PLEASE NOTE: this is Steve’s pre-event preview – his final Arnold Palmer Invitational tips for 2021 will be published on this page around 6pm GMT Monday 1st March.
This week at Bay Hill we have the kind of high-class field you expect. Defending champion Tyrrell Hatton tees 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.
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’s 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.
- 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.
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 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.