If you’ve been reading this column over the past month or so, you’ve been cashing tickets. We’ve been on a heater in the matchup and top-10 markets, going up more than 27 units this season. And most importantly, our experts have hit an outright winner in three consecutive weeks—thanks to Christopher Powers’ 30-1 win on Chris Kirk last week. (Pat Mayo also had runner-up Eric Cole as a +900 top-10 bet.) We warned you guys after Scottie Scheffler’s win in Phoenix … once this panel gets hot, we tend to run hot!
Now we’re getting a little bold. None of us trade notes before the week … but we’ve all arrived at the same conclusion in regards to a particular Wake Forest Demon Deacon at an event with the most iconic Wake Forest alum in the tournament name. It’s yet another elevated event on the PGA Tour—so it’s dangerous to put our chips down on one name over 20-1, but that’s what we’re doing.
Our outright panel—which consists of a caddie reporting anonymously from the grounds at Bay Hill; Pat Mayo of DraftKings and FantasyNational.com; Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel; Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com; Andy Lack of RRG and his Inside Golf Podcast; and your two authors—is all aboard the Willy Z train. Scroll down to read our best bets for the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Scroll down to see who we like this week at the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Rory McIlroy (10-1, BetMGM) — I’m not sure how we ended up here after his insane 2022, but at the end of February Rory’s already the forgotten man. Scottie won Phoenix, Rahm won Riv. Now it’s Rory’s turn. The course sets up for Rory as a drawer and bomber.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Will Zalatoris (22-1, DraftKings) — The concerns over Zalatoris’ health appear to be over after his immaculate ball-striking performance at The Genesis two weeks back. We’re always looking for courses which won’t require the winner to breach 20 under, and Bay Hill certainly qualifies. The winner hasn’t been better than 12 under in any of the past four years, with two single-digit under par victors. Although Willy Z has been pretty brutal on the greens in his career, his lag putting has been notably good, and a great fit for the giant greens, while his short game remains quite underrated. The faster the greens and harder the course the better chance Zalatoris has of victory.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Xander Schauffele (24-1, FanDuel) — Bay Hill is a demanding test overall, and Schauffele has an all-around game that’s as good as anyone’s. Although his history at Bay Hill isn’t extensive, he did finish T-24 here in 2020, his lone start. Everything with his game is clicking right now.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Will Zalatoris (22-1, DraftKings) — For the first time this year, Zalatoris looks like himself again. He gained 7.86 strokes ball-striking at Riviera, the most in a single event since his win in Memphis, per the RickRunGood.com golf database. He’s seen tangible improvements with the putter, gaining 21.07 strokes over his last 17 starts—compared to losing 20.66 strokes in the 17 starts prior. He’s trending toward another victory.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Will Zalatoris (22-1, DraftKings) — This is inching toward a community bet, and golf betting isn’t that easy. But it’s easy to see why we all like Z this week. He’s third in weighted SG/approach over the past year, fourth in wSG/off the tee and 11th in par-5 scoring, per RickRunGood.com (weighted strokes-gained numbers factors in field strength). He’s also top-30 in scoring on par 3s longer than 200 yards and par-4s over 500 yards, two huge buckets here at Bay Hill.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest staff writer: Collin Morikawa (21-1, FanDuel) — As much as I’d love to make this a consensus Willy Z week, I have to stick with Morikawa, who came close for me at both Torrey and Riviera. He’s clearly building toward a win with three top-six finishes in four starts in 2023, and if his short game continues to look like it did at the Genesis, that win is coming very soon. Bay Hill has been a ball-striker’s paradise historically, and there’s no better ball-striker to go to war with (besides Willy Z) than Kawa.
Andy Lack, RickRunGood.com and Inside Golf podcast: Will Zalatoris (22-1, DraftKings) — Zalatoris answered the lingering injury questions with a fourth-place finish at Riviera, where he gained 3.9 strokes off the tee, four strokes on approach, 2.4 strokes around the green and 2.4 strokes putting. I love buying in on players that are coming off a week where they gained strokes in all four major categories, which is the exact type of well-rounded approach that is extremely necessary at a course like Bay Hill. The Wake Forest star remains one of the best drivers of the ball on long golf courses, as well as one of the best long iron players in the field. Zalatoris has spoken only about the fact that his favorite style of golf is U.S. Open conditions, and with rock-hard greens and extremely thick rough, Bay Hill is about as close to a U.S.-Open-like setup we’ll see all season.
