Arnold Palmer Invitational Betting Preview: Finau, McIlroy, or Zalatoris?


Feb 28, 2023

After a drama-filled Honda Classic that saw Chris Kirk return to the winner’s circle for the first time in seven and a half years, the PGA Tour heads North to Orlando, Florida, for the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational from Bay Hill Club & Lodge.

Always a staple on the tour calendar, the field had seen a dip in strength since Palmer’s passing in 2016, but that has changed for this year’s tourney as the Tour has tabbed it as one of its “elevated” events for 2023.

With that status comes an overall prize pool of $20 million, with the winner taking home $3,600,000 and the signature red alpaca cardigan jacket. Fourty-four of the top 50 in the World Golf Rankings will be teeing it up this week, including all 13 winners on Tour this season.

The forecast calls for a highly windy Friday with moderate wind throughout the weekend, so we can expect more carnage at Bay Hill should the weatherman have it correct.

This 7,466-yard Par 72 has hosted this event since 1972, and its firm and fast conditions typically yield low winning scores to par, especially when the wind picks up.

Winning this tournament requires 72 holes of elite play in all aspects of the game. The course’s length requires more accuracy than power off the tee accompanied by top-notch long iron play. Many of these par fours will have the pros 200+ yards out for their approach shots.

Additionally, players must be able to scramble well when missing these firm and fast Bermuda greens. Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo Championship) and Congaree Golf Club (The CJ Cup) are two good crossover events to consider when building out stat models this week.

Last year, Scottie Scheffler navigated some of the most challenging conditions in tournament history en route to a final round 72, winning the tournament at five under par. This was Scheffler’s second win in a short streak of four victories last season, culminating in him slipping on the Green Jacket at Augusta National.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Picks

For Top 20 props, look at Kurt Kitayama (+600) and Will Gordon (+600).

Kitayama finished 15th and second last season at the two similar course layouts I mentioned above and has quietly become one of the more consistent middle-tier golfers on the PGA Tour in the previous 12 months.

His strengths lay with his Approach and Around the Green stats, excelling in proximity on shots from 200+ yards, ranking ninth in this field. He has also shown he can succeed against elite competition (second at CJ Cup and the Scottish Open). Gordon has gained an impressive 1.5 strokes per tournament in his last ten starts with his driver and 0.8 strokes per round with his approach play over the same span.

My two Top 10 plays for the API are Min Woo Lee (+900) and Tommy Fleetwood (+650). Even with very limited PGA Tour play to his name, Lee was a popular pick last week at the Honda and quietly finished T-26th, held back by poor Around-the-Green play (lost a full three strokes to the field).

Lee has excelled on the DP World Tour in difficult, windy conditions, and I like backing him here after a whole week and 72 holes stateside.

Fleetwood is still searching for his first PGA Tour win, but it will most likely be in Florida if that ever comes. He has succeeded in this portion of the season and has racked up three top-20 finishes at Bay Hill, highlighted by a third-place effort in 2019.

Although his play in the U.S. has been limited lately, his approach stats have been superb, gaining nearly two full strokes over his last ten tour starts. He also fits the stereotype of a European with great play in windy conditions, so the nastier it gets, the more I like his chances to be in the mix on Sunday.

His outright number may be too short for most bettors’ liking, but I will have outright exposure on horse-for-the-course Tyrrell Hatton (+3200). The 2020 API winner has never missed a cut in this event and was the runner-up to Scheffler a year ago.

He put together a very impressive week at the elevated Waste Management in Scottsdale three weeks ago, highlighted by 4.2 strokes gained off the tee and 6.0 strokes gained on approach. If you don’t want to take the plunge at a shortened number in a field of this caliber, keep an eye on his live odds should he get off to a slow start, as this course is set up for big comebacks should the wind get strong enough.

I expect Tony Finau (+2600) to get little to no love in the betting markets this week. I am paying no regard to the fact he missed the cut in his only start at Bay Hill in 2020 and choosing instead to look at the stats that paint a favorable picture for his chances this week.

Over the past 50 rounds, Finau ranks first in SG:Tee-to-Green, second in SG:Approach, seventh in SG:Putting, and tenth in SG:Off-the-Tee. If that doesn’t do it for you, he is also top five in opportunities gained, birdies gained, and bogeys avoided. Long past silencing the doubters for his lack of Tour wins, I love this spot for Big Tone at 26-1.

Although Rory McIlroy would be my gun-to-the-head pick to win this week, I try to avoid outright numbers less than 15-1, so the last outright player on my card this week is Will Zalatoris (+2000).

I almost missed the party at the Genesis due to concerns over his back injury, but now that he is clearly past that, I will not be passing him up at Bay Hill. He showed the same form that had him as arguably the most consistent player in the world from last May until the end of the year, gaining nearly four strokes off the tee and on approach at Riviera.

Even if his putting stroke can give viewers nightmares, Zalatoris has quietly become an above-average putter. He has gained with the flatstick in his last six events and is now a plus putter versus the field for his career on Bermuda greens.

 Arnold Palmer Invitational (Odds @ FanDuel)

  • First-Round Leader: Will Gordon (+10000) | Kurt Kitayama (+10000) | Will Zalatoris (+3700) | Rory McIlroy (+2100)
  • Top 20: Kurt Kitayama (+600) | Will Gordon (+600)
  • Top 10: Min Woo Lee (+900) | Tommy Fleetwood (+650)
  • Outrights: Tyrrell Hatton (+3200) | Will Zalatoris (+2000) | Tony Finau (+2600)                         
Thumbnail photo via Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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