A wet and blustery day blew some of the leaders sideways at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, while it opened the door for some unexpected contenders to move into position.
Heading into Sunday it’s a European former world No. 1 who sits atop the standings – just not the one you probably expected. On a day when Rory McIlroy faltered, Lee Westwood shined. Now it’s Westwood out in front by a shot, while Bryson DeChambeau is the new betting favorite.
Here are some further takeaways and possible plays heading into what could be an entertaining finale in Orlando:
Westwood is in position to turn back the clock.
One month ahead of his 48th birthday, the Englishman put forth a stirring third-round performance: second in SG: Tee-to-Green, fifth in proximity and 23rd in SG: Putting (which, by Westwood’s standards, is a good day at the office). He closed with an eagle on No. 16 and a birdie on No. 18 for a 65, turning a five-shot deficit into a one-shot lead.
Westwood has only won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently in 2010, but don’t take him for an aging veteran in a victory drought. He won just last year in Abu Dhabi, beating the likes of Tommy Fleetwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick to do so, and ended up claiming the season-long Race to Dubai in Europe. His lack of major hardware is well-documented, but that likely won’t be on his mind Sunday as he looks to close out a win that would cement his spot in the top 50 in the world rankings and ensure his PGA Tour status extends beyond his 50th birthday.
Westwood has been coming to this event sporadically since 1998, accruing four top-20 finishes along the way. But he’s played here just twice since 2008, missing the cut twice, and didn’t show much last week while finishing T-61 amid a limited WGC field. It’s a big reason why he started the week as a triple-digit longshot, but the grizzled and grayed vet is eager to become the latest European to extend the non-U.S. winning streak at Bay Hill.
DeChambeau blasts his way to betting favorite status.
Bryson lit Golf Twitter ablaze with his drive on the par-5 sixth, hitting across the lake to turn a 555-yard par-5 into a 68-yard pitch for his second shot. It was an aggressive play he had toyed with throughout the week but also exemplified the tangible tee-to-green advantage his style of play can create at Bay Hill.
It’s no surprise that DeChambeau is leading the field in SG: Tee-to-Green, picking up more than 10 shots against the field. He has also gained ground on the green in two of the three rounds, including Saturday’s 68 that moved him within a shot of the lead and earned a spot alongside Westwood in Sunday’s final pairing. DeChambeau was one of the top three betting favorites to start the week, alongside Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland, and now he has some clear separation from the field in the updated odds despite trailing by a shot.
Updated odds to win (via PointsBet Sportsbook)
+225: Bryson DeChambeau
+500: Lee Westwood
+600: Corey Conners
+800: Jordan Spieth
+1000: Tommy Fleetwood
+1200: Rory McIlroy
+1300: Keegan Bradley
+2200: Tyrrell Hatton
DeChambeau’s history here includes a runner-up finish in 2018 and a T-4 result last year, so it’s not exactly a surprise that he’s again in the mix. But some of the layout in Orlando seems to play right into his hands, and it goes beyond the sixth hole: the four par-3s, all of which measure around 200 yards at a minimum, can be 5-irons for most of the field. DeChambeau, instead, is hitting 8-irons into some of them. He’s able to air it out off the tee on Nos. 4 and 12, and took a Bryson-only line across the corner Friday on No. 10.
It’ll be interesting to see what he does Sunday on the sixth tee, with winds possibly kicking up from a new direction. But if the putter remains even somewhat cooperative it seems some of the inherent advantages he enjoys here will ensure he remains in the mix to the bitter end.
Regression strikes some leaders – even McIlroy.
All good things must come to an end. McIlroy has led a PGA Tour event in SG: Putting just once, his win here back in 2018. He held the top spot through 36 holes on the greens but faltered Saturday, dropping more than a shot to the field while ranking 56th out of 72 players. His approach game (67th) also faltered in a big way, and now he’s four shots adrift after a disappointing 72.
But he wasn’t the only player in the mix through 36 holes who regressed to the mean in Round 3. Martin Laird led the field in SG: Tee-to-Green and promptly hit his opening tee shot out of bounds Saturday, leading to the first of three double bogeys and a 76. Even Corey Conners, who sits in a tie for second at 10 under, has seen his iron game slow since an opening 66 in which he set a season-high on Tour for SG: Approach. He has ranked 59th and 53rd in the category the last two days, including losing more than a shot to the field during Saturday’s 71.
Regression has worked in a positive direction for a pair of Brits: after ranking 53rd in SG: Tee-to-Green on Thursday, Tyrrell Hatton has been third in the category each of the last two rounds while shooting 77-67-66. Likewise, Tommy Fleetwood has seen a complete turnaround off the tee: 106th in SG: OTT Thursday, sixth in the category Saturday. He’s very much in the mix, three shots back after three straight rounds of 70 or better.
The Spieth Experience rolls right along.
Strokes Gained data sometimes has its limitations. Case in point is Spieth’s third round at Bay Hill, as it’s difficult to effectively paint a quantified picture on a day when he had an ace, holed a bunker shot and made nearly everything in sight for the first 10 holes.
Spieth had a disappointing close to his round, and overall his play off the tee left plenty to be desired. But with a red-hot putter leading the way and thanks in part to a few key hole-outs, he’s still in position to contend for that breakthrough victory and trails Westwood by two shots.
Spieth has struggled off the tee in two of his three rounds this week during his Bay Hill debut, and the wild ebbs and flows still make it difficult to endorse him to win at +800 odds. But, it’s certainly a loftier price than he was last month in Phoenix or Pebble Beach, and there’s no question that the watershed win is coming soon. He just might need a few more timely hole-outs Sunday to make it happen in his first trip around the Home of the King.
Round 4 Buy
Keegan Bradley. I’m on DeChambeau to win at +1200 and Fleetwood for a top-10 at +400 from before the tournament, so I’m not looking to dabble too much beyond that. But Bradley might be worth a sprinkle at +1300, even though it’s always tough to back up a low round with another one.
The former PGA champ led the field Saturday in SG: Tee-to-Green, firing an 8-under 64 that’s the low round of the week. He has an impressive record in Orlando, one that includes nine straight made cuts, a T-3 finish in 2013 and a runner-up in 2014. It’s clearly a place where he feels comfortable. This leaderboard is littered with ball-strikers who are often slowed by the putter, Bradley inclusive. But the price is significantly more enticing than the one offered for Spieth, his counterpart at 9 under. Bradley’s just two shots back of a leader who isn’t exactly the best frontrunner, and at +1300 I see some upside. I could also see grabbing him at +121 in his two-ball against Conners.
Round 4 Fade
Jason Day. This one is a matchup that definitely has my attention, combining a player I’ve been high on all week (Jason Kokrak) against the Aussie who picked up more than 2.5 shots on the greens Saturday. Day led the field in SG: Off-the-Tee, which isn’t exactly surprising, but he was also third in SG: Putting after failing to crack the top 50 in either of the first two rounds. His iron play has been mediocre at best, never better than 42nd in SG: Approach in any single round, and his margin for error in the final round could be thin as a result. Kokrak on the other hand has been rock solid tee-to-green, stumbling only with a miserable day on the greens Friday before bouncing back Saturday with a 3-under 69. Kokrak has been 16th or better in SG: Tee-to-Green in all three rounds this week and should continue to create plenty of opportunities. Day may have the higher ceiling, but Kokrak definitely has the higher floor and gets the nod for me at +109 in their Sunday matchup.
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