Arnold Palmer Invitational
ur frustrating trot of weeks unfortunately continued at the Honda Classic when what was a promising position at halfway courtesy of Charl Schwartzel and our 250-1 shot Adam Svensson faded out over the weekend.
There was some good news courtesy of our trader pick Cameron Davis who just traded at the target price of 110, however all in all it certainly wasn’t the week we were looking for.
Congratulations though to Keith Mitchell who landed his first PGA Tour victory in fine style by holing a birdie putt on 18 to fend of the illustrious pair of Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler.
Mitchell ranked down in the 200s on tour in putting had been quoted in saying how much he hates the Poa Annua greens he had been facing over on the West Coast, so his win is another example of the change to the Bermuda greens that Florida brings leading to a player springing to life.
Moving on and the tour heads up state in Florida to Orlando and Arnie’s place for the Arnold Palmer Invitational [API].
As those who follow me on social media will know I’m delighted to say that I will be out in Florida to watch in person this week’s event and the next two, TPC and The Valspar, and it promises to be a great stretch of golf.
Hopefully my presence at the events can inspire us to get back to the winners enclosure!
The API was founded in 1979 as a successor to the Florida Citrus Invitational and since then the event has been played at the Bay Hill Lodge and Country Club.
Since the 2015 edition the winner has been granted a three year exemption on the PGA Tour as opposed to the standard two year exemption players usually receive for a win.
This brings it on a par with the winners of World Golf championships, The Memorial and the Tour Championship.
After many big names chose to skip last weeks Honda Classic this week’s field is a stellar one as the big names continue to pay tribute to the late, great legend that was Arnie.
On show we have defending champion Rory McIlroy, eight time Bay Hill winner Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Bryson Dechambeau.
At the time of writing Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are battling for favouritism followed by Rose, Fowler, Koepka, Day & Dechambeau.
Bay Hill is a Wilson & Joe Lees design, which underwent a redesign from Arnold Palmer in 2009.
Bay Hill is a Par 72 playing to just over 7400 yards of the tee. Compared to last week’s venue PGA National there is more room of the tee.
The greens are TiffEagle Bermuda.
With more room of the tee Bay Hill can be seen as a second shot golf course. The rough has been grown up more around the greens over recent years so finding the greens and the right spots on them is important.
So lets take a look at the past ten winners;
2018 Rory McIlroy
2017 Marc Leishman
2016 Jason Day
2015 Matt Every
2014 Matt Every
2013 Tiger Woods
2012 Tiger Woods
2011 Martin Laird
2010 Ernie Els
2009 Tiger Woods
As we can see from above of the last ten editions three of them have gone to Tiger and two were won in consecutive years by Matt Every.
In addition to his three wins over the past ten years Tiger has notched a further five victories here, meaning he no doubt has a trophy cabinet at home to purely hold his eight API Trophys!
Looking at this list of winners I have to be honest and say that it is hard to pin down completely an angle as to whether course form or current form has been more of a driver over the years.
Obviously if we take Tiger’s wins as an outlier and put them to one side we are left with Rory, Day, Leishman, Every [twice], Els and Laird to look at.
Rory was in no real forming coming in last year but had finished 4th here the year before, his best result here.
In essence though he is of course simply a world class act who can find his best at any given moment.
The same can be said for Jason Day who hadn’t done much here prior to his win, nor was he in great touch leading in 2016, his year of victory.
Of the other winners Leishman had nothing particularly in his course or current form leading in to telegraph his win, whilst Els had previously won here in the 90s but had not performed particularly well here in the intervening years.
Martin Laird was an example of a players current form trumping any course history as he won here on the back of two top 10s the previous two weeks, and then of course there is Matt Every….
The year Matt first won in 2014 a case could certainly have been made for him as he had posted two top 10s in his previous three starts including an 8th place finish the week before at the Valspar.
In addition Every is of course a Florida guy through and through and had played steadily here over the previous two years.
The following year though when Matt defended, other than the fact that we had the course form to go on, it was impossible to make a case for him as his best finish all season prior to his defence was a 27th in the limited field, year opening, Tournament of Champions!
As you can see then a bit of mixed bag. What does strike me though looking at the list is that the event as a whole clearly favours aggressive players who can take advantage of the par 5s and this is backed up by the fact that par 5 scoring has historically been a key statistic here.
The early part of the week will see some showers and I can confirm we’ve already had a couple of heavy ones today!
For the tournament days though the conditions should remain dry, although you can never rule out the chance of a storm in this part of the world at this time of year.
Wind does not look to be a huge issue, but it could be a factor to some extent as Thursday, Saturday and Sunday show the potential for gusts of 10-15 mph.
