Arnold Palmer Invitational
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It was a great week for us in the end as although we failed to bag the winner at the WGC we hit the jackpot over in Puerto Rico as 20/1 pick landed the spoils for us.
Grace who had sadly recently lost his Father to Covid-19 showed that ‘once a winner, always a winner’ mentality, finishing eagle, birdie to post what was understandably an emotional, one shot victory of Jonny Vegas.
Over at the WGC hats off to Collin Morikawa who produced a stellar performance on the Concession course, which proved a fantastic watch.
Morikawa landed his fourth tour title and his first in Florida in only his second start in the state, with the key being a hugely improved putting display.
From our point of view we bagged a small each way return courtesy of Rory McIlroy, which added when together with a further small return from Ted Potter Jnr in Puerto Rico, helped boost the weeks overall profits further.
So onwards we go to the Arnold Palmer Invitational in great spirits. 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, the Tour Championship and as of this year the Genesis Invitational.
The field and the betting market is headed up by Rory McIlroy. Rory is then followed by Viktor Hovland, Bryson Dechambeau and defending champion Tyrrell Hatton.
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;
2020 Tyrrell Hatton
2019 Francesco Molinari
2018 Rory McIlroy
2017 Marc Leishman
2016 Jason Day
2015 Matt Every
2014 Matt Every
2013 Tiger Woods
2012 Tiger Woods
2011 Martin Laird
As we can see from above of the last ten editions two of them have gone to Tiger and two were won in consecutive years by Matt Every.
In addition to his two wins over the past ten years Tiger has notched a further six 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 Hatton, Molinari, McIlroy, Day, Leishman, Every [twice], and Laird to look at.
Last years winner Hatton arrived here having made just one start in the calendar year after returning from a wrist injury. That start had come a fortnight before though in the WGC Mexico where he finished sixth so he should have arrived in a positive mindset.
Molinari had only made two starts on the year prior to his victory, however again a couple of weeks before he had finished an eye catching 17th at the WGC Mexico. In addition he was seen as something of a course specialist posting three top ten finishes and nothing worse than 34th place in his six previous starts here.
2018 winner Rory McIlroy was in no real forming coming in last year but had finished 4th here the year before, his best result in Orlando.
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 while 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 with no specific pointer.
What has historically struck me here though looking at the list of past winners 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 2019 winner Molinari broke this mould as he would hardly be seen as an ‘aggressive type’ in the vein of a Woods, McIlroy, Day, Laird etc and he was only -3 for the week on the par 5s and it could be that thicker rough than usual was responsible for this.
Last year’s winner Hatton though as most will remember triumphed here in conditions that due to a combination of wind, thick rough if you missed the fairways and firm greens, were brutal, bordering unplayable over the weekend and his winning score of 4- under saw him be one of only four players to finish under par. Look behind that though and the Englishman who ranked tenth on the PGA Tour last season in par five scoring finished the week 6- under for the par fives so it is clear to see where his score was predominantly made.
One further thing to add that I have noticed though, that may or may not be purely coincidental, is that every one of the winners here since Ernie Els in 2010 had played in the event the previous year to their victory and made the cut.
In addition, with the exception of Laird who finished 74th the year prior to his success, none had finished worse than 34th twelve months prior, while the last six had all finished in the top 20 the year before, while the five winners prior to Hatton who finished 29th had all finished top 20.
Returning to the list of winners and the other thing it is impossible to not pick up on is that of the last ten editions [or 11 if you include Els in 2010] only four of them have been won by American’s with Every and Woods triumphing twice each.
In simple terms then allowing for the fact that Tiger won here in 2008 and 2009, whilst Singh and Pampling were victorious in the previous two years, outside of Tiger Matt Every is the only American to win here since Kenny Perry in 2005. Quite a stat!
Finally the winning score over the years has varied somewhat dependent on the level of rough and also, as is always the case in Florida, the weather.
Last year as noted earlier conditions transpired to make the event play incredibly tough with Hatton triumphing on -4.
In 2019 Molinari posted a -12 total to take home the trophy while the previous year McIlroy posted -18.
Prior to that the winning total had varied from -11 to -19 over the recent years.
The early part of the week shows the possibility of a few showers on Tuesday and Wednesday so the course maybe on the receptive side when the players tee it up on Thursday morning.
Temperatures look set for the mid to high seventies for the week.
Winds don’t look to be too much of an issue for the first couple of days however the weekend does show the potential of 25mph gusts. In addition while Thursday and Friday look to be dry Saturday and Sunday could see a storm pop up.
As I always so though, this could all change!
Before we get started with this weeks picks just another reminder to take a look at what’s on offer at our partners Sounder Golf. Just follow the link below and the exclusive 10% discount will automatically be applied to any purchases you make.
