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Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

Fowler set to pay his respects by lighting up Bay Hill

Popular American is bursting with confidence

Rickie Fowler emphatically won the Honda Classic last month
1 of 1

Starts 11.30am Thursday
Live on Sky Sports 4, 6pm

Palmer's top tip
Rickie Fowler 18-1

A modern darling of American galleries can win the first Arnold Palmer Invitational since The King died at the age of 87 in September. The dashing Palmer had an army of fans because he played with style – he made golf cool – and the colourful Rickie Fowler is building a similar following.

Fowler, passionate about motorbikes and tattoos, and with a penchant for bright orange clothing, is far from a typical pro-golfer robot. The 28-year-old has substance to back up his character, though, and he secured a fourth US Tour title with a four-shot triumph in the Honda Classic at the end of last month. He has won five tournaments worldwide in the last 22 months.

Two of Fowler's Stateside victories have come in Florida and he looks well equipped to complete a hat-trick in his adopted home state at Bay Hill on Sunday. Some rock-solid golf for fourth place in the Phoenix Open was followed by his Honda heroics, then 16th place in the WGC-Mexico Championship. He is full of form and confidence.

Fowler contended for Bay Hill glory in 2013, finishing third, with only Tiger Woods and Justin Rose ahead. With only one main-tour title under his belt, the challenge proved too great. Four years later, Fowler fears nobody, and there is a surprising amount of juice in his price this week.

Next best
Henrik Stenson 9-1

This Arnold Palmer Invitational looks a race where only top-class thoroughbreds should be considered. With perfect weather forecast all four days, tee-times should have no impact on proceedings, and the cream is likely to rise to the top of the leaderboard.

Rory McIlroy must be respected on a course he likes after a positive comeback performance in Mexico. This is only his second start since his injury layoff, though, and he may need a couple more spins before finding top form.

Henrik Stenson is preferred. The Orlando-based Stenson, winner of the Players Championship in Florida in 2009, also loves Bay Hill. He had this title at his mercy in 2015 before getting ruffled when warned for slow play.

His form figures from the last five APIs are 15-8-5-2-3. Seventh place in the Valspar Championship on Sunday was a useful warm-up effort which could help the Swede land an overdue Bay Hill crown.

Others to note
Justin Rose
The Englishman has made the each-way places three times already this year. He was third at Bay Hill in 2011 and second in 2013.

Thomas Pieters
The Ryder Cup star has started making an impact on the US Tour, finishing second in the Genesis Open and fifth in Mexico.

Wesley Bryan
In form on the US Tour (4-4-7) and won three times on the Tour last year. His self-belief is growing going into his Bay Hill debut.

Brooks Koepka
The power-packed Floridian has made a poor start to the year, but could easily bounce back at Bay Hill.

Hideki Matsuyama
The Japanese ace has gone off the boil after winning five times from October to February but was sixth at Bay Hill last year and is an obvious danger.

Jason Day
Form and fitness problems have blighted the defending champion's 2017 campaign and he has lost his world number one ranking.

Staking plan
R Fowler
2.5pts each-way 18-1 general
H Stenson
2.5pts each-way 9-1 general

The lowdown

Course Bay Hill Club and Lodge, Orlando, Florida
Prize money $8.7m ($1.134m to the winner)
Length 7,419 yards
Par 72
Field 120
Course records – 72 holes 264 Payne Stewart (1987) 18 holes 62 Andy Bean (1981), Greg Norman (1984), Adam Scott (2014)
Course winners taking part Robert Gamez, Ernie Els (twice), Tim Herron, Chad Campbell, Rod Pampling, Vijay Singh, Martin Laird, Matt Every (twice), Jason Day
When to bet By 11.35am Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 6pm Thursday
Time difference Florida is four hours behind the UK and Ireland
Last week – Valspar Championship 1 A Hadwin (100-1), 2 P Cantlay (400-1), T3 J Herman (175-1), D Bozzelli (350-1), 5 T Finau (80-1), 6 C Schwartzel (40-1), T7 H Stenson (11-1), W Bryan (50-1)

Course overview Bay Hill has hosted a US Tour event every year since 1979 and this tournament has been played as the Arnold Palmer Invitational since 2007. This week sees the first staging of the event since Palmer's death. Palmer made significant changes to the track before the 2010 event, so form before that is of little relevance. Palmer widened the fairways in 2015, resulting in lower scoring. Two of the par-threes (the 231-yard second and the 221-yard 17th) are tough, water is in play on several holes and there are lots of doglegs. The fifth (390-yard par-four), 13th (370-yard par-four) and 16th (511-yard par-five) are great birdie opportunities

The story of last year Kevin Chappell bogeyed the 72nd hole, allowing Jason Day to edge him by a shot at the top of the leaderboard

Weather forecast Sunshine and light breezes throughout

Type of player suited to the challenge Palmer took the bite out of Bay Hill in 2015, hacking the rough, and big-hitters are more favoured than ever. Greenside run-off areas demand sound scrambling

Key attribute Power

Two of Fowler's Stateside victories have come in Florida and he looks well equipped to complete a hat-trick in his adopted home state on Sunday
E.W. Terms
Sky bet