Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Arnold Palmer Invitational Tips

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Lee Westwood delivered a full 80/1 each-way return for this column last week and with Brandon Stone losing in a play-off for Paul Williams in the Oman Open (remember he won with Patrick Reed at 50/1 the week before), it was a decent enough week – which could have been brilliant. Congratulations to Sungjae Im backers who was a 35/1 shot in places pre-event.

Before we talk through my Arnold Palmer Invitational tips, 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) the Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

This week at Bay Hill we have the kind of high-class field you’d expect. Defending champion Francesco Molinari tees it up with Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Marc Leishman. 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.

2020 Majors Competition Sponsored By bet365:

Following on from the success of the last 8 annual GBS Majors competitions, bet365 have kindly offered to sponsor the 2020 edition with a massive £250 CASH prize fund! Our 2020 winner will receive £150 (or currency equivalent) in cash with additional £75 and £25 prizes for 2nd and 3rd place finishers.

Basically we want you to pick a single player for each of the 4 Majors any time before the start of the 2020 Masters and get those 4 names entered into the competition by one of the methods detailed on our rules page here. Best of luck all!

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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 saw a new tee-box on the par-5 4th hole, which took the overall yardage up from 561 yards to 590 yards for the hole, with the overall course being 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: 7,454 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 8; Fairways: Celebration Bermuda; Rough: Celebration Bermuda 3″; Greens: 7,500 sq.ft average TifEagle Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimp: 12ft; 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 of 51 courses. 2019: 72.38 (+0.38), Rank 9 of 49 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: 32 yards wide; 275:33; 300:33; 325:39 350:29.
  • PGA National: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:27 350:25.
  • Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:26 350:28.
  • Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:33; 300:29; 325:30 350:26.
  • TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:30; 300:28; 325:27; 350:27.
  • Torrey Pines South: 250 yards from the tee: 26 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:24; 350:23.
  • TPC Stadium: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:26; 350:24.
  • Waialae: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:32; 300:34; 325:37; 350:34.
  • Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 59 yards wide; 275:61; 300:65; 325:60; 350:62.

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 – 2019 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 for the other Florida Swing stops at both PGA National and Copperhead. Indeed Bay Hill’s fairways have ranked 45th (2015), 44th (2016), 37th (2017), 39th (2018) and 26th (2019) 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 and 14th shortest for all drives in both 2018 and 2019, highlighting that this course, when firm, cannot be simply overpowered 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 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 2019 renewal, won with an amazing Sunday final round -8/64 by Francesco Molinari, saw course scoring as: par-3 Scoring Average – 7th most difficult on Tour, par-4 Scoring Average – 6th most difficult, and par-5 Scoring Average 19th most difficult.

All of this highlights that firm conditions can make this classical golf course a pretty stern test. Bay Hill also ranked in the top 3 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 Francesco Molinari, Rory McIlroy, Marc Leishman, Jason Day and Matt Every, across both of the Floridian’s 2014 and 2015 wins, ranked 4th, 1st, 2nd, 6th, 8th and 3rd in Stokes Gained Putting.