Past results: Ladies and gentlemen, we are officially heating up. For the third straight week, one of our experts has cashed a winner, the latest being Christopher Powers, who tipped Chris Kirk at 30-1 to win the Honda Classic. That continues a streak that started with Brandon Gdula correctly predicting Scottie Scheffler’s win at the WM Phoenix Open (13-1) and Rick Gehman hitting Jon Rahm at the Genesis Invitational (+750). Add in Gdula and Stephen Hennessey’s Tony Finau (16-1) winner at the Houston Open in the Fall and that gives the panel four outright hits on the 2022-’23 season. Let’s keep it rolling in Orlando.
Caddie: Cameron Young (40-1, DraftKings) — Cam Young is going to get his first win soon, and why not here? The Wake Forest connection with Arnold Palmer is obvious, but more so, he’s very much like Rory in that he’s a bomber who likes to move it from right to left.
Mayo: Tom Kim (45-1, DraftKings) — While he’ll likely be my pick to win next week, Kim’s odds have simply slipped too far for his upside this week. He’s dropped strokes to the field driving and on approach in consecutive events for the first time since earning his full tour card, but the long irons have continued to be much better than the field, and while distance is always going to be lacking, his accuracy continues to be elite. Then it just comes down to the putter. He’s never played API, but he’s been especially potent on Bermudagrass in his short career. You’ll likely know pretty quickly with Kim, either he’s making everything or nothing. Hopefully it’s one of his hot weeks.
Gdula: Keegan Bradley (75-1, FanDuel) — Bradley’s number on FanDuel Sportsbook is a lot longer than you’ll see in other places. He has the ball-striking to put together a strong showing at Bay Hill, and while the putter is still hit-or-miss, it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. It’s a good number if nothing else.
Gehman: Keegan Bradley (75-1, FanDuel) — Bradley putted himself out of Los Angeles, losing nearly four strokes on the greens over just two rounds, resulting in an MC. Prior to that debacle, Bradley has five top-25 finishes in his previous seven starts—including a win at the ZOZO Championship. He’s been electric at Bay Hill, teeing it up 11 times. He’s made the cut in 10 straight starts and has four top-12 finishes.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Keith Mitchell (50-1, Bet365) — Mitchell proved he can hang with the big guns at Riviera, and he didn’t have his A game on approach. He’s just six starts removed from gaining nearly six strokes to the field on approach in Houston, and if he has anywhere close to that result with his elite off-the-tee game, plus his prowess on grainy Bermuda greens, he can absolutely follow Chris Kirk as back-to-back Georgia Bulldog victories.
Powers, Golf Digest: Shane Lowry (65-1, FanDuel) — Last week he was the toast of the town as the second favorite, and he wound up finishing top five. Now everybody’s hopping off at 65-1? CrazyTown, USA. Yes, this is a tough field, but Lowry is not the type you write off in these spots. He’s a major champion, a WGC winner (remember those?) and he won the 2022 BMW PGA Championship over Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, who both happen to be in the field this week. He’s not backing down. Something clearly clicked for him at Riviera, and this is the number to cash in on.
Lack: Hideki Matsuyama (66-1, BetMGM) — This is a pure number play for me, as in my opinion, Hideki Matsuyama is a bonafide top-20 player in the world, despite the betting markets not treating him like one. In terms of pure value, you’d be hard pressed to find a better bet on the board than the former Masters champion. I love to pounce on players that are coming off an MC in which they gained strokes in both ball-striking categories, which was the case for Matsuyama at Riviera. While he fell victim to a faulty putter in his last start, the 31-year-old has actually gained strokes putting in his past four appearances on Bermuda grass. I expect the Japanese superstar to remind us that he is still a top-20 player in the world and have a great chance to pick up PGA Tour victory No. 9 this week.
