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With only 3 weeks to go now until The Masters, the PGA Tour moves to Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The rejuvenated Tiger Woods plays at a course where he's won 8 times and heads a field which includes McIlroy, Day, Stenson, Matsuyama, Fowler, Rose, Hatton and Fleetwood. This is an Invitational-status tournament that top players undoubtedly want to add to their CVs, especially now following the passing of Arnold Palmer in September 2016.
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Arnold Palmer Invitational - Featured Bookmaker:
Course Guide: Bay Hill is a classical golf course just around the corner from the world famous Disney theme park and extremely close to the golfing commune of Windermere in Florida. The stretching 7,419 yard, Par 72 features a set of tough par-4s plus 3 of the par-5s measure over 550 yards. To score around here every facet of a player's game is tested to the maximum. Not many PGA Tour events these days feature 4" of rough plus green complexes that can run as firm as 12 on the stimpmeter if the elements allow. Since the 2015 renewal, all holes and green complexes have been re-grassed with the putting surfaces featuring TifEagle Bermudagrass.
Bay Hill is a Florida setup that's classical in its nature. The course has changed quite considerably over the tenure of new Course Superintendent Chris Flynn who's taken strides to returning the layout closer to its original guise, saying recently, "In addition to extensive tree trimming, we widened and lengthened all the fairways. To balance out the fairway changes, we also removed a lot of the rough areas in front of water hazards and bunkers. These areas have traditionally served as backstops for players, but now there’s a higher chance of your ball rolling into those hazards. We’ve also made the traditionally high rough even higher than in the past."
Bay Hill Country Club, Windermere, Florida: Designer: Wilson & Joe Lee 1961 with Arnold Palmer re-design 2009; Course Type: Florida, Classical; Par: 72; Length: 7,419 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 8; Fairways: Celebration Bermuda; Rough: Celebration Bermuda 4"; Greens: 6,500 sq.ft average TifEagle Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimp: 11ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 73.18 (+1.18), Difficulty Rank 12 of 49 courses. 2013: 72.93 (+0.93), Difficulty Rank 12 of 43 courses. 2014: 72.47 (+0.47), Rank 16 of 48 courses. 2015: 71.12 (-0.88), Rank 36 of 52 courses. 2016: 71.49 (-0.51), Rank 28 of 50 courses. 2017: 72.89 (+0.89), Rank 9 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Bay Hill and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Arnold Palmer designs include:
Course Overview: 2015 saw Bay Hill receive a facelift. Fairways were widened and tree numbers were reduced, making driving here a lot easier than have seen across both PGA National and Copperhead on the 2018 Florida swing. Indeed Bay Hill's fairways have ranked 45th (2015), 44th (2016) and 37th (2017) in terms of difficulty to hit on the PGA Tour since the course changes were introduced. 'Driving Distance - All Drives' also paints a picture as Bay Hill ranked 8th shortest for all drives in 2017 highlighting that this course, when firm, cannot be simply over powered by brute force.
The new, wider Bay Hill format dictates that the strength of the wind is a key variable when it comes to scoring, as naturally are turf conditions and green speeds. The Bay Hill course has a set of par-3s which are some of the toughest on the PGA Tour. If the course isn't soft, it also has a set of par-4s which traditionally are some of the sternest on Tour. Yes gusting 25 mph winds on Sunday last year made Bay Hill extremely tough, but a fast, firm course made scoring here difficult across all 4 days - par-3 Scoring Average 5th most difficult on Tour, par-4 Scoring Average 6th most difficult, par-5 Scoring Average 20th most difficult, highlights that firm conditions can make this classical test a mid-scoring test. Bay Hill also ranked in the top 3 toughest courses last year for Proximity to Hole, so to score heavily here players still need to make their fair share of putts on the TifEagle Bermudagrass putting surfaces. Pure ball-strikers alone will not get the job done; instead Marc Leishman, Jason Day and Matt Every, across both of the Floridian's 2014 and 2015 wins, ranked 2nd, 6th, 8th and 3rd in Stokes Gained Putting.
Winners: 2017: Marc Leishman (-11); 2016: Jason Day (-17); 2015: Matt Every (-19); 2014: Matt Every (-13); 2013: Tiger Woods (-13); 2012: Tiger Woods (-13); 2011: Martin Laird (-8); 2010: Ernie Els (-11).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes. NEW! Combined Current and Course Form is now available here.