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
TIGER WOODS – 10-1 - 3pts Win - WITHDRAWN WITH NECK INJURY
Lets be honest which ever way you look at things this week it’s impossible to get away from Tiger Woods.
The case for Tiger is so obvious that I almost feel like I’m insulting readers by making it but I shall very briefly do so anyway.
Eight time previous champion….
5th here last year when only just starting out on his comeback.
15th and 10th in his last two starts, which came on arguably the course he has had least success on over the years at, Riviera, and a course he had never seen before in Mexico.
Will Tiger ever win another major?, I am not certain, will Tiger dominate the tour anywhere near to the level he did before and win 3, 4, 5 times plus in a year?, I suspect not, the strength in depth is just too strong these days, but can he win again at his beloved Bay Hill?, absolutely yes, and I’m on him to do so this week.
BRYSON DECHAMBEAU – 18-1 – 2pts Win FINISHED 46th
From the top end of the market whilst of course a strong case can be made for all of the leading players this week the other I like most at the prices is Bryson Dechambeau.
It’s been a tough fortnight for Bryson as he quite rightly received some serious flak after being caught on camera behind the unwitting Rich Beem for taking out his frustrations on the putting green in Mexico.
As a result of this I am sure Bryson will face some further media scrutiny this week around this, but my hunch is that rather than wilt under this spotlight he will let his golf do the talking on a course that we know suits his game based on his 2nd place finish last year.
As stated above Par 5 scoring is a key stat around Bay Hill and I was very close to backing Bryson in this event last year based on his lofty performance in this statistic, one which he maintains so far this season.
In addition having been frustrated with myself for not doing so this was a key driver in my backing Bryson at Memorial later in the year where he duly lifted the trophy as I see Muirfield Village as one that shares similarities with this weeks track.
On this basis despite the fact that Bryson’s odds are far, far skinnier this year than they were last I feel compelled to include him.
The reason Bryson’s odds are way skinnier is of course down to the fact that he has won 5 times worldwide since this time last year.
If we put that in to perspective that means Bryson has won more times than Rory, Tiger, Day and Fowler put together over the past twelve months [although of course we need to put Tiger’s win rate in to perspective with where he was in his comeback] and of the games elite in this weeks field only Rose and Koepka even come close to his strike rate over the past twelve months.
Basically Bryson has become a winning machine over the past year and at the price on offer I am keen to have him onside this week.
LUCAS GLOVER – 50-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 10th
As I am sure no one needs me to tell them backing Lucas Glover over the recent years has come with a health warning based on the frustrations the missed 3 to 4ft putts bring.
This year though Glover arrives at Bay Hill on the back of two consecutive top 10 finishes and he has only finished outside of the top 20 once so far this season in eight starts.
The main reason for this improved run of form is that Lucas finally seems to have found some answers on the greens and this can be seen in that he currently ranks 65th for SGP this season compared to season ending rankings of 154th, 119th and 133rd in this category over the last three campaigns.
Furthermore Lucas ranked 14th in that category at the Honda last week so he clearly is comfortable back on the Bermuda.
Glover has performed well at Bay Hill over the years and he had his best finish here of 7th a couple of years ago. In addition we shouldn’t forget that Lucas’ maiden PGA Tour victory came in Orlando way back in 2005 at the now defunct Walt Disney Classic and he then actually held the halfway lead here the following year.
Orlando is clearly therefore a city he will have positive vibes in.
The 2009 US Open Champion has not won since his victory at the Wells Fargo in 2011 so another win is clearly overdue and I can see him coming close to that next win this week.
JASON KOKRAK – 66-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 10th
Another player who is in a really hot run of form at the moment is Canadian born Jason Kokrak.
Whilst Kokrak’s run of high finishes isn’t quite as impressive as Glover’s he is yet to miss a cut on tour in eight starts this season and he had his best finish of the campaign when 9th at the Honda last week.
Jason started his week fairly slowly at the Honda, however he played nicely over the weekend to shoot back to back 68s and if we look at his numbers for the week he finished SGTTG, 15th in GIR, 15th in DA and 9th in SGT. Clearly therefore everything is in good working order.
It is also worth noting that PGA National is a venue that Jason has had no success at all on before with three MC in five starts and nothing better to show than a 41st to his name, so he carried his great run of form to a venue that historically has not suited him at all.
This lack of course form though is not something which can be said in relation to Jason with regards to Bay Hill, as whilst he has not performed so will here over the past three years he posted back to back top 6 finishes here in 2015 and 2014.
We saw another PGA Tour maiden in Keith Mitchell get over the line at the Honda last week and it is just possible that Mitchell’s victory could inspire the 33yr old Kokrak to a long overdue first win.
