Arnold Palmer Invitational
Chris Kirk earned his first PGA TOUR victory in over seven and a half years at the Honda Classic, at 25/1, in a playoff over 150/1 longshot Eric Cole, who was tipped in this column last week. Kirk led by one stroke going into the 72nd hole but found the water on approach and made bogey. Cole then settled for par at the last hole giving Kirk new life. On the first playoff hole, the Par 5 18th, Kirk, now ranked 32nd in the OWGR (Official World Golf Rankings), stuck his third shot and made birdie. Cole had the chance to match for birdie from just outside 10 feet, but the putt lipped out. Tyler Duncan finished third for his best PGA TOUR finish in over three years. Monday qualifier Ryan Gerard, who is a rookie on the Korn Ferry Tour, finished solo fourth and earned a spot in this week's TOUR alternate event at the Puerto Rico Open. Fifth place was shared five ways between Ben Taylor, Ben Martin, Justin Suh, and last year's 1-2 finishers at the Honda Classic, Sepp Straka and Shane Lowry.
This week, the PGA TOUR continues the Florida swing to Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Per the OWGR, this is the strongest field anywhere in the world since last summer's Open Championship at St. Andrews with 44 of the current OWGR Top 50 at Bay Hill this week. That includes the entire Top 30 in last year's FedEx Cup and all 13 TOUR winners thus far this season.
With three TOUR victories already in 2023, it is no surprise that World No. 1 Jon Rahm is the favorite at 650. 2018 API champion Rory McIlroy broke a five-year streak of