Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Arnold Palmer Invitational Tips

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Congratulations to you if you were on board either Collin Morikawa or Branden Grace last week at best prices of 45/1 (Unibet) and 20/1 (Betfred) respectively pre-event.

Morikawa landed his 4th PGA Tour victory and his 3rd on a Jack Nicklaus design, with a composed and professional Sunday back-9 performance. Unlike many we’ve seen already in 2021, Collin has the closing ability and even better bookmakers at the moment cut him a little slack with their prices. Branden Grace proved that winning experience at alternate events can be very profitable and although his Puerto Rico Open win was only his 2nd PGA Tour victory, it was his 14th globally. Great to see him back!

With the WGC Worlday Championship in the rear-view mirror, it’s well worth checking out our latest best golf additional each-way places analysis – to make sure you have all the golf additional each-way angles covered. 888Sport, bet365, Betfred, Coral and Ladbrokes have all started giving more additional each-way places in recent weeks, so make sure you’re up to speed with the 2021 golf betting market.

This week at Bay Hill we have a decent field, but undoubtedly being sandwiched between the WGC Workday Championship and the Players Championship has had a slightly detrimental effect. It’s still strong though, with defending champion Tyrrell Hatton teeing it up with Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Viktor Hovland, Tommy Fleetwood, Sungjae Im, Justin Rose, Marc Leishman, Jason Day, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth, Francesco Molinari, and Rickie Fowler. 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.

Before we go into the detail surrounding my Arnold Palmer Invitational tips, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System as we work our way towards April and The Masters.  Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, 5,800+ strong, private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

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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 – as per last week at The Concession.

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: 9; Fairways: Celebration Bermuda; Rough: Celebration Bermuda overseeded with Perennial Rye 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. 2020: 74.11 (+2.11), Rank 1 of 41 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.
  • 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.
  • Seaside Course: 250 yards from the tee: 42 yards wide; 275:40; 300:34; 325:31; 350:23.
  • TPC Summerlin: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:30; 350:31.

Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Arnold Palmer designs include:

  • Albany – 2015 – 2019 Hero World Challenge
  • Isleworth Golf & Country Club – 2014 Hero World Challenge
  • PGA West – Palmer Private – Host Course 2008 through 2015 Career Builder Challenge
  • TPC Boston – Dell Technologies Championship + 2020 The Northern Trust.
  • TPC Twin Cities – 3M Open.

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. ‘Driving Distance – All Drives’ also paints a picture as Bay Hill perennially ranks in the top 15 shortest for all drives, 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. Those numbers will have only got far worse after 2020’s tournament where Tyrrell Hatton captured his first PGA Tour title of his career with a winning score of -4/284. Only the Englishman, Marc Leishman, Sungjae Im and Bryson DeChambeau shot under par. Bay Hill played +2.11 shots over par, which made it the toughest golf course on the whole of the 2019/20 PGA Tour.

All of which highlights that firm conditions can make this classical golf course a pretty stern test. Bay Hill perennially ranks in the top 5 in terms of difficulty for Proximity to Hole, 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 Tyrrell Hatton, Francesco Molinari, Rory McIlroy, Marc Leishman, Jason Day and Matt Every, across both of the Floridian’s 2014 and 2015 wins, ranked 15th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 6th, 8th and 3rd in Stokes Gained Putting.

arnold palmer invitational tips

Winners: 2020: Tyrrell Hatton (-5); 2019: Francesco Molinari (-12); 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).

Lead Score Progression:

