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Rose can bloom again as Woods withdraws from Arnold Palmer

| 19.03.2014

The drama has started at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill even before a golf ball has been struck in anger with the news that Tiger Woods has been forced to withdraw from an event he has won an astonishing eight times.

Not only that, but the 14-time major champion is also far from confident that his back will be in good enough shape for him to contend at the US Masters next month.

Coral have reacted by pushing the world number one out to 9/1 from 7/1 for Augusta and clipping Rory McIlroy in to 15/2 favourite, while another Brit, Justin Rose, is the new joint 12/1 market leader (with Bubba Watson) in Orlando.

Woods isn’t the only top golfer laid low at the moment. Jason Day is another to have withdrawn this week with a thumb injury and might also be struggling to be fit for the first major of the season.

The young Australian, now ranked four in the world, finished tied second in the 2011 Masters and third last year and is a solid 16/1 chance to claim the green jacket this time.

Several top Americans, including Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Jason Dufner, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson (who has back problems of his own) are giving the Arnold Palmer a swerve as they prepare for the Masters in their own way, while McIlory and Sergio Garcia are among the European absentees.

So this looks a good chance for Rose and Ulsterman Graeme McDowell to gain a timely confidence-boosting victory – and pick up a million-dollar plus cheque into the bargain.

Rose, runner-up last year and third in 2011, has himself been fighting a shoulder problem in recent months, but that’s behind him now and he looked as though he was close to his best again for much of last week’s Valpspar Championship, although a final round of 74 was disappointing.

McDowell (16/1), runner-up in this event in 2005 and 2012, is also knocking on the door again and we all know how tough the Ulsterman will be to beat if he’s in the frame come Sunday afternoon.

An outsider worth a second look is Will MacKenzie (40/1 to win, 8/1 to finish top five and 7/2 to finish top ten). You could write a book about the life of this colourful 39-year-old, but what matters most here is that he has been playing consistently very well in recent weeks and might be ready to take it up a notch.

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Jon Freeman