Arnold Palmer Invitational
It was a really frustrating end to the week for us at the Honda Classic as our 125/1 pick Adam Svensson who after ten holes on Sunday was still in a prime position to take the title produced a horror finish to not only give up any chance of landing the trophy but slip out of the places in to the graveyard of all good each way bets, ninth place.
Still as we know that’s how it goes some times and as long as we keep putting ourselves in position, then some weeks the chips will fall our way.
The event itself was won by Sepp Straka who came with a late run on Sunday to pick the pockets of the front two Daniel Berger and Shane Lowry to become the first Austrian to ever win on the PGA Tour.
So onwards we go to the second leg of the Florida Swing, The Arnold Palmer Invitational. The API was founded in 1979 as a successor to the Florida Citrus Invitational and since then the event has been played at the Bay Hill Lodge and Country Club.
Since the 2015 edition the winner has been granted a three year exemption on the PGA Tour as opposed to the standard two year exemption players usually receive for a win.
This brings it on a par with the winners of World Golf championships, The Memorial, the Tour Championship and as of this year the Genesis Invitational.
After many big names chose to skip last weeks Honda Classic this week’s field is a strong one with the world number one Jon Rahm, who is making his debut here heading up the market. Rahm is then followed by former champion here Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland and Hideki Matsuyama.
Bay Hill is a Wilson & Joe Lees design, which underwent a redesign from Arnold Palmer in 2009.
Bay Hill is a Par 72 playing to just over 7400 yards of the tee. Compared to last week’s venue PGA National there is more room of the tee.
The greens are TiffEagle Bermuda.
With more room of the tee Bay Hill can be seen as a second shot golf course. The rough has been grown up more around the greens over recent years so finding the greens and the right spots on them is important.
So lets take a look at the past ten winners;
2021 Bryson Dechambeau
2020 Tyrrell Hatton
2019 Francesco Molinari
2018 Rory McIlroy
2017 Marc Leishman
2016 Jason Day
2015 Matt Every
2014 Matt Every
2013 Tiger Woods
2012 Tiger Woods
As we can see from above of the last ten editions two of them have gone to Tiger and two were won in consecutive years by Matt Every.
In addition to his two wins over the past ten years Tiger has notched a further six victories here, meaning he no doubt has a trophy cabinet at home to purely hold his eight API Trophies!
Looking at this list of winners I have to be honest and say that it is hard to pin down completely an angle as to whether course form or current form has been more of a driver over the years.
Obviously if we take Tiger’s wins as an outlier and put them to one side we are left with Hatton, Molinari, McIlroy, Day, Leishman, Every [twice], and Dechambeau to look at.
Last years winner Dechambeau had posted just one top 20 in the year, which was in Sentry ToC, while 2020 champion Hatton arrived here having made just one start in the calendar year after returning from a wrist injury.
That start had come a fortnight before though in the WGC Mexico where he finished sixth so he should have arrived in a positive mindset.
Molinari had only made two starts on the year prior to his victory, however again a couple of weeks before he had finished an eye catching 17th at the WGC Mexico. In addition he was seen as something of a course specialist posting three top ten finishes and nothing worse than 34th place in his six previous starts here. This could also be said for Dechambeau who had notched two top fives here in four previous starts.
2018 winner Rory McIlroy was in no real forming coming in last year but had finished 4th here the year before, his best result in Orlando.
In essence though he is of course simply a world class act who can find his best at any given moment.
The same can be said for Jason Day who hadn’t done much here prior to his win, nor was he in great touch leading in 2016, his year of victory.
Leishman had nothing particularly in his course or current form leading in to telegraph his win…and then of course there is Matt Every….
The year Matt first won in 2014 a case could certainly have been made for him as he had posted two top 10s in his previous three starts including an 8th place finish the week before at the Valspar.
In addition Every is of course a Florida guy through and through and had played steadily here over the previous two years.
The following year though when Matt defended, other than the fact that we had the course form to go on, it was impossible to make a case for him as his best finish all season prior to his defence was a 27th in the limited field, year opening, Tournament of Champions!
As you can see then a bit of mixed bag with no specific pointer.
What has historically struck me here though looking at the list of past winners is that the event as a whole clearly favours aggressive players who can take advantage of the par 5s and this is backed up by the fact that par 5 scoring has historically been a key statistic here.
The 2019 winner Molinari broke this mould as he would hardly be seen as an ‘aggressive type’ in the vein of a Dechambeau, Woods, McIlroy, Day etc and he was only -3 for the week on the par 5s and it could be that thicker rough than usual was responsible for this.
2020 winner Hatton though as most will remember triumphed here in conditions that due to a combination of wind, thick rough if you missed the fairways and firm greens, which were brutal, bordering unplayable over the weekend and his winning score of 4- under saw him be one of only four players to finish under par. Look behind that though and the Englishman who ranked tenth on the PGA Tour last season in par five scoring finished the week 6- under for the par fives so it is clear to see where his score was predominantly made.