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Justin Rose, Jason Day, Zach Johnson, Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Patton Kizzire, Jason Kokrak, Kevin Kisner and Brian Harman.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Sentry Tournament of Champions and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2017: Leishman 100/1; 2016: Day 14/1; 2015: Every 300/1; 2014: Every 66/1; 2013: Woods 3/1; 2012: Woods 8/1; 2011: Laird 45/1; 2010: Els 16/1; Average: 69/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 120/1. For a full summary of winner's odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.
2017: Thursday: Sunny and cool with a high of 63. Wind NNW 10-15 mph. Friday: Sunny with a high of 71. Wind NE 6-12 mph. Saturday: Sunny with a high of 79. Wind WSW 5-10 mph. Sunday: Sunny with a high of 78. Wind NNW 12-18 mph with gusts of 25 mph.
2016: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 85 degrees. Wind WSW 7-12 mph. Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 88 degrees. Winds SSW 7-12 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy. Afternoon gave way to scattered showers totalling 0.25” of rainfall. High of 82. Wind SW 10-15. Sunday: Scattered showers in the morning followed by partly cloudy and breezy conditions in the afternoon. High of 80. Wind WNW 10-15.
2015: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 85. Wind SE at 5-10 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 87. Wind W at 5-10 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 85. Wind W at 5-10 mph. Sunday: W wind at 10-15 mph. Mostly cloudy and warm. High of 88.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Bay Hill, Florida, is here. I'm expecting firm and fast conditions again for the 3rd and final leg of the Florida swing. A frontal system including potential thunderstorms passes through on Monday evening, but from there expect fine and tranquil conditions throughout. Mid-score scoring (mid-teens) will be the target score this week on a course which should offer up some resistance, even in tranquil conditions.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 8 winners of the Arnold Palmer Invitational since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Let's take a view from players as to how Bay Hill sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Marc Leishman: "I think I missed my first fairway on number 15. So if you can drive it on the fairway around here, that's really important, especially with the greens the way they are, pretty firm and very quick. So that's a start. And then, obviously, you got to try and leave yourself uphill putts and then you got to make them. So it was everything that clicked today, it's nice to play well and get a good score out of it."
Jason Day: "I mean today, I was pretty aggressive with the par-5s for the most part. I still tried to stay aggressive on the par-5s today but you know I hooked a 4 metal on 4 and ended up making a bogey and then I hit another 4 metal on 12 and ended up making a birdie. You know, there's no formula to it. You have to come to a golf course like this and just crush the par-5s. That's more where all the scoring is. If you can get on the fairways, give yourself an opportunity to get to the green or around the green, let the short game take over and make birdies."
Rory McIlroy: "As I said earlier, I came away from this golf course kicking myself that I hadn't played it more often because I feel like it's a golf course that suits my game. The par-5s are quite long and I feel with my length I can take advantage of those. Very strong par-3s and the par-4s give you some chances but there's a lot of strong par-4s out there. I feel like it's a golf course that sets up well for me and you can't not feel good about your putting on these greens, they're so pure, that get the ball started on line with decent speed you know it's got a great chance of going in."
Henrik Stenson: "It's a course where you can't get away with playing only decent, you've got to play pretty well around here. Quite a lot of shots, especially towards the end when you got to commit and hit some good shots coming in and ball striking is normally one of my strong parts. Maybe two years ago or three years ago there when I think I finished 8th I put that down to magician around the greens. My pitching was phenomenal and I putted nicely. I wasn't playing that great but I still managed to squeeze a good finish out of it when I needed to have a chance to get in Augusta last on that year and last year was pretty solid. I didn't putt well and then this year I've been playing and putting well. I think it's a pretty tough course. It's been a bit easier this year due to the softness of the greens and lack of wind but it's still quite a few shots that can come up and bite you if you don't hit good - in a few the holes if you don't hit good shots at the right time. They can definitely bite back."
Martin Laird: "Sand seems the same. That's just what you know, you've got to expect it here. You know, for example, on 17, if you come up short, it's going to plug in that face. You just can't come up short. Pretty much every hole out here, the chances are, I mean, three out of four balls are probably going to plug, a lot of the shots here. So that's just to be expected. The bunkers are a true penalty around this golf course. It's not like some courses, you almost aim for bunkers sometimes as a good spot to get up and down."
