Arnold Palmer Invitational
Sungjae Im won his first PGA Tour event last week at the Honda Classic by shooting a final-round 66. The 21-year-old was as high as a 35/1 price to win. This week he is priced at 25/1 in a very deep field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Rory McIlroy, the 2018 champion and current world No. 1, is the odds-on favorite at 5/1. McIlroy has finished 4-1-6 the last three years at Bay Hill. Tommy Fleetwood (14/1) finished third here last year and ended up third last week at the Honda when his approach shot at the 72nd hole found the water. Hideki Matsuyama (20/1) has 26 rounds in the 60s this season, third most on the PGA Tour, and comes in with some solid form after a T5 at Riviera and a T6 at the WGC Mexico. Bryson DeChambeau, also priced at 20/1, was the runner-up to McIlroy two years ago and finished as runner-up last time out at the WGC Mexico two weeks ago. Patrick Reed, the man who defeated DeChambeau in Mexico, is priced at 25/1 along with Adam Scott, a winner three weeks ago at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, and Xander Schauffele, seeking his first win on the Florida swing. Brooks Koepka is the No. 3 player in the world and is being offered at 30/1 but comes in off a missed cut at the Honda and has missed the cut in his last two visits to Bay Hill. Defending API champion Francesco Molinari is considered a long shot at 100/1. He hasn’t posted a top-5 finish since last year’s Masters.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational began in essence in 1966 as the Florida Citrus Open in Orlando. In 1979, the tournament moved to its present home at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Palmer owned the club until he died in 2016. His daughter and son-in-law, Amy and Roy Saunders, now own and operate the club. Palmer served as host from 1979 until his death, and the event took on his name in 2007. The API is one of only five events on the PGA Tour — with the Genesis Invitational, RBC Heritage, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament — to have invitational status. This means the field is smaller at about 120 players and offers a three-year PGA exemption to its champion as opposed to a two-year for other PGA Tour events. With this event being held a week before The Players Championship, the field has an even more international flavor than normal. Non-American players have won here the last four years and in eight of the last 13 events at Bay Hill. No player has won here more than Tiger Woods, who has eight titles (2000, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’08, ’09, ’12, ’13), but is not participating this week. Other notable winners at the Bay Hill Club include Molinari (2019), McIlroy (2018), Jason Day (2016), Ernie Els (1998, 2010), Vijay Singh (2007), Phil Mickelson (1997), Ben Crenshaw (1993), Fred Couples (1992), Tom Kite (1982, 1989), Paul Azinger (1988), Payne Stewart (1987) and Fuzzy Zoeller (1985).
The Bay Hill Club and Lodge was designed in 1961 by Dick Wilson and Bob Simmons. Palmer owned it from 1974 to 2016 and did several redesigns. The stretching 7,454-yard, par-72 features a set of tough par-4s. Three par-5s measure over 550 yards but are scorable. The par-3s average almost 220 yards. This course ordinarily tests all facets of a player’s game. Bay Hill features 4 inches of rough plus green complexes that can run as firm as 12 on the Stimpmeter. In 2015, all holes and green complexes were regrassed, with the putting surfaces featuring TifEagle Bermudagrass. The track has 85 bunkers, and water is in play on nine holes. With the recent changes, Bay Hill has rated in the top 10 among toughest courses on the PGA Tour two of the last three years. The fairways were widened and some trees were removed, so driving is easier than before, but approach shots, shots around the green and putting provide most of the challenge. The conditions should be firm and fast, as the Orlando area has had almost no rain in recent days. The wind is expected to pick up to about 20 mph over the weekend.
2019: Francesco Molinari (-12/276); 35/1
2018: Rory McIlroy (-18/270); 16/1
2017: Marc Leishman (-11/277); 80/1
2016: Jason Day (-17/271); 14/1
2015: Matt Every (-19/269); 175/1
2014: Matt Every (-13/275); 50/1
2013: Tiger Woods (-13/275); 3/1
2012: Tiger Woods (-13/275); 8/1
2011: Martin Laird (-8/280); 45/1
2010: Ernie Els (-11/277); 16/1
The par-4s will require many approach shots of greater than 200 yards, so here is a statistical ranking of players in this week’s field relative to par on these shots:
1. Bryson DeChambeau .400
2. Emiliano Grillo .362
3. Joaquin Niemann .349
4. Sebastian Munoz .346
5. Rory McIlroy .342
6. J.T. Poston .341
7. Scott Harrington .329
8. Mark Hubbard .325
9. Andrew Putnam .323
10. Brendan Steele .313
The par-5s are where the easiest scoring opportunities reside, and these are your leaders in this week’s field for par-5 scoring:
1. Rory McIlroy 4.35
2. Nate Lashley 4.46
3. Alex Noren 4.46
4. Kevin Streelman 4.47
5. Lanto Griffin 4.48
6. Hideki Matsuyama 4.48
7. Xander Schauffele 4.48
8. Matt Jones 4.49
9. Collin Morikawa 4.49
10. Jason Day 4.50
Bryson DeChambeau 20/1
Many critics scoffed at DeChambeau’s obsession with more length off the tee, but it has produced results as he is up to fourth in Driving Distance (322 yards) and comes in with three top-eight finishes in his last four events. He also ranks fourth in SG: Off The Tee (+ 0.866) and third in Sand Saves (65.79%), which should be beneficial on a course with 85 bunkers.