arnold palmer invitational tips

Winners: 2019: Francesco Molinari (-11); 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 | 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 Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama, Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele, Tyrrell Hatton and Jason Day.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Sony Open and South African Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour (where recorded) 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) Matthew Fitzpatrick; 2) Bronson Burgoon / Corey Conners / Tommy Fleetwood; 5) Brian Stuard; 6) K.H. Lee; 7) Bryson DeChambeau; 8) Joel Dahmen / Lee Westwood; 10) Christiaan Beziudenhout / Brendon Todd; 12) Scott Piercy; 13) Viktor Hovland / Doc Redman / Steve Stricker; 16) Tyler Duncan; 17) Nick Taylor / Vaughn Taylor; 19) Mark Hubbard; 20) Sungjae Im.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Corey Conners; 3) Tommy Fleetwood; 4) Collin Morikawa; 5) Xander Schauffele / Harold Varner III; 7) Hideki Matsuyama; 8) Charles Howell III; 9) Brooks Koepka; 10) Tony Finau; 11) Brendan Steele; 12) Marc Leishman / Adam Scott; 14) Max Homa / Russell Knox; 16) Abraham Ancer / Russell Knox; 18) Bubba Watson; 19) Sungjae Im; 20) Bryson DeChambeau / Harris English.
  • Scrambling: 1) Maverick McNealy; 2) Henrik Stenson; 3) Christiaan Beziudenhout; 4) Kevin Kisner; 5) Abraham Ancer; 6) Xander Schauffele / Danny Willett; 8) Bubba Watson; 9) Bud Cauley; 10) K.H. Lee; 11) Brendon Todd / Lee Westwood; 13) Ryan Moore; 14) Byeong Hun An / Jazz Janewattananond; 16) Hideki Matsuyama; 17) Rory McIlroy; 18) Andrew Putnam; 19) Matthew NeSmith / Ian Poulter.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) J.B. Holmes; 2) Christiaan Beziudenhout; 3) Vaughn Taylor; 4) Graeme McDowell; 5) Viktor Hovland; 6) Zac Blair / Jason Day / Tony Finau / Henrik Norlander / Adam Scott; 11) Denny McCarthy; 12) Brian Gay; 13) Max Homa / Scott Piercy / Jimmy Walker; 16) Matt Wallace; 17) Rory McIlroy; 18) Abraham Ancer / Brian Harman; 20) Joel Dahmen / Bryson DeChambeau / Dylan Frittelli.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 20 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Sony Open and South African Open, which includes both PGA and European Tour events where recorded. 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:

  • Top 20 SG Off The Tee: 1) Bryson DeChambeau; 2) Tommy Fleetwood; 3) Adam Scott; 4) Lee Westwood; 5) Max Homa; 6) Xander Schauffele / Bubba Watson; 8) Cameron Champ / Corey Conners; 10) Harry Higgs / Brooks Koepka; 12) Danny Willett; 13) Joel Dahmen / Viktor Hovland; 15) Brian Harman / Sungjae Im / Matthew Wolff / Harold Varner III; 19) Abraham Ancer / Collin Morikawa.
  • Top 20 SG Approach: 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Marc Leishman / Hideki Matsuyama; 4) Collin Morikawa; 5) Adam Scott; 6) Corey Conners; 7) Henrik Stenson; 8) Abraham Ancer; 9) Bubba Watson; 10) Tommy Fleetwood / Matthew NeSmith; 12) Kevin Streelman; 13) Kevin Na / Maverick McNealy / Patrick Reed; 16) Jazz Janewattananond / Russell Knox; 18) Harold Varner III; 19) Kevin Tway; 20) Brendan Steele.
  • Top 20 SG Around The Green: 1) Tony Finau; 2) Byeong Hun An; 3) Jason Day; 4) Rory McIlroy; 5) Adam Scott; 6) Tommy Fleetwood; 7) Hideki Matsuyama; 8) Charles Howell III; 9) Rob Oppenheim; 10) Rory Sabbatini / Brian Stuard; 12) Kevin Streelman; 13) Brooks Koepka; 14) Christiaan Beziudenhout / Alex Noren / Justin Rose; 17) Brian Harman; 18) Bubba Watson; 19) Harris English / Lee Westwood.
  • Top 20 SG Tee to Green: 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Tommy Fleetwood; 3) Collin Morikawa / Adam Scott; 5) Marc Leishman; 6) Jason Day / Hideki Matsuyama / Bubba Watson; 9) Abraham Ancer / Kevin Streelman; 11) Byeong Hun An / Tony Finau; 13) Maverick McNealy; 14) Xander Schauffele; 15) Bryson DeChambeau / Lee Westwood; 17) Brooks Koepka; 18) Christiaan Beziudenhout / Russell Knox; 20) Sungjae Im / Harold Varner III.
  • Top 20 SG Putting: 1) Christiaan Beziudenhout; 2) Patrick Rodgers; 3) J.B. Holmes; 4) Brendon Todd; 5) Matt Wallace; 6) Abraham Ancer / Beau Hossler / J.T. Poston; 9) Kevin Na; 10) Denny McCarthy / Graeme McDowell / Henrik Stenson; 13) Ian Poulter / Bubba Watson; 15) Tom Hoge; 16) Wyndham Clark / Keith Mitchell / Adam Scott; 19) Steve Stricker; 20) Zac Blair / Matthew Fitzpatrick / Matthew NeSmith / Scott Piercy / Charl Schwartzel.
  • Top 20 SG Total: 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Tommy Fleetwood; 3) Adam Scott; 4) Christiaan Beziudenhout; 5) Abraham Ancer / Bubba Watson; 7) Hideki Matsuyama; 8) Bryson DeChambeau; 9) Collin Morikawa; 10) J.B. Holmes; 11) Marc Leishman Maverick McNealy / Matthew NeSmith; 14) Tony Finau; 15) Lee Westwood; 16) Jason Day / Xander Schauffele; 18) Sungjae Im / Kevin Na; 20) Ian Poulter / Patrick Rodgers / Henrik Stenson.

