Mattias Schwab (22-1) to win in Qatar. Pays $1,370. $5 on Rory McIlroy to win Bay Hill, plus Ross Fisher (yes, THAT Ross Fisher) at 28-1 to win in Qatar. Pays $1,730.
$5 on Rory McIlroy to win Bay Hill, plus George Coetzee (30-1) to win in Qatar. Pays $1,850. $5 on Rory McIlroy to win Bay Hill, plus Adri Arnaus (40-1) to win in Qatar. Pays $2,450.
Powers: As Stevie mentioned on the podcast this week, the way to get some value in betting Rory McIlroy is to parlay him with somebody over on the Euro Tour. McIlroy is bound to win soon, and Bay Hill, where he’s won before, is a great spot to get it done. He feasts on these par 5s (-9 on the par 5s in 2018), and he currently leads the tour in par 5 scoring average, so I see no reason why he won’t continue to eat them up in Orlando.
Pair him up with Eddie Pepperell at the Qatar Masters at 35-1. Eddie P tweeted that he WD’d from the Oman Open last week over fears he could get stuck somewhere abroad due to the Coronavirus. But he had a change of heart this week and will be playing the Qatar Masters, mostly because he has to if he wants to qualify for THE Masters. To do that, he first has to play well this week and remain in the top 64 of the OWGR, which will get him into the WGC Match Play field, his “only route to the Masters” as he wrote in a recent blog. He’s coming off a T-11 in Dubai, so he’s playing well and he needs to do so again.
Let’s take a chance on he and Rory AND ….. my Rhode Island Rams, who play the No. 4 ranked Dayton Flyers on Wednesday night at the Ryan Center. They are +155 on the money line. Simply put, it’d be in Dayton’s best interest to lose a game before the A-10 tourney and the real tourney and get it out of their system (the Flyers have not lost since December 21). As for URI, this is an absolute must-win to get off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament field. Rory, Eddie P and URI. +54980 odds. $10 wins you $5,498. Let’s GO!
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Jason Sobel is a senior writer for The Action Network. For more analysis from The Action Network, click here.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.
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