Inside the Ropes
Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard
Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge, Orlando, Fla.
Par: 72 (36-36)
Average green size: 6,500 square feet
Stimpmeter: 12 feet
Water Hazards: 7
Course Architect: Dick Wilson and Joe Lee (1961); Arnold Palmer and Unlimited Design (2009)
Notes: Bermudagrasas and Poa trivialis greens; Bermudagrass and ryegrass fairways and rough.
Winner’s Share: $1,080,000 and 500 FedExCup Points
Defending Champion: Martin Laird held off runner-up Steve Marino by one shot.
Date: Mar 22-25
1979 was the first year for the tournament to be played at Bay Hill and was set up as an full-field open. In 1984, the tournament became invitation-only to reduce the field and increase the quality. In 2012, this is no exception as 24 of the top 50 in the OWGR are playing this week.
This is not the week for first-time winners as only Loren Roberts (1994), Paul Goydos (1996) and Tim Herron (1999) have broke their maidens at Bay Hill.
Nine of the 24 of the winners at Bay Hill have been major champions.
Eight of the 13 winners this year on Tour won when they were ranked in the top 50 OWGR.
Eight of the 13 winners this year on Tour played in the 2011 Tour Championship.
After 13 tournaments this season, the young guys are leading the old guys, 8-2-3. The young contingent, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan (29), Rory McIlroy (22) and Justin Rose are flying the flag for the young ‘uns. Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36) and Luke Donald (34) are the “three” in the middle. Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41) are the “old” guys who have hit the winner’s circle this year.
Tiger Woods (multiple times) and Loren Roberts (1994, 1995) are the only players to successfully defend their crowns at Bay Hill.
Tiger Woods (six times) and Ernie Els (twice) are the only multiple winners of this event in this week’s field.
There have been zero multiple winners on Tour in 2012.
So What? So Let’s Dance!
The course has everything Arnold Palmer admires in a golf course; wide open fairways that provide plenty of room to swing the driver, risk/reward options that will tempt the go-for-broke player and multiple rows of bunkers protecting spacious and well-defined greens. –Courtesy of the GCSAA
With heavily bunkered and tiered greens, accurate iron play and confident putting is a must this week. Ask Steve Marino if you don’t believe me as he had plugged lies in bunkers coming down the stretch last year as he fell to Martin Laird by a shot. The greens will be running fast, 12 on the Stimpmeter this week, and combined with the wind this time of year in Florida, guys will have to fully concentrate to hole putts.
Bay Hill was ranked the eighth most-difficult course in relation to par in 2011 and that includes the majors as well. Since the course was redesigned in 2009 and reverted back to par 72, Bay Hill has been in the top 10 hardest courses the last three years.
The top four choices this week:
Bubba Watson: After narrowly missing putts on 17 and 18 his last time out at WGC-CC to finish second, I believe Watson is ready to break through in 2012. In five stroke-play events this year, his worst finish was T18 at the season opening HTOC. He’s gone on to finish T13 FIO, T5 WMPO, T13 NTO and second his last time out. He’ll be able to swing his driver and his GIR is number one on Tour. The putter has always been the question with Watson but after a week off, he’ll be ready to go. Watson has made three of six cuts at Bay Hill and his best finish is T8 in 2008.
Jim Furyk: It looks like the crafty veteran is ready to hit his stride in 2012 and his history at Bay Hill would support this argument. After being knocked out in the first round of WGC-Match Play and being cut at Honda, Furyk rallied with three rounds in the 60’s last week in a P2 at TC. Up to this point in 2012, Furyk’s only big finish was T11 NTO. In his last two trips to Bay Hill he’s finished T9 in 2011 and T11 in 2010. Furyk is currently carrying the “haven’t won on Tour since winning the FedExCup” burden that also applies to Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods. Bill Haas proved this “curse” doesn’t last forever with his win earlier this year at NTO.
Justin Rose: After hearing Sean Foley remark that Rose was the best iron player in his stable, my attention was had. Sean Foley knows his onions and Rose’s play lately has backed up those thoughts. His last three stroke-play outings are T29, WIN and T5. Rose carded 67-70-75-66 last week. The 75 included two double bogeys so that was hardly a patch of bad golf, rather two bad holes. His record at Bay Hill reinforces my belief of success this week as he was T3 last year and T8 in 2006. The Orlando resident should feel right at home and has a great chance to become the first multiple winner on Tour this season.
