• Betting Bunker

Get on Garcia at Bay Hill

Josh Williams March 21, 2012
Sergio Garcia is always likely to do something special in a Ryder Cup year © Getty Images

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It's the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the PGA Tour this week - but really everyone's eyes will be on The Masters, which is now just over two weeks away.

An intriguing sub-plot ahead of the Augusta major is the fitness of Tiger Woods, who looked to be feeling no ill-effects from injury when competing at the Tavistock Cup earlier this week. The former world No. 1 heads the betting at Bay Hill - as well he might, considering he's a six-time champion at the event.

But no matter how fit he claims to be, I'm not sure how wise it is to play two tournaments in a week, which really puts me off tipping him. Plus there has to be a distinction between the 2012 Woods adn the one who made a habit out of win after win. I'm still not convinced he's on the road back to former greatness, no matter how much he has improved in the early months of this year.

Instead, what I'm searching for at Bay Hill is three things: a good iron player (fairways are generous, but greens hard to hit), a battler (if you do miss those greens, you need to keep calm and grind out a par), and someone who's got plenty of experience of the track. This is a tough course not given to accommodating new recruits; none of the 21 rookies that competed here in the last three years managed a top-ten finish.

Williams' wagers

  • Sergio Garcia E/W - 22/1 at bet365
    Ernie Els E/W - 50/1 at bet365
    Nick Watney - 33/1 at bet365

First pick: Sergio Garcia. I have a feeling he's going to do something special this year, mainly because there's a Ryder Cup on the horizon, and because he's a changed man from the wounded soul who didn't manage to get in the 2010 European squad.

Judged by the criteria I've set out, he's one of the best iron players in recent memory, has six top tens from ten appearances at Bay Hill - and okay, maybe scrambling's not his strength, but I can just about forgive that at odds of 22/1.

Another fallen star, Ernie Els, has me excited at 50/1. The South African toiled in 2011, a shadow of his former self, yet has recovered more than a little pride at the start of this year. He was one stroke outside the play-off at the Transitions Championship last week, which was particularly encouraging as it was his second top 25 in a row. Els is a two-time champion at the Arnold Palmer - most recently in 2010 - and a small each-way bet makes sense at the odds.

Finally, Nick Watney. He's been fourth here before, is 11th in the PGA Tour greens in regulation standings, and more often than not putts well under pressure. He's also not a bad ante-post shout for the Masters - I think he's got the game to go well at the course, although maybe not the temperament - so, looking long-term, maybe get on him now for Augusta before those odds contract.

Please note that odds are correct at time of publication and are subject to change.

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Josh Williams is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk