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    2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational: Bay Hill Club & Lodge (3/13/18)

    By Frank Brank

    The Arnold Palmer Invitational starts Thursday in Orlando at Bay Hill. The clear headline is Tiger Woods returning for his attempt at his ninth victory at the event. As we mentioned last week, Innisbrook was a great track for Tiger considering the lack of the need to hit driver. His second place finish may have been the last time we'll be able to bet on Woods for the foreseeable future. He's already got the top odds on the board this week at +550 and the second-best odds to win the Masters.

    Bay Hill plays a bit like a beefed up Innisbrook. The players will be required to hit more drivers off the tee, but can still lay back where the danger lies. There's a lot of water facing the players, again, and precise iron shots will be of key importance. The greens are not overly difficult, but there can be quite a few three putts on the speedy, large greens. The two most important aspects of taking the trophy this week are long iron shots and shots around the green.

    The driving accuracy at Bay Hill is favorable to the players as most will be taking less than driver frequently, but those decisions counteract their ability to hit greens. Hence, the longer iron shots require a player to do so along with chipping/bunker play when those greens are missed.

    This is obviously a track Tiger Woods can win, he's done so eight times. However, at +550 odds, the number is just too insane and his sample size is just to small this season to suggest he should be a massive favorite. If we use this year's statistics alone, we do rate Woods as the favorite at Bay Hill, but it's still well short of the value needed at nearly five to one odds.

    Marc Leishman will return to defend his title at Bay Hill and may be getting a bit of a "Tiger bump" in his odds this week. Other recent past winners include Jason Day and Matt Every the previous two seasons.


    As stated above, Leishman is defending his title and is getting quite a favorable number this week. In previous events, we've seen Leishman as low as 20 to 1 odds prior to playing just one event since mid-February. His most recent tournaments have not gone well considering what has become expected with a T31 at Phoenix, a missed cut at the Genesis, and T37 in Mexico City.

    Nonetheless, even with his declining driving and putting in those events, he's still relied heavily on his impressive iron and short game. Leishman still ranks 18th in the field in shots gained on approach shots and third in shots gained around the green.

    As a typical good all-around player, Leishman has struggled quite a bit off the tee box as of late. He ranks just 117th in shots gained off the tee in the 2018 season. This is mostly due to his inaccuracies with the driver at 55.7% of fairways hit. A good sign at Bay Hill is Leishman can lay back off the tee if he's still hitting it wayward this week and rely on his impressive iron and wedge play.

    Other Favorites with value in order of preference: Patrick Reed (+3000), Rickie Fowler (+2000)

    Long Shots

    Jason Kokrak isn't a player we've written much about in the past at all, but he's been climbing the rankings among the world's best this season. Historically, Kokrak has been a bomber off the tee with a putrid short game. He's been a negative player in both shots gained aorund the green and putting for nearly his entire career. However, it seems he's figured it out as of late.

    At +0.351 shots gained around the green, Kokrak ranks 22nd overall on tour this season while also improving his putting to +0.171 from a putrid -0.468 last season. Surely, he's not a great putter right now, but he's much better with little loss, if any, in the rest of his game.

    He's hit an impressive 69.4% of greens this season including 68.9% of greens when going for it on par-5s. With four par-5s on the course, Kokrak has the length and ability to take advantage on the rest of the field. Kokrak is coming off of a T8 at last week's Valspar Championship and has finished inside the top-10 three times this season including five top-20s. His history of finishes at Bay Hill also include T56, T20, T6, and solo-4th. Surely Kokrak's odds of winning are quite low, but they are still a bit higher than 80 to 1.

    Other Long Shots with value in order of preference: Francesco Molinari (+8000), Brandt Snedeker (+6600), Zach Johnson (+7500)
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    2018 Shell Houston Open: Golf Club of Houston (3/27/18)
    2018 Valspar Championship: Innisbrook Golf Club (3/6/18)
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    NFL GameChangers: Divisional Playoff Edition (1/14/18)

    In this edition of GameChangers, we will utilize our Live ScoreCaster technology to review the game-changing plays from 2018 Divisional playoff matchups.

    EXW% = expected win percentage

    The Situation

    What-if Stefon Diggs was tackled at the Saints' 34-yard line with four seconds left?

    The Take

    Unfortunately, New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams won't be remembered for picking off Case Keenum late in the third quarter - a turnover that led to a Saints touchdown - but rather whiffing on a tackle of Diggs, which resulted in the Vikes receiver scoring the game-winning touchdown as time expired.