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
FRANCESCO MOLINARI – 30-1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED MC
I shall start this week with a selection in Francesco Molinari, which as well as being driven by the obvious course and current form figures is also very much driven by a price that I feel doesn’t give the Italian the respect he warrants here.
Touching on the former first and Francesco as we know was victorious on his last trip to Bay Hill in 2019, in addition to, which he has posted three further top tens and never finished worse than 34th in seven visits here. Clearly then he loves the place.
With regards to current form and following a well document break last year, which saw Molinari relocate his family to the West Coast of America, he has come out firing on all cylinders in 2021 posting three top ten finishes in four starts.
Last time out at Riviera, all be it on a course, which has now become a home game for him, Molinari finished eighth, closing with an impressive 66 on Sunday, where tellingly his putter, the club, which tends to hold him back co-operated well gaining him over 2.6 strokes on the field. In addition Francesco ranked third for the week from tee to green and ninth in approach play.
So the 38yr old arrives in Orlando firing on all cylinders to play a track he clearly loves yet, to come to my second point, the layers seem happy to price him up alongside or bigger than players who do not have the track record here he does and/or are in worse form.
Whether it be that the layers are not convinced that his recent flurry of good performances is a sustained return to top form [something, which may of course be right] or simply he is just one of those players who is often under rated I am not sure, but at the odds on offer I can’t leave him out this week.
SAM BURNS – 40-1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up for us this week is Sam Burns.
Burns has been hugely impressive of late missing only two cuts so far this season in ten starts, at the Sanderson Farms and the American Express.
The former LSU standout has clearly been on an upward trajectory over the past twelve months and a maiden PGA Tour title cannot be far away.
In his last start at the Genesis Invitational Sam came as close as he has done to date leading the tournament from the outset right until he faltered on the back nine on Sunday.
With regards to Sunday’s there is no denying that Burns has struggled on them when he has been in contention this season, however he is continually gaining experience in and around the lead and his efforts in Los Angeles were far more encouraging despite the final wobble.
Looking at Sam’s performance at Riviera in more detail and he should be given great credit for the way he started his final round making four birdies on the front nine after he had had to come out and finish his third round in challenging conditions earlier in the day. Ultimately he stalled on the back nine, however he still shot a 2- under 69 so in my eyes Homa won the tournament with his great performance rather than Sam losing it.
Lets also not forget Burns did win on the Korn Ferry Tour in his one season out there in 2018 so he clearly knows how to win and I expect him to do so very soon.
Away from Burns’ great current form the thing that leads me to him most this week is his statistical fit for Bay Hill where the key ingredients to me are approach play, putting and par five scoring.
If we look at Burns’ numbers in these areas he currently ranks 16th in putting, 28th in strokes-gained-approach-to-the-green and 25th in par five scoring.
Looking at Burn’s performances at Bay Hill to date and he has made the cut on all three of his visits, finishing 49 54 and 36 in the tough conditions last year. Nothing spectacular then but good solid form and a decent bank of course experience under his belt here now, which historically is important.
To sum up in simple terms Sam arrives here in great form and to me is a great fit for the track and I think he has a great chance of posting his first tour win here this week.
RICKIE FOWLER 70-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 72nd
For my next pick this week I am going to take a chance on Rickie Fowler.
Fowler has for a while now been very much on the outside looking in as he searches for his game under the tutelage of John Tillery.
2020 in Rickie’s own words was basically awful for him and although there was the occasional flash of form such as a the WGC Fedex St Jude or here at Bay Hill mostly it was one bad week after another.
As a result of this Fowler now finds himself outside of the worlds top 50 and not in the Masters, The PGA or The US Open. In addition his name is probably nowhere near the long shortlist Steve Stricker no doubt has on his notepad for the Ryder Cup.
At the Genesis Invitational a couple of weeks ago though Fowler recorded his best result of the season to date finishing 20th and perhaps significantly the week saw him make a dramatic improvement with the putter, the club that has historically served him so well but has let him down so badly of late, as he ranked fifth for the week in this department.
Furthermore Rickie finished 18th for the week in Driving Accuracy, improving in this department every day, and finding 10 of 14 fairways in his closing 67.
There is no doubt that for Fowler to seriously compete this week he needs to step up with his approach play, however despite the weeks numbers at Riviera not really showing it, he appeared to find a bit of a groove on his final nine in LA making three birdies in his final five holes, which included three approaches inside 10ft.
Obviously when you are struggling confidence is a fragile thing and this could just be a case of one good day in a continuing bad trot however if Fowler is going to progress forward Bay Hill is a great place for him to do so as he has only missed the cut here once in nine visits, posting a best of third place alongside three further top twenties.
With a week off on Masters week looming large for Rickie he has huge incentive to get back on track and at the odds on offer I am happy to take a chance he can build on his performance at Riviera and produce a great week.
