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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Tiger Woods may have to play second fiddle to magic McIlroy at Bay Hill

Northern Irishman can return to form

Tiger Woods is back in business but Rory McIlroy is the value option
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Sky Sports Golf, 11.35am Thursday

Tiger Woods mania is sweeping across planet golf again after the 14-times Major champion excelled in the Valspar Championship last week, finishing a shot outside of a playoff, and he is a general 6-1 favourite for Arnold Palmer Invitational glory. Woods has won at Bay Hill eight times, but he has not competed there since 2013.

Palmer's top tip
Rory McIlroy 18-1
The Valspar Championship performance of Tiger Woods was impressive, but bookmakers and punters alike seem to be getting carried away with their short prices about him for Bay Hill. Woods still lacks confidence with his driver – he relied on irons off the tee several times last week – and contending again immediately is a challenge for an injury-plagued 42-year-old who has not played a full schedule for five years.

Woods looked exhausted on Sunday, leaning on things during post-round interviews, and it is worth remembering that he was a late entrant for the Valspar, explaining that he needed to see how his body recovered from the Honda Classic before committing. This is still early days in the comeback and too early to chunk on at skinny odds, even at such a happy hunting ground for him.

Rory McIlroy is a more appealing wager at three times the price of Woods. McIlroy has made a slow start to his Stateside campaign, but his missed cuts at Pebble Beach and Valspar were in tournaments where he was making his debut. There was no disgrace in a share of 20th in only his second visit to Riviera, and the Honda, where he tied for 59th, is probably the finish which will disappoint him most.

Arnold Palmer Invitational specials and match bets

Bay Hill is the most suitable US Tour assignment he has faced this year and his form could return as quickly as it disappeared. Prior to Pebble Beach, McIlroy was in fantastic fettle on the European Tour, finishing third in Abu Dhabi and second in Dubai.

Bay Hill is close to home, four sunny days with light breezes are forecast, and confidence could easily flood back into his system in what should be a low-scoring week. He was fourth last year, two shots behind, after a ten-under-par weekend.

McIlroy's coach, Michael Bannon, had his 60th birthday party at the star's house on Monday. The pair have been able to work together since the Valspar and could easily have corrected his swing by tee-time at Bay Hill. McIlroy is going into the Arnold Palmer under the radar, with Woods hogging the spotlight, and the super-talented Northern Irishman will relish that situation.

Next best
Sam Horsfield 250-1
Another locally-based pro, Sam Horsfield, could flourish after a sponsors' invitation. The Manchester-born 21-year-old has lived in Florida since he was five.

Aged 13, he carded a round of 59 off the men's tees at Highlands Reserve GC in Orlando, becoming the dominant Florida junior. He won the State Amateur by 11 shots when only 16, then came through a 36-hole qualifier for the 2015 US Open.

An eight-shot victory at European Tour Q-School in November kickstarted Horsfield's professional career, quickly followed by fourth place in the Perth Super 6 and second in the Tshwane Open last time out.

With a European Tour card safely in his pocket, future employment is assured, and this powerhouse can tackle Bay Hill with freedom. His mentor Ian Poulter is in the field, providing guidance in practice.

Other selection
Chesson Hadley 125-1
The layers have dismissed Chesson Hadley because he has failed to make his last two cuts, but they were at unsuitable venues where his loose driving was punished. Hadley is an attacking player who prefers low-scoring tracks and Bay Hill in perfect weather fits the bill.

On his Arnold Palmer debut in 2014, he was fifth after three rounds, chasing a spot in the Masters. The rookie buckled under the pressure, carding a Sunday 79, but he is a much more assured character four years later.

Hadley, 30, won twice on the Tour last year, taking his tally to four on that circuit, which includes a victory in Florida (2013 Tour Championship). He became a US Tour champ in the 2014 Puerto Rico Open. Fifth place in Phoenix a month ago highlights what Hadley, blessed with power and touch, can do on layouts that are set up for birdies.

Staking plan
R McIlroy
3pts each-way 18-1 Sky Bet
S Horsfield
1pt each-way 250-1 Betfair, Paddy Power
C Hadley
1pt each-way 125-1 general

The lowdown

Course Bay Hill Club and Lodge, Orlando, Florida

Prize money $8.9m ($1.566m 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, Tiger Woods (eight times), Vijay Singh, Martin Laird, Matt Every (twice), Jason Day, Marc Leishman.

When to bet By 11.35am on Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports Golf from 11.35am on Thursday.

Time difference Florida is four hours behind the UK and Ireland.

Last week – Valspar Championship 1 P Casey (25-1), T2 P Reed (70-1), T Woods (30-1), 4 S Garcia (16-1), T5 J Rose (20-1), R Sabbatini (175-1)

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.

Palmer made significant changes to the track before the 2010 event, so form before then is of little relevance, and he 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.

Story of last year An inspired Marc Leishman overtook a faltering Kevin Kisner on the final day, edging out the American by a shot.

Weather forecast Sunny with light breezes throughout.

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

Key attribute Power

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Contending again immediately is a challenge for an injury-plagued 42-year-old who has not played a full schedule for five years
E.W. Terms
Sky bet