Arnold Palmer Invitational
Presented by Master Card
Bay Hill Club and Lodge
Yards: 7,419 as per the scorecard
Par: 72 (36-36)
Greens: Bermudagrass, Poa trivialis; 6,500 square feet on average
Rough: Bermudagrass & perennial rye grass at 4”
Water Hazards: 7
Course Architects: Dick Wilson and Joe Lee (1961); Arnold Palmer (2009)
Winner’s Share: $1,116,000
FexExCup Points: 500 to the winner
Dates: March 19 - 22
Notes: Invitational field so top 10s from last week’s Valspar will get into the next open event (Valero).
Notes II: For the first time and from here on the winner this week gets a THREE-YEAR exemption on TOUR plus three years at THE PLAYERS.
Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker, Bill Haas, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day, Brandt Snedeker, James Hahn, Padraig Harrington, Alex Cejka (PRO) and Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth are the first 11 winners of calendar 2015. Hahn (No. 297), Harrington (No. 297) and Cejka (No. 285) are the only players outside the top 70 in the OWGR to win this year. Spieth was No. 9 last week at Innisbrook.
After 28 wins in 45 events last season Spieth joined Snedeker, Koepka, Haas, Walker, Reed, Hahn and Johnson as the USA winners in 2015. The stars and stripes already picked up wins in 2014 from Charley Hoffman, Bubba Watson, Ryan Moore, Robert Streb and Ben Martin. The USA won 13 of the first 18 events. Cejka, Harrington and Jason Day make up the rest of foreign legion who have won in calendar 2015. They join Sang-moon Bae (Korea) and Nick Taylor (Canada) from the 2014 as the international winners.
After 13 first-time winners in 2013 there were only 10 last year. Through 18 events in 2015, Hahn, Koepka, Martin, Streb, Taylor and Cejka have broken their maidens.
After three weeks in a row where single digit scores under-par were enough to win, three players posted double digits to force a playoff at Valspar. Last year, API broke a four-week run of single digit winners as Matt Every posted 13-under 275 in his maiden TOUR victory.
The score of 275 has been the lucky number here for the last three years as Every and Woods (twice) have made that the winning final score. That’s not to say that will the case this year but that is the lowest winning number since Palmer redesigned his own joint before the 2010 event. Palmer changed the track back to par 72 and upgraded the greens to Bermudagrass/Poa trivialis. The greens haven’t taken to the winter weather as well as once thought so they will all be replaced with Tifeagle Bermudagrass in May of this year. The good news is the topography of the green complexes won’t be affected so gamer’s notes will still be accurate for the coming years!
Speaking of changes to the course, even though it will play at the exact same yardage as last year, slight changes have been made. New “G-Angle” sand now lines the 84 bunkers and will help to prevent plugged lies. The new superintendent, Chris Flynn, has also added over five acres of landing area in the fairways that line up with the original course design. Palmer will never argue about having more room to splash out with the driver! Even though the rough is at a gnarly four inches, approach areas and bailout sections around the greens have increased to increase scoring chances around the green. If that’s not enough, they’ve manicured trees to improve sight and shot lines from off the fairway. Based on the above, scoring might be getting lower this year.
Bay Hill’s ratings since the redesign in 2010:
2014: 16th-most difficult; +.473 over par
2013: 12th-most difficult; +.928
2012: 12th-most difficult; +1.176
2011: eighth-most difficult; +1.203
2010: ninth-most difficult; +.892
2014: Matt Every -13
2013: Tiger Woods -13*
2012: Tiger Woods -13*
2011: Martin Laird -8
2010: Ernie Els -11
*not entered this week
The finishing hole at Bay Hill is one of the toughest around with a difficult tee shot and approach. The four par-fives will offer scoring chances if the wind is cooperating and the players can keep the balls out of the bunkers and rough that protect these large, slick greens. As shown above only Matt Every has cracked the code for the “non-bombers” since the redesign and his success was found through finishing T7 in GIR and third in both SGP and putts per GIR. His 21 birdies co-led the field and his two of his eight bogeys came on the final three holes. He also didn’t make anything worse than bogey for the week. Great tracks should allow multiple styles to be in play and this qualifies but remember only six players put all four rounds at par-or-better in 2014. #Hardnoteasy
Only Paul Goydos (1996) and Every have made API their first TOUR win.