Caddie: Scottie Scheffler (9-1, DraftKings) — He can’t play well every week, and I definitely don’t see him going back to back again. I’m sure he’ll make the cut, but I don’t see him finishing top 10.
Mayo: Keith Mitchell (45-1, DraftKings) — The number is just too high when you can keep scrolling past his name and find truly elite players who just happen to be in worse current form.
Gdula: Max Homa (20-1, FanDuel) — I hate rooting against Max, but his odds are to the point where he’s shorter than a lot of names I’d rather take. He’s riding a super-hot putter and is the most overvalued of the favorites, per my model.
Gehman: Justin Thomas (20-1, Bet365) — There are more questions than answers in Thomas’ game right now as he continues to show inconsistencies with his best attribute—his approach play. He lost three strokes on approach at Riviera, a trend that has become more common for him than in any other point in his career. Compared to other top players, he has much less experience at Bay Hill—playing here just once, finishing T-49 in 2015.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Jon Rahm (+650, DraftKings) — Can you stop taking the fun out of outright golf betting, Jon Rahm? I think this is a spot where we can fade Rahm, on a course that favors the drawers of the ball. There are no weaknesses in his game, but perhaps this is a letdown spot and a chance for us to finally get some value on someone down the board (please)?
Powers, Golf Digest: Justin Thomas (20-1, Bet365) — I’m normally a “if you can get JT at 20-1 or better, take it) guy, but I’m just not loving what we’re seeing from him so far this season.
Lack: Sungjae Im (33-1, BetMGM) — This is a pure situational fade for me. Sungjae Im is one of the few players in this field who is teeing it up for the fourth week in a row. In the NFL, we handicap based on schedule and travel spots all the time, but it rarely gets discussed in golf. This will be Im’s eighth start in nine weeks, which is an unsustainable pace, and we already started to see the wheels come off last weekend at the Honda Classic. After starting out the season on a high note, the two-time PGA Tour winner looked downright beat the past two weeks, failing to finish inside the top-40 in back-to-back weeks. Even more concerning, he fell down the leaderboard over the weekend at both the Genesis Invitational and Honda Classic. I expect Im to miss the cut this week, which would likely be in his best interest anyway to get a couple days off before the Players Championship next week.
Caddie: Max Homa (+130) over Scottie Scheffler (DraftKings) — Homa’s ball-striking is in an elite category right now, and there’s no reason to believe he shouldn’t keep up his hot form. I like him to contend, and this number is probably higher than it should be with Scheffler’s recent win and the win here last year.
Mayo: Tommy Fleetwood (+105) over Cameron Young (DraftKings) — Fleetwood has a long history of success at Bay Hill and while Cam Young looked good in his first start at API, he’s been one of the worst-performing wind players in the field. Additionally, Young’s short game has been in the toilet since the calendar flipped to 2023. Not great when the conditions may call for a grinder.
Gdula: Sungjae Im (-108) over Tyrrell Hatton (FanDuel) — Both have played well at Bay Hill, and the long-term tee-to-green data favors Im, so that’s where I’m going.
Gehman: Sahith Theegala (+100) over Shane Lowry (DraftKings) — Theegala is getting more consistent as a professional, making the cut in nine straight events while earning four top-10s in the process. Lowry is coming off a good week in Palm Beach Gardens but hasn’t been able to solve Bay Hill. He’s played this event four times and has yet to make the cut.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Rory McIlroy (+110) over Jon Rahm (PointsBet) — Rory’s strokes-gained numbers at Bay Hill are insane—he’s gained nearly 75 strokes to the field in his eight appearances here. We’re getting value based on Rory’s slow start on the West Coast, which was mainly short-game induced.
Powers, Golf Digest: Keegan Bradley (-120) over Corey Conners (DraftKings) — Keegan’s Bay Hill record is as good as anybody’s in this field not named Rory McIlroy, and he’s coming in in fine form. As for Conners, he’s been somewhat shockingly bad of late, most noticeably at Riviera where he lost four strokes tee-to-green, something he hasn’t done since the Memorial in June of 2021.
