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Michael Taylor 17th Mar 2010 - 17:18

Villegas can continue rise up the rankings at Arnold Palmer

Camilo Villegas was best avoided last year as he failed to live up to his break-out 2007, this year though the Colombian is seemingly a must have in every tournament.

The world number eleven is a top of the leaderboard mainstay this year and after blowing leads in the WGC-Accenture Match Play and Waste Management Phoenix Open he was finally the top dog at the Honda Classic.

His majestic five shot victory at the Honda never looked in doubt as he finally displayed the sort of grit required to shoot low under pressure on the final day.

It came as a big boost to the Colombian after failing to register a single PGA Tour win in 2009, a huge disappointment for the 28-year-old after making a big deal in September 2008 with victories at the BMW Championship and the unofficial fifth major, the Tour Championship.

He may head into this week having an Arnold Palmer Invitational best of tied 44th but nothing looks out of the question given the unbelievable stats he's putting up this season.

He leads the Tour in scoring average and birdie average while he's among the top few in driving distance, greens in regulation and putts per round - the only thing he now needs to improve is getting a more wins.

Villegas' past scores at the Bay Hill Club cannot be completely ignored however I also think it'd be wrong to discount him from making a strong showing on another Florida course that plays to his strengths.

There is another factor this year that blows the tournament wide open as well and that's the absence of the soon to be returning Tiger Woods.

Since the year 2000 Tiger took the Arnold Palmer title six times including a repeat from 2008-09, even by Woods' standards this was a one man show throughout the millennium's first decade.

Funnily enough though Villegas' style of play isn't all that dissimilar to Tiger's, with length off the tee making every hole shorter while a great ability to scramble turns a host of round destroying bogeys into not-so-bad pars.

If this is the case this week for Villegas then his price of 25/1 is an absolute steal, while I struggle to see how it's possible for someone in such a rich vein of form to be below the likes of Nick Watney in the betting.

As for the favourite Phil Mickelson I'm finding it really difficult to find any positives for why anybody would back him at 10/1.

Lefty has hardly got out of the blocks this year, managing just one top 10 from the first five events and languishing right down in 39th in the FedEx Cup standings - three places below veteran David Duval.

It's not even as if his history at Bay Hill stands him in good stead having won the event just once, that victory coming thirteen years ago since when the course has been dramatically toughened.

Mickelson, of course, will be pointing at last week's Transitions Championship winner Jim Furyk who managed to tough it out on the last day en route to breaking a near three year Tour duck, however there still can't be many people thinking he's well priced at 10/1.

If anything I feel reputations should be ignored in favour of current form and on that basis it'd be impossible not to make Steve Stricker the favourite.

Strick is simply a model of consistency having managed five top-25s, four top-10s and one win (Northern Trust Open) in the six tournaments he has played so far this year so it comes as little wonder that he leads the way in the FedEx Cup standings.

In many ways he's a similar prospect to Villegas in that he has never quite managed to put together a round at Bay Hill but there is also good reason to think this isn't set to be an enduring fact.

His main attributes are swinging a hot putter and hitting greens in regulation, two of the trademarks associated with success around this course, so there is growing feeling this could be his year - and at 16/1 you'd be mad not to have at least a little punt on it.



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