Winners & Prices: 2019: Molinari 33/1; 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 6 Renewals Average: 88/1. Overall Average: 61/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2019: Thursday: Sunny. High of 73. Wind NE 6-12 mph. Friday: Sunny. High of 80. Wind SE 6-12 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 84. Wind SE 10-15 mph. Sunday: Mostly cloudy. High of 87. Wind S 5-10 mph.
  • 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: Weather: 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: latest weather forecast for Bay Hill, Florida, is here. I’m expecting firm and fast conditions again for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Only 6mm of rain fell in the area last week, and with fine conditions and no rain forecast this week, the course is due to get firmer and faster throughout. The only issue could be if the tournament organisers decide to give Bay Hill a good dousing before the tournament starts and that could happen as plenty of wind is forecast throughout the tournament. Now this is a new departure for the Arnold Palmer, which usually features less wind than the Honda Classic. But 2020 sees significant wind in play with Thursday, Saturday and Sunday seeing gusts in excess of 20 mph. Also temperatures fall from 30 degrees Celsius on Thursday to 15-20 at the weekend.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 10 winners of the Arnold Palmer Invitational since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:

  • 2019, Francesco Molinari (-12). 295 yards (36th), 76.8% fairways (3rd), 66.7% greens in regulation (6th), 38’0″ proximity to hole (16th), 79.2 % scrambling (5th), 1.71 putts per GIR (18th).
  • 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 Averages:

Driving Distance: 23rd, Driving Accuracy: 33rd, Greens in Regulation: 15th, Proximity to Hole: 30th, Scrambling: 22nd, Putting Average 15th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 2019, Francesco Molinari (-12). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 34th, SG Around the Green: 44th, SG Tee to Green: 13th, SG Putting: 4th.
  • 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: 19th, SG Approach: 21st, SG Around the Green: 33rd, SG Tee to Green: 10th, SG Putting: 3rd.

Let’s take a view from players as to how Bay Hill sets up and what skill sets the course favours:

Francesco Molinari (2019): ” No, yeah, definitely I got everything out of it. I was saying before, it’s probably my best putting round ever. I started making two great putts at the 1st and 2nd for birdie and par and then just kept going, hit the ball reasonably well, I won’t say it was my best, but, yeah, the putting was just incredible. But I did well to keep it going, keep pushing through the back nine. It’s not easy, this golf course, when it gets firm like this, you don’t get too many chances, so I’m really pleased with what I’ve done.

I think yesterday playing in the third to last group probably I saw it as tough as it can be and today it was a little bit easier compared to that, just a tiny bit softer. And, yeah, I just started well and made a couple of great putts at the beginning and then just tried to keep pushing and keep going, so I don’t know if it’s going to be enough or not, but I’m proud of what I’ve done today.”

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 10 Arnold Palmer winners:

  • 2019 – Francesco Molinari: Round 1: 8th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 17th.
  • 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 10 Arnold Palmer winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2019 – Francesco Molinari: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 5 back.
  • 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:

  • Francesco Molinari: 17th WGC Mexico/27th Kapalua/26th DPWTC/43rd HSBC.
  • 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.

  • 2019 – Cabrera-Bello AM -7/65 – 66/1
  • 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:

  • 6 – Rory McIlroy.
  • 4 – Jason Day, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed, Adam Scott.
  • 3 – Brian Gay, Davis Love III, Henrik Stenson.
  • 2 – Matt Every, Rickie Fowler, Si Woo Kim, Kevin Kisner, Marc Leishman, Phil Mickelson, Scott Piercy, Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele, Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson.
  • 1 – Keegan Bradley; Tyler Duncan, Harris English, Lanto Griffin, Padraig Harrington, J.B. Holmes, Max Homa, Charles Howell III, Mackenzie Hughes, Brooks Koepka, Adam Long, Graeme McDowell, Keith Mitchell, Francesco Molinari, Sebastian Munoz, C.T. Pan, Pat Perez, J.T. Poston, C.T. Pan, Rory Sabbatini, Charl Schwartzel, Kevin Streelman, Steve Stricker, Brian Stuard, Brendon Todd, Lee Westwood.

Read any player interviews 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 3 years 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 and out of the equation, recent top 3 finishers here include the likes of Stenson (3 times), Rose (3 times), Bradley (twice), Cabrera-Bello, Fitzpatrick, Hatton, McIlroy (winner 2018), Leishman (winner 2017), Kisner, Day (winner 2016), Scott, Fowler, McDowell, Poulter, Laird (winner 2011) and Els (winner 2010). All were inside the Official World Golf Rankings top 50 when they competed and all had invites in their back pocket to 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 performed well on TifEagle Bermudagrass greens, ideally in Florida, although that has become more difficult with only the Honda Classic now the week before. Clearly we can also work off European Tour courses such Emirates GC (Dubai Desert Classic) and the Earth Course (DP World Tour Championship). This is quite a specialised event so strong results on Florida-type courses such as PGA National, TPC Sawgrass and Doral are essential.

My Final Arnold Palmer Invitational Tips Are As Follows:

Bubba Watson 1.5pts EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral

Paul Williams landed a nice 50/1 winner with Patrick Reed at the WGC-Mexico Championship a fortnight ago and I must say I’m pleasantly surprised to see Bubba Watson at exactly the same price this week.

A Windermere, Florida resident for many years, Bubba has only missed this tournament once since 2006. It’s a home game for Bubba, granted, but I also think it’s a tournament and a course which motivates and suits the World Number 48. 8th in 2008, 24th in 2011 after being 3rd after 54 holes, 4th in 2012, 14th in 2013, and 17th last year after being 9th after 36 holes. I wouldn’t describe Bay Hill as a Bubba Watson course, but undoubtedly he gets in the mix a fair bit around here. 3rd (2010) and 4th (2019) at Copperhead, Bubba is also a 3-time runner up at Trump Doral across 2012, 2014 and naturally 2016 (it’s always even years with Bubba!), so he can play in his home state very nicely.

A 2-time winner on Bermudagrass greens as well at TPC Louisiana (2011) and Austin Country Club (2018), Bubba seems to have excellent credentials to win an Arnold Palmer Invitational. He’s also got an excellent record across, long, classical, correlating golf courses such as Torrey Pines, Riviera Country Club, Augusta National, Quail Hollow, Muirfield Village and Bethpage Black.