Lack: Rory McIlroy (+110) over Jon Rahm (PointsBet) — This matchup will be extremely fun to track, as I believe Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm have emerged as far and away the two best players in the world. It’s a coin flip to me who holds the belt at the end of the season, so I’ll gladly take the plus money on the player with far better course history. McIlroy hasn’t had his best stuff over the past two weeks, while Rahm has won five times in last eight starts. I expect the scale to tip back in McIlroy’s favor this week, who has never finished worse than 27th, with three top fives and a win in eight appearances at Bay Hill.
Matchup Results from the Honda Classic: Caddie: 1 for 1 (Griffin (+130) over Frittelli and O’ Hair, Round 1); Mayo: 1 for 1 (Meronk (+105) over C. Davis); Gehman: 1 for 1 (M.W. Lee (-110) over Kuchar); Powers: 1 for 1 (Griffin (+100) over C. Davis); Gdula: 0 for 1; Hennessey: 0 for 1; Lack: 0 for 1
Matchup Results from this season (Wins-Losses-Pushes): Hennessey: 11-6-0 (up 4.1 units); Gehman: 10-5-2 (up 3.92 units); Powers: 9-8-0 (up 0.63 units); Lack: 4-4-0 (down 0.3 units); Mayo: 8-8-0 (down 0.51 units); Caddie: 8-9-0 (down 1.16 units); Gdula: 5-11-1 (down 6.42 units)
Caddie: Cameron Young (+360, DraftKings) — As I said above, the course fits what he does well, and these are nice odds for someone who top-10s it a bunch (not this year, which is why it’s nearly 4-to-1.
Mayo: Tommy Fleetwood (+550, DraftKings) — The irons aren’t back to elite levels, but he hasn’t dropped strokes to the field in a PGA Tour event since the 2022 API, a tournament where he still finished T-20. The short game won’t be an issue, and with the expected blustery conditions, Fleetwood is primed to notch his fourth top 10 at Bay Hill in seven starts.
Gdula: Tony Finau (+240, FanDuel) — It’s such a good field that even the top 10 will be hard for long shots to squeeze into with much success. Top-10 Tony has four top-10 finishes in his past seven starts and seven top-20s in that span. Only he and Jon Rahm rank top-10 in SG/tee-to-green and SG/putting over the past 50 rounds, according to datagolf.
Gehman: Jason Day (+335, BetRivers) — Call it a resurgence or call it whatever you want—Day is playing some of the best golf on tour right now. Since the start of the season, he’s gaining 1.86 strokes per round—third to only Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler. It’s worth noting that Day has played more rounds than both of those guys. He has eight top-25 finishes in his past nine starts with four top-10s. He won this event in 2016 and has four top-25s in his past six trips.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Keegan Bradley (+650, Bet365) — Keegan hasn’t missed a cut at Bay Hill in his 10 most recent appearances at Bay Hill, which includes four finishes of 11th or better. The MC at Riviera was mainly due to his short game. He actually putts decent here, gaining more than five strokes to the field over the past two years.
Powers, Golf Digest: Chris Kirk (+600, DraftKings) — Coming off his first win in eight years, Kirk’s confidence should be riding high. Mix in the fact he’s gone fifth-eighth-15th-13th in his last four starts at API and you’ve got the recipe for a Florida Swing heater.
Lack: Cameron Young (+360, DraftKings) — I have been surprised to see Cameron Young slide so quickly in the betting markets, despite nearly winning two majors last year and emerging as the best player in the world without a PGA Tour victory. If I was designing a golf course specifically for Cameron Young’s skill-set, it would look a whole lot like Bay Hill, as the 26-year-old remains one of the most dominant drivers of the ball in the world and an excellent long iron player. I love that he is now traveling to a course that will put less pressure on his putter, and I expect him to build upon his 13th-place finish last year.
