Arnold Palmer Invitational
It was a disappointing week for us at the Honda Classic as two of our picks missed the cut while the pair who were in the frame for places heading in to Sunday, Andrew Novak and Ben An, struggled on day four. An in particular had started the final day in the places and with an outside chance of bagging the win and after playing the first four holes of the day in 2- under he looked like he could get right in the hunt. Unfortunately though the wheels came off after this as he was 5+ over the rest of the way, meaning we finished the week empty handed.
The event itself was won by Chris Kirk who made an emotional return to the winners enclosure after an eight year absence having battled well documented alcohol and mental health issues along the way. After finding the water with his approach on the 18th in regulation with the event at his mercy, Kirk saw off 34yr old rookie Eric Cole in a play-off on the first extra hole.
Cole who has worked his way on to the PGA Tour after many years on the mini tours produced a superb battling performance to stick with 54 hole leader Kirk on the final day and with the duo producing a see saw final round dual it was a timely reminder that events without the star names can still produce thrilling viewing.
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 the Genesis Invitational.
This year in addition the event has been added to the roster of ‘designated events’ so after many big names chose to skip last weeks Honda Classic to rest up this week’s field is a stellar one on a par with what we saw at Riviera and in Phoenix.
The market is headed up by world number one Jon Rahm. Rahm is then followed by former champion here Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler. This trio are then followed in the market by Max Homa, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas.
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;
2022 Scottie Scheffler
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
As we can see from above of the last ten editions one has gone to Tiger who basically owned Bay Hill in heyday with seven further API trophies in his cabinet and two were won in consecutive years by Matt Every.
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 win as an outlier and put them to one side we are left with Hatton, Molinari, McIlroy, Day, Leishman, Every [twice], Dechambeau and Scheffler to look at.
2021 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 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!
Finally last years champion Scheffler of course arrived here in the early stages of his heater that would see him go on to triumph both in the Matchplay and of course at Augusta over the forthcoming weeks, at this stage though he had landed his maiden tour title at Phoenix two starts ago and followed it up with a seventh place at Riviera so clearly he was on the crest of a wave. With regards to course form though he had made just one previous start at Bay Hill in 2020 when he finished 15th.
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.
Finally last years Champion Scheffler made hay on the par fives playing them in 11- under through the week while being a combined 6+ over for the par three’s and four’s to tally his over 5- under winning total. This again tied in with the Texan’s season long par five scoring average which saw him fifth in this department.
One streak that was broken by Scheffler last year is that prior to his win 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.
Scheffler though bucked this trend in that he didn’t tee it up here in 2021, however perhaps more pertinently in his previous start to his win here, which was in 2020 he finished 15th so the hint of his suitability to the track was there.
Returning to the list of winners and the other thing it is impossible to not pick up on is that of the last 13 editions if you include Els in 2010] only six of them have been won by American’s with Every and Woods accounting for four of these in addition to Dechambeau and Scheffler.
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, Scheffler, Dechambeau and Every are the only Americans to win here since Kenny Perry in 2005. Quite a stat!
From a correlating course point of view the obvious reference to me is the other big boy par 72/71 tracks such as Muirfield Village home of the Memorial and Quail Hollow while also of course general form on the Bermuda in Florida is always a good pointer.
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.
In 2021 Dechambau posted -11 however as noted earlier conditions transpired to make the event play incredibly tough in 2020 with Hatton triumphing on -4 and it was a similar story again last year with Scheffler grinding out a winning score of 5- under.
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.
We have seen some really tough conditions here over the recent years and if the early forecast is anything to go by we could be set for more of the same.
With the possible exception of a shower on Saturday we look set for a dry week with temperatures over the first couple of days approaching the record for this time of year in the area of the low 90s.
With it though comes the winds we have seen here in recent years with gusts of 20+mph forecast across the week with Friday showing the possibility of 40mph+ as I write!
As I always so though, this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
VIKTOR HOVLAND – 28/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 10th
Let’s be honest no one would be surprised if the third full field designated event of the season follows in the foot steps of the first two and leads to another win for one of the top three in the world rankings and the betting market. With tough conditions forecast again for Bay Hill though and the potential that the draw could possibly impact things I am happy to take my chances a little further down the market.