Laird is the only Euro to claim the title here.
Tom Kite and Els are the only other multiple winners with two each.
Woods has won this event eight times.
Rookies don’t fare well here as only two have hit the top 26 in the last two years (Koepka T26 last year and Ben Kohles T14 in 2013).
Tournament and Course Records
Adam Scott’s opening round 62 last year is the lowest since the redesign. His 76 on Sunday saw him finish third.
Payne Stewart has the event record at 264 in 1987; 13-under is the “new” standard.
Bizarre Stat of the Week:
Bubba Watson shot 80-something and withdrew with allergies here last year. Hmmmmmm.
In order, these are the players that I believe project the best this week (Yahoo! group in parentheses).
Henrik Stenson (A): When the world’s No. 3 player enters a week off eight consecutive rounds at par-or-better and hasn’t finished worse than T4 in his last two, this shouldn’t be any surprise. He’ll have no problem chopping down the wide fairways and pegging GIR and it’s evidenced by his last three finishes here of T15, T8 and T5 last year. In those 12 rounds, two have been over par and five have been in the 60s. The Orlando resident was second at Isleworth a million shots behind Spieth but still posted 16-under.
Adam Scott (A): It took 45 events for him to finally miss another cut but I’m guessing the extra couple of days around Bay Hill is exactly what the doctor ordered to get him back on track. He threw away a three-shot lead here after 54-holes last year after opening with 62. The new putter will always be an issue but the dude has bags and bags of talent that will help with the transition. He was third here last year in his first start since 2009. The more GIR he hits, the more work that putter will get and four par-five holes always gets my attention with him.
Rory McIlroy (A): The only question this week will be how he takes to a Bay Hill layout that he’s never played in tournament competition. If that’s the only question on board, I’m in. He’s third because he doesn’t have that yardage book mapped just yet but he’s a quick study. I’ll reevaluate if the weather calls for heavy winds as we have learned that might be his kryptonite but when he’s on, there’s no one better between the ropes right now.
J.B. Holmes (A): Speaking of 62, last time out at Doral Holmes lit up The Donald’s backyard with a round for the ages as he chalked up eight birdies, an eagle and no bogeys. The only facet that has kept Holmes from winning more is these dang tournaments are 72 holes, not 54. His final round scoring average is all (65/66) or NOTHING (74-76-73-72-76-75) this season. He led the field in putting average here last year as he finished T10. If length is an angle this week and the fairways have been WIDENED, he’s in.
Bubba Watson (A): I’m totally freaked out by the allergy thing from last year as Watson posted 83 and went home. Why would he move to Orlando if it’s bad for allergies? He left Scottsdale for this? Or, was this just a McIlroy toothache play? Watson’s current form is the key this week and his course form at Bay Hill is well above average. Here’s another who feasts on par-five scoring and GIR.
Kevin Na (C): With two top-four finishes (T4, T2) and 10 rounds of 16 under par Na has proven that Bay Hill fits his eye. His other two finishes are T14 and T30 so throw that on his backdoor T10 last week and I’m sold. His T9 with his final three rounds at Doral shows he can handle big boy courses as well.
Hideki Matsuyama (B): Form is temporary; class is permanent. His wrist issue that caused him to WD at Honda didn’t prevent him from hitting T23 at Doral even after an opening round 76. He mauls fairways and greens and is third in strokes gained total. He’s also fourth in the all-around ranking so it’s obvious he has all the tools. When healthy he’s impossible to leave out so I’m not.
