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At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the focus will remain on World No.1, Jon Rahm, and past champion Rory McIlroy, but while these two remain the favorites to win come Sunday, there are others that can contend for the opening-day lead.

Arnold Palmer First Round Leader Picks and Predictions: Back Rory McIlroy To Start Fast

Arnold Palmer Invitational First Round Leader Strategy

There is a fairly equal split in terms of which wave the first-round leaders come from at this event, and with a fairly calm looking weather report on Thursday, I do not believe we need to discriminate any players based on their tee times, in this market. Overall it looks like there might be a wave bias for the Thursday afternoon/Friday morning starters as that allows you to avoid the Friday afternoon breeze, but it won't affect what we do here.

For what I think is required to go well here overall, check out my Course and Odds Previews from earlier in the week.

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Here are the last ten first-round leaders at the Arnold Palmer Invitational:

All tee times are local (EST)

  • 2021 - Corey Conners (12:46 pm) & Rory McIlroy (8:06 am) - 66
  • 2020 - Matt Every (13:07 pm) - 65
  • 2019 - Rafa Cabrera Bello (7:08 am) - 65
  • 2018 - Henrik Stenson (12:56 pm) - 64
  • 2017 - Emiliano Grillo (8:23 am) & Matt Fitzpatrick (13:44 pm) - 67
  • 2016 - Jason Day (12:56 pm) - 66
  • 2015 - Morgan Hoffmann (12:20 pm) - 66
  • 2014 - Adam Scott (8:23 am) - 62
  • 2013 - Justin Rose (8:05 am) - 65
  • 2012 - Charlie Wi (9:12 am) & Jason Dufner (12:22 pm) - 66
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Who in this field started fastest on Tour Last Season?

Here are the 10 fastest starts in the field based on Round 1 Scoring Average in the 2020/21 PGA Tour season. As we get further into the season we can move on to this season's Round 1 Scoring Average, but with the top of the category currently littered with players who have played very few events, it's not yet an accurate representation.

  • Jon Rahm (2nd overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 68.95) - Low Opening Round - 63 (The Northern Trust)
  • Cameron Tringale (3rd overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.23) - Low Opening Round - 65 (RSM Classic)
  • Jason Kokrak (4th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.37) - Low Opening Round - 62 (Sony Open in Hawaii)
  • Patrick Reed (9th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.55) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Farmers Insurance Open)
  • Seamus Power (10th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.59) - Low Opening Round - 65 (Barbasol & Byron Nelson)
  • Russell Henley (11th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.63) - Low Opening Round - 62 (Wyndham Championship)
  • Keegan Bradley (13th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.65) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Valspar Championship)
  • Sergio Garcia (13th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.65) - Low Opening Round - 63 (Charles Schwab Challenge)
  • Sam Burns (16th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.67) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Four times)
  • Chris Kirk (19th overall in 2020/21 - Scoring Average 69.72) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Wyndham Championship)

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What Score Is Required To Lead After Round 1?

Over the past decade, the average leading score after Round 1 here has been 65.2. Over the past 10 years, the leading scorer on Thursday has been 65 or better five times. Four times the leading score has been 66, and only once has it been worse than 66 (67 in 2017). I think 65 is the target, given the decent weather and strength of the field.

The Favorites

Jon Rahm +2100 (Bet $100 to Win $2100)

Rahm continues to be a favorite in each market, but once again I will oppose him, especially on a course he has not seen before.

He started the year, opening with rounds of 66 in three-straight events, and he's still shot sub-70 at both Phoenix (67) and Riviera (69) but I actually think he's due a letdown week, and this might be it.

Debutants have played well in the past, but they have tended to grow into the event, and Rahm may do the same.

Rory McIlroy +2600 (Bet $100 to Win $2600)

Rory is one of my First Round Leader selections this week, so instead of repeating myself, please see my thoughts on him below.

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Scottie Scheffler +3300 (Bet $100 to Win $3300)

Scottie Scheffler opened with a 67 here on debut two years ago, to sit two back of the opening day lead, and he's full of confidence right now, so I certainly wouldn't put it past him. to lead at end of play Thursday.

I have staked my claim on Rory this week at the top of the market, so I won't go here, but I like his chances both in this market and the outright, even if I ultimately passed him up in both.

Viktor Hovland +3300 (Bet $100 to Win $3300)

Viktor has started his past two events slowly, missing the cut in Phoenix when opening 72-72 and while he kicked on in great fashion at Riviera, shooting 64-65 Friday and Saturday, I will pass him up here.

I really expect him to play well, and he was 7th after day one here a year ago and 3rd after 36 holes, so there's denying his credentials, I just think he's likely to start solidly rather than fast, and then make his move nearer payday, as the best in the world tend to do.

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First Round Leader Picks

Rory McIlroy +2600 (Bet $100 to Win $2600)

Despite his stellar record at this event, Rory McIlroy tended to start slow here, and grow into the event. That is now a thing of the past, and if he can replicate his last two opening rounds here, he will be in with a chance of leading at Thursday's end.

Last year he opened with a 66, to co-lead with Corey Conners, going into Friday and that came 12 months after the same score saw him sit one behind Matt Every, who opened with a 65 in 2020. Unlike Every, who went on to miss the cut, Rory continued playing well finishing 5th that week, before his 10th last year, which made it five straight top-10 finishes, six top-11's in and nothing worse than T27 in seven starts here,

Rory has shot at least one round of 66 or better in each of his seven starts here, which is an incredible effort given how tough this layout is, and he's in good enough form right now to do that again on Thursday.

He's not been starting particularly fast of late, with opening rounds of 72, 71 and 69 to start the year in three starts worldwide, but you only have to go back to the DP World Tour Championship in November, where he opened with a 65 to lead going into Friday.