Top-10 results from the Honda Classic: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Eric Cole +900); Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Chris Kirk +330); Everybody else: 0 for 1
Top-10 results from this season: Gdula: 7 for 17 (up 17.6 units); Mayo: 6 for 16 (up 12.1 units); Gehman: 5 for 17 (up 9.55 units); Lack: 3 for 8 (up 2.9 units); Hennessey: 4 for 17 (up 2.85 units); Powers: 2 for 17 (down 8.9 units); Caddie: 2 for 17 (down 8.95 units)
Gehman: Rory McIlroy — Remember, these elevated events have replaced majors as the biggest purses in golf. Despite two disappointing finishes in Phoenix and Los Angeles, McIlroy was still brilliant from tee-to-green—losing over eight strokes with the putter during that stretch. McIlroy has gained strokes putting at Bay Hill in four of his past five trips, which has translated to one win, four top-10s and no finish worse than T-13.
Previous weeks: Fortinet Championship: Emiliano Grillo. Sanderson Farms Championship: Sam Burns. Shriners: Taylor Montgomery. Zozo: Sungjae Im. CJ Cup: Matt Fitzpatrick. Bermuda: Denny McCarthy. Mayakoba: Viktor Hovland. Houston Open: Aaron Wise. RSM Classic: Brian Harman. Sentry TOC: Cameron Young. Sony Open: Hideki Matsuyama. American Express: Brian Harman. Farmers: Jason Day. AT&T Pebble Beach: Maverick McNealy. WMPO: Scottie Scheffler. Genesis: Justin Thomas. Honda: Sungjae Im.
Hennessey: Keith Mitchell — This is a bolder call, but I can afford to be a little bold after getting a win from Chris Kirk last week. Mitchell’s ball-striking should put him in the mix here, and I love the Bermuda putting splits.
Previous weeks: Fortinet Championship: Cam Davis. Sanderson Farms Championship: Denny McCarthy. Shriners: Emiliano Grillo. Zozo: Hideki Matsuyama. CJ Cup: Sungjae Im. Bermuda: Mark Hubbard. Mayakoba: Viktor Hovland. Houston Open: Jason Day. RSM Classic: Brendon Todd. Sentry TOC: Patrick Cantlay. Sony Open: Matt Kuchar. American Express: Brian Harman. Farmers: Will Zalatoris. AT&T Pebble Beach: Seamus Power. WMPO: Collin Morikawa. Genesis: Justin Thomas. Honda: Chris Kirk.
Powers: Will Zalatoris — Morikawa is my main play, but I’m going to have a lot of trouble not adding Zalatoris at the 11th hour on Wednesday evening. A good way to hedge that is by employing him in OAD.
Previous weeks: Fortinet Championship: Sahith Theegala. Sanderson Farms Championship: J.T. Poston. Shriners: Sungjae Im. Zozo: Hideki Matsuyama. CJ Cup: Tyrrell Hatton. Bermuda: Russell Knox. Mayakoba: Thomas Detry. Houston Open: Sepp Straka. RSM Classic: Davis Riley. Sentry TOC: Xander Schauffele. Sony Open: Gary Woodland. American Express: Cameron Young. Farmers: Taylor Montgomery. AT&T Pebble Beach: Maverick McNealy. WMPO: Sungjae Im. Genesis: Collin Morikawa. Honda: Chris Kirk.
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. Mayo helped create the golf stats and research website Fantasy National along with the Race for the Mayo Cup One and Done contest. Mayo won the 2022 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and is a finalist for three FSWA Awards in 2023 (Best Podcast, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 27 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are second-most all-time. Follow him on Twitter: @ThePME.
Brandon Gdula, managing editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @gdula13.
Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.
Andy Lack is a PGA Tour writer and podcaster from New York City who now resides in Los Angeles. He hosts Inside Golf, a twice weekly podcast focused on the PGA Tour, betting, daily fantasy, golf course architecture, and interviews, as part of the BlueWire podcast network. As well as contributing to Golf Digest, Andy is also a data analyst and writer for RickRunGood.com, where he covers PGA Tour betting and daily fantasy. He came to Golf Digest’s betting panel after previously writing for Golf.com, the Score and GolfWRX. In his free time, Andy can likely be found on a golf course. Follow him on Twitter: @adplacksports