Graeme McDowell: "The course is in magnificent shape. Nice amount of rough. I heard a comment to where Arnie kind of wants it to play as a U.S. Open off the tee. And Augusta-esque around the greens. And I can see what he's trying to achieve. The greens, like I say on Sunday, the firmness and the speed of the greens was very Augusta-esque with these new runoff areas that he's created the last few years. The golf course is pretty tight off the tee. Nice amount of rough. I've always enjoyed the way the golf course sets up for me. I've had a couple of good years here. Basically it's my home event these days. Used to be the Irish Open was my home event, this is home these days. So it's a special tournament for me."
Ernie Els: "We play some of the toughest par-3s at Bay Hill. Actually in the whole of Florida, the whole of the Florida Swing, we play tough par 3s and Bay Hill is especially long. The 14th hole depending on the winds you can hit anything from 6-iron to 3-iron or 5-wood. It's well bunkered with bunkers on the left side, the front right and quite a small green, so you have to be accurate. Like all of the par 3s, if you can make pars even, you've done very well, so a tough hole."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 8 Arnold Palmer Invitational winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Read any player interview around this week and you'll note that 'Arnie's tournament' has a Major feel about it. The emotion attached to this week only heightened that feeling 12 months ago, which was the first Arnold Palmer Invitational since the great man's passing away. This is no standard domestic PGA Tour event and, taking Tiger out of the equation, recent top 3 finishers here include the likes of Stenson (3 times), Rose (twice), Bradley (twice), Leishman, Kisner, Day, Scott, Fowler, McDowell, Poulter, Laird and Els. All were inside the Official World Golf Rankings top 50 when they competed and all had invites in their back pocket for Augusta.
For me this week is quite a defined exercise. The nature of the course dictates that par-5 scoring is essential and birdie conversion tends to be driven predominantly by those who are at their most comfortable on grainy Bermudagrass greens, especially of the TifEagle variety. Therefore I want players who've putted well this season on Bermuda greens, ideally in Florida if at all possible. This is quite a specialised event so strong results on Florida-type courses are essential.
My selections are as follows:
Tiger Woods with Florida form of 12/2 just has to be backed for his first PGA Tour win since 2013 here at Bay Hill where he's won the title across 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013. Now we can all have a debate about the value of his price this week, but I thought I would add some detail here for context. Back in 2012 Woods arrived at 'Arnie's Place' winless on the PGA Tour since the BMW Championship in 2009. A win at his own Tiger Challenge played in California in the autumn of 2011 was an indicator that TW was getting back to close to his best and he started 2012 strongly. Despite this though there were still question marks as Tiger, despite finishing runner-up in Abu Dhabi, had been beaten in a head-to-head by Robert Rock no less. His PGA Tour strokeplay form read 15(Pebble)-2(PGA National)-WD(Doral), with his WGC-Cadillac Championship appearance ending after only 11 holes with an Achilles problem. Tiger then proceeded to win at Bay Hill, beating Graeme McDowell by 5 shots. His price was 8/1.
So coming off a runner-up position at Copperhead on course debut last week, where he fell a single shot short of forcing a playoff with Paul Casey (now that would have been interesting), I think that Woods is in a great space to produce what pretty much all of us want to see: his 80th PGA Tour victory and the end of a long and arduous fight back from a catalogue of career-threatening injuries. 8th and 9th for ball-striking across his 2 Florida outings, Woods tightened up his driving last week in Tampa. He's been putting and scrambling well throughout 2018 and he ranks 5th for Scoring Average on the PGA Tour this season despite playing 4 of the toughest courses on the calendar.
After finishing 2nd yesterday (his best finish since the 2013 Barclays), Tiger was asked about what the Arnold Palmer Invitational means to him; "I'm really looking forward to next week. I hadn't played there in a couple years because of my back and I wanted to play there a couple years ago. We were close to, knew Arnold was not in very good shape. I wanted to play one last time before he moved on and unfortunately I just couldn't play. So, nice to go back to Orlando. My kids were born there, I've had a lot of success. I used to live there. Good week next week." He's ready and primed. RESULT: T5
One of Tiger's biggest challengers this week will undoubtedly be Justin Rose who I can't ignore. The World Number 5 is in a rich vein of form and he continued that last week with 5th place at Copperhead. Despite grabbing the lead at the start of the final round, Rose struggled on Sunday, but if there's one thing we have learnt about the Englishman, it's to keep faith with him when he's playing well.
