With only 5 weeks to go now until The Masters, the PGA Tour moves to Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. With Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka both finishing runner-up last week to Keith Mitchell (well done if you were on at 300/1) at the Honda Classic and with Dustin Johnson dominating in Mexico, it’s clear that the very best golfers are peaking both for the Players Championship next week and naturally for Augusta in April.
This week at Bay Hill, despite a late withdrawal from Tiger Woods, we have a high-class field which includes defending champion Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Tommy Fleetwood. This is an Invitational-status (3 year PGA Tour exemption for the winner) 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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Before we talk the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the number of new visitors to Golf Betting System is increasing in the inevitable build-up to The Masters. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) our Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here. Masters lovers will also enjoy our Ante-post Masters Podcast.
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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 7,454 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.”
2019 sees a new tee-box on the par-5 4th hole, which takes the overall yardage up from 561 yards to 590 yards for the hole. Overall the course has been extended 35 yards taking it out to 7,454 yards – and remember this is at sea-level.
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. 2018: 72.02 (+0.02), Rank 15 0f 51 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Bay Hill and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
- Bay Hill: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:34; 300:34; 325:39 350:29.
- PGA National: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:26 350:25.
- Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:29; 300:25; 325:27 350:27.
- Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 41 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:34 350:30.
- TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:30; 300:29; 325:29 350:29.
- Torrey Pines South: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:25 350:23.
- TPC Stadium: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:30; 300:29; 325:29; 350:27.
- Waialae: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:32; 300:33; 325:37; 350:34.
- Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 54 yards wide; 275:58; 300:62; 325:57; 350:61.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Arnold Palmer designs include:
- PGA West – Palmer Private – Host Course 2008 through 2015 Career Builder Challenge
- Isleworth Golf & Country Club – 2014 Hero World Challenge
- Albany – 2015 – 2018 Hero World Challenge
- TPC Boston – Dell Technologies Championship
Course Overview: 2015 saw Bay Hill receive a facelift. Fairways were widened and tree numbers were reduced, making driving here a lot easier than was seen across both PGA National and Copperhead on the 2018 Florida swing. Indeed Bay Hill’s fairways have ranked 45th (2015), 44th (2016), 37th (2017) and 39th (2018) 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 10th shortest for all drives in 2018 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 of course 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 and if the course isn’t soft, it also has a set of par-4s which traditionally are some of the sternest on Tour. The 2018 renewal won imperiously by Rory McIlroy saw course scoring as: par-3 Scoring Average – 7th most difficult on Tour, par-4 Scoring Average – 11th most difficult, and par-5 Scoring Average 33rd most difficult.
All of which highlights that firm conditions can make this classical golf course a mid-scoring test. Bay Hill also ranked in the top quartile in terms of difficulty for Proximity to Hole last year, so to score heavily here players 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 Rory McIlroy, Marc Leishman, Jason Day and Matt Every, across both of the Floridian’s 2014 and 2015 wins, ranked 1st, 2nd, 6th, 8th and 3rd in Stokes Gained Putting.
Winners: 2018: Rory McIlroy (-18); 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 | Combined Stats.
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, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Si Woo Kim, Luke List, Phil Mickelson and Adam Hadwin.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Sony Open, which includes 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:
- Driving Accuracy: 1) Kevin Streelman; 2) Scott Langley; 3) Keegan Bradley / Matthew Fitzpatrick / Ryan Moore; 6) Rafa Cabrera-Bello; 7) Daniel Berger; 8) Ryan Armour / Bryson DeChambeau; 10) Andrew Landry / Michael Thompson; 12) Hunter Mahan / Louis Oosthuizen; 14) Jason Kokrak / Adam Long; 16) Rickie Fowler; 17) Abraham Ancer / Adam Hadwin; 19) Ian Poulter; 20) Brooks Koepka / Davis Love III.
- Greens in Regulation: 1) Brooks Koepka; 2) Keegan Bradley; 3) Hideki Matsuyama; 4) Charles Howell III; 5) Rickie Fowler / Ian Poulter; 7) Jason Kokrak; 8) Matthew Fitzpatrick / Tommy Fleetwood; 10) Rory McIlroy / Thorbjorn Olesen; 12) Danny Lee; 13) Martin Kaymer / Scott Stallings; 15) Harold Varner III; 16) Brendan Steele; 17) Lucas Glover / Talor Gooch / Charley Hoffman; 20) Nate Lashley.
- Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Shane Lowry / Rory McIlroy; 3) Jason Day; 4) Bryson DeChambeau / Patrick Reed; 6) Kevin Kisner / Louis Oosthuizen; 8) Billy Horschel / Ian Poulter; 10) Ryan Moore; 11) Brooks Koepka; 12) Eddie Pepperell / Michael Thompson; 14) Nate Lashley; 15) Kevin Na; 16) Matt Every; 17) J.T. Poston; 18) Hao-Tong Li / Vaughn Taylor; 20) Matt Wallace.
Winners & Prices: 2018: McIlroy 20/1; 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. Past 5 Renewals Average: 100/1; Overall Average: 64/1.
- 2018: Thursday: Sunny with a high of 72. Wind WNW 4-8 mph. Friday: Sunny with a high of 77. Wind variable 3-6 mph. Saturday: Sunny with a high of 83. Wind SW 5-12 mph. Sunday: Sunny with a high of 85. Wind W 6-12 mph.
- 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
- 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 Arnold Palmer Invitational. 20mm of rain fell in the area in the middle of last week, but with fine conditions and no rain forecast this week, the course is due to get firmer and faster throughout, especially with temperatures between 20-30 degrees Celsius forecast for Friday through Sunday. Tranquil conditions will be prevalent across the opening 36 holes, with some light breezes Saturday afternoon. Sunday will see the strongest winds with 15-20mph from the south-east. Expect mid-score scoring (mid-teens) to be the target this week on a course which should offer up some resistance.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 9 winners since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this:
- 2018, Rory McIlroy (-18). 317 yards (1st), 64.3% fairways (48th), 63.9% greens in regulation (45th), 30’0″ proximity to hole (1st), 80.8 % scrambling (1st), 1.61 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2017, Marc Leishman (-11). 294 yards (26th), 73.2% fairways (17th), 73.6% greens in regulation (1st), 39’11” proximity to hole (39th), 68.4 % scrambling (16th), 1.74 putts per GIR (23rd).
- 2016, Jason Day (-17). 305 yards (6th), 67.9% fairways (44th), 63.9% greens in regulation (29th), 40’11” proximity to hole (59th), 73.1 % scrambling (20th), 1.59 putts per GIR (5th).
- 2015, Matt Every (-19). 290 yards (34th), 73.2% fairways (34th), 80.6% greens in regulation (2nd), 31’6″ proximity to hole (3rd), 64.3 % scrambling (30th), 1.66 putts per GIR (7th).
- 2014, Matt Every (-13). 282 yards (48th), 60.7% fairways (51st), 72.2% greens in regulation (7th), 33’8″ proximity to hole (11th), 60.0 % scrambling (34th), 1.65 putts per GIR (3rd).
- 2013, Tiger Woods (-13). 279 yards (49th), 53.6% fairways (71st), 63.9% greens in regulation (34th), 38’10” proximity to hole (46th), 61.5% scrambling (32nd), 1.63 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2012, Tiger Woods (-13). 295 yards (11th), 64.3% fairways (29th), 79.2% greens in regulation (1st), 36’4″ proximity to hole (20th), 60.0% scrambling (10th), 1.84 putts per GIR (52nd).
- 2011, Martin Laird (-8). 297 yards (5th), 71.4% fairways (22nd), 68.1% greens in regulation (20th), 40’11” proximity to hole (59th), 52.2% scrambling (34th), 1.78 putts per GIR (22nd).
- 2010, Ernie Els (-11). 291 yards (17th), 69.6% fairways (7th), 69.4% greens in regulation (9th), 39’5″ proximity to hole (44th), 50.0% scrambling (40th), 1.68 putts per GIR (15th).
Tournament Skill Average:
- Driving Distance: 22nd, Driving Accuracy: 36th, Greens in Regulation: 20th, Proximity to Hole: 31st, Scrambling: 24th, Putting Average 14th.
Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:
- 2018, Rory McIlroy (-18). SG Off the Tee: 31st, SG Approach: 13th, SG Around the Green: 20th, SG Tee to Green: 7th, SG Putting: 1st.
- 2017, Marc Leishman (-11). SG Off the Tee: 32nd, SG Approach: 10th, SG Around the Green: 45th, SG Tee to Green: 13th, SG Putting: 2nd.
- 2016, Jason Day (-17). SG Off the Tee: 11th, SG Approach: 25th, SG Around the Green: 22nd, SG Tee to Green: 8th, SG Putting: 6th.
Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:
- SG Off the Tee: 25th, SG Approach: 16th, SG Around the Green: 29th, SG Tee to Green: 9th, SG Putting: 3rd.
