Golf

Dogged Jordan Spieth can get his teeth into tough Bay Hill challenge

American golfer Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth can build on his good recent form at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Florida

IT’S never ideal when a big golf tournament rolls on into Monday, and that was the case for us as well as the players at the Cognizant Classic in Florida.

This column was hoping Shane Lowry could close the deal to add to the predicted victory for Joaquin Niemann in LIV Golf Jeddah on Sunday, but it was not to be as the Offaly man made one too many visits to the water on his way to a final round of 71 and a share of fourth.

That said, both Lowry and headline selection Cameron Young took home place money after being picked at 28/1 and 20/1 respectively, and when Niemann’s victory at 12/1 is taken into consideration, it wasn’t a bad weekend at all.

The PGA Tour bandwagon keeps on rolling, with the short turnaround made easier by the fact the action stays in Florida for the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando from Thursday afternoon.

This is the fourth of eight ‘Signature Events’ in 2024, so the big stars are out in force to compete for this prestigious title, as well as getting things fine-tuned with The Players next week in mind.

Niemann
LIV Golf League 2023 - London - Day One - Centurion Club Joaquin Niemann's victory in the LIV Golf Jeddah event was correctly predicted at 12/1 last week (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Scottie Scheffler goes to post as 13/2 favourite as he attempts to emulate his 2022 victory here, and if he can get his putter to behave the rest might just be playing for second at a venue where his precision from tee-to-green should be fully rewarded.

That is a big ‘if’, and with a windy weekend in the offing and those struggles on the greens ongoing, I’m happy enough to pass him by and watch him win if needs be.

Bay Hill is a course that requires good management and no shortage of patience, with water in play everywhere on the long par-72 layout.

Rory McIlroy has a great course record too and will have caught some eyes at 9/1, winning in 2018 and finishing second to Kurt Kitayama last term, but he is still a little short of his brilliant best.

Bay Hill is usually one for the ball- strikers, but battling qualities will be just as important this time round, and to that end Jordan Spieth might just be the pick of those towards the top of the betting at 20/1 generally.

The former Open champion has more than enough pedigree in the wind to make him a factor, while he might have the bit between his teeth having been disqualified last time out at the Genesis after opening with a 66.

That was the latest in a string of fine rounds from Spieth in 2024, and he was sixth in Phoenix and also third in Hawaii to start the campaign.

Spieth’s long game has been firing, lying third on tour for greens in regulation, while his scrambling stats are as good as ever, a quality that may come to the fore in the Florida winds.

If he can tighten up his short irons, the world number 13 could go close at a venue where was fourth in 2021 and again last year, and where anything approaching double digits under par will be bang in the mix.

Proven wind pedigree makes Tommy Fleetwood of real interest as he seeks a first win in America.

The Englishman should get conditions to suit, and this is the perfect course for him, as shown by his third in 2019, when Francesco Molinari led a European 1-2-3.

Fleetwood started 2024 by winning in breezy Dubai conditions, and was 10th on his last outing at the Genesis. A superb ball-striker, he has a host of near misses in Florida on his CV, and at 28/1 the world number 12 is well worth backing again.

Matt Fitzpatrick was a place above Fleetwood here in 2019 and is a horses-for-courses selection in an event where has been no worse than 14th in his last five visits.

The former US Open winner has made a slow start to 2024, but there were clear signs when 15th in Phoenix and then 21st at the Cognizant that he is getting close to his best, while the fact he finished up on Sunday night may also be a bonus.

Fitzpatrick is another who won’t have any issue with rough weather, while his long game was good over the weekend at PGA National and he could get in the mix at 33/1 (Betway).

Finally, I see no reason to step away from Cam Young, who like Fleetwood is still waiting for a first PGA Tour success.

His fourth in the Cognizant was a third top-10 in five outings in 2024, while he has been 10th and 13th on two visits to Bay Hill, and was in the top five at halfway both times.

A great wind player, Young found his putting touch last week, but his big strength lies in his ball-striking and brilliant iron play so he looks a strong contender here at 33/1 (Paddy Power) in a quality-laden event.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Selections

Jordan Spieth, e/w, 20/1 (General);

Tommy Fleetwood, e/w, 28/1 (Ladbrokes);

Cameron Young, e/w, 33/1 (Paddy Power);

Matt Fitzpatrick, e/w, 33/1 (Betway);