  • 2020: Round 1 -7; Round 2 -7; Round 3 -6; Round 4 -5.
  • 2019: Round 1 -7; Round 2 -9; Round 3 -9; Round 4 -12.
  • 2018: Round 1 -8; Round 2 -11; Round 3 -12; Round 4 -18.
  • 2017: Round 1 -5; Round 2 -10; Round 3 -11; Round 4 -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, Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, Viktor Hovland, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Jason Kokrak, Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Marc Leishman.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Keegan Bradley; 2) Joel Dahmen, 3) Cameron Percy; 4) Brendon Todd; 5) Mark Hubbard / Kevin Kisner; 7) Steve Sticker; 8) Corey Conners; 9) Sungjae Im / Louis Oosthuizen; 11) Martin Laird; 12) Jim Herman; 13) Graeme McDowell; 14) Viktor Hovland; 15) Matthew Fitzpatrick; 16) Brian Stuard; 17) Christiaan Bezuidenhout; 18) Paul Casey / Brendan Steele; 20) Patrick Reed / Lee Westwood; 22) Lucas Glover / Kramer Hickok / Russell Knox / Matthew NeSmith / Doc Redman.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Paul Casey; 2) Viktor Hovland; 3) Cameron Percy; 4) Corey Conners; 5) Tommy Fleetwood / Jason Kokrak; 7) Kyle Stanley; 8) Keegan Bradley / Matthew NeSmith / Will Zalatoris; 11) Henrik Norlander; 12) Emiliano Grillo / Luke List; 14) Russell Knox / Graeme McDowell / Cameron Tringale; 17) Tyrrell Hatton / Robert MacIntyre / Bernd Wiesberger / Aaron Wise; 21) Charley Hoffman; 22) Matthew Fitzpatrick / Max Homa / Brendan Steele; 25) Cameron Champ.
  • Scrambling: 1) Christiaan Bezuidenhout; 2) Paul Casey; 3) Nick Taylor; 4) Francesco Molinari / Louis Oosthuizen / Victor Perez; 7) Matthew Fitzpatrick / Brendon Todd; 9) Marc Leishman; 10) Tyrrell Hatton; 11) Adam Hadwin / Si Woo Kim; 13) Billy Horschel; 14) Justin Rose; 15) Harris English / Bo Hoag / Robert MacIntyre; 18) Bryson DeChambeau / Viktor Hovland / Martin Laird; 21) Dylan Frittelli / Henrik Norlander / Patrick Reed; 24) Matt Jones / Kevin Na / Brendan Steele.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Max Homa; 2) Brendon Todd; 3) Anirban Lahiri; 4) Kevin Kisner; 5) Steve Stricker; 6) Tyrrell Hatton; 7) Marc Leishman; 8) Louis Oosthuizen;  9) Viktor Hovland / Jordan Spieth; 11) Tommy Fleetwood / Sungjae Im / Patrick Reed / Robert Streb; 15) Billy Horschel / Peter Malnati; 17) Doug Ghim / Matt Jones / J.T. Poston; 20) Robby Shelton; 21) Mark Hubbard / Shane Lowry / Kevin Na; 24) Sam Burns; 25) Paul Casey / Adam Hadwin / Rory McIlroy / Patrick Rodgers / Cameron Tringale.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Viktor Hovland; 2) Rory McIlroy; 3) Cameron Champ / Tyrrell Hatton; 5) Emiliano Grillo; 6) Paul Casey / Brendan Steele; 8) Bryson DeChambeau / Luke List; 10) Louis Oosthuizen; 11) Corey Conners / Justin Rose; 13) Cameron Davis; 14) Matthew Fitzpatrick / Sungjae Im; 16) Tommy Fleetwood / Robert MacIntyre / Charl Schwartzel; 19) Jason Day; 20) Lucas Glover / Kramer Hickok / Henrik Norlander / Lee Westwood; 24) Billy Horschel / Jason Kokrak / Graeme McDowell.