Ian Poulter (B): His T3 at Honda stirred gamers but his T49 the following week at Doral scared them off again. Like those previous two outings, Poulter threw up just one poor round last week at Tampa, 75 on Saturday, that kept him from a bigger finish. He played the other three rounds six-under so he’s definitely continues to knock. The Orlando resident has finishes of T12-3rd-T21 and T20 last year in his last four at Bay Hill but the last three Sundays have all been over par.
Sean O’Hair (C): His P2 last week at Valspar made it five weekends in a row on TOUR and his renewed confidence has been noticed. Last year he played the weekend eight-under to peg his first top 10 (T10) on the new design but was T3 in 2008 and second to Woods (after he made that downhill 30-footer on 18) in 2009. His T14 in 2007 shouldn’t be completely omitted either as the layout fits his eye.
Shane Lowry (C): He’s teed it up at Torrey, the Pebble rotation and Doral and has T7, T21 and T17 to show for his efforts so he’s obviously not intimidated by some of the prestigious tracks on this side of the pond. He’s been working out/living Orlando since the turn of the year and hasn’t been back to Europe. If he was on the radar at Doral and the others, his play has done nothing to scare me off again this week.
Rickie Fowler (B): His quiet start to 2015 finally showed signs of life at Doral as he rebounded from a second round 77 to play the weekend in one-under to finish T12. He was right in the mix here in 2013 before a blow up on the closing holes on Sunday dropped him to T3.
Brooks Koepka (A): As long as they come, he’ll enjoy the extra landing areas in the fairways but he’s also 28th in strokes gained tee-to-green. Toss in being 18th in SGP and that’s a deadly combination on any track. He’s played 12 TOUR weekends in a row dating back to last year and even found time to win in Europe late last season. His last MC over there was in early July.
Keegan Bradley (B): In six events this season he’s posted 11 rounds under par. WHY DO I KEEP FALLING FOR THIS??? Well, because he was T3 in 2013 and second here last year and was 20-under par doing so. He has too much talent to keep killing all of us in fantasy land on a consistent basis. He burned me with a MC at Honda on another course with big course history but he can’t be my OAD again so he should be just fine this week. Right?
Jason Day (B): I can’t think of a course off the top of my head where I wouldn’t want him in my lineup. This might be one of them as his T25 in 2010 and T45 in 2013 hardly drum up excitement but I’ll focus on his T3, T17, WIN and T4 before his T31 at Doral his last time out. He also won’t be disappointed to hear the fairways might be a bit easier to hit and trees have been trimmed! #BounceBack
Daniel Summerhays: He’s never put a round in the 60s here in three events but I can’t ignore four events in a row of improved finishes (T45-T30-T17-T10). The last two, T17 (Honda) and T10 (Valspar) have both been in Florida so he should be ready to fire again this week on Bermudagrass.
Paul Casey: For me it was no surprise that he ran out of gas at Doral after a playoff loss at Riviera followed by running out of gas on the back nine at Honda (T3). After a week off I think he jumps right back on it as he’s 17th in strokes gained tee-to-green and 13th in strokes gained total.
Martin Laird: My only concern with Laird last week was perhaps a bit of rust after taking almost a month off after his excellent West Coast swing to start the year. He played the first and last rounds last week bogey-free (one double on Thursday) and only made six bogeys on the week. It was the three doubles that killed his chances for another top finish. I’m not letting three holes derail the LAIRD EXPRESS from getting to the station. The 2011 champ led the field last week in GIR and was T13 in fairways. CHOO CHOO! He should probably be in the top 15 but I have to hide him down here from the vultures in my league who won’t read this far.
Harris English: Here’s his season: T3 followed by T30 and T40. Then, he loses in a playoff at Farmers and backs that up with T30-MC. I can’t ignore his low-round of the week last week, a Sunday 65, that backdoored him into T10, right? He played his final 20 holes of the week in eight-under on that course. That’s form.
