Arnold Palmer Invitational 2021 expert picks: Our bold back-to-back prediction

By Hennessey and Powers  

Viktor Hovland. Photo by Golffile

Predicting golf tournaments is tough enough—don’t let your mind talk you out of winning bets. A recent New York Times piece touched on the influence that inherent biases can have on decision-making, as captured by “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” a book written by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner in economic services. The gist: Your mind often works in two systems: An automatic, quick instinctual response as your first impulse, followed by a slower, complex set of reasoning. Finding a balance and having these systems work together is key to arriving at the proper decisions.

Golf gamblers can certainly relate. Are you the type to smash lines that have value on Monday morning? Those type of thinkers likely found Collin Morikawa at 45-1 or thereabouts last Monday to win the WGC-Workday Championship and didn’t think twice. Those odds were simply too high for a player of Morikawa’s caliber. If you followed the advice of Pat Mayo, who picked Morikawa in this space last week, you cashed in. If you let your more complex set of reasoning kick in, and you talked yourself out of Morikawa based on his really, really poor putting numbers entering last week, well, don’t worry—trusting your process will ultimately result in finding winners more often than not.

The good news: The experts in our betting column have years of experience balancing both those systems. We might have biases toward certain players, but trusting the data is key to finding value, and it’s what we do every week.

Our handicappers have now predicted three of the past four winners in this column—and as we wrote a couple weeks ago, we tend to get hot in stretches.

This feels like one of those runs. So read on for the advice from our anonymous tour caddie, reporting from the range at Bay Hill; data scientists Rick Gehman (; Pat Mayo (Fantasy National, DraftKings and Mayo Media Network); Brandon Gdula (numberFire and FanDuel); and Lee Alldrick (

Arnold Palmer Invitational 2021 expert picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions (Odds from William Hill)

Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Viktor Hovland (12-1) — That quad on Saturday aside, Hovland’s your champion last week. Alas, that’s not how golf works. Point is, this 23-year-old is playing as good as anybody in the world—and he’s doing it week in and week out. It would frankly be a surprise if he’s not in contention again this week, and I trust his consistency more than Rory or Bryson right now.

Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Matthew Fitzpatrick (25-1) — He does it with stellar long iron play and a hot putter. The putting can always go away week to week, but it’s never been an issue at Bay Hill. In six career starts at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, including a start as a 19-year-old in 2014, he has never dropped strokes to the field on the green. Plus, he’s posted top 10s back-to-back years here and is one of the few players in the field able to adapt to blustery conditions if they pop up on the weekend.

Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Tyrrell Hatton (16-1) — I don’t often bet on back-to-back winners, and I’m nervous jumping off Bryson DeChambeau because I’ve had too many week-early close calls, but I think Hatton is a very justifiable play at this number. The Englishman ranks in the 95th percentile in adjusted strokes gained/tee to green over the past calendar year in my database and is in the 95th percentile as a putter, as well, compared to the rest of the field. He enters with good form and putts well on Bermuda.

Rick Gehman, data scientist and founder: Tyrrell Hatton (16-1) — The defending champion isn’t going to give up his crown easily at Bay Hill! Hatton played fine last week, shooting his best round on Sunday en route to a T-22 at Concession. As you can expect, his game is perfect for Bay Hill as he ranks inside the top 25 in three essential strokes-gained categories (off the tee, approach and putting). That’s a scary combination for a golfer who has won four of his past 23 events worldwide.

Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Louis Oosthuizen (33-1) — I bolded predicted on our podcast (below) that Oosthuizen will get his first win in the United States this week, and I believe it. Oosthuizen has been really good in his last two events, finishing T-6 at last week’s WGC and 11th at the Waste Management. You’ll need to hit far and straight at Bay Hill, which Oosthuizen does—he’s 19th in strokes gained/off the tee in the last 36 rounds per Fantasy National. But most interesting to me is that Oosthuizen has gained almost 15 strokes with his putter in his past three events. We know putting is not necessarily predictive week to week, but for a historically poor putter like Oosthuizen, this feels like real progress. The putter won’t hold him back any more, and like Hatton last year, this ball-striker will get his first PGA Tour win at Bay Hill.

Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Sungjae Im (22-1) — Same handicap as last week. Sungjae loves big-boy Florida golf courses, and he loves Bermudagrass. He has back-to-back thirds at Arnie’s place, and his lone PGA Tour win came at Honda, a great course comp to Bay Hill. He’s been driving it and putting it consistently well: Now he just needs one great week of iron play and it’ll all come together for Win No. 2.

Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Rory McIlroy (8-1) — There aren’t many stats this week where McIlroy doesn’t rank first in the field. He ranks first in FanShare’s course-suitability ranking, first in total strokes gained at Bay Hill and first for total strokes gained over the past two years. He also ranks ninth for Opportunities Gained over the past two months, per Fantasy National.

Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel is HOT once again. After going up 225.30 units last season, we have now correctly predicted three of the past four winners! Pat Mayo nailed Collin Morikawa at the WGC-Workday last week at 33-1. A couple weeks earlier, Rick Gehman and Brandon Gdula each called Daniel Berger’s win at Pebble Beach. And Mayo and Christopher Powers each nailed Brooks Koepka’s win in Phoenix. Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!