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Viktor Hovland; 2) Tyrrell Hatton; 3) Paul Casey / Marc Leishman; 5) Henrik Norlander; 6) Keegan Bradley / Max Homa; 8) Christiaan Bezuidenhout  / Tommy Fleetwood; 10) Cameron Tringale; 11) Lanto Griffin; 12) Will Zalatoris; 13) Kevin Kisner; 14) Aaron Wise; 15) Kevin Na / Rory McIlroy; 17) Jordan Spieth / Kyle Stanley; 19) Francesco Molinari; 20) Corey Conners; 21) Cameron Davis / Russell Knox / Matthew NeSmith; 24) Luke List; 25) Bernd Wiesberger.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Brendon Todd; 2) Rickie Fowler / K.H. Lee / Kevin Na; 5) Martin Laird; 6) Christiaan Bezuidenhout / Adam Hadwin / Tyrrell Hatton; 9) John Huh; 10) Jordan Spieth; 11) Paul Casey; 12) Bryson DeChambeau; 13) Andrew Putnam / Bernd Wiesberger; 15) Robert MacIntyre; 16) Robby Shelton; 17) Francesco Molinari / Patrick Reed / Steve Stricker; 20) Wyndham Clark / Matthew Fitzpatrick / Nick Taylor; 23) Si Woo Kim / Rory McIlroy; 25) Brian Gay / Chris Kirk / Henrik Stenson.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Viktor Hovland; 2) Paul Casey; 3) Cameron Davis; 4) Tyrrell Hatton; 5) Corey Conners; 6) Christiaan Bezuidenhout / Rory McIlroy; 8) Robert MacIntyre; 9) Tommy Fleetwood; 10) Bryson DeChambeau; 11) Keegan Bradley / Luke List / Kevin Na / Cameron Tringale; 15) Henrik Norlander / Justin Rose / Jordan Spieth; 18) Max Homa; 19) Brendan Steele; 20) Matthew Fitzpatrick / Marc Leishman; 22) John Huh; 23) Bernd Wiesberger / Will Zalatoris; 25) Shane Lowry / Aaron Wise.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Louis Oosthuizen; 2) Marc Leishman; 3) Kevin Kisner; 4) Matt Jones; 5) Adam Hadwin / Mark Hubbard; 7) Matthew Fitzpatrick / Lanto Griffin / Brendon Todd; 10) Patrick Reed; 11) Paul Casey; 12) Sungjae Im; 13) Lee Westwood; 14) Danny Willett; 15) Jason Kokrak; 16) Sam Burns / Bryson DeChambeau / Tommy Fleetwood; 19) Andrew Putnam; 20) Billy Horschel; 21) Jordan Spieth / Robert Streb; 23) Tyrrell Hatton; 24) Chris Kirk; 25) Patrick Rodgers.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Paul Casey; 2) Viktor Hovland; 3) Louis Oosthuizen; 4) Tyrrell Hatton; 5) Cameron Davis; 6) Sam Burns / Matthew Fitzpatrick; 8) Marc Leishman; 9) Tommy Fleetwood; 10) Sungjae Im; 11) Matt Jones; 12) Lanto Griffin / Max Homa / Robert MacIntyre / Jordan Spieth; 16) Rory McIlroy / Will Zalatoris; 18) Christiaan Bezuidenhout / Patrick Reed; 20) Bryson DeChambeau / Jason Kokrak; 22) Kevin Kisner; 23) Brendan Steele; 24) Brendon Todd; 25) Corey Conners / Chris Kirk / Henrik Norlander / Bernd Wiesberger.