One further thing to add that I have noticed though, that may or may not be purely coincidental, is that every one of the winners here since Ernie Els in 2010 had played in the event the previous year to their victory and made the cut.
In addition, with the exception of Laird who finished 74th the year prior to his success, none had finished worse than 34th twelve months prior, while the last seven had all finished in the top 30 the year before, while the five winners prior to Hatton who finished 29th had all finished top 20. Most recently of course Dechambau had finished fourth the year before.
Returning to the list of winners and the other thing it is impossible to not pick up on is that of the last 12 editions if you include Els in 2010] only five of them have been won by American’s with Every and Woods accounting for four of these in addition to Dechambeau.
In simple terms then allowing for the fact that Tiger won here in 2008 and 2009, whilst Singh and Pampling were victorious in the previous two years, outside of Tiger, Dechambeau and Every are the only Americans to win here since Kenny Perry in 2005. Quite a stat!
Finally the winning score over the years has varied somewhat dependent on the level of rough and also, as is always the case in Florida, the weather.
Last year Dechambau posted -11 while as noted earlier conditions transpired to make the event play incredibly tough in 2020 with Hatton triumphing on -4.
In 2019 Molinari posted a -12 total to take home the trophy while the previous year McIlroy posted -18.
Prior to that the winning total had varied from -11 to -19 over the recent years
The early part of the week shows the possibility of a couple of showers however we look set for four dry days of tournament play.
Temperatures look set for the high seventies to eighty for the week.
Winds could be an issue at some point of the week with gusts of 15mph+ potentially in the forecast.
As I always so though, this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
KEITH MITCHELL – 40/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 61st
First off this week I shall start with a pretty obvious ‘course form meets current form’ pick in the shape of Keith Mitchell.
In his time on tour Mitchell has become known as something of an East Coast specialist with his lone PGA title to date coming at last weeks venue PGA National. This year however rather than go AWOL on the West Coast before coming to life back in Florida with the exception of a missed cut at the Farmers Keith has been on a really impressive run, following a year opening seventh at the Sony Open with three further top 12 finishes.
Last week at the Honda Mitchell started slowly with a +1 round of 71 however from there on in he improved a little bit every day until his Sunday 68 saw him post a ninth place finish.
Looking at his stats for the week Keith was ranked tenth off the tee and 12th in putting, with his approach play being the area that let him down for a couple of days.
Moving on to this week then and Keith has tee’d it up on three previous occasions at Bay Hill and he has found the venue very much to his liking as he has notched two top six finishes along with a 43rd last year giving us the ‘made cut’ in his previous start here we are looking for.
Longer than average off the tee Mitchell will relish this weeks four par fives and with a current ranking of 21st in par five scoring on tour this season he ticks the box we are looking for on that front.
Finally those who were watching the finish of the Honda will have seen that Keith was waiting by the side of the green to congratulate his former Georgia college team mate Sepp Straka on his win and it is quite possible that he will take some inspiration from that success this week.
To sum up Mitchell has plenty of obvious credentials this week that I cant ignore and I am keen to be onboard.
CHRISTIAAN BEZUIDENHOUT – 55/1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 20th
In an event that has been more than kind to international players over the years one name that leaps out to me this week is that of Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Regular readers will know that I included Christiaan in my ‘six to follow’ piece for 2022 and in that preview I highlighted this event as one where he could make his breakthrough.
In an event where a previous solid performance counts for plenty ‘Bez’ has shown on his two previous visits here that Bay Hill is very much to his liking notching finishes of 18th and seventh.
The fact that the South African has played well here is not unsurprising in that he has become known as someone who produces his best stuff on tougher golf courses with his win at Valderrama in 2019 of course springing to mind. From that point of view with Bay Hill very much bearing its teeth over the past couple of years the test it offers is very much up his street.
This season as we know Bezuidenhout is now plying his trade on the PGA Tour full time having earnt his card through the Korn Ferry tour finals and to date while he has not pulled up any trees he has played really solidly missing only two cuts in nine starts.
Last week at the Honda the 27yr old posted a creditable 25th place finish closing out on Sunday in fine style with a bogey free 66 and his ranking of eighth off the tee for the week was particularly eye catching.
In that performance ‘Bez’ had to contend with the same issue he has pretty much every other week this season in that he has been seeing courses for the first time, this week though of course that is not the case and he must be relishing the opportunity to get back to venue he knows and I am more than happy to chance him to thrive here again this week.
CHRIS KIRK 66/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 5th
Another fairly obvious pick on the ‘course form meets current form’ front this week is Chris Kirk ad I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by the odds on offer for the 36yr old this week.
A four time winner on the PGA Tour Kirk took time away from the game in 2020 to deal with some personal battles and he deserves huge credit for not only having overcome those problems but subsequently rediscovering some fine form and securing his full playing privileges again.