Arnold Palmer Invitational 2021 expert picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (Odds from William Hill)

Caddie: Tyler McCumber (400-1) — This number is simply too long for someone who played in the final group on Saturday at Riviera, which was another tough test, just a couple weeks ago. He grew up in Florida, and he smashes driver—I’m surprised these odds are so high.

Mayo: Justin Rose (60-1) — These are deep odds for a former course horse at Bay Hill. He made strides during the Middle East swing to kick off the year. After middling results in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Rose finished runner-up to DJ in Saudi the following week. Even last week, while the result at Concession wasn’t great, he actually gained on the field in long approaches and on par 3s over 200 yards. The last two seasons at API have been a struggle for Rose, albeit mainly putting related, but he does own six top-15 finishes in his last nine starts at Bay Hill.

Gdula: Cameron Davis (70-1) — Davis sits in the 88th percentile in adjusted SG/tee to green over the past year in my database and is actually a good putter (though not necessarily on Bermuda). He is long off the tee and can be in contention at a ball-striker-friendly course at Bay Hill.

Gehman: Cameron Tringale (66-1) — Tringale has proven to be one of the most improved golfers over the past 18 months, and he’s not showing signs of slowing down. He’s earned four top 20s in his past six starts and has made the cut in nine of his past 10. He doesn’t have a flaw in his game, and he currently ranks inside the top 40 in SG/approach and SG/putting. That’s an appealing combination that can lead to some magic.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Sam Burns (45-1) — This is becoming a popular take in the industry, but none of us want to miss out on the inevitable Burns trophy-raise. He was in the final group at the two toughest courses we’ve seen so far in 2021: Torrey Pines and Riviera. That bodes well for this week. Burns is actually No. 1 in my model this week—he’s fourth in SG/putting on Bermuda in the past 100 rounds; seventh in SG/off the tee in his past 36 rounds; seventh in SG/par 4s from 450-500 yards; ninth in SG/par 5s from 550-600 yards. If he converted on the 54-hole lead at Riviera, this number would be something like 28- or 33-1. Burns keeps putting himself in that position, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t again.

Powers, Golf Digest: Kevin Kisner (70-1) — Been chasing this Kisner win since his gutting playoff loss to Robert Streb at RSM. Since then he’s had a few middling finishes, including last week’s T-41, but that one is a bit misleading given he shot 80 on Saturday (The Concussion!). He started 67-69 and was in contention, and I expect to see that version of him this week at Bay Hill, where he finished runner-up in 2017. He’s currently 15th in the Ryder Cup standings, and if he is going to make the U.S. team, he needs a big push starting with this week, then Players, Match Play, Masters, etc. It’s go time for Kiz.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Lanto Griffin (80-1) — Griffin comes into this event ranked 10th for total strokes gained on similar courses. He also ranks 21st for total strokes gained, in this field, over the last two years. His recent form is also eerily similar with him ranking 21st for SG/tee to green over the past two months and 20th for opportunities gained.

Arnold Palmer Invitational 2021 expert picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)

Caddie: Bryson DeChambeau (12-1) — Sure, he flashed some major improvements with his off-the-tee game at Concession, but that was just a couple rounds. I think he’s tinkering to peak for the Masters—that’s his main goal right now.

Mayo: Louis Oosthuizen (33-1) — Louis was a lot of smoke and mirrors at the WGC: All chipping and putting. It is nice his driving has returned, but if he’s going to win he’ll need to have a short-game explosion like last week but have hot irons come along for the ride. And that rarely happens.

Gdula: Hideki Matsuyama (28-1) — Hideki is a disastrous putter on Bermuda greens, which is what he gets this week, and even in a week where I’m not valuing it as much, it’s important. He has made all six cuts here but has lost 21.7 strokes putting over those 24 rounds and 14.3 strokes putting over his past eight here. His number is too short again.

Gehman: Jordan Spieth (30-1) — The Spieth resurgence is real and exciting, but I can’t think of a worse spot to deploy him than Bay Hill. This course was the most difficult course on the PGA Tour last season, and it also demands that you drive the ball well. In fact, according to the course model, there is only one other course on the schedule where SG/off the tee is more important. That’s bad news for Spieth, who currently ranks 191st in SG/off the tee and 226th in driving accuracy.

Hennessey, Golf Digest: Tommy Fleetwood (35-1) — The long-term stats for Fleetwood are bad. Sure, he played decently in the Middle East over the past couple months, but that’s not enough for me to overlook the poor performance in all the important metrics this week. He’s 72nd in SG/off the tee in this field in the past 36 rounds per Fantasy National and 108th in SG/approach. Those are very non-Fleetwood-like numbers.

Powers, Golf Digest: Jordan Spieth (30-1) — He’s getting closer and closer, but the driver still isn’t where it needs to be to contend at Bay Hill. Lot of water, lot of trouble off the tee, plus no course history whatsoever.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jordan Spieth (30-1) — A lot of people may well be back on the Spieth train expecting a win to be just around the corner. It won’t be here though. Spieth never plays the API due to usually playing in Mexico the week before. This course will take some getting used to, plus he doesn’t putt well on fast Bermuda greens.

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