Josh Culp

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Arnie's Invite: Preview

Monday, March 12, 2018

A week after Phil Mickelson finally found his way back to the winner's circle, Paul Casey did the same last week at the Valspar. It was nearly Tiger Woods in the winner's circle, with his return escalating very quickly over the last two starts. It's shaping up to be a great year for golf! 

Onto this week, we stay in Florida and hop over to Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. As the name suggests, it's an invitation-only event which limits the field to 120 golfers this week. 

This event is one that #TeamCourseHistory holds very dearly since it is the site of Matt Every's back-to-back wins. His 2014 win actually made a lot of sense on paper when you look at his form leading up to the event. However, he had completely lost his game before the 2015 API but somehow still managed to elevate his game as he returned to a comfortable venue.  Consider giving a slight boost to course history this week. 


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The Course

This week's course is Bay Hill Club & Lodge which is situated in Orlando, Florida. It's a 7,419-yard track that plays to a par of 72. It's been used since the 1979 edition. 

The most notable defense of the golf course is the water hazards. There is water in play on up to nine holes this week (5 in play off-the-tee, 9 in play on approach). All that water helps explain the high double-bogey rate (unlike last week's Copperhead Course which was a course that bled you out slowly). At the same time, the par 5s are much easier here at Bay Hill, compared to last week, so plenty of eagles will be landed. Over the years, golfers record birdie or better on 39% of the par 5s and the eagle rate for this event ranks 10th easiest of all events since 2014. 

Similar to the last few weeks, Bay Hill often takes the driver out of hand throughout the round. Since the ShotLink era, there are six holes where the field has averaged less than 280 yards off the tee. The holes where most golfers will lay back are Nos. 1, 5, 10, 11, and 13 while the rest will probably depend on the wind direction and each golfer's strategy for the week. 

It's not all plodder-friendly though. As I already mentioned with the par 5s, they are not so tough and allow the bombers to re-assert some dominance. Leishman played them at 11-under last year. Day played them at 10-under in 2016. Tiger played them at -14 during his 2013 victory (three eagles). If you don't take advantage of the par 5s, you're going to have a bad time this week

For grass types, we have some Celebration Bermuda overseeded with rye from tee-to-green while the putting surfaces are TifEagle Bermuda. There was some worm damage ahead of the 2015 edition which led to the re-surfacing of the greens before the 2016 API. Other than that 2015 worm-damaged edition, the Stimpmeter over the last five years has read: 12.5 feet, 13 feet, 12.6 feet, and 13 feet. That is what you might call Championship Speeds on the greens. FAST! 

The closing hole can provide a lot of drama. It's a rather easy tee shot to a generous fairway (until you're under pressure) and then from there, you have an approach shot over water with a bunker guarding the bailout to the left. Since 2003, the field has averaged double or worse, 8.3% of the time. That ranks as #1 in terms of Double Bogeys at Bay Hill. At the same time, birdies can be found at a clip of roughly 11%; a pretty good risk-reward hole that should test your nerves under pressure and reward good ball-striking. 

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the courses to see how they will play...
Rickie Fowler: "To me, it's similar style of golf that we have actually played the last two tournaments for me, Honda and at Mexico. It's not too demanding off the tee as far as you're not always having to hit drivers and it's not too narrow. There are holes where you're hitting 3-woods and potentially irons, but you do have to get the ball in the fairway. And it's very much a second shot golf course."
Matthew Fitzpatrick: "I like that it's quite penal off the tee and missing the greens. If you really hit it well tee to green you can shoot some good scores. And I enjoy playing courses like this, it's a challenge."
Kevin Kisner: "I love getting here to get on the Bermuda grass, it's what I grew up on, I feel like I can read the greens very good here and I use it to my advantage. That's, I just try to get through that West Coast and get over here to start making some money."
Ian Poulter: "I think there's a good mixture of holes.  Obviously the 5s lend themselves to the longer hitters but then again you've got other key holes in the golf course, positional holes, hitting 3-wood off the tee, hit some hybrids to get in position. Puts it into my game which I've done pretty well this year with the short iron in hand.  I can compete against the big boys around the place."

Henrik Stenson: "I think I only hit one today.  Yeah, it's not too many drivers.  I'd say possibly hit two, three but it depends on the wind.  A few of the holes kind of what lines you want to take.  It's not a course where I hit a lot of drivers, definitely not."

Justin Rose: "Around the greens are some similarities and overall if you look at this golf course it tends to suit a right-to-left ball flight for the most part.  There's a lot of dogleg-lefts around lakes, so if you start to get comfortable seeing a right-to-left flight this week, that will also suit you well at Augusta."
Overview: The theme seems to be not hitting a lot of drivers, getting in position off the tee and avoiding the hazards. As Kisner pointed out, golfers that may have struggled on the West Coast might start ramping up their form now that we've returned to Bermuda Country. Justin Rose helped explain some of the similarities with Augusta National which most of the elite golfers are trying to prep for at this time of the year. 