After a fairly sluggish start to 2022, which saw Kirk miss two of his first three cuts he has found some momentum on his most recent two starts backing up a 14th place in Phoenix with a seventh place finish at the Honda last weekend.
At the Honda Kirk produced some really solid tee to green stats over the first three days however on Sunday he came somewhat unstuck as he limped home with a 73, however we should not let the final day disappointment cloud over the good stuff he produced for the vast majority of the week and I would expect him to take the overall positives of the strong result.
From that point of view then Chris heads on this week to a venue he has consistently performed well at regardless as to his form coming in. Granted last year his eighth place came on the back of a solid effort in his previous start at Pebble Beach three weeks prior however in 2019 he was 15th here when in no form at all on arrival while in 2018 he was 13th here after doing very little in his previous three starts.
It is nearly seven years since Kirk last triumphed on the PGA Tour however he showed when winning in Florida on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020 that he still knows how to get the job done and on the back of his recent improvement and at a venue he clearly enjoys he looks primed for a big effort this week.
BEAU HOSSLER 175/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 20th
After three ‘all right in front of you’ picks I am going to wrap things up with a couple of longshot picks this week starting with Beau Hossler.
The talented Hossler has struggled over recent years however he had shown enough of an upturn, notably of course when third at Pebble Beach, to lead me to chance him at Riviera a couple of weeks back.
Sadly on that occasion a poor Sunday 75 saw him tumble down the leaderboard to a 48th place finish, however there was enough in his first three days work to show he is going in the right direction and he built on that again last week at the Honda with a really solid 16th place.
At PGA National the club that worked the best for Beau over the week was his putter as he ranked sixth in that department however from tee to green he was scrappier ranking 57th. Go back seven days however to Riviera and before Sunday’s disappointing close he had been solid from tee to green with the flat stick not performing to its normal high level. The hope then is of course that he can produce a week where it all clicks together.
Longer than average off the tee Beau is the sort of aggressive player you would expect to enjoy Bay Hill and having made the cut and improved his finish here on each of his three previous visits his past efforts have backed that statement up.
Hossler has undoubtedly not made the progress one would have expected from him when he first came on tour however his talent is not in doubt and with his game clearly in the best shape that it has been for some while I am happy to chance him this week at big odds.
DANNY WILLETT – 200/1 - 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 52nd
Finally I cant help chancing at huge odds a player we know has the pedigree to win in this company, Danny Willett.
As a former Masters champion we know of course that Willett can thrive at a par 72 venue and his win at Augusta undoubtedly links well here with other past winners here, Day, Leishman and Molinari who have all performed will in the years first Major [Not to forget a certain Mr Woods of course].
It is also worth noting that Willett’s best performance on the PGA Tour over the past couple of years came at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, another par 72, where he was fourth in 2020, and another event which links well here through Dechambeau.
Furthermore if we look at Danny’s last three wins on the European Tour they have all come on Par 72 layouts.
So we have established that the Englishman is most at home on a par 72 but what of his form leading in to this week and historically at Bay Hill itself?
Well, firstly coming in to this week we have not on paper seen too much from Danny this year that would lead you too him, however lurking behind his 48th place at the Honda last week were some solid long game numbers as he ranked 13th from tee to green, 14th off the tee and tenth in good old fashioned GIR. Basically to sum up the putter for which he was ranked 72nd let him down.
Looking then at Danny’s recent record here and he posted a 31st place finish last year on his first start of the year on US soil, a result we should note, which would have been much better but for a final round 77, while the previous year he was 18th when arriving in no form whatsoever.
To sum up we have in Willett a player who produced eye catching stats last week, has won within the past six months courtesy of his Dunhill Links triumph, thrives on par 72s, has performed nicely here before and of course can win in the highest company, all of which. makes me feel he is more than worth chancing at 200/1.
UPDATED 1st MARCH
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - RICKIE FOWLER - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED 52nd - DK POINTS 53
Rickie Fowler as we all know has been in the doldrums for a while now, however there have been some signs over recent months he is turning a corner. Firstly of course he posted a third place finish at the CJ Cup last fall and then after a slow start to 2022 he has played far more solidly at Riviera and PGA National to make the weekend.
This week returning to Bay Hill a venue he has made eight of his last nine cuts I am expecting him to be with us for all four days again and potentiall build on the past fortnight and make a higher dent on the leaderboard.
For my second pick I shall go down to $6000 and chance Nick Watney for the second week running. Watney did well for us last week posting a solid 30th place and giving further signs he is heading in the right direction.
While Nick hasn't tee'd it up at Bay Hill for many a year we know he has had success on correlating courses like PGA National and Quail Hollow and I would expect this weeks test to be one that suits his strengths. from that point of view he looks a great play at the price to deliver another four round week.