Jason Kokrak: He pegged his first top 10 of the year last week so he’s not exactly on fire but three rounds under par on that course last weekend is no joke. He was also 11-under and just four back on Sunday here last year before a final round 73 stalled him out to solo fourth. He’s way long and can hole putts and that works here.
Justin Thomas: There he is again! Gamers, he hasn’t seen any of these courses and he’s cashing top 10s for fun. He’s already pegged it 12 times which is awesome for gamers. Even better, he’s cashed in eight of those, half going for top 10s and two more for top 25s. He’s 10th in the all-around and 16th in scoring and that’s with 12 events under his belt. Rookies don’t usually fare well around Bay Hill but he’s cut from a different cloth.
Danny Willett: The R2D leader on the European Tour figured it out quickly last time out at Doral. After posting 73-76 he rallied to play the weekend five-under and finish T12 on a very difficult set up. Willet WD from Malaysia a month before but his injury concerns are no more.
Brendan Steele: The Californian had no trouble adjusting to the other coast as he backed up his T14 at Riviera with T11 at Honda his last time out. If making cuts is something of value, he’s made 13 weekends on the bounce and three of his five starts in 2015 have been T14 or better.
Charles Howell III: The ATM is back again after making his seventh cut in a row in 2015 last week with T10 and closing 68 at Valspar. It doesn’t look like his closing round THIS week will be as low as the four years at Bay Hill he’s come home Sunday with 78-77-75 and 76 last year. Those finishes resulted in T38-T20-T45 and T35. How many times have gamers uttered the words “what if” with Charley Three Sticks over the years? With T5 and T10 in two of his last four, I’m willing to stick my neck out.
Russell Henley: He’s played the weekend in 12 straight events dating back to last summer. Gamers have been soured as 2015 has returned to the mainland as he’s only found the 60s three times in 16 tries after a T3/T17 start in Hawaii. He’s shown flashes on Bermudagrass before and is an excellent putter.
Horses for Courses
Graeme McDowell: He hasn’t played enough or well enough to merit inclusion above but there’s no question that the Orlando resident has a fondness for Bay Hill that might jump start his 2015. He was solo second in 2012 and T10 last year. Gamers would love to see anything around either of those performances this week.
Freddie Jacobson: Weird stat that sums up Bay Hill: Jacobson is three for his last three here with two top 10s and only ONE round in the 60s. #HardCourse
Francesco Molinari: He was one of many who ran into “Sunday” here last year as he began the day 10-under before an over-par 73 knocked him to T5. Chesson Hadley shot 79. Adam Scott 76. Morgan Hoffman 78. Pat Perez 83. J.B. Holmes 73. Jason Kokrak 73. He’s posted six of eight rounds in the last two years at par or better.
Gary Woodland: Bags and bags of talent but inconsistent play has stifled gamers this season. It’s been every-other-event so this is an ON week! His last three at Bay Hill are T48-T27-T20 so he’s trending properly as well.
Vijay Singh: He’s 20 of 21 and is the 2007 champ. He’s made three in a row after MC in 2011. As gamers have noticed, he’s also striking it quite well as of late on TOUR with a T12-MC-T10 over his last three events.
Erik Compton: With T16 in 2013 and T5 last year, a return to a happy hunting ground might be exactly what the Florida native needs to get his 2015 back on track. After beginning the new calendar year with T10 at Humana, he’s slammed the trunk on Friday in five straight. High-risk, high-reward play.
Chad Campbell: In the last four years he’s fired a round of 75 or WORSE and yet made all four cuts. Oh, and the other eight times he’s played in his career he’s also made all eight of those including a win here in 2004. That’s 12-12 lifetime. It also doesn’t hurt he’s made five weekends in a row on TOUR. Shhhhhhhh.
Off the Radar
Guys outside the top 100 in the OWGR and merit a look for certain formats. Rank in parentheses.
Brian Davis (No. 221 OWGR): For a guy who doesn’t hit it out of his shadow compared to some of these other dudes, Davis takes the accurate approach instead. Since the redo in 2010 he’s posted 24th-T12-T4-MC and T20 last year. He lit up fairways and greens last week in Tampa (T10) and it’s obvious he knows how to play here.