Going back to 2012, here are Rose's performances in the tournament prior to the win: 5th, 8th, 12th, 1st, 2nd, 6th, 22nd, 10th, 1st, 10th. You can add to that a 9th place finish at the Travellers prior to winning that AT&T National at Aronimink in 2011. That win came after a disappointing final round at TPC River Highlands and that theme again is something we can extrapolate with Justin who disappointed on Sundays at PGA National (2012 prior to winning the WGC Cadillac), Muirfield Village (2013 prior to winning the U.S. Open) and Silverado (2015 prior to winning the Hong Kong Open), before winning some pretty substantial tournaments. Justin can clearly see the bigger picture rather than getting disappointed with near misses and right now his game is in excellent health. 2nd for par-4 Scoring Average, 66th for par-5 Birdie or Better Conversion, 14th for Putting Average and intriguingly 11th for Strokes Gained Putting are great PGA Tour statistics for the test ahead at Bay Hill. At a tournament where Bermudagrass putting is so critical, it's fascinating to see that Justin was 3rd for Strokes Gained Putting (12th for Putting Average) at Copperhead last week.
As we know Rose produces his best golf on classical courses - and equally at big tournaments - and Bay Hill suits him down to the ground. 3rd here in 2011 came after a 5th the week before at Copperhead where he'd shot 74 on Sunday to not convert a 54-hole lead. 2nd here in 2013 to Tiger Woods came after an 8th at Doral on his last outing. It's clear though that Rose has never arrived in Orlando, the city where he used to live, in such a rich vein of putting form. Bay Hill is a course he thrives on and capturing another big U.S tournament victory - his first since 2015 - must be a target he feels is within reach this week. RESULT: 3rd
Brian Harman is the sort who would win this and break your heart that you weren't on him the week he claimed his 3rd PGA Tour win. Ever since he shot -4/68 in a windswept final round here on course debut in 2012, it's been obvious that Brian gets on well with Bay Hill and if we're looking for a player who's putting the lights out as they arrive in Orlando he's certainly the man. On his way to an impressive WGC-level 5th in Mexico a fortnight ago, Brian gained over 2.2 Strokes on the greens at Chapultepec. His scores of 68-67-68-68 were the height of consistency and that kind of performance with the flat stick is no fluke. Strokes Gained Putting ranks of 7th, 11th, and 8th have come on Bermudagrass greens in Sea Island, Kapalua and Waialae and statistically you will not find many that tick all of the right boxes better than the University of Georgia product this week. Solid as a rock on the par-4s, Brian is 46th on Tour for par-5 Birdie or Better and improved to -6 on the par-5s here 12 months ago. His correlating course form across the likes of Waialae, Torrey Pines, Riviera, Harbour Town, TPC Sawgrass, Colonial and Bethpage Black works brilliantly for the test this week. It's also worth remembering that Brian was 2nd at the U.S. Open and 13th at the PGA Championship last year on monster courses. He comes to the fore on mid-score (-11 to -17) level tournaments and at 7th in the Team USA Ryder Cup standings, a win this week would pretty much lock his place on the flight to Paris in September - which on form over the last 10 months you have to say he merits. RESULT: T54
Patton Kizzire must feel very confident right now and I think he's overpriced this week. We know that Patton is Bermudagrass-positive and clearly he's having the season of his life right now. 10th in Jackson, 4th at TPC Summerlin and his first PGA Tour win at El Camaleon in the autumn boosted the Sea Island, Georgia, resident to 121st in the OWGR at the turn of the year. We've seen many a player dine out on their first PGA Tour triumph, but Patton has had none of that. A second win at Waialae came in January - a course which links well through to Bay Hill champions Ernie Els, Matt Every and Marc Leishman. Then on his last outing, at WGC-level in Mexico, Kizzire finished with a -5/66 to jump into 12th spot and again grab a decent haul of OWGR + FedEx Cup points. Now into March, he still ranks 2nd in the FedEx Cup points standings, 51st in the OWGR and 12th in the Ryder Cup standings for Team America.
I'm certain that the wide fairways of Bay Hill will suit Patton this week who averages 300 yards off the tee and his season-long statistics make for great reading: 13th for par-4 Scoring Average, 9th for par-5 Birdie or Better Conversion, 11th for Proximity to the Hole and 19th for Strokes Gained Putting. Going back to Johnson Wagner in 2012, we've seen a number of players finish in the top 10 at the Sony Open and then finish in the top 5 here and I think Kizzire could be the next of those. RESULT: MC
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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