In an event then that has heavily favoured international players over the years I will start things off by siding with Viktor Hovland to finally get his first win on US soil.
Its been a solid if unspectacular start to 2023 for the Norwegian on the PGA Tour as while he has played all four weekends he is yet to better a 13th place at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
What we have seen from Hovland over the past few years though is when he takes a shine to a venue he tends to go back there and perform well there again the following year with his two consecutive titles at the Mayakoba and the Hero World Challenge obvious examples of this. From that point of view then Hovland’s runner up finish here last year marks our card clearly on this front, while of course giving us the recent high finish here we are looking for.
Looking at Viktor’s performance last time out at the Genesis Invitational and his long game seemed to be trending nicely as he ranked seventh off the tee, 20th from tee to green and 25th in approach play, an area which he has struggled slightly with earlier this season. Arriving at Bay Hill this week then in hopefully a positive mood we know from last year Viktor can perform here when it ‘plays tough’ and with five wins across Bermuda, The Mayakoba and Puerto Rico, as well as on the DP World Tour in Dubai, we know Viktor can more than handle the wind if it gets up. Let’s not also forget that the Norwegian attended college in Oklahoma where he will have had plenty of experience in the wind.
A look across Hovland’s CV on tour gives us a third place finish at the correlating Wells Fargo while over the last two seasons he has posted four top tens in Florida including his runner up here and a runner up finish at the WGC at Concession event. Finally with par five scoring key here Viktor sits an eye catching 11th at present in the 22/23 Par five scoring seasons averages.
All in all then Hovland has plenty to like about him this week and with a decent amount of each way juice in his odds I am happy to start our team off with him.
TYRRELL HATTON – 35/1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 4th
Next up if we are to see tough conditions again here this year the man whose track record in the event in recent times leaps off the page at us is Tyrrell Hatton.
Hatton memorably was last man standing at Bay Hill in 2020 when he ground out a victory with a 4- under total while all of those around him floundered. Meanwhile after a more lowly 21st place on the defence of his trophy in slightly easier conditions in 2021 he was at it again last year when he shared runner up honours with Hovland when the tough conditions returned. Basically then Tyrrell loves it when Bay Hill turns in to a major style tests.
This year then Hatton arrives in Orlando on a run of form stretching back to last year, which has seen him post four top tens in his last five DP World Tour starts while his opening salvo’s on the PGA Tour this year have seen him finish sixth in Phoenix and then a more lowly 40th last time out at Riviera.
A look at Hatton’s week in Riviera last time out shows an up and down performance with his long game, in that he ranked second in approach play on Sunday but 67th on Saturday, meanwhile he was third off the tee on Saturday but 47th on Sunday. Let’s not forget though this was only Tyrrell’s second appearance at Riviera having missed the cut on his only previous visit, while one previous visit to TPC Scottsdale had garnered a 15th place. A return of sixth and 40th then can be considered good progress in two events that quite possibly would not have been on his schedule but for their new ‘elevated event’ status.
This week though of course is a completely different story as the Englishman returns to a track, which is quite probably his favourite in the US, in really solid form gaining strokes in all key areas on the season and ranking 12th in the key par five scoring stat.
From that point of view then Hatton leaps out to me at the odds and makes the most appeal on the board this week.
GARY WOODLAND 80/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Having already chanced him once this year I will go back to the well this week with Gary Woodland.
Woodland as we know has struggled to recapture the magic of his 2019 US Open triumph over the last few years as he has been blighted by injury and then a loss of form, however he has still had his moments particularly when the test suits him.
This season his two best efforts to date have come when he ended 2022 with a ninth in Houston and then matched that effort last time out at Riviera.
Interestingly in relation to his recent uptick in form Gary proceeded that effort in LA by closing out his week in Phoenix with a round of 66 and having then backed that up with four rounds of par or better at the Genesis he does seem to have found some momentum. Furthermore a look at the former US Open Champions numbers at Riviera show that he ranked third for the week in approach play, eighth from tee to green and 11th off the tee.