Bo Van Pelt: If I asked you before you read this column what golfer had the most top 10’s on Tour this season, would you have answered Bo Van Pelt? If you read this column regularly, you would have. He’s fifth in the all-around category and is third in strokes gained-putting. He’s done everything but win (and win a match in match-play) in stroke-play events this season. His record at Bay Hill is just as steady as his play as he’s made the cut in all seven appearances, including top 25’s three times. He finished T30 last year because he played the 17th hole four-over-par for the week (double-bogey on Friday and Sunday). Bo Van Pelt WD Tuesday night. Please change your rosters accordingly.
K.J. Choi: The last two years here he’s finished T6 and T17. Those results are better than anything that he’s had on Tour in full-field events in 2012. His record here combined with six birdies made last Sunday leads me to believe that he’ll be in contention this weekend.
Sergio Garcia: Six top 10’s in 10 career starts at Bay Hill has Garcia on my list this week. His iron game plus his familiarity with the course should be an advantage this week. Plus, he comes to Bay Hill in a positive frame of mind as he had four rounds of par or better last week in finishing T16 at TC. He was eighth alone last year at Bay Hill
Jeff Overton: Overton is heating up during the Florida swing in 2012. He finished T18 at Honda, stepped out to finishT14 at PRO and finished T5 at TC last week. A solid putter who likes playing the difficult courses, Overton is looking to get back to his 2010 form that put him on the Ryder Cup team. He was CUT last year and T48 in 2009 in his only two appearances but his recent form is what I’m following.
Tiger Woods: The man has won this tournament a record six times. The last time he played 72 holes in a tournament he closed with a 62 and finished second. Watching him play the Tavistock Cup, it didn’t look like he had any health issues. He left me hanging at WGC-CC, but I’ll give him another chance at a course he’s dominated in the past.
Phil Mickelson: After finishing WIN at AT&T and P2 at NTO, Phil was off for family vacation. He returned two weeks later at the WGC-CC and failed to break 70 on one of the easiest courses on Tour this year. Usually, it’s Phil’s putting that tends to let him down, but that was not the case at Doral. He can let it rip this week off the tee and his short game and putting has been solid this year.
Brandt Snedeker: He had a strong finish, five-under, on the weekend last week at TC to finish T29. Snedeker has three top 10’s in 2012 and an excellent short game which can help on a course like Bay Hill. He’s made four of the last five cuts here going MC, T30, T17, T14 and T22.
Ben Crane: After three non-descript tournament run (WGC-Match Play, Honda, WGC-CC), Crane took last week off and should be ready to go at Bay Hill. Anyone who putts as well as Crane cannot be overlooked this week as putting at Bay Hill will separate the field.
Hunter Mahan: An excellent iron player who has not been worse than T24 this season in stroke-play. In match play, he’s undefeated. Mahan’s putting has been much better in 2012 helping him get off to a fantastic start in only five events. He’s made six of eight cuts and his best finish is T6 in 2008.
Webb Simpson: Every week he tees it up he seems to be in contention because Simpson is a GIR machine, currently 10th on Tour. This has led to 13 straight cuts for Simpson. Simpson has struggled with hitting fairways this season but that shouldn’t be a problem this week at Bay Hill. Only two rounds over 72 out of twenty this season. His last two full-field stroke-play events have resulted in T8 and T10. These factors will wipe out the fact that he’s only made two cuts in five of the last six years. His best finish at Bay Hill is T11 in 2009.
Ernie Els: The former two-time champion has been playing some of his best golf lately and I’m going to ride the wave. After knocking off Luke Donald at WGC-Match Play, Els backed that up with solid T21 at Honda. Els had a two-shot lead heading into 17 last weekend before finishing bogey-bogey to miss the playoff at TC. I’m playing the hot hand this week as he’s had six top 25’s career at Bay Hill.
Graeme McDowell: In his last two stroke-play events, McDowell has dug himself some nice holes. At Honda, he opened with 73 before tying, at the time, the course record (64) in the second round to get back into contention. He finished the weekend with two rounds under-par as well and finished T9. The following week he played the WGC-CC and got off to a terrible start there as well, firing 75 to open. He backed that up with back-to-back 67’s before closing on Sunday with 70 to finish T13. He’s close to putting it all together.
Sean O’Hair: What a difference a week makes. Last week, he was on my list of players to avoid at TC and came through with flying colors as he MC. His record at Bay Hill has me interested this week. In his last five starts here (WD his first time) he’s been CUT, T21, second, T3 and T14. His best finish of 2012 is T2 in his second event at Sony and hasn’t been better than T29 in the four events after. Horse for course pick here.
