It's the last stop on the current Florida swing and Bay Hill will once again be Tiger-less as we gear up for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Out with the old and in with the new seems to be the theme this week as Rory McIlroy - 6.50 - has replaced Tiger as the face of EA Sports Golf, and it's the same for the event as Rory lines up at Bay Hill for the first time, in the absence of Woods.
The Irishman had promised "The King" Arnold Palmer that he would tee it up at his event and Rory will lead the betting fresh off a prep session at Augusta last week. Rory as ever is a big favourite when he tees it up but it's adopted Floridian Henrik Stenson - 10.00 - that grabs my attention at the head of the market. Bubba Watson - 13.00 - also makes an appearance, while Adam Scott - 17.00 - will have another outing with the short putter ahead of Augusta.
The course - Bay Hill
Currently playing to a par 72 circa 7,400 yards on the card, Bay Hill has undergone a few more minor tweaks pre the 2015 renewal. Palmer designs tend to give players a little extra room off the tee to encourage use of the big stick but the rough at Bay Hill had subtly encroached onto the fairways in recent editions. It's now been stripped back and players will have more generous landing areas. The long stuff is still lush and over seeded according to Frank Nobilo though, so hitting fairways will be important. Conditions are generally firm and fast in this event and many of the above average sized greens are equipped with run-offs, making scrambling a premium here. The wind is not currently expected to be up but Florida is prone to gusty conditions so take the wind forecast with a pinch of salt as usual. Capitalising on the par fives has also always been key around this track, and perhaps that explains previous Tiger Woods dominance here.
Three from the pack
I mentioned Henrik Stenson - 10.00 - and this is his new back yard so to speak. Stenson has taken up residence nearby here in Florida after his move from Dubai and he will have the pleasure of a short trip back to his own gaff post round. Perhaps an increasingly strong form line here of 47-15-8-5 suggests he is getting to know the track better year by year. The Swede is in fine current form, missing out by just a shot last week in his Valspar Championship debut. That was back to back fourth places as he finished in the same position at Doral. Stenson can demolish the par 5s around Bay Hill and seems to thrive in fast and firm conditions on and around the greens so if the wind stays down, he'll surely be a big factor.
Kevin Na - 41.00 or 9.00 - remains on the backing list this week as he continues his Florida form. Another top 10 at the Valspar sees Na head to arguably his favourite course in this stretch of the season. It's an overriding memory that really has Kevin in my thoughts this week and that is the impeccable golf he played while battling Ernie Els for victory here in the 2010 edition. Na was runner up that week and 4th two years later. In fact his average finishing position in his last five Bay Hill outings is circa 14th and he's a much better player now who scrambles better than most in fast and firm conditions.
I was hoping Sean O' Hair - 51.00 or 11.00 - would have a poor Sunday at the Valspar so we would see a triple figure quote on a course specialist who has returned to top form. For those of you old enough to remember how good he has been on this track though, he's still a bet. In 2009 he took a big lead at halfway only for some tough weekend conditions to allow Tiger to catch up and eventually overtake Sean. A runner up that year followed a 3rd place in 2008 and O' Hair even managed to record a top 10 here last year when woefully out of form so he must be inspired by Bay Hill. The track obviously suits and Sean was right at the top of the par 3 performance stats last week, meaning he's dialed in with the irons. From what I saw, he was also scrambling excellently.
Keep an eye out for Arnie's Grandson Sam Saunders - 201.0 or 36.00 - around Bay Hill. He knows the course better than anyone else, and due to family ties he's teed it up at the event a handful of times. Saunders has gotten into this column on merit though as a playoff loss in Puerto Rico was followed up by a top 25 at the difficult Copperhead track in a tough field last week. He's one to watch more in the subsidiary markets such as the first round leader and top 20.