With 2020 form of 6(Torrey Pines)-3(TPC Scottsdale)-MC(Riviera)-18(Chapultepec), Bubba enters this week with the kind of under-the-radar immediate form that winners of this tournament, who aren’t Tiger Woods, tend to have. Plus he’s also showing some great skill-set form too, highlighting a player who’s playing confidently and all-round. Across my 8-week trackers in this field he ranks 18th for Greens in Regulation, 8th for Scrambling, 6th for SG Off the Tee, 9th for SG on Approach, 18th for SG Around the Green, 6th for SG Tee to Green, 13th for SG Putting and 5th for SG Total. I like the price and I’m sure Watson in a perfect world would want to land a big tournament either here or at the WGC Dell Matchplay before Augusta National. RESULT: MC

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Tyrrell Hatton 1.5pts EW 50/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

From a solid each-way perspective there’s lots to like about Tyrrell Hatton who hit the ground running on his 2020 debut in Mexico.

Fresh off a wrist injury, Hatton finished a remarkable 6th at Chapultepec, driven by a performance where he ranked 9th for SG Off the Tee, 9th for SG on Approach, 6th for SG Around The Green and 1st for SG Tee to Green. 4th at both PGA National and here in 2017, Tyrrell has played Bay Hill 3 times now, also finishing 29th 12 months ago when he entered Sunday in 11th spot.

He actually comes into this week a little under the radar in my view, but his form has been exceptional since Wentworth last September: 15th at the Dunhill Links, 18th at the Italian Open, 6th at the CJ Cup, 14th at the HSBC Champions, 1st at the Turkish Airlines Open, 46th at the DP World Tour Championship and now 6th at the WGC Mexico Championship.

Good results in big tournaments must breed confidence and Hatton has always been the sort to string top results together plus mix it at the very highest levels. On United States soil he’s finished 10th at the 2015 PGA Championship (Whistling Straits), 6th at the 2018 U.S. Open (Shinnecock Hills) and 10th at the 2018 PGA Championship (Baltusrol).  5th (2016) and 6th (2020) at the Open Championship are also fascinating finishes as these renewals were at Royal Troon and Royal Portrush – both of which featured nasty, windy, technical scoring weather.

For additional TifEagle Bermudagrass green form over and above PGA National and here at Bay Hill, look no further than 8th (2016), 3rd (2017) and 3rd (2018) at Emirates GC (Dubai Desert Classic) and 6th (2014), 2nd (2016) and 8th (2017) at the Earth Course (DP World Tour Championship).

Hatton is a Tour maiden, but could well be buoyed by Sungjae Im’s sparkling PGA Tour victory last week in West Palm Beach. RESULT: Winner

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Abraham Ancer 1.5pts EW 60/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

The 2019 Presidents Cup narrative has been huge at the start of 2020. Justin Thomas, Cameron Smith, Marc Leishman, Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Reed and now Sungjae Im. They all played at Royal Melbourne in a close and competitive match, which has undoubtedly boosted the confidence of many of the competitors. I’m hoping that Abraham Ancer takes real positives from the South Korean’s maiden victory last week and captures his first PGA Tour win this week in Orlando, on a course and in conditions I think will suit.

The 2019/2020 season has already seen Abraham reach a career high Number 27 in the Official World Golf Rankings. 4th at the WGC HSBC Champions, 8th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and 2nd at The American Express on the PGA Tour, his immediate form of 43rd at Riviera and 12th at Chapultepec, keeps him a little out of the spotlight this week which I like. But his game is in such good nick.

Across my 8-week skill set trackers he ranks 16th for Greens in Regulation, 5th for Scrambling, 18th for Putting Average, 19th for SG Off the Tee, 8th for SG on Approach, 9th for SG Tee to Green, 6th for SG Putting and 5th for SG Total. His all-round game is undoubtedly flourishing and encouragingly he putted beautifully on the Bermudagrass greens at PGA West last time out on similar dancefloors.

