Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
After a tough examination at the Honda Classic, a stellar field will this week face a less severe examination on the Florida swing at Bay Hill Golf Club and Lodge. Tiger Woods will have to wait for the chance to win this tournament for the ninth time after pulling out with a neck injury.
Taking advantage of the four par fives is crucial at the 7,454-yard par 72. Strong putting on the Bermuda greens will also be required to win this week in Orlando.
Rory McIlroy comes in as the defending champion and the favourite has a great chance of retaining the title this week. The Northern Irish golfer has started this season exceptionally well with four consecutive top five finishes, including second place on his last start at the WGC Mexico Championship. He is 56-under-par this year with 12 of his 16 rounds in the 60s.
McIlroy will be heading back to Bay Hill with a huge amount of confidence. All facets of his game are in superb shape. The four-time major champion’s decision to focus on playing in America at the start of this year appears to have paid off. A softened course, after rain in the build-up, only plays into his hands. McIlroy shot 13-under-par over the weekend 12 months ago to win the title and was tied fourth in 2017. Expect more fireworks this week and McIlroy looks bound to contend again at 7/1.
Bryson DeChambeau is the most prolific winner in the world over the last year and the American is fancied to challenge for a sixth PGA Tour title this weekend. With five victories since last June, DeChambeau has become one of the most confident closers in the game. He started the new season with a win in Las Vegas and claimed his first European Tour title after a dominant seven-shot win at the Dubai Desert Classic in January. With four wins from his last 12 tournaments, he is heading right to the top of the game.
DeChambeau performed superbly at Bay Hill last season to finish second with only McIlroy’s brilliance denying him victory. It was his second appearance at the event, with a closing 66 for a top-30 finish impressive form as an amateur back in 2016. The 25-year-old has never competed at the tournament with as much confidence as he now possesses and a bold title challenge is anticipated. With his current win ratio, generous odds of 16/1 have to be snapped up on DeChambeau.
Henrik Stenson has had plenty of near misses at this tournament in recent years. A return to Florida could help the Swede rediscover top form. In the last six years at Bay Hill, Stenson has finished inside the top eight five times including second place in 2015 and third in 2016. An opening round of 64, 12 months ago, saw him surge to the top of the leaderboard before eventually taking fourth place.
It has been a slow start to the season for the 42-year-old but he was fourth at the Hero World Challenge and the Indonesian Masters in December. It should not take too much for Stenson to get back into contention. Heading back to Bay Hill should bring out the best in the 2016 Open champion and his price has drifted to a tempting 50/1 each way.
Cameron Champ burst onto the scene with a brilliant start to life on the PGA Tour at the beginning of this season. The 23-year-old won his maiden title at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October. His phenomenal power continued to yield impressive results with top tens in Mexico and at the RSM Classic.
Champ has had to adapt to the hype surrounding him and a quiet start to the season is no concern. His first start at Bay Hill should produce plenty of birdies with his length off the tee, ranked second on tour for driving distance, a huge advantage on the par fives. His PGA victory came on Bermuda greens and he should be comfortable on these slick putting surfaces. This looks a good opportunity to back Champ at a big price with 80/1 on offer.
Aaron Wise is another player with huge potential. The American could get into contention at fancy odds on his second tournament visit this year. Wise immediately shone at Bay Hill 12 months ago after a superb opening round of 65. The 22-year-old could not back this up as he finished just outside the top 40 but it was still a promising debut at the course.
Wise returns a PGA Tour winner after his victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May and there will surely be plenty more victories to come. A tie for sixth at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational last year was top class form. He was also runner-up at the Wells Fargo Championship – performances which helped him win the rookie of the year award. There were promising signs on his last start at the WGC Mexico Championship, with a top 20 finish. Wise looks overpriced at 125/1.
Rory McIlroy each way 7/1
Bryson DeChambeau each way 16/1
Henrik Stenson each way 50/1
Cameron Champ each way 80/1
Aaron Wise each way 125/1