WYNDHAM CLARK 110-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
For my next two picks I am going to give another chance to a couple of players I had onside in this event last year starting with Wyndham Clark.
I stated last year with Clark that I had put him down for this event from early on regardless of his form coming in as I expected Bay Hill to be a perfect fit for him with his big hitting, strong par five scoring and silky putting touch.
Unfortunately though while Wyndham was steady enough over the first couple of days the weekend last year saw him struggle in the tough conditions and rounds of 82 and 80 saw him finish down the field in 68th.
To be honest there was little in Clark’s stats here last year to back up my theory, however if I’ve ever learnt anything in this game it is to trust your own hunches and I am therefore happy to go back to the well with the 27yr old this week.
Wyndham arrives in Orlando in a really solid run of form, which has seen him miss only two cuts in ten starts this season and after so nearly bagging his first tour title in Bermuda he was back in the hunt last time out at Riviera.
I referenced above Clark’s ‘silky putting touch’ however it should be noted that he hasn’t been as strong in this department as normal so far this season. Last time out in LA however Wyndham was looking strong on the greens again and he finished 13th for the week with the flat stick. In addition his approach play, normally his week link was strong.
Like one of our earlier selections, Burns, Clark is clearly trending towards a maiden win and at three figure odds and in great form coming in I am happy to chance him to have another big week this week.
PATRICK RODGERS – 125-1 - 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 10. - FINISHED 57th
The next player who makes our team from last year is Patrick Rodgers.
As long term readers will know Rodgers often pops up on my radar as a selection who I am happy to chance as I am convinced he will land a title in due course, and potentially at big odds allowing for his consistency.
Rodgers who welcomed his first son in to the world over the Christmas/New Year period has perhaps understandably struggled for results early in the new year allowing for this life changing event.
The last couple of weeks however has seen Patrick regain some momentum and he followed a great 12th place finish at Riviera with a 30th place down in Puerto Rico.
Looking at Patrick’s numbers over the past couple of weeks and he has been reasonably solid in all departments of the game with his putter particularly excelling at Riviera where he ranked second in SGP.
At Puerto Rico the Stanford grad closed out really nicely with a six under 66 and having initially been first alternate for this week he will be delighted to have got in the field.
Patrick finished 7th here in 2018 and performed creditably in the tough conditions last year to finish 24th and he is certainly 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 who has a great record here, another past winner Jason Day and of course McIlroy, and I definitely see these as tracks which correlate well.
Strong on the par fives if Rodgers has rediscovered his putting boots he could go really well this week and with ten each way places on offer I am happy to take my chances.
RORY McILROY – 9-1 – 2pts Win - FINISHED 10th
Finally I am going to finish things off by having a ‘win only’ saver on Rory McIlroy.
I could have chosen to make Rory the headline selection here with a big fanfare, however in all honesty I don’t think readers need me to really make the case for him as it is right there in front of us.
I sided with the Northern Irishman last week in the WGC and in what was an incredibly frustrating performance there was a lot of good stuff in amongst a lot of bad. Basically it was two steps forward and then two back pretty much all week.
The fact remains though Rory finished the week seventh from tee to green, 19th in approach play and most importantly of course sixth in the tournament so I guess its fair to say the good outweighed the bad!
He was also second for the week in birdies made totalling 25 across the four days.
This week Rory arrives at a course that he knows back to front and has finished 5 6 1 and 4 on in his last five visits.
Simply put if Rory can cut out the mistakes from last week, a lot of, which you suspect came from trying to force things on a course he was unfamiliar with, then he is going to be very close come Sunday and I am keen to cover him by reinvesting the small profit he made us last week.
UPDATED 2nd MARCH
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - KEITH MITCHELL - DK VALUE - $6700 - FINISHED 43rd - DK POINTS TOTAL 62
For my first pick this week I am going to chance that a return to Florida and his preferred bermuda greens spurs Keith Mitchell back to life.
Mitchell has been having his customary tough time of late over on the West Coast and since finishing 14th in Hawaii at the Sony he has missed all three cuts.
Mitchell as we know though tends to spring to life when the tour hits the East Coast and for the last two years he has finished fifth and sixth at Bay Hill, while in 2019 he memorably bagged his lone tour title to date at the Honda when arriving from California in similarly poor form.
Priced down at $6700 I am more than happy to chance Keith to come back to form again this week on his return to Florida.
PICK 2 - KYLE STANLEY - DK VALUE - $6500 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 16.5
Next up is Kyle Stanley. Stanley has been quietly putting an impressive run of form together of late making his last five cuts and finishing no worse than 32nd. Most significantly his trade mark ball striking appears to be coming back to the fore as well.
Always at his weakest on the greens it is doubtful that Kyle can hole enough putts here to get seriously in to contention however on a course that he has finished in the top 20 on three of his five visits and he also had success on as a junior I expect another strong showing.