Arnold Palmer Invitational
It was a steady week for us in the end at the Honda Classic as Daniel Berger’s late run on Sunday grabbed us a full place return and basically an ‘honourable draw’ on the week.
Congratulations though should go to young Korean Sungjae Im who bagged his first, of what will surely be many, PGA Tour titles.
Moving on and the tour heads up state to Orlando and Arnie’s place for the Arnold Palmer Invitational [API].
As those who follow me on social media will know I’m delighted to say that I am out in Florida to watch in person this week’s event and the next two, TPC and The Valspar, and it promises to be a great stretch of golf.
Hopefully my presence at the events can inspire us to get back to the winners enclosure!
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, Former champion here Rory McIlroy is a clear favourite. Rory is then followed in the market by Tommy Fleetwood, Bryson Dechambeau, Hideki Matsuyama, Xander Schauffele, Adam Scott and a searching for form Brooks Koepka.
One player who wont be here for the second year running though is eight time Bay Hill champion Tiger Woods, who according to his agent Mark Steinberg is still struggling from a stiff back and “not quite ready”
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;
2019 Francesco Molinari
2018 Rory McIlroy
2017 Marc Leishman
2016 Jason Day
2015 Matt Every
2014 Matt Every
2013 Tiger Woods
2012 Tiger Woods
2011 Martin Laird
2010 Ernie Els
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 Trophys!
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 Molinari, McIlroy, Day, Leishman, Every [twice], Els and Laird to look at.
Last years winner Molinari had only made two starts on the year prior to his victory, however the most recent of those a couple of weeks before had seen him finish 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.
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.
Of the other winners Leishman had nothing particularly in his course or current form leading in to telegraph his win, whilst Els had previously won here in the 90s but had not performed particularly well here in the intervening years.
Martin Laird was an example of a players current form trumping any course history as he won here on the back of two top 10s the previous two weeks, 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 really specific pointers.
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.
Last years winner Molinari though broke this mould as he would hardly be seen as an ‘aggressive type’ in the vein of a Woods, McIlroy, Day, Laird 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.
One further thing to add that I have noticed though, that may or may not be purely coincidental, is that everyone 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 five had all finished in the top 20 the year before.
Finaly 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 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 looks to be dry and by Wednesday temperatures will be unseasonably warm hitting the high 80s.
These temperatures spill over in to Thursday and with it bring the threat of a storm on Thursday afternoon. After this things cool off in to Friday and through the remainder of the week.
Winds could well be a factor with gusts of 15-20 mph showing up as a possibility throughout the week.
As I always so though, this could all change!
While of course it would be no surprise if rory added another API to his trophy cabinet this week he doesn't appeal hugely to me at the odds and I am happy to take my chances elsewhere. I have therefore gone with six players this week as follows;
BRYSON DECHAMBEAU – 18-1 – 3pts Win - FINISHED 4th
I shall start this week with Bryson Dechambeau.
Bryson has really found his stride over the recent weeks with all the hard work he put in over the winter months to ‘bulk out’ and gain more distance now slotting together with an improvement in his iron play and putting. An area which had looked scratchy in the earlier part of the year.
In Mexico two weeks ago Bryson putted superbly for the first two days before faltering slightly on the greens over the weekend and this [alongside of course the heroics of Reed] ultimately cost him the title. He still though finished third with the flat stick for the week and second in strokes gained total, so all departments of the game were in good order.
Even prior to gaining extra distance off the tee, one area Bryson has always excelled in is par 5 scoring and this weeks venue will surely play hugely in to his hands in this department.
Last year Bryson never really got going here, which perhaps was understandable as it followed straight on from the furore he raised in Mexico in his previous outing when caught on camera taking his frustrations out in the putting green.
In 2018 however Dechambeau showed how well his aggressive game suits this track and I expect him to continue his recent great form with a strong bid for victory this week.
WYNDHAM CLARK 80-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 68th
Ever since the beginning of the year I have had in my mind that if Wyndham Clark was in the field this week I would back him, even if he was not in the best of form coming in.
My logic here is quite simple, despite the fact that this is his debut here I expect Bay Hill to be a perfect fit for his game.
Another player, who like Dechambeau, makes mincemeat of the par fives on tour Clark ranks 21st in this department so far this season, having also finished second in this category last campaign. In addition Wyndham has shown in his time on tour that he is one of the best putters out here, ranking eighth last year on the greens and 12th so far this.
Whilst I would have been happy to side with Clark regardless of his form coming in to the week as it happens he is currently on an excellent run finishing in the top twenty in his last three starts and I expect another strong performance from him this week.
BYEONG-HUN AN – 40-1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 56th
The case for Ben An is a fairly straightforward one this week.
An opened up last weeks Honda Classic with a shocker of a day one score of 76 and it looked for all the world that he would be heading up the road to Orlando on Friday evening.
Ben had different ideas however as he put Thursday’s miserable effort behind him to go on a tear to the extent that he found himself in the hunt come Sunday, before finally finishing fourth.
Moving on to this week and as Ben now basis himself in Orlando this is a home game for him and he is clearly a fan of the course having finished 10th and 14th here the past two years.
We have seen recently how the Aussie contingent have fed off of each other with there spate of victories and it is quote possible An will take inspiration from the win of his fellow countryman Sungjae Im on Sunday. Who knows maybe he will even offer Sungjae a bed for the week to avoid him having to stay in another hotel room!