Let’s take a view from players as to how Bay Hill sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Rory McIlroy (2018): “This is a golf course where you need to play the par-3s well and play the par-5s well and to be only 1-under on the par-5s is, I need to do that better. So I guess with shooting what I shot today and only being that, it’s not a, it’s not disastrous. But yeah, I need to take advantage of the par-5s, because that’s – look at Tiger’s won it plenty of times around here and that’s what he did, he can be conservative and play conservative for the most part, but if you make birdies on the par-5s, you’re going to be right up there.”
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 9 Arnold Palmer winners:
- 2018 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 13th, Round 2: 11th, Round 3: 3rd.
- 2017 – Marc Leishman: Round 1: 20th, Round 2: 4th, Round 3: 3rd.
- 2016 – Jason Day: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2015 – Matt Every: Round 1: 7th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 3rd.
- 2014 – Matt Every: Round 1: 17th, Round 2: 10th, Round 3: 3rd.
- 2013 – Tiger Woods: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 7th, Round 3: 1st.
- 2012 – Tiger Woods: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2011 – Martin Laird: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2010 – Ernie Els: Round 1: 5th, Round 2 1st, Round 3: 1st.
Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 9 Arnold Palmer winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:
- 2018 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 6 back, Round 3: 2 back.
- 2017 – Marc Leishman: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 3 back.
- 2016 – Jason Day: Round 1: 1 ahead, Round 2: 2 ahead, Round 3: 2 ahead.
- 2015 – Matt Every: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 3 back.
- 2014 – Matt Every: Round 1: 7 back, Round 2: 9 back, Round 3: 4 back.
- 2013 – Tiger Woods: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 2 ahead.
- 2012 – Tiger Woods: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 1 ahead.
- 2011 – Martin Laird: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: 2 ahead.
- 2010 – Ernie Els: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 1 ahead.
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
- Rory McIlroy: MC Copperhead/59th Honda/20th Riviera/MC Pebble.
- Marc Leishman: 27th PGA National/MC Riviera/24th TPC Scottsdale/20th Torrey.
- Jason Day: 23rd Doral/11th Pebble/MC Torrey Pines/10th Torrey Pines.
- Matt Every: MC Copperhead/63rd PGA National/49th Riviera/69th Torrey Pines.
- Matt Every: 8th Copperhead/24th PGA National/6th Riviera/MC Pebble/37th TPC Scottsdale.
- Tiger Woods: 1st Doral/37th PGA National/1st Torrey Pines/MC Abu Dhabi.
- Tiger Woods: WD Doral/2nd PGA National/15th Pebble/2nd Abu Dhabi.
- Martin Laird: 5th Copperhead/10th Doral/25th Riviera/3rd TPC Scottsdale.
- Ernie Els: 1st Doral/67th PGA National/10th Riviera.
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
- 2018 – Stenson PM -8/64 – 33/1
- 2017 – Grillo / Fitzpatrick AM/PM Split -5/67 – 80/1 & 66/1
- 2016 – Day – PM -6/66.
- 2015 – Hoffmann – PM -6/66.
- 2014 – Scott – AM -10/62.
- 2013 – Rose – AM -7/65.
- 2012 – Dufner / Wi – AM/PM Split -6/66.
- 2011 – Levin – PM -6/66.
- 2010 – Holmes / Love III – AM/PM Split -6/66.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
- 4 – Jason Day, Bill Haas, Zach Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed.
- 3 – Ernie Els, Brian Gay, Billy Horschel, Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson.
- 2 – Daniel Berger, Jason Dufner, Matt Every, Rickie Fowler, Si-Woo Kim, Chris Kirk, Marc Leishman, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Scott Piercy, Justin Rose, Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson.
- 1 – Ryan Armour, Aaron Baddeley, Keegan Bradley, Cameron Champ, Austin Cook, Harris English, Adam Hadwin, J.B. Holmes, Charles Howell III, Martin Kaymer, Kevin Kisner, Patton Kizzire, Martin Laird, Adam Long, Graeme McDowell, Keith Mitchell, Pat Perez, Charl Schwartzel, Scott Stallings, Robert Streb, Kevin Streelman, Hudson Swafford, Michael Thompson, Jhonattan Vegas, Aaron Wise.
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 24 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 (3 times), Bradley (twice), McIlroy, 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 TifEagle Bermudagrass greens, ideally in Florida, although clearly we can only work off the Honda Classic last week. This is quite a specialised event so strong results on Florida-type courses are essential.