    However, had Williams made the tackle, Diggs would have been down around the Saints' 34-yard line with four seconds remaining and the Vikings would have burned their final timeout.

    Trailing 24-23, Minnesota would call on Kai Forbath to attempt the game-winning field goal. When we run that scenario through our NFL engine tens of thousands of times, the Saints' EXW% is 48.2%.

    It was a hell of a catch by Diggs. It was a hell of a game by both teams. This one isn't solely on Williams.

    The Situations

    The Steelers' pair of failed 4th-down play calls.

    The Take

    Pittsburgh converted 4-of-6 fourth downs against the Jaguars. However, it was the missing two that really cost them.

    Trailing 14-0 with 1:07 remaining in the first quarter, the Steelers faced 4th-and-1 from the Jaguars 21-yard line. Pittsburgh's EXW% before the fourth-down play call was 31% (assumed field goal attempt), but after they failed to pick up the one yard, it dipped to 23.6% - a win expectancy swing of 7.4%.

    The NFL gurus of Twitter believe Ben Roethlisberger should have used his size to pick up the measly one yard. Had he done that and picked up the first down, Pittsburgh's EXW% would remain 31%.

    Fast forward, Jaguars now lead 28-21 with 12:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Steelers now face 4th-and-1 from Jaguars' 39-yard line. Pittsburgh's EXW% is 24.4% right before Roethlisberger THROWS an incomplete pass *thud* EXW% dips to 16.7%.

    Now, if Ben snuck for the first down at this point in the game, the Steelers' EXW% jumps to 30.4% - a difference of nearly 16%.

    Bonus: a lot of chatter on social media regarding Pittsburgh's decision to onside kick down 42-35 with less than 3 minutes to go in the game. After the onside (and penalty), the Steelers' EXW% was 7.8% versus 8.1% had they kicked off normally.

    The Situation

    With the Patriots pinned back and in punt formation, a questionable neutral zone penalty on Tennessee.

    The Take

    In case you missed it, the penalty was originally a false start against the Patriots, but changed to a Titans' neutral zone infraction. Watch …

    So, to recap, instead of the Patriots leading 14-7 and about to punt from their own end zone, the neutral zone infraction handed New England a first down, which they parlayed into a 16-play, 91-yard touchdown drive to take a 21-7 lead.

    Before the punt, the Titans' EXW% was 16.6%. Had they received the punt – with presumed great field position – their odds improved to 21.8%.

    After the Patriots scored their third touchdown of the first half, Tennessee's EXW% dipped to 5.9% - a swing of 15.9% - and the momentum they enjoyed early on was gone.

    The Situation

    Instant replay reversed a “running into Atlanta's kicker penalty” on Philadelphia before halftime.

    The Take

    To review, with Atlanta leading 10-6 and under a minute remaining in the first half, Falcons' punter Matt Bosher punted the ball to the Eagles. Philadelphia was called for roughing the kicker, which should have resulted in an Atlanta first down, but instant replay indicated that the Eagles got a finger tip on the ball and, thus, no roughing the kicker infraction applied.

    The punt counted and it was 1st-and-10 Eagles from their own 28-yard line and Atlanta's EXW% is 56.7%. Nick Foles and Co. picked up 37 yards in a jiffy and Josh Elliott booted a 53-yard field goal as the 2nd-quarter clock hit triple zeroes. With the Falcons up 10-9 at the break, Atlanta's EXW% fell to 50.5%.

    What-if the roughing the kicker counted and the Falcons picked up a first down at the Eagles 45-yard line with 55 seconds before halftime?

    Their EXW% would have soared 10% to 66.8%.

    Now imagine if the roughing the kicker counted and the Eagles would NOT have kicked the last-second field goal to end the first half. The Falcons would have trailed 13-10, instead of 15-10, on their final drive.

    For as bad as that shovel pass play call to Terron Ward was, if Atlanta had the option to attempt a field goal on 4th-and-2 from the 2-yard line instead of roll Matt Ryan right and try to jam it into Julio Jones for the game-winner, Atlanta's EXW% would have improved by more than 20% (EXW% 46.0% down 13-10 vs. 25.7% down 15-10 on 4th-and-2).

    It's one of those cases where replay did its part, corrected the call on the field and the benefiting team wound up with improved odds before ultimately winning the game.

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