Michael Thompson: Thompson has made four cuts on the bounce, six of eight this year, and he’s one of the more solid putters on Tour. His last four times out he’s been T17, T46, T47 and T16 last week after a final round 67. He’s ranked ninth in total putting on Tour.
Pat Perez: He’s made seven out of seven cuts on Tour this year and that includes four top 25’s. His record at Bay Hill is even better than that as he has made nine cuts in nine starts, including finishing three times in the top 10. His best finish was T4 in 2009. He’s currently 14th in total putting on Tour.
Johnson Wagner: The mid-winter lull is over as Wagner hit the board with a T13 at WGC-CC two weeks ago. People have already forgotten he has won, T2, T9, T13 and T24 in 8 events. He’s made two of three cuts at Bay Hill in his career, both times finishing T30. He’s also T20 in scrambling and T12 in strokes gained-putting.
Henrik Stenson: The former TPC champ is working his game back into shape after a rough period of illness and injury. He began his 2012 Tour season with a T21 at Honda and backed that up a week later with a T3 at PRO. Form play in such a high-powered field is a bit of stretch, but each week, I like an “out-there” pick or two.
Spencer Levin: Similar to Johnson Wagner, Levin has been out of sight, out of mind but has had an excellent start to 2012. After fading to T52 at NTO, Levin has rallied in his next two outings, finishing T34 at Mayakoba and T21 at Honda. Levin has made 14 consecutive cuts, good for third on Tour, plus he’s 21st in strokes gained-putting.
John Rollins: Three top 10’s in his first four events followed by three consecutive MC’s. Which John Rollins shows up? With a loaded field, you shouldn’t have to answer that question this week.
Rory Sabbatini: Sabbatini started 2012 with T9, T29 and T14 in his first three starts. He’s followed that up with MC, MC, MC, T62 and 74th.
Ian Poulter: He’s coming back from pneumonia. He didn’t look good at the Tavistock Cup on Tuesday.
Scott Piercy: He caught everyone’s eye last weekend with his closing 62 at TC. Remember, his last round at Bay Hill was 82 in 2009.
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: Arnold Palmer Invitational
Group 1: Bubba Watson
Group 2: Bo Van Pelt Jim Furyk replaces BVP
Group 3: Jeff Overton
Group 4: Henrik Stenson
Ned said, “…
Ned Brown is a long-time contributor for Rotoworld Golf. He’s had documented success in Yahoo!’s game for years. Even if you’re confident in your selections for that game, give his insight a read.
Full Disclosure: I am NOT Ned! He’s smarter and better looking!
Jim Furyk--A tough playoff loss last week for Furyk, but I think he will cointinue to play well this week at Bay Hill. He has hit the top 10 twice in 11 career starts here including T9 last year.
Sergio Garcia--I've been burned by Garcia in the past but it's hard to ignore that he's been playing well recently. Garcia has been strong at Bay Hill as he's hit the top 10 six times in 11 starts. In his last five starts here, he's been in the top 10 four times.
Zach Johnson, Spencer Levin, Phil Mickelson
Tiger Woods--I got burned like everyone else when Tiger WD at Doral. Tiger looked fine at the first day of the Tavistock Cup so I'm assuming he's good to go this week. Tiger has six wins, the record, at Bay Hill, makes him worth the risk this week.
Justin Rose--There was a bit of a letdown last week in Tampa but he has been one of the hottest players on Tour. In seven starts here he has hit the top 10 twice which included a career-best T3 last year.
Ernie Els--The putting has been holding Els back over the last couple of seasons, yet his putter came alive last week at TC. In 17 career starts Els has won twice, most recently in 2010.
Bo Van Pelt--Van Pelt has hit the top 10 in his last four stoke-play events. He has also made the cut in all seven of his career starts at Bay Hill. He has not hit the top 10 here but has hit the top 25 three times.
Brandt Snedeker, Hunter Mahan, Bill Haas, Bubba Watson, Ken Duke
Martin Laird-- The missed cut at the Transitions was a bit of a surprise because he was playing well going into last week. He is the defending champion at Bay Hill.
Graeme McDowell-- McDowell has been a roll since last year's Nedbank Challenge, with five top-13s in six official worldwide stroke-play events. I'm a bit concerned that he has missed the cut in his last two starts at the API, but he was T2 here in '05, so I'm going to take a shot with him.
Jeff Overton, Henrik Stenson, Jason Dufner, Sang-Moon Bae, Pat Perez
“And another thing…”
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat with GolfChannel.com's Ryan Ballengee on Wednesday at NOON! They will be breaking down the field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.