Sam Saunders (319): There’s nobody else who’s playing this week whose grandfather is the King. There’s nobody else who’s probably played this course more either! He backed up his P2 at PRO with T24 at Valspar so he should be a chic selection this week. He’s No. 319 in the OWGR.
William McGirt (149): His streak of four straight T30 or better ended last week at Valspar but his T8 at Bay Hill two years ago has me coming back for more.
Shawn Stefani (95): Okay, he violates my “rule” but hey, it’s my column. He was in last week at was T17 at Innisbrook with only six bogeys on the card (but three doubles) and was T3 in GIR. He’s a first-timer here so he’s hidden away in this section.
Brandt Snedeker: He hit it all over the shop last week in Tampa and didn’t hole anything. He only made eight birdies in four rounds but his 54 pars were second but finished Sure he was eighth here last year but that broke a string of T30-MC-T63-MC. I have no idea what to do with him if he can’t putt or hit fairways.
Matt Every: I know plenty of greenhorns who can’t wait to load up on the defending champion. He has no rounds in the 60s in his last eight events on TOUR.
Hunter Mahan: He’s like Mickelson-lite for me in the sense that if he’s on my roster, I’m expecting nothing less than T15 for where I have to take him or what I have to pay for him. Since he hasn’t found a T15 in five events this season, I’m not chasing. He’s posted nothing better than T21 since the redo as well.
Billy Horschel: He closed here with 85 in 2013 and 75 last year. 2015 has not been the continuation of his dominance to close the FedExCup Playoffs and for some reason he doesn’t play well in his home state of Florida. Season-long gamers can’t wait for the Florida Swing to end; weekly gamers shouldn’t be anywhere near.
Ernie Els: Again, former champs with no current form is for suckers as Els is 0-2015 on TOUR.
Zach Johnson: Not the course and not enough form. His putter has gone ICE cold and he’s 81st in strokes gained total. Yikes.
Rookie/Up-and-Comer of the Week Last Week
Once called the “Jordan Spieth” of the week, I had to retire that name after his last two seasons on TOUR. Now, we’ll keep a broad view of newer names/faces that gamers should pay attention to as the season moves on. Some former examples in this column include Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and Chesson Hadley.
Shriners: Tony Finau, T7
McGladrey: Robert Streb, WIN
CIMB: Cameron Smith, T5
HTOC: Nick Taylor played his sixth event as a pro. He’s won 1/6 of the events he’s entered. That’s worth keeping an eye on for the foreseeable future.
Humana: Sung Joon Park (T2) is new to the TOUR but is hardly a rookie; Oh, look: Justin Thomas in the top 10 again (T7).
WMPO: Koepka won so he graduates from this column like Reed, Spieth and Matsuyama before him. Justin Thomas is now the current mayor. Daniel Berger was T10, Thomas T17 and Finau returned with another top 25.
Northern Trust: Barber checked in at T12 and all that took was firing a tournament-low 65 on Sunday. No shame in Carlos Ortiz’s final round 75 from the final group as he played two very tough SoCal courses, Torrey South and Riviera T11 and T20. Noted.
Honda: Berger lost in a playoff. He’s played 10 TOUR events.
Valspar: There’s that pesky Justin Thomas back in the top 10 AGAIN!
Coming Later TUESDAY Afternoon
Playing the Tips will be up and running this and every Tuesday afternoon and will list all of the Rotoworld experts picks in the GolfChannel.com game, the Yahoo! Fantasy Golf game, DFS plus the European Tour! Oh, and my One-and-Done feature. Look for it around 4 ET every Tuesday for the rest of the season.
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat Wednesday at 12 ET. We will be breaking down the field at the API and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter. Don’t forget to follow Rob (http://twitter.com/RobBoltonGolf) and Glass (http://twitter.com/MikeGlasscott) on Twitter.