The world’s top players reassemble in Orlando this week for another of the big-money “designated” events on the PGA Tour, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club. The field is absolutely stacked, with 44 of the world’s top 50 players set to tee it up, led by world No. 1 Jon Rahm—who’s won two of the first three designated events contested on tour so far this year.
Rahm is the +600 (6/1) odds leader at golf betting sites, followed by Rory McIlroy at +900 (9/1) and defending tournament champion Scottie Scheffler at +1000 (10/1). Scheffler is one of five past event winners in the field, along with McIlroy, Jason Day, Francesco Molinari and Tyrrell Hatton. Also in the field is Chris Kirk, who snapped an eight-year victory drought by winning last week’s Honda Classic—although that tournament included only a handful of the world’s top 40 players.
Not so this week, when the Arnold Palmer will feature more top-50 players than any event since last year’s Open Championship. And the players at the very top of the rankings have dominated designated events thus far, with Rahm winning the Tournament of Champions and Genesis Invitational, and Scheffler prevailing in the Phoenix Open.
Home to the Arnold Palmer Invitational since its inception in 1979, Bay Hill Club plays for the pros as a par-72, 7,466-yard layout known primarily for the water features that are present on almost every hole. Designed in 1961 by Dick Wilson and purchased by Palmer in 1975, Bay Hill underwent a substantial 2009 renovation that included the redesign of all 18 greens, the reconfiguration of many bunkers and an overall lengthening of the course.
Bay Hill’s signature hole is No. 18, a par-4 which requires a second shot over water to a large, flat green that regularly sees putts of over 100 feet. But its most notorious hole may be the par-4 11th, where the fairway bends around a large pond and leaves little room for error. Don’t let Bay Hill’s flatness fool you—the place is firm and fast, and demands deft iron play to hold even some of the layout’s larger greens. Over time, it’s evolved into one of the more difficult courses on the PGA Tour.
The weather certainly plays a part in that. Bay Hill in early March often means blustery conditions that make the water hazards loom even larger. Some recent years have been particularly raw, with the weather reflected in the scores: Hatton’s 4-under performance in 2020 was the tournament’s highest winning score since 1983, and Scheffler’s 5-under figure last year wasn’t far behind. Wind, water and weather all combine to make Bay Hill much more than just a big hitter’s course.
2022: Scottie Scheffler
2021: Bryson DeChambeau
2020: Tyrrell Hatton
2019: Francesco Molinari
2018: Rory McIlroy
2017: Marc Leishman
2016: Jason Day
2015: Matt Every
2014: Matt Every
2013: Tiger Woods
The classification of the Arnold Palmer Invitational as a “designated” event clearly prompted many top players to compete in an event they used to skip. Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas, for instance, are playing at Bay Hill for just the second time ever. Patrick Cantlay is playing it for the first time, Collin Morikawa and Will Zalatoris for just the third. So past performance in this tournament may be a bit deceiving, given that the field for the Palmer hasn’t traditionally been as strong as it is this year.
And yet, some players still stand out. McIlroy clearly loves Bay Hill, judging by his past six finishes: T13, T10, T5, T6, Win, and T4. Likewise, +3300 (33/1) wager Hatton owns a win and three top-five finishes, including a runner-up showing behind Scheffler last year. Matthew Fitzpatrick, also a +3300 (33/1) wager on golf betting apps, has been top 10 four years running, a span that includes a runner-up performance behind winner Francesco Molinari in 2019. And Honda Classic winner Kirk, who betting sites have priced at +5500 (55/1) to go back-to-back this week, has been top 10 in two straight at Bay Hill.
Then there are the players for whom the location doesn’t seem to matter. That group is unquestionably headlined by Rahm, who’s won three of his five starts in 2023, and five of nine dating back to the fall of 2022. He hasn’t finished worse than T8 since the Tour Championship last September, and he was T17 in his Bay Hill debut last spring. Scheffler has five top 10s (a win among them) in his last seven starts dating back to late 2022, and has a victory and a T15 in two career appearances at the Arnold Palmer.
The first three designated events of the season lead us to think the Palmer will be decided among the world’s best; after all, the Tournament of Champions came down to Rahm vs. Morikawa, the Genesis to Rahm vs. Max Homa, and nobody could catch Scheffler at Phoenix. Wild cards to consider at USA sports betting sites could be +2800 (28/1) Jason Day, who’s rolled off three straight top 10s and won the Palmer in 2016; and +5500 (55/1) Keith Mitchell, who has two top 10s at Bay Hill to go along with top-fives in two of his last three starts.
Collin Morikawa to Win, +1800 (18/1)
Granted, it’s difficult to forget Morikawa’s historic meltdown on Sunday at the Tournament of Champions. But he’s actually played very well since then, notching a third at Torrey Pines and a T6 at Riviera. One of the best iron players on the planet, Morikawa’s game is tailor-made for a Bay Hill layout that demands long carries over water, as evidenced by his T9 under brutal weather conditions in 2020. If his putting is solid—always the question with Morikawa—he’s more than capable of ending a two-year win drought on U.S. soil.
Jon Rahm Top 5, +150 (3/2)
Rahm is scary right now in more ways than one, having developed an edgy killer instinct to go along with his otherworldly game. The Spaniard heads to Orlando having shot in the 60s in an insane 14 of his last 16 rounds, including eight straight. The once-lovable bear of a golfer is now taking down opponents with textbook cold-bloodedness, and he absolutely merits a place in anyone’s betting portfolio for as long as this run of excellence lasts.
Jason Day Top 10, +275 (11/4)
Plagued by back injuries for more than five years, Day is finally pain-free and once again showing signs of the elite player he once was. His past three starts—a T7 at Torrey, a solo fifth at Phoenix and a T9 at Riviera—represent his best run of finishes since the summer of 2020. His retooled swing is still a work in progress, which has led to some inconsistency in his scoring. But the positive trend is clearly noticeable, and he has a lot of experience at Bay Hill with 11 starts (with one victory) under his belt.
Thursday and Friday, Golf Channel from 2-6 p.m. EST; Saturday and Sunday, Golf Channel from 12:30-2:30 p.m. and NBC from 2:30-6 p.m.