MATT EVERY – 100-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 & 1/2pt E/W FRL - 66-1 - 1/5 1st 7 FINISHED MC
It may be a fairly predictable pick but at the three figure prices on offer I can’t resist the claims of two time API champion Matt Every.
Every as we know was victorious here in both 2014 and 2015 however since then he suffered a complete disintegration of his game to the level that he readily admitted to not knowing where the ball would be going off the tee.
In 2016 Matt made only 5 cuts on tour mustering a best place finish of 24th all year, whilst in the 2017/18 season he made only 1 cut in 21 starts in the first 6 months of the campaign, before finally posting two top 14 finishes in three starts at the back end of the season.
2017/18 was no better for the Floridian as outside of a lone top 10 in Houston he made only nine cuts all season posting nothing better than 35th.
With the three year exemption for his last win at Bay Hill now having expired not unsurprisingly Matt has now found himself without full status on the PGA Tour and he is having to split his time between the Web.com, whilst taking advantage of the starts he gets in the big league.
To be honest after the sort of run of form the 35yr old has had you would have forgiven him if he had actually decided to hang the clubs up and there has been many an example of a player who has basically ‘gone’ at the game over the years who has indeed chosen to do this.
Every though appears to be made of stern stuff and the loss of his full card seems to have finally triggered a turning of the corner for him.
There is no doubt that ‘off course’ issues have been a contributary factor in Every’s slump and upon posting consecutive top 20 finishes last fall for the first time in over 4yrs Matt confessed that he had “ been kind of battling life,” and that. “his life had been a little bit of a mess the last few years. It’s just life. Part of growing up.”
Hopefully these off course issues are now behind this talented player and the good news is that since those back to back top 20s he has made a further four consecutive cuts and has posted finishes of 14 16 11 & 32 across the two tours, with the latest solid performance being the 16th in Puerto Rico.
Of course from where Every was in the game this is still fairly small acorns, however relatively speaking it his huge strides forward for him.
Needless to say over recent years all of Every’s stats have been horrendous however this season he currently ranks in the top 80 in all of the key areas.
One stat in particular, putting, has improved off the charts for Matt this season and he currently stands 27th in this department and it would be fair to assume that a return this week to the Bermuda he grew up on and has won in will inspire further confidence in that department.
Whenever you jump on a player who has not been in contention for a very long time it is of course a leap of faith as to how they will perform once they get in to that position again, however Every is the sort of mercurial talent who, if his confidence is genuinely back up, could easily thrive again when under the gun.
We wont know for certain until that time comes again, however I am happy to take that chance to find out based on the prices on offer this week.
PATRICK RODGERS – 125-1 - 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8. FINISHED 46th
For my final selection this week I am going to give another opportunity to one of our ‘six to follow’ for 2019 Patrick Rodgers.
As I have stated elsewhere I believe this will be the year that the Stanford standout finally makes his PGA Tour breakthrough and there are some solid reasons to think this could be a week that gives him an opportunity to do so.
Firstly after a slow start to 2019, which saw Patrick miss four straight cuts he seems to have found a bit of mojo finishing 15th and 30th last two times out.
Secondly Patrick finished 7th here last year, his best finish in the event, which leads us to believe that he is getting comfortable around Bay Hill after previous efforts of MC & 20th.
In line with this I also see Rodgers as the sort of aggressive player who I would expect to perform well around here.
Furthermore he has top 10 finishes to his name at both the Memorial and Wells Fargo events, which tie in with both Dechambeau and past winner here Jason Day and I definitely see these as tracks which correlate well.
As we have seen on several occasions you never know quite what you are going to get from Rodgers from one week to the next, but he is the sort of player who has the ability to win at this level and at the prices on offer I am happy to chance him this week.
UPDATED - 6th MARCH
TRADER - SAM RYDER - FINISHED 33rd
Regular readers will know that I have included Floridiam Sam Ryder in my '6 to follow' on the PGA Tour for this year and I have been waiting for him to arrive in his home state.
To be honest I had him all lined up for my trader selection at the Honda last week when he chose to withdraw late on what my understanding was purely a scheduling issue.
Ryder made a really strong start to his sophomore campaign on the PGA Tour posting two top 5s in three starts back in the fall.
Since then he has stalled slightly although he has still played steadily of late making his past four cuts.
Ryder is renowned as a strong ball iron player and performs well on the par 5s so whilst he is making his competitive debut at Bay Hill this week you have to believe the course will be to his liking.
In addition you have to think that a return to the Bermuda greens he grew up on wont do him any harm.
Hopefully refreshed after three weeks off I expect a strong week from Sam and I am happy to have him as our trader pick.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 620