4th at TPC Potomac, 5th at Glen Abbey and 7th at TPC Boston in 2017, he was also 2nd at Liberty National last August behind Patrick Reed in a Major Championship strength tournament. 16th at Copperhead in 2018 and more prominently 12th last year at TPC Sawgrass where he was 3rd after 36 holes and 5th going into Sunday, highlights to me a player who can mix it on his second look at Bay Hill. RESULT: T56

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Kevin Kisner 1pt EW 80/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

A tough, windswept renewal where a good short game on Bermudagrass greens is essential shouts Kevin Kisner to me and he undoubtedly showed signs of life in Mexico last time out.

A 3-time winner on the PGA Tour, the World number 34 from South Carolina is always one to watch on Bermudagrass. So I was interested to see that he finished 18th at Chapultepec on Poa Annua greens which really aren’t to his taste. Despite that he had his best putting performance since the Tour Championship last August – finishing 10th for SG Putting – and that for me is a green light for a player whose real strength is his putting.

5th (2016), 4th (2017) and 4th (2020) at Waialae; 2nd at TPC Sawgrass (2015); 2nd (2015) and 7th (2019) at Harbour Town; 2nd (2017) and 5th (2019) at TPC Louisiana; 6th (2014) and 7th (2017) at Quail Hollow; 8th (2014) and 10th (2016) at Sedgefield; 3rd (2017) and 9th (2019) at East Lake; 4th (2014), 1st (2015) 4th (2017) and 7th (2018) at Sea Island. It’s not difficult to ascertain that Kevin plays his best golf in the south of the United States on Bermudagrass greens.

2nd (2018) and 1st (2019) at the WGC Dell Matchplay at Austin Country Club also came specifically on TifEagle Bermudagrass greens in Texas, and let’s remember that Kisner also finished 2nd here at Bay Hill to Marc Leishman in 2017. That year featured gusting 15-25 mph winds across 2 days, on a fast, firm golf course and for me is the closest of the recent renewals which match to what I’m expecting this week.

Kisner’s victory at Colonial in 2017 also came in a windswept tournament where he took his biggest strokeplay title to date with a winning score of -10/270. So I think the conditions will suit this week and as we see so often when the Tour changes from predominantly Poa Annua on the West Coast to Bermudagrass in Florida, Kevin might just pop up with a high-end performance. RESULT: MC

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J.B. Holmes 1pt EW 100/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

J.B. Holmes will never win a popularity contest with his slow style an absolute turn-off for many golf viewers and punters. But undoubtedly Holmes is an underrated sort who actually brings win equity to a bet. His last 3 victories have come at odds of 66/1, 33/1 and 150/1; whilst 5 wins on the PGA Tour in total matches luminaries such as Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, Marc Leishman and Hideki Matsuyama.

But why am I sweet on J.B. this week? Well Florida form is pretty strong for a guy who’s been based here in Orlando for a long period of time. 10th (2008) and 6th (2011) at TPC Sawgrass, 8th (2007) at Copperhead and 2nd (2015) at the WGC-Cadillac Championship held at Trump Doral signifies a player who can play in the Sunshine State. And his record here at Bay Hill is steady enough with 9 pay cheques from 11 appearances, featuring a 10th in 2014.

Correlating form at strong classical courses such Torrey Pines (2nd 2015, 6th 2016, 4th 2018), Riviera (7th 2008, 6th 2009, 3rd 2010, 8th 2012, 1st 2019), Augusta National (4th 2016), Quail Hollow (9th 2009, 1st 2014), Muirfield Village (4th 2016), Aronimink (5th 2010) and Conway Farms (4th 2015), is pretty much exactly what I’m looking for.

2020 has also been ok if not spectacular for Kentuckian Holmes, who has year form of 30-16-16-14-14-51(when defending last time out at Riviera). That’s the kind of form that Marc Leishman was showing when winning this back in 2017 at 100/1.

So we know J.B. is comfortable on classical courses, in the wind, and when the scoring gets tougher. His 8-week tracker numbers also interest me greatly on a course where confident putting is vital. Holmes sits in this field 1st for Putting Average, 3rd for Strokes Gained Putting and 10th for Strokes Gained Total. RESULT: WD Pre-Event

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:00GMT 2.3.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.