Woodland had avoided a trip to Bay Hill for several years after a pretty lacklustre return here in years gone by however as someone who has always faired better in a grind it may just be that the tougher Bay Hill that faces players these days is much more up his alley and this certainly appeared to be the case when he finished fifth here last year, an event that he had every chance to win after making eagle on 16 on Sunday, he closed double bogey, bogey to slip back to fifth. I am sure then Gary will feel he has some unfinished business here.
Woodland found his groove last year at a similar time as his fifth place here came on the back of a top five the week before at the Honda so we may just be looking at something similar here and having landed his first PGA Tour title 12yrs ago at the Copperhead track we know he enjoys his golf in Florida, particularly as he now resides in the state.
All in all then as a player we know is capable of winning in big company Woodland makes plenty of appeal this week at good each way odds and I am keen to have him onside.
PATRICK RODGERS - 150/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Next up talking of ‘back to the well’ I am going back to it with Patrick Rodgers.
Patrick made our selections for the first time this year at Riviera after he found some momentum in his previous start at TPC Scottsdale on Sunday with a 65 to finish 14th.
Unfortunately though Rodgers turned in, what on the face of it was a disappointing showing in LA missing the cut with rounds of 75 and 70. What has subsequently come to light though was Patrick struck down with a sickness bug literally on the opening day of the Genesis, which, without putting too fine a point on it, meant he spent most of Thursday on the course, having to dash off course to be sick, rather than being able to focus on his golf game. From that point of view then an opening 75 was actually quite an achievement on what I’m sure could easily on another day have been a WD! Even more to his credit Patrick returned to the course on Friday to shoot a creditable 70 closing with three straight birdies.
A frustrating week then in what has undoubtedly been a frustrating start to 2023 for Rodgers as after his really strong finish to 2022 his winter preparation was hampered by an injury, which prevented him from really getting any ‘work’ in until he returned at the Amex.
Healthy again now and having decided to take last week off, one assumes to get over the remnants of the bug and to prepare for the big fortnight ahead, Rodgers returns this week to a track, which I have consistently believed over the years is one he can have success on.
One of the bigger hitters on tour Patrick has enjoyed his time at Bay Hill over the years making the cut on six of seven visits with a best of seventh in 2018, while even last years 38th was his best effort of 2022 at that time, having started the year poorly.
In addition if we delve back in to Patrick’s CV we have some big performances at Quail Hollow and Muirfield Village, which as we know sit well here. Furthermore at 24th in par five scoring on tour we know he can perform on the key holes.
Now having turned 30 it is surely time for Rodgers to fulfil the huge potential we know he has and with him being healthy and raring to go this week I am happy to roll the dice at big odds.
DANNY WILLETT – 200/1 - 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 34th
Finally I can’t help chancing again at huge odds a player we know has the pedigree to win in this company and who I risked here last year, 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 of this event, Day, Leishman and Molinari who have all performed will in the years first Major [Not to forget a certain Mr Woods of course]. In addition of course Scottie Scheffler truly rubber stamped this line last year when bagging the Green Jacket a month or so after his success here.
It is also worth noting that Willett’s best performances on the PGA Tour over the past couple of years came at the Fortinet last Fall, when we know he should really have won and the Rocket Mortgage Classic where he was fourth in 2020, both par 72 tracks, with the latter 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 Danny has made his first three cuts of the year on US soil shooting par or better in all 12 rounds while at the Genesis two starts ago he ranked 16th from tee to green, 12th around the green and 23rd in approach play on his way to 18th place. Meanwhile last week at the Honda he ranked seventh around the green while on Sunday he ranked 17th from tee green.
Looking then at Danny’s recent record here and he posted a 31st place finish in 2021 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. Last year meanwhile although he was never really in the mix he was here for all four days again to finish 52nd.
To sum up while Willett isn’t a player who wins often when he does he ‘wins big’ and as a player who thrives on par 72s, arrives in eye catching form and has performed nicely here before I am more than happy to chance him at 200/1.