Finally we should not forget that An recently welcomed the arrival of his first child and it is quite possible that the well noted ‘nappy factor’, alongside Im’s success, give Ben that extra bit of inspiration to finally grab his first PGA Tour win this week.
CARLOS ORTIZ – 125-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up is a simple case of solid course form meets current form, which at the odds on offer I find hard to ignore.
The man in question is Carlos Ortiz.
The Mexican has really found his stride on tour this season and having made eleven cuts from thirteen starts including three top five finishes he currently sits 23th in Fedex Cup standings.
This week Ortiz arrives back at a venue, which he has finished 29th and 21st at in his two previous visits despite having never arrived here in anything like the consistent level of form that he is showing this campaign. A fact, which of course bodes well for further improvement this week.
In addition to Ortiz’ really strong form this season I also think he will take great heart from having performed so well under the spotlight of playing at home in Mexico two weeks ago where he ultimately finished 16th., and I expect him to build further on that momentum this time out.
PATRICK RODGERS – 150-1 - 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 24th
Next up I am going to give another chance to a player I backed here last year, Patrick Rodgers.
Rodgers has been on a lot of radars over recent weeks as he finally seems to have found a groove of consistency on tour having made six of his seven cuts this calendar year.
Patrick finished 7th here in 2018 and he is certainly the sort of aggressive player who I would expect to perform well around here.
Furthermore he has top 10 finishes to his name at both the Memorial and Wells Fargo events, which tie in with both Dechambeau and past winner here Jason Day, and I definitely see these as tracks which correlate well.
I expect this hugely talented player to pop up with an overdue win sooner rather than later and at the odds on offer I am happy to chance him again this week.
HAROLD VARNER III – 175-1 – 0.75pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 36th
Finally I can’t resist a small roll of the dice at big odds at yet another aggressive player who I really think should be better suited to this track, than his results have suggested in past years, Harold Varner III.
Varner III, who is known as being one of the most likeable men on tour has been knocking more loudly on that door of his first tour win over the last twelve months, most noticeably at The Northern Trust last year in the Play Offs and again only recently when he was in the hunt at the Genesis going in to Sunday.
A big hitter, you would expect Varner III to be suited to Bay Hill and while his results here of MC 34 MC hardly back this up, encouragement can be taken from the fact that he was sat in the top 12 at halfway in 2017, the year he finished 34th.
The last week or so has no doubt been very difficult for the 29yr old as a close friend of his from North Carolina, Piper Glen golf pro Daniel Meggs, tragically lost his long term battle with Cancer, and there would undoubtedly be no more popular result this week than if Harold could land his first PGA Tour title in his friends memory.
UPDATED MARCH 3rd
FIRST ROUND LEADER PICKS
TALOR GOOCH - 100/1 - 0.75pts e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 3rd
JOAQUIN NIEMANN - 0.5pts e/w - 66/1 - 1/5 1st 6 - NO RETURN
HAROLD VARNER III - 0.5pts e/w - 80/1 - 1/5 odds 1st 6 - NO RETURN
I rarely get involved in the FRL market other than in Majors or perhaps the Players. Here though i see a genuine opportunity in the weather forecast to get an edge in limiting the field of serious candidates down in the market.
Looking at Thursdays's forecast if it stays accurate to now we will start off with very light breezes at 7am of around 5-10mph before they pick up to 10-15mph for 9am and 20mph by 11am. The afternoon then calls for 25mph+.
Now it is always possible this does not materialize and a large part of me hopes it doesn't as four out of my six in my main team are out PM, however we have to play the hand we are dealt and if it does come to fruition the guys out very early could catch a huge break, Particularly those who play the back nine first and well get the tough 17th and 18th out of the way in lighter winds.
Looking at the guys out early who start at the tenth there are three in particular who catch my eye who all, for what its worth, rank highly on the seasons 'early round 1' scoring averages.
The first and the one i like the most is Talor Gooch. Gooch is in great form at the moment and the clincher is that he opened up here with a 65 in 2018 on his way to a 26th place finish. Gooch tees off at 6.45am local time in the first group on ten in what should be a pleasant 70 degrees with a light breeze.
The other two I will chance here are Harold Varner III who tees off at 7.08 on ten, and Joaquin Niemann who tees off at 7.43am.
I have made my case for Varner III in my main preview and my hope is he can start quickly while Niemann, who has struggled since the beginning of the year, is obviously a world class act who could rediscover his form at any time. Also as the current Memorial Champion he really should be suited to this venue.
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - MATTHEW NESMITH - DK VALUE $6800 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 25.5
PGA Tour rookie NeSmith has graced this section of the column once so far this year at the Sony Open in January and he performed admirably for us that week finishing 32nd and notching 62.5 DK points.
Since then Nesmith has made the cut on everyone of his five further starts this year finishing no worse than 38th.
This week finds the 26yr old at another venue that should suit his strong tee to green game and I expect a continuation of his solid form and another weekend made.
PICK 2 - BEAU HOSSLER - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED 24th - DK POINTS TOTAL - 55
Having struggled in 2019 to the extent that he required a trip to the Korn Ferry finals to regain his card Hossler is quietly putting a solid 2019/20 campaign together, which should hopefully mean he will not find himself in the same boat again.
Beau has made his most recent five cuts on tour and has posted four top 30 finishes including a ninth place result at the Farmers Insurance during that time.
Longer than average off the tee and one of the more reliable proponents of the putter on tour you would expect Beau to be suited to the challenges of Bay Hill, and allowing for his recent strong form I would expect him at the least extend his cuts made streak here from the current two from two visits.