Arnold Palmer Invitational Preview

            The PGA Tour continues along the Florida swing with a stop at Bay Hill Club and Lodge for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Bay Hill is a classical course that has been featured on the Tour since 1966. In 2009, Arnold Palmer re-designed the course with the hopes of restoring the challenges that Bay Hill possess. Bay Hill is a Par 72 that stretches over 7,400 yards. Danger lurks everywhere on this course with water hazards and bunkers that come into play on most holes. Tee shots need to be precise, and so do approach shots. Some players may try to cut corners to set up easier second shots, but one bad drive and golfers will be punished. Weather will play a major factor in determining the winning score. Tyrrell Hatton won last year’s weather influenced event despite shooting over par on both of his weekend rounds. The early forecast for the week is calling for wet weather prior to the tournament starting. The weekend forecast is showing possible thunderstorms and windy weather but this could obviously change.

My handicapping process for the week started by reviewing the scorecards of former winners. Upon this review, Off-the-Tee, Tee-to-Green, and Short Game stood out. As with most courses that have teeth to them, the winner will need to be able to scramble to save par, and avoid dangers. Hitting greens-in-regulation is harder at Bay Hill compared to the average PGA Tour venue, so I will be looking for ball-strikers who have shown short game success. Due to greens being harder to hit, the average proximity from the hole is also longer. This means the winner will probably need to be able to make some long putts throughout the weekend.

Former winners of this event are: Tyrrell Hatton, Francesco Molinari, Rory McIlroy, Marc Leishman, and Jason Day. European players have had success at Bay Hill. The last three winners of the event have also won the BMW Championship at Wentworth Club – West Course on the European Tour. The winners at Bay Hill have all scored on the Par 5s. The last five winners have played on 80 combined Par 5s, and have scored a birdie or eagle on 43 of them.

Correlated Courses I looked at for this week were the Sheshan Golf Club (WGC HSBC), BMW Championship (Euro Tour), Shadow Creek (CJ Cup 2020), and other Florida courses. I looked at WGC HSBC because both events are filled with European players and have seen similar leaderboards over the years. I looked at the BMW Championship on the European Tour because of the trend with recent winners. Shadow Creek was the host of the CJ Cup in 2020. Nine players who finished inside the Top 25 at Shadow Creek, also finished inside the Top 25 at Bay Hill last year. Florida Courses are good to look at because of the bermudagrass and the style of courses are similar.

Key Stats: Off-the-Tee, Tee-to-Green, Approach, GIR, Scrambling, Around, Putting, and Putting Average

Scoring Upside: Birdie or Better Percentage, Bogey Avoidance, Par 5 Birdie or Better Percentage, and Par 4 Efficiency (400-450 yards)

Arnold Palmer Invitational Tips

Paul Casey 25-1 (DraftKings)

            Casey did not play last week at the WGC-Workday, but has been in great form in 2021. In January, Casey won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour. Casey followed up that victory with back-to-back Top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour. Casey finished T8 at the American Express and T5 at Pebble Beach. In both of those events, Casey finished inside the top ten of total strokes gained. Casey has not played at Bay Hill since 2017, but in 2016 he finished T9.

Casey has also won at the BMW Championship on the European Tour. That win came over a decade ago, so I do not put too much credence into that. However, his last two appearances at that event, he finished T11 and T20. At the WGC HSBC from 2016-2018, Casey finished: T16, T11, and T12. Florida has been kind to Casey, where he found back-to-back victories at the Valspar in 2018 and 2019. Using 2020 ShotLink data, in this field Casey ranks: seventh Off-the-Tee, ninth Tee-to-Green, fifth in Approach, first in Par 4 Efficiency (400-450 yards), seventh in Bogey Avoidance, and 18th in Par 5 Birdie or Better Percentage. Casey has been firing on all cylinders, and with his recent form he can return to his wining ways in Florida.

