2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational Picks: Our Favorite Matchups & Prop Bets at Bay Hill
Donald Miralle/Getty Images. Pictured: Luke List
When it comes to betting there are few courses out there that are more fun than Bay Hill. It’s long, features plenty of water, has lightning-fast greens and, if the wind picks up, can play like a beast. That’s the type of chaos we love here at GolfBet.
So which golfers do we think are best suited to handle the tricky weekend that lies ahead? Check out our favorite props and matchup bets to find out:
Luke List Top-30 Finish (+225)
Very, very quietly, List is reaching that intersection of recent form and course history that we love targeting. He’s finished MC-30th-10th-21st in his last four starts and here at Bay Hill, he’s gone 10th-7th-17th (though he did DNS last year). What do all of those results have in common? That’s right — the man is racking up top-30s both recently and over the years at this event.
Perhaps because none of those – the recent starts or the ones at this event – have been serious title contentions, List is still flying under the radar, but he remains a solid play this week.
Matthew NeSmith Top-20 Finish (+500)
I’ll be a homer once again and go back to my favorite Gamecock on TOUR, Matthew NeSmith. He has been playing some fantastic golf over his last three events, and should benefit from the bermudagrass surfaces at Bay Hill.
NeSmith has gained no less than 3.1 strokes on the field with his irons in his four tournaments back to the Farmers, gaining 6.6 shots with his approach at Torrey Pines.
NeSmith got a taste of this course in a missed cut last year, but he has really produced some results on TOUR since that time. I am comfortable with a Top-20 at solid odds for NeSmith, but I’ll dabble some up the board including a juicy +16000 to win.
Keith Mitchell Top-5 Finish (+2800)
Let’s skip the safe plays this week and take a shot on a big return from a top-5 finish. While it’s true that Keith Mitchell has been playing pretty poorly of late, that hasn’t meant all that much historically in his career.
In his lone PGA TOUR victory: the Honda Classic at PGA National (also in Florida), he was coming off recent finishes of MC, 73, MC, MC prior to his impressive victory. Mitchell also finished fifth at the API last year coming off of a missed cut the previous week, further proving that current form isn’t necessarily a requirement for the 29-year-old to pop up on a leaderboard; especially in Florida.
In general, Mitchell is a poor putter but interestingly he ranks third in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting (past 24 rounds) when the greens are both Bermuda and “Lightning” fast. Some other areas where he excels are playing in windy conditions and playing in “difficult” scoring conditions, where he gains strokes on the field in both categories.
With potential 15 MPH winds in the forecast this weekend and his incredible history in Florida, this boom-or-bust play is worth the gamble at Bay Hill.
Dylan Frittelli Top-20 Finish (+450)
Frittelli has not been playing very well lately, but he posted an 18th-place finish at Bay Hill last year and seems to have an affinity for showing up at big time events. He’s a PGA TOUR winner, and has a T-5 at the Masters to name as well. When he pops it’s usually not for a 50th-place finish.
He has the off-the-tee and around-the-green game’s to contend here and I’ll gladly take the chance at close to 5/1 in a smaller field that he regains some form.
Viktor Hovland to miss the cut (+480)
I never set out to be provocative but if I wanted to make a splash, this qualifies because it’s timely. I could see this option developing into my favorite. As the others illustrate, it’s a perfect spot to support a top-X leaderboard finish, but I have other ideas that I hope will have relevance in time. For now, I’m putting Hovland’s form up against his rhetoric.
On Sunday, he said that he’s not a fan of Florida golf courses but that Concession is an exception. I understand all the arguments to dismiss the comment, applaud his honesty and everything else, but why not limp into it at +480?
If you’re going to invest in his first missed cut in a year, the most difficult par 72 in a non-major in the last four completed seasons is a great place to start, and it just so happens to be in Florida.
Francesco Molinari (-102) over Louis Oosthuizen
In seven starts at Bay Hill, Molinari has never finished outside the top-35, posting a results table that looks more like a telephone number: 1st-26th-7th-9th-17th-5th-34th.
There was a time, not so long ago, when even those numbers wouldn’t have been enough to back the Italian, but after a move to California last year, he’s starting to bounce back in a big way. He’s finished top-10 in three of four starts this year and his ball-striking trends suggest he’s on the cusp – and this feels like the perfect place for it to happen.
Nothing against Louis, who could have a solid performance, but being the favorite in a matchup with Francesco is a losing proposition for most players this week.
Jordan Spieth (+120) over Hideki Matsuyama
I am not a Spieth truther by any means, though I know his success is great for the game overall, but it took me a while to buy in on him being back. I was truly impressed with the way he held his game together at Riviera, which is a place that doesn’t allow you to spray it off the tee like you can at Pebble Beach or even TPC Scottsdale.
Spieth will now bring a game that I think can be a great fit for the course at Bay Hill, in a similar way to what makes Reed so attractive this week. Jordan will have the benefit of wide fairways, a number of right-to-left holes, and we know he will bring a top notch short game. It seems like such a great fit for him that it makes it really curious why this is his first appearance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but it was likely a scheduling issue.
On the other side of this matchup, Hideki showed some better form last week at The Concession, which is encouraging for him in his own right. He may also have his game headed in the right direction too, but this is more of a tossup to me than the odds suggest. I’ll take the plus-money on Spieth this week and make it my official buy-in that he may in fact be back.
Francesco Molinari (-106) over Will Zalatoris
Molinari’s course history at Bay Hill speaks for itself. With finishes of 5th,17th, 9th, 7th, 26th and 1st from 2014-2019 to say that he loves this track may be an understatement. If that isn’t reason enough to back the Italian, take a look at his recent form. Moli has three top-10 finishes in his four starts in 2021, including an eighth his last time out at Riviera (Genesis Invitational).
A world class ball-striker, Francesco has the type of game that is perfect for Bay Hill. He consistently finds the fairway, is great with his long irons, and bermudagrass is his preferential putting surface.
While Willy Z. comes into the event with a lot of hype, I will take the guy with the proven track record.
Ian Poulter (+120) over Corey Conners
If this were a ball striking contest, Conners would likely win without issue, but there’s fortunately more to golf than that. Poulter has a house in Orlando and plays this tournament every year, making the cut in all 10 appearances since 2011. He played his first PGA TOUR event of 2021 last week, finishing 35th at the Puerto Rico open, so hopefully the rust has been shaken off.
Conners is one of the better ball-strikers on TOUR, but for whatever reason has missed the cut both times he’s teed it up at Bay Hill. I’ll take +120 in this spot and bet on Poulter’s putting and short game carrying him at a course he obviously loves.
Rickie Fowler (+100) over Harris English
As I wrap up my GolfBet debut, I’m writing this reminder never to forget how much fun it is to play. Success in the tournament is expected of course, but it’s also a bonus because of the nature of the sport. As the saying goes, either you win or you learn, but once it’s no longer fun, step away until you miss it.
As for the matchup, English is a trap. Despite a good record at Bay Hill that includes a personal-best T9 when he was on an extended heater, he’s been dead weight since reaching the mountaintop at Kapalua. It’s a classic case of all the energy getting released after finally reaching paydirt.
Meanwhile, Fowler has been flashing enough form to get the nod. His driving was spot on at Riviera and his putting turned the corner after weeks of letdown. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’ll forever have a inspirational bond with Arnold Palmer, but Fowler also has an even better success at Bay Hill than English. He’s 8-for-9 with a T3 among four top 20s.