2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational Sleeper Picks and Placement Bets: Back Tom Kim, Fade Luke Donald
Via Michael Reaves/Getty Images. Pictured: Tom Kim of South Korea plays a shot from a bunker on the 14th hole during the pro-am prior to the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard at Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Golf Course on March 01, 2023 in Orlando, Florida.
The PGA TOUR rolls into Orlando, Florida this week for the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard at Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Bay Hill sets up as one of the toughest tests on TOUR each season with it length, rough, water hazards and lightning-quick Bermudagrass greens. The course will play even tougher with winds projected to be over 10 mph for most of the four days. On Friday afternoon, gusts are expected to be in excess of 30 mph.
While I don’t see many players as having value at longer than 50/1 this week, some big names still have value in this range (although the best numbers are sadly long gone since opening on Monday morning). I’ll mention two players at 66/1 who can win this week before sharing a few placement market bets on bet365 that I really love.
Arnold Palmer Invitational Sleeper Picks
Hideki Matsuyama +6000 (BetMGM)
Note: Matsuyama withdrew from the pro-am on Wednesday because of neck pain, so now I do not recommend a play on him. He is available at a consensus of +150 to miss the cut.
Hideki Matsuyama has value at longer odds because of his elite short game and approach play. He also boasts stellar course history with a high floor as he has made the cut at Bay Hill in all eight of his appearances, including four top-21 finishes. Matsuyama also got lucky with a late Thursday tee time and an earlier Friday tee time that may help him avoid the worst of Friday afternoon's conditions.
Matsuyama struggled most of last season as he dealt with a neck injury, but he has shown some encouraging progress in 2023 with a T9 at the Farmers Insurance Open and a T29 at the WM Phoenix Open. Matsuyama missed the cut on the number in his last start at The Genesis Invitational, but this isn’t as discouraging as it may seem. Matsuyama gained strokes on approach, but lost three strokes with his putter over just two rounds.
I’ll buy low on him after the missed cut and see him as having value in a variety of markets, such as top 20 and top 40.
Rickie Fowler +5500 (bet365)
Rickie Fowler enters the Arnold Palmer Invitational riding a wave of momentum. He’s made his past six cuts and already has four top-11 finishes in eight starts on TOUR this season. He has also thrived in tougher tests on TOUR with three straight top-20 finishes at the Farmers Insurance Open (T11), WM Phoenix Open (T10) and The Genesis Invitational (T20).
The foundation of his reemergence this season has been his stellar approach play. Fowler has gained strokes on approach in his past seven tracked tournaments (and he also didn’t have tracked data when he finished T2 at the ZOZO, so it’s likely he has gained on approach in eight straight tournaments). This stretch immediately followed a streak of six consecutive tournaments, from June through August, where he lost strokes on approach.
This sets up favorably for Fowler to thrive at Bay Hill as he has made the cut in 10 of 11 tries in Orlando. Not only has he been solid on approach, but he also ranks above average in putting, around the green, driving accuracy and driving distance. Fowler also has the favorable end of the draw with a morning tee time (7:39 a.m. ET) Friday. With Bay Hill proving to be a stiff test that challenges all aspects of a golfer’s game, Fowler is one of a few players at relatively longer odds who can win.
While the value on him has dissipated since he opened at a consensus of 75/1, take him down to 50/1 to win outright.
Tom Kim to Finish 38 or Better -120 (bet365)
Tom Kim’s weakness is his lack of length off the tee, and after playing some long courses recently, I like this bet to buy low on him at Bay Hill. Kim’s past two starts came at the WM Phoenix Open and The Genesis Invitational, where Strokes Gained data shows distance is slightly more valuable than accuracy. However, the Arnold Palmer Invitational has valued accuracy over distance in each of the past four years, per Datagolf.
This sets up favorably for Kim as his driving accuracy is elite. He has been above average in driving accuracy in eight of nine starts on TOUR this season, with his lone below-average result being just 1% below the field’s driving accuracy.
His driving accuracy, paired with his strong approach play and short game, gives him a high floor every week. He only has one missed cut this season, and that came in a horrific putting outing at the Sony Open, where he was third-worst in SG: Putting — a clear outlier based on his overall body of work.
Kim has finished 38th or better in six of nine starts this season, and two of those outside the top 38 came in his past two starts, which were both top-50 finishes. I’ll buy a slight dip on Kim to finish 38th or better at bet365. He’s also among the players teeing off early on Friday (8:11 a.m. ET), for what it’s worth.
Luke Donald to Finish 73rd or Worse -120 (bet365)
As much as I love betting on golfers to play well, I love betting against them even more. Golf is hard.
While Tom Kim is short (driving distance of 296.2 yards this season), he is significantly longer than Luke Donald (280.6 driving distance). But unlike Kim, Donald is below average on driving accuracy and his approach play, especially from longer distances (which will be needed this week), are also below average. His around-the-green game and putting are slightly above average, but not enough to make up for his shortcomings at Bay Hill.
Among the 100 players in my model whom I had sufficient data on in the field this week, Donald rated last in my projections. He also drew the short end of the stick with a Friday afternoon tee time (1:07 p.m. ET).
I love this opportunity to sell relatively high on Donald after he finished T40 at Riviera two weeks ago. His game simply isn’t there. I think his over/under should be closer to 90 than 73 this week. He debuted on the TOUR in 2002, but Donald strategically has avoided the Arnold Palmer Invitational over his career as he has just four total starts at Bay Hill, where he has missed the cut three times.
With his placement opening at 70 or worse at -120 on bet365 and shifting down to 73, a missed cut still very likely cashes this play. Unlike most players, Donald is only playing this week because he got a sponsor’s exemption into the field as the European Ryder Cup Captain. Here’s to hoping he’ll get a great look at scouting the European players in the field at Bay Hill over the weekend after he misses the cut.