Correlated Courses

Looking at past performance, golfer quotes, and course setup, these five events show up as potential pointers: 

TPC Sawgrass
East Lake GC
Muirfield Village GC
Sheshan International GC
Augusta National

TPC Sawgrass is another less-than-driver Florida course where big numbers are in play, but so are birdies and eagles. The same goes for Sheshan which hosts the WGC-HSBC Champions. You really need to take advantage of the par 5s there, just like here at Bay Hill. Muirfield Village and Augusta National have the fast-green connection, which might be why some of the same golfers under or over-perform at these venues. 

The Weather

The Monday forecast for the week is suggesting we'll deal with cool mornings before the sun opens up to allow for beautiful golfing weather to shine through. 

There is currently no precipitation or wind in the forecast but I will re-visit the weather during Wednesday's DFS Dish. 


Players to Watch

Tiger Woods
What a week over at Innisbrook! Woods was dialed in with his irons and was shaping shots with ease. His flat stick just went calm on Sunday or else we must have seen him hoisting the trophy. I'm not ready to overreact and call him the favorite in any event just yet, but everything is pointing in the right direction. In case we've forgotten his track record at Bay Hill, he is 16-for-17 here with EIGHT WINS. Personally, I am expecting him to land somewhere in the 10-to-25 range by week's end. 
Henrik Stenson
Was a big letdown last year on a course that he previous crushed at. In hindsight, maybe I should have reacted differently after hearing his pre-tourney presser at the Valspar. Coming off a month break he said, "I've done some good work and I guess I'm here to get some answers this week, to see what's working and what's potentially not working and how to move along for the next couple of weeks." The Swede also declared that he usually does his best work in the second week playing. If that's the case, then the Orlando resident should be right back in the mix this week at Bay Hill. In the past, he is 8-for-9 here with four finishes of T8 or better. He did miss the cut last year, though. 

Rory McIlroy
Continues to underperform this year, especially in the events he's been debuting at (Pebble Pro-Am and Valspar). A return to a familiar Bay Hill might help solve the riddle this week. He has finished T11-T27-T4 over the last three years here, beating the field average by 4+ strokes in 5 of his 12 rounds played. Even with a cold putter, there is no reason why Rory can't demolish these par 5s and find himself inside the top 10 by week's end. Okay, I guess a really cold putter or a few water balls would be two reasons he might keep the mini-slump going. I think he gets back on track, though, personally. 

Jason Day
Similar to Muirfield Village, the Aussie has a mysterious record here at Bay Hill. He has finished outside the top 15 in six of seven visits but managed to run the tables in 2016, winning by a stroke over Kevin Chappell. His only two starts in 2018 have been WIN and RUNNER-UP so it's hard to shy away from Day, even with the less-than-consistent record here. 
Kevin Chappell
For long-time gamers, many have picked up on the trend of Chappell following Day on the leaderboard. Like I just mentioned above, Chappell finished runner-up to Day during the 2016 API, just another example of Day blocking Chappie. Similar to Day, Chappell has finished outside the top 10 in all of his other appearances at Bay Hill. Could be a nice 1-2 combo on DFS sites if you want to build around Jason Day this week. 
Tommy Fleetwood
With water in play on so many holes at Bay Hill, it turns into a test of course management for most of the round. It's a bit of a stereotype, but I think Europeans thrive in that regard. Fleetwood would be the one I like the most this week as he finished T10 in his API debut last year, and he has the chops to destroy these par 5s while also using his stellar striking to commit to shots where water is in play. He played the par 5s at 7-under last year, without dropping a shot. The Englishman opened with a 78 which lost more than 4 strokes to the field. Playing the WHAT-IF GAME, if he would have just show field average in R1 then he would have finished runner-up last year. 

Tyrrell Hatton
Another Euro that crushed it in his API debut. Hatton gained 6.35 strokes on approach last year and another 6.43 strokes with the putter. Staying in Orlando during this stretch, Hatton should feel semi-comfortable in this climate, with these grass types, etc. Was very close to joining the WGC-Mexico playoff and could find himself right back in contention this week. 
Kyle Stanley
Doesn't crack my top 25 but this is definitely a name I'll have on my radar for DFS. He gained 5.1 strokes on approach down in Mexico and took last week off. Has two top 20s in his last three visits to Bay Hill, including a T17 last year. 

Luke List
Speaking of good approach play, this big hitter has gained 2.8 or more strokes approaching-the-green in three of his last four starts. He played his way into the playoff at the Honda and followed it up with a top 20 at the Valspar last week. He's not the first name that would pop into my head on a less-than-driver course, but those recent results prove he can perform without the big stick. Give him some scoreable par 5s this week, and List should continue to reward fantasy owners. 

Jet Lag
There are a few names in the field that have local knowledge or good course history but will also be arriving fresh off starts in Asia. Expectations should be tempered for Anirban Lahiri (India), Emiliano Grillo (India), and Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Brunei). 

Ranking the Field
The European Tour takes a break this week but check back on Tuesday for our API Expert Picks and then on Wednesday I will return for some last-minute DFS tips in the DFS Dish. 

Josh Culp joined Rotoworld in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.
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