Winners & Prices: 2020: Hatton 55/1; 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 7 Renewals Average: 84/1. Overall Average: 60/1.

For a full summary of winner’s odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.

Historical Weather:

  • 2020: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 89. Wind SSW 10-15 mph with gusts up to 25. Friday: Partly cloudy and cooler. High of 75. Wind NW 12-16 mph, with gusts to 22 mph. Saturday: Sunny and cool. High of 66. Wind N/NE 10-16 mph, with gusts to 23 mph. Sunday: Cloudy, with a high of 73. Wind ENE 15-20 mph, with gusts to 25 mph.
  • 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: The latest weather forecast for Bay Hill, Florida, is here.

I’m not expecting the conditions that we saw here 12 months ago, but as per in Florida it’s likely to be a mixed bag. 78mm of rain in February was double that we saw here prior to the event 12 months ago, but there hasn’t been any rain here for a week, so turf conditions are likely to be similar to The Concession last week. There’s a 50% chance of a shower on Wednesday and a 75% chance of rain on Saturday.

Florida golf is infamous for wind and as we saw last year, it can have a serious effect at Bay Hill. This week looks like a tournament of two halves with Thursday/Friday calm, whereas Saturday sees gusts of 20mph and Sunday up to 25 mph.

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

  • 2020, Tyrrell Hatton (-4). 287 yards (45th), 53.6% fairways (33rd), 58.3% greens in regulation (9th), 40″7″ proximity to hole (10th), 66.7 % scrambling (7th), 1.74 putts per GIR (13th).
  • 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: 25th, Driving Accuracy: 33rd, Greens in Regulation: 15th, Proximity to Hole: 28th, Scrambling: 21st, Putting Average 15th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 2020, Tyrrell Hatton (-4). SG Off the Tee: 24th, SG Approach: 2nd, SG Around the Green: 27th, SG Tee to Green: 5th, SG Putting: 15th.
  • 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: 18th, SG Approach: 17th, SG Around the Green: 32nd, SG Tee to Green: 9th, SG Putting: 6th.

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

Tyrrell Hatton (2020): I mean, the greens are pretty firm anyway so I think they’re only going to get firmer throughout the week. I wouldn’t say it was an advantage going out really early this morning because they were still kind of rock hard then. So it’s an interesting challenge, the course is in great condition and we’ll see how it goes.

Yeah, the wind was obviously coming from a slightly different direction, so obviously some holes played easier, some played tougher. To give you an indication, the 9th hole, yesterday I was trying to hit a flighted 4-iron into there and today we were hitting a 9-iron. So it shows you the difference. I mean, it’s obviously a tough course. The setup with the fairways are fairly soft and then you’ve got pretty firm greens. So if you miss fairways you’re punished because the rough is so thick. And it’s not like you can run the ball up onto the greens from the rough because they are kind of too soft, they don’t release. And then equally, if you’re trying to pitch a ball on the greens out of the rough, they’re just not stopping. So that’s obviously quite a challenge.”

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 winners of the Arnold Palmer Invitational since 2010:

  • 2020 – Tyrrell Hatton: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 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.

From the Lead: Below are the shots from the lead during the tournament of the Arnold Palmer Invitational winners since 2010:

  • 2020 – Tyrrell Hatton: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 2 ahead.
  • 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.

Form of winners since 2010:

  • Tyrrell Hatton: 6th WGC Mexico/46th DPWTC/1st Turkish Open/14th HSBC.
  • 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.

  • 2020 – Every PM -7/65 – 175/1
  • 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, Brian Gay, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed.
  • 3 – Billy Horschel,  Si Woo Kim, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Camilo Villegas.
  • 2 – Paul Casey, Jason Dufner, Harris English, Matt Every, Rickie Fowler, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Marc Leishman, Davis Love III, Justin Rose, Robert Streb.
  • 1 – Keegan Bradley, Cameron Champ, Austin Cook, Tyler Duncan, Lanto Griffin, Adam Hadwin, Padraig Harrington, Tyrrell Hatton, Max Homa, Charles Howell III, Sungjae Im, Patton Kizzire, Martin Laird, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Graeme McDowell, Keith Mitchell, Francesco Molinari, Sebastian Munoz, C.T. Pan, J.T. Poston, Rory Sabbatini, Charl Schwartzel, Steve Stricker, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Brendon Todd, Lee Westwood, 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 4 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 (winner 2020), Im, 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 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 performed well on TifEagle Bermudagrass greens, ideally in Florida, although that has become more difficult with only the WGC Workday Championship 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:

Matthew Fitzpatrick 2pts EW 25/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Matthew Fitzpatrick has never entered Bay Hill in such good form, and that bodes well for the Sheffield man who simply loves the Arnold Palmer Invitational. 13th here in 2017, Fitzpatrick was 1st after 18 holes, 3rd after 36 holes and 3rd after 54 holes that particular week. 2019 saw him arrive off inbound form of 16(Dubai)-MC(Pebble)-26(WGC-Mexico) and Matthew proceeded to be the 54-hole leader, before shooting a closing -1/71 to be beaten into runner-up spot by Molinari’s amazing -8/64 closer. And last year saw in-bound form of 2(Abu)-45(Dubai)-60(Pebble)-30(Riviera)-37(WGC-Mexico) prior to finishing with a best of day -3/69 to grab 9th spot.