Matthew Fitzpatrick 50/1
Fitzpatrick was the runner-up here to Molinari last year. He already has a near-win this season, finishing second to Lee Westwood at Abu Dhabi.
Bubba Watson 55/1
Windermere native Watson always considers this tournament important. He had back-to-back good finishes at Torrey Pines (sixth) and Scottsdale (third) just a month ago.
Tyrrell Hatton 60/1
Hatton spent the winter recovering from a wrist injury and finished T6 at the WGC Mexico in his return two weeks ago. He finished fourth here at Bay Hill in 2017. The Englishman also likes the TifEagle Bermuda and is a regular contender in both Dubai events on this surface.
Abraham Ancer 70/1
The 2019 Presidents Cup narrative has been huge at the start of 2020. Justin Thomas, Cameron Smith, Marc Leishman, Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Reed and now Sungjae Im have won this season, and Ancer could add to that list. The major test this week will be the approach shots from over 200 yards, and Ancer rates first on the tour for proximity to the hole from 200-225 yards out.
Max Homa 80/1
Homa comes in with four straight finishes of 14th or better, including three top-10s, and is rested with two weeks off.
Charl Schwartzel 110/1
Like Hatton, Schwartzel battled a wrist injury and missed most of last season. He returned over the winter, and the former Masters champion’s game looks as if it’s coming into form. He finished fifth at Pebble Beach and 17th last week at PGA National in very tough conditions, where he was T5 after 54 holes.
The theme of young players winning continued on the European Tour last weekend as 21-year-old Finland native Sami Valimaki, just 18 months removed from military service, prevailed on the third playoff hole over Brandon Stone to win the Oman Open as a 250/1 shot. The tour heads to Doha this week to complete its early-season Middle East events with the Qatar Masters. A new course awaits as the tournament moves from Doha Golf Club to Education City Golf Club. Martin Kaymer, who finished T10 in Oman, tops the odds board at 14/1. Thomas Pieters missed the cut last week but slots in second at 18/1. Robert MacIntyre (20/1) and Matthias Schwab (25/1) took last week off. Joost Luiten also finished T10 in Oman and is priced at 25/1. Defending champion Justin Harding won in Doha last year at 50/1 and is listed at 60/1 this time around. Last week’s winner, Valimaki, has seen his odds trimmed to 80/1.
The Qatar Masters was established in 1998, and all of its tournaments have been housed at the Doha Golf Club until this season. The event used to draw bigger-name fields when it was sandwiched between Abu Dhabi and Dubai during January. In 2018, the tournament was moved to late February and early March due to travel restrictions between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, the PGA moving up the PGA Championship to May forced The Players Championship up to March and has condensed the big events on the PGA Tour, and that takes bigger potential names away from the field. Nevertheless, the Qatar Masters has produced big-name winners, including Adam Scott (2002, ’08), Paul Lawrie (1999, ’12), Ernie Els (2005), Henrik Stenson (2006), Retief Goosen (2007), Sergio Garcia (2014) and Branden Grace (2015, ’16).
After 22 years at Doha Golf Club, the Qatar Masters stays in Doha but moves to the Education City Golf Club, which was designed in 2018 by World Golf Hall of Famer and two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal. The track is a par-71 of 7,307 yards and is an exposed and relatively flat desert layout. The 36/35 split features three par-5s measuring 539, 593 and 592 yards in length. Two of the four par-3s are over 200 yards long, and only two of the par-4s play under 400 yards. Water is in play on several holes, and the track is heavily bunkered. The greens are also exceedingly fast (13 on the Stimpmeter). Paspalum is used throughout the course. While this is the first event on this course and Education City is on the other side of Doha and more inland, the layouts have some similarities. In addition, the paspalum used here could make it play similarly to the events in Mauritius, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Length off the tee and total driving should be important here.
2019: Justin Harding (-13/275); 50/1
2018: Eddie Pepperell (-18/270); 75/1
2017: Jeunghun Wang (-16/272); 45/1*
2016: Branden Grace (-14/274); 8/1
2015: Branden Grace (-19/269); 25/1
2014: Sergio Garcia (-16/272); 8/1**
2013: Chris Wood (-18/270); 90/1
2012: Paul Lawrie (-15/201); 55/1***
2011: Thomas Bjorn (-14/274); 200/1
2010: Robert Karlsson (-15/273); 66/1
* — playoff win over Joakim Lagergren, Jaco van Zyl
** — playoff win over Mikko Ilonen
*** — event reduced to 54 holes
George Coetzee 35/1
Sixth last week in Oman on a very similar course. Comes in with recent form of 6-8-2.
Haotong Li 35/1
The Presidents Cup narrative plays here. Four of his International teammates — Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im — have already won on the PGA Tour this season.
Jordan Smith 40/1
Finished T6 last week in Oman and is essentially the same price in a similar-strength field.
Adri Arnaus 40/1
The usual weekly bet on the Spaniard. He is fourth in SG: Off The Tee and ninth in SG: Tee To Green.
Antoine Rozner 80/1
Finished top 10 last week in Oman. He is a European Tour rookie, having earned his card with two wins on the Challenge Tour last season.
Alejandro Canizares 115/1
Finished T6 in Oman last week, and the price looks a bit big here.
Haydn Porteous 150/1
The South African comes in off a second-place finish at the season-ending Tour Championship on South Africa’s Sunshine Tour.