Rory was solid enough at the Genesis, finishing in 10th and while I couldn't get to him in the outright market, I am happy to chance he can go one shot lower than he has the past two Thursday's here, and post the 31st first-round lead of his career, and add to the 61 total times he's been within two of the first-round lead.

Rory was 30/1 in this market before Bryson's withdrawal, so it looks slightly less appealing at 26/1 but given how much I like his chances, for the sake of 4 points I think he is worth sticking with.

Rory McIlroy will tee off #10 tee @ 8:27 am with Adam Scott and Sepp Straka.

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Billy Horschel +5500 (Bet $100 to Win 5500)

Billy Horschel led after day one at Torrey Pines, co-led at the Tour Championship at the end of last season, and has been 6th and 10th in his past two starts in Phoenix and at Riviera by close of play Thursday.

The afternoon starters have a history of going well in this event, and on the two occasions Horschel has teed of late in round 1 this season, he's averaging 65.0, a score that would almost certainly be enough this week.

Similar to at Phoenix, but maybe not quite as strong, Horschel does have some hidden form here, so while I didn't ultimately get there in the outright market, I instead will hope his ball-striking effort from last week, which was his best in a while, will carry into Thursday.

Horschel ranked 5th in SG: Approach last week and 7th overall Tee-to-Green, and form like that can see him contend here.

He's played here 9 times, making 8 cuts, last year being the first time he's missed the weekend, and he flashed some good rounds in that span. An opening-round 68 in 2015 saw him sit 7th, and two back of Morgan Hoffmann, and the following year he had rounds of 67 and 68 over the week as well.

Another Saturday 67 in 2017 is positive, as was his opening round 68 in 2018, which was again good for T7 going into Friday. 2019 saw him post a third opening-round of 68, this time leaving him 3rd and if he can go a couple of shots lower this time, now he's in hot form tee-to-green, I think he's a worthy play at these odds.

Billy Horschel will tee off #1 tee @ 12:35 pm with Tom Hoge and Viktor Hovland.

Cameron Young +7500 (Bet $100 to Win $7500)

Cameron Young is going to burn out, he's playing too many weeks in a row to lock in his status, and now hopefully a spot in the PLAYERS Championship. That's why I was happy to avoid him in the outright market, but I find him more difficult to oppose as the First Round Leader.

I think come Saturday or Sunday, Young could really start to show signs of fatigue, but I think he can continue his trend of fast starts.

In both of Young's Korn Ferry Tour wins, he went wire-to-wire and that was in back-to-back weeks last May, and so far in his young career (pardon the pun), he has been within two of the lead a further three times on top of those first-round leads.

Only twice has Young failed to break 70 on Thursday in this current PGA Tour season, and they both came in his first three events. Aside from that, he has posted first-round scores of 67,65,64,67,68,66,68 and this looks like a course he could start fast on as well, given his skill set.

His 66-62 opening at Riviera was mightily impressive two weeks ago and he closed with a 65 at the Honda Classic last week, so let's give him a chance to shoot at least one round this week.

Only three players that have played 10 events or more this season rank inside the top-20 in First Round Scoring Average, and Young joins Patton Kizzire and Seamus Power in that shortlist.

Cameron Young will tee off #1 tee at 7:32 am with Jonathan Byrd and Taylor Pendrith.

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Sebastian Munoz +9000 (Bet $100 to Win $9000)

Sebastian Munoz is a first-round leader machine, and I think that can continue on a golf course, where he opened with a 68 last year, to sit two back of the day one lead.

Munoz has ranked inside the top-5 in three of his last five starts in SG Tee-to-Green, including at Riviera last time out, and that should serve him well here.

I think the Colombian can contend this week, as we look for him to be rewarded like Straka was last week, for his trending form and ball-striking numbers. If he were to contend, I really do think it will be largely down to how he started, so it would be silly not to play him in this market, to add to my outright ticket.

Since 2017, Munoz has led 12 times after day one, with six of those coming on the PGA Tour and six coming on the Korn Ferry Tour. If we broaden the search a little, he has been within two of the first-round leads 21 times in total since 2016, including here 12 months ago.

He opened with a 60 at the RSM Classic earlier this season, and while he won't repeat that here, a 65 is well within his grasp, given the way he's hitting the ball.

Munoz is my longshot as an outright this week, but if he starts well and fades away again, I can at least hope for a chance to cash in this market.

Sebastian Munoz will tee off #1 tee at 8:16 am with Cam Davis and Henrik Stenson.

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Lucas Glover +10000 (Bet $100 to Win $10000)

Lucas Glover has posted opening rounds of 66, 68 and 68 here in the past and he's generally been solid on this course, making 8 of his 11 cuts over the past 15 years.

Glover has already opened with rounds of 67 or better three times this season, and he also closed with a 67 at the Honda last week.

His game is suited to this course and while he might not have the winning, he is certainly capable of going low on day one.

Glover has not held a first-round lead since 2018, but he has done it 9 times in his career overall, and he's been within two of the first-round lead a whopping 41 times, so he may well be due for another low round of the day come Thursday.

Lucas Glover will tee off #1 tee @ 12:13 pm with Martin Laird and Corey Conners.

Also considered:

Talor Gooch +6600 (Bet $100 to Win $6600)

Only left out as he was the last one in, and didn't want to be too heavy on the early wave, given the history of fast starters coming from the afternoon here. In his first two starts here he opened with rounds of 65 (to sit 2nd) and 67 (to sit 3rd) after day one.

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Article Author


Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-hosts the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on all the major Tours. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, and was delighted to see his Forest team win promotion this season!


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