All-in-all the World Number 16, just loves playing in Orlando and this time around he arrives off 5th at the Genesis Invitational where he was 2nd going into Sunday and 11th last week at the WGC-Workday Championship, which could and should have been a better finish. For me his results on U.S. soil are improving with more focus and experience.

Undoubtedly good results in big tournaments must breed confidence and Fitzpatrick has always been the sort to string top results together plus mix it at the very highest levels in the United States. 7th at the 2016 Masters, Matthew has also finished 12th at the 2018 (Shinnecock) and 2019 (Pebble Beach) U.S. Open. He’s also finished 4th (2019) and 6th (2020) at the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational played on Bermudagrass greens in Memphis, and 2021 saw him finish 3rd at “Jack’s Tournament” – The Memorial Tournament and 6th at the BMW Championship. He undoubtedly likes it tough.

For additional European Tour TifEagle Bermudagrass green form, look no further than 5th (2017), 16th (2019) and 17th (2021) at Emirates GC (Dubai Desert Classic), plus 4th (2015), 1st (2016), 9th (2019) and 1st (2020) at the Earth Course (DP World Tour Championship). Landing a first ever PGA Tour title must be a short-term target and for me he’s progressing towards it. Europeans winning here across the past 3 seasons must give him confidence and in this field across my 8-week Strokes Gained trackers he ranks 20th for Tee to Green, 7th for Putting and 6th for SG Current Form. RESULT: T10

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Francesco Molinari 1.5pts EW 33/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

I’ll take Francesco Molinari this week. It’s Ryder Cup year and we’ve undoubtedly seen an upturn in the 2018 Open Championship winner’s form as he settles down to life in Los Angeles.

8th at PGA West, 10th at Torrey Pines and 8th last time out at his new home club at Riviera Country Club, the Italian is upwardly mobile again in the OWGR – and he needs to be with the likes of Viktor Hovland undoubtedly staking a very strong claim for an automatic spot in Padraig Harrington’s team. With only 3 Captain’s Picks available, the likes of Garcia, Lowry, Molinari, Poulter, Rose, Stenson and Westwood need to perform.

We know exactly what we get with Francesco who has a strong, American long-classical golf course record. 2nd at Quail Hollow (2017), 3rd (2015) at Muirfield Village, 8th (2016) at Congressional, 6th at Bellerive (2018), 8th at Aronimink (2018) and of course 5th (2019) at Augusta National, Molinari can mix it with the very best on United States Major Championship golf courses.

And his record in Florida and here at Bay Hill is top-class. 3rd (2011) and 13th (2012) at Doral, plus 9th (2010), 6th (2014), 7th (2016) and 6th (2017) at TPC Sawgrass, Molinari has also finished 5th (2014), 17th (2015), 9th (2016), 7th (2017) and 1st (2019) here at Bay Hill. A top-10 finish last time out where he ranked 17th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 17th for SG Putting allied to a win, a top 5 and 2 more top 10s here at Bay Hill, all makes for a rather obvious current and course form selection. RESULT: MC

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Sam Burns 1.25pts EW 45/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Sam Burns is seriously impressing right now. As regulars will know, I’ve been monitoring Burns since the season-opening Safeway Open in September, where opening rounds of 64 and 65 powered him into the 36-hole lead. He eventually finished 7th at 50/1 for this column, but our cards had been marked.

The week before The Masters in November he popped up again with rounds of 68-65-68 powering 36- and 54-hole leads. The presence of World Number 1 Dustin Johnson was a little too much, as Burns shot +2/72 on Sunday to finish 7th.

2021 has continued on a very, very similar theme, but Sam’s amazing play right now keeps delivering him to the top of leaderboards at big tournaments. 18th at the Farmers Insurance Open, Sam was 3rd after 54 holes at the classical Torrey Pines, where he went out in the final group on Sunday with Carlos Ortiz and eventual winner Patrick Reed. 22nd at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, 64-68 at TPC Scottsdale saw him 4th after 36 holes. And that takes us to the Genesis Invitational a fortnight ago at Riviera Country Club. Undoubtedly the deepest field of 2021 to date, the 24 year-old was exceptional, leading the tournament from the outset. Opening rounds of 64-66 saw him 5 shots clear going into Saturday, and despite treading water he never collapsed, eventually finishing one shot out of the play-off with Tony Finau and Max Homa. Undoubted progress.

But the key for me this week is that Burns, who hails from Louisiana and lives in Tyler, Texas, is seriously Bermudagrass green positive. 6th at the 2017 Barbasol Championship, played that year on Champion Bermudagrass greens, in only his 4th PGA Tour appearance at the age of 21 placed a stake in the ground. As did 8th at the 2018 Honda Classic where he went head-to-head with Tiger Woods and beat him, and 12th on his next PGA Tour outing at the Valspar Championship. 2018 on the Korn Ferry Tour saw him finish 2nd in Columbia (Bermudagrass greens) and 1st at the Savannah Championship, played in Georgia on Bermudagrass greens. And in 2 full seasons on the PGA Tour, he’s already finished 3rd at the 2018 Sanderson Farms Championship, 6th at the 2020 American Express, 9th at the 2019 RBC Heritage and 7th at the 2020 Houston Open.

3 consecutive appearances here have seen finishes of 49-54-36, but he was 11th after 36 holes in 2018 and 9th after 54 holes here last year. RESULT: MC

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Jason Kokrak 1.25pts EW 45/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Jason Kokrak has caught my eye a few times in this breakthrough season and last week was yet another.

With his maiden PGA Tour win already in his back pocket after his CJ Cup win at Shadow Creek in October, the 35 year-old continues to press forward. 9th last week in a World Golf Championship was his second career top-10 at WGC level following an 8th place finish at the 2019 HSBC Champions, and at 31st in the OWGR he’s been playing the best and most consistent golf of his career over the past 6 months.

And that interests me as the PGA Tour arrives in Orlando, Florida. Jason has always played old-style, classical golf courses well around the country. 2nd (2016) at Riviera Country Club, 3rd at Colonial Country Club (2020), 3rd (2013) at Congressional, 7th (2016) at Bethpage Black and 6th at Olympia Fields (2020). Big tournaments, quality fields and tough golf courses, and Jason’s record in the Sunshine State is understated at the very worst: 9th (2019) at PGA National, 7th (2015), 8th (2018) and 2nd (2019) at Copperhead, 9th last week at The Concession. 8 visits to ‘Arnie’s Place’ have delivered 4th in 2014, 6th in 2015, 20th in 2016, 10th in 2019 and 18th last year.

In 2nd spot after 36 holes at Riviera Country Club a fortnight ago, Jason eventually finished 74-74 to fall back to 32nd. His confidence though will have been buoyed by his WGC performance at The Concession last week where he ranked 4th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 18th for SG Tee to Green and 9th for SG Putting. RESULT: T8

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Wyndham Clark 1pt EW 110/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

I will close with Wyndham Clark who I think is a talented sort.

13th at the Shriners Open, 2nd at the Bermuda Championship and 8th last time out at Riviera Country Club are excellent results for the 27 year-old this season, who’s up to 125th in the OWGR. That performance at Riviera Country Club can only boost the Denver, Colorado player’s confidence as he mixed it with some of the very best players in the world. And let’s not forget that Clark has finished 9th (2019) and 11th (2020) at the Honda Classic, played at PGA National in Florida. Indeed he was the 54 hole leader at the Honda in 2019 and closed with a -4/66 to grab 11th there 12 months ago. So he likes this style of golf.

68th here last year on tournament debut, conditions will be far simpler this time around and in the likes of Keith Mitchell, we’ve seen ‘bombers’ compete here at Bay Hill in recent times. Wide, runway-width fairways help and Wyndham also showed a liking for Arnold Palmer designs when finishing 5th at the 2019 3M Open played at TPC Twin Cities. 22nd Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 14th for Strokes Gained Putting was a good combination at Riviera last time out and, with his irons firing of late, I could seem him potentially getting into the mix this week in Orlando. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:30GMT 1.3.21 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.