Matthew Fitzpatrick 25-1 (DraftKings)

            Fitzpatrick’s name has been stamped on the first page of leaderboards in recent weeks. Last week at the WGC-Workday, Fitzpatrick finished T11. The week prior, Fitzpatrick finished T5 at the Genesis Invitational. Fitzpatrick is a great strategy player, and plays his best golf when courses are difficult. In December, Fitzpatrick won the DP World Tour Championship on the European Tour, so he is no stranger to winning. His last five appearances at Bay Hill, Fitzpatrick has finished: 9th, 2nd, MC, 13th, 27th. In October, Fitzpatrick finished T12 at Shadow Creek. At the WGC HSBC, Fitzpatrick has finished: 7th, T54, T9, T16, and T7. At the BMW Championship on the European Tour, Fitzpatrick has finished: T7, T46, T8, and T12.

Over an eight-tournament window, in this field Fitzpatrick ranks: 14th Off-the-Tee, 21st Around the Green, 22nd Greens-in-Regulation, 20th Tee-to-Green, seventh in Scrambling, and seventh in Putting. Fitzpatrick will be a popular pick this week because it is obvious to see how he in trending. The six-time winner on the European Tour is looking for his first PGA Tour win, and he is teeing it up at a course he loves to play.

Francesco Molinari 35-1 (DraftKings)

            Molinari is coming off of a lost 2020 season. Molinari moved his family to California and did not have the time for golf. However, Molinari is quickly returning to his peak 2018 form. In his last four events, Molinari has three Top 10 finishes. In those events, Molinari has played great tee-to-green. At Bay Hill, Molinari is a horse for the course. He has played this event seven times, and never missed a cut. He has four Top 10 finishes in that span, including a win in 2019. Molinari’s game profiles very well for Bay Hill because he is a grinder. Molinari’s best finishes have come when the scoring conditions prevented low scores.

Molinari has played exceptionally at the BMW Championship with finishes of: T14, 1st, 2nd, T55, T5, and T7. Over an eight-tournament window, Molinari ranks: 4th in Scrambling, 17th Around the Green, and 19th in Approach. Molinari is a former winner who is playing his best golf in almost two years. Now is the time to buy in on Molinari, especially at this number.

Marc Leishman 55-1 (DraftKings)

            When the PGA Tour resumed to action in June, it took Leishman five months to record a Top 20 finish. However, Leishman is trending in the right direction with three Top 25 finishes in 2021. The majority of Leishman’s struggles have come from his play off-the-tee. Leishman has lost strokes off-the-tee in three straight events. The last time Leishman did gain off-the-tee was at the Sony Open where he finished T4. Leishman has played great at Bay Hill in the past. He has recorded three Top 10 finishes at Bay Hill since 2017, including one win. Over his last 22 rounds at Bay Hill, Leishman has gained .09 strokes per round off-the-tee.

Over an eight-tournament window, in this field Leishman ranks: second in Putting, fourth in Approach, seventh in Putting Average, ninth in Scrambling, and 21st in Tee-to-Green. Leishman’s key to success will be gaining strokes off-the-tee. He has shown he has the ability to contend and finish well when his driver cooperates. Leishman’s overall game is good enough to propel him to victory if he can have a good week with his driver.

Talor Gooch 100-1 (Fanduel)

          With a relatively top-heavy betting card, I wanted to find at least one longshot to support. Gooch certainly has missed cut potential, but when he has made the cut, he has played pretty well. In October, Gooch finished 5th at Shadow Creek, where he led the field in scrambling. This bodes well for Bay Hill, especially with the predicted weather. Gooch has the ability to hang around the top of leaderboards when scoring is tough. Gooch finished 4th at the Houston Open when the winning score was only -13. Gooch finished T12 at the Genesis Invitational where the winning score was -12. Over the last four years, the winning scores at Bay Hill have been: -4, -12, -18, and -11. Gooch has the ability to avoid big mistakes and play solid overall. If the weather creates tough scoring conditions, I like Gooch’s chances at this number.

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