Let’s move on to this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational which is held at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge course in Orlando. A lot of studs are in the field again, preparing for the WGC Match Play next week and the Masters thereafter. Our headliners this week are Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Justin Rose, and Hideki Matsuyama. Bay Hill offers a more traditional par-72 course layout, with four par 3s, four par 5s, and ten par 4s. The course is decently long, but a lot of the yardage comes in the Par 3s, which takes away the need for distance. There are many holes where players will be clubbing down off the tee and trying to position themselves for second shots. When you look at ShotTracker this week, you’ll see plenty of funky angles and big numbers on your players’ scorecards. It’s a fun one. One last point I’ll make is that many Tour players (even Europeans) make their homes in Orlando (at Isleworth or Lake Nona), so they are very familiar with Bay Hill and courses with similar conditions. Players that jump to my mind are Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, and Charles Howell III.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren’t going to target birdie or better percentage, because that’s what fantasy golf scoring is all about. Guys like Jason Day, Emiliano Grillo, Bubba Watson, James Hahn, Tommy Fleetwood, and Kevin Chappell come to mind in this week’s field when targeting birdie makers. It’s possible to have a player finish top-10 in fantasy points while not finishing anywhere close to the top-10 in the actual event.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): Bay Hill is all-striker’s course, so I’m targeting elite long iron players this week. I’m going to target SG:APP because players who find the most greens and give themselves the most short birdie opportunities will capitalize most. The thick, bermuda rough is always a challenge, making scrambling very difficult. If you have a player who sticks approach shots inside 10′ consistently, he’s going to shoot up the leaderboard and contend on Sunday. Some names that stand out in the field are Scott Piercy, Charles Howell, Adam Scott, James Hahn, Kyle Stanley, and Keegan Bradley.
SG:Around-the-Green (SG:ATG): Scrambling is always a major stat to focus on at Bay Hill, since players are approaching greens from long yardages throughout the week. The greens are firm and hard to hold, so chipping and pitching from the bermuda grass will separate the field this week. Some players who popped out to me were Kevin Na, James Hahn, Marc Leishman, Luke List, Patrick Rodgers, and Vaughn Taylor.
SG:Off-the-Tee (SG:OTT): Off-the-tee play is key each and every week. Bay Hill is no exception, with many demanding shots and thick rough / hazards lurking oh most holes. The players will be able to club down on many holes, but there are still plenty of drivers that need to be hit. Names that stood out to me in this field were Francesco Molinari, Bubba Watson, Tommy Fleetwood, Emiliano Grillo, Lucas Glover, and Brandon Harkins.
How cool was that weekend at Copperhead? Seeing Tiger in contention brings back all the feels. His ball-striking is great, and his short game is as sharp as ever. The key, as usual, is finding fairways. In any event, he’s proven that he’s healthy and confident, and he’s rightfully the favorite this week at Bay Hill. He’s won here a ridiculous eight times, including four of his past five starts.
I was surprised to see Rose fall apart on the back nine at Copperhead, but he continues to post top-10 finishes and get himself into contention. After winning a few events in the Fall, Rose has continued his dominant play leading up to Augusta. You know he’s chomping at the bit to get back there after his playoff loss to Sergio Garcia a year ago. Rose is an elite ball-striker with a much-improved short game. He’s posted several top-10 finishes at Bay Hill, so I have all the confidence in the world that he’ll contend again on Sunday.
Day has finished 2nd and 1st in his past two starts, so you know he’s full of confidence. After a troubling 2017 on and off the course, Day seems healthy, motivated, and ready to test his game against the best in the world. He’s played well at Bay Hill, including a win in 2016. The key for him is going to be his iron play. He’s one of the longest and straightest drivers on Tour, and has a very sharp short game. If he gives himself makeable birdie putts for four days, Day could find himself hoisting another trophy at Bay Hill.
A bit under-the-radar as usual, Harman is one of my favorite mid-tier picks of the week. In fact, I think he has an excellent chance to win, even in this field. Harman won the Wells Fargo Championship a year ago against the likes of Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm, so he won’t be intimidated by anyone. He’s one or two good starts away from locking up a Ryder Cup spot, so he’s extremely motivated. Harman is very accurate off-the-tee, and continues to be one of the best putters in the world. He’s posted three top-20 finishes in six tries at Bay Hill, and comes into the event with three top-10 finishes in his past six worldwide starts.
I never seem to get Fowler right, but Bay Hill should suit his game. He lives in Florida and will be comfortable on the course, and is one of the best scramblers (if not the best) on Tour. Fowler has had an up-and-down season, and an up-and-down history at Bay Hill. His record here reads 50th, 30th, 3rd, MC, 29th, 12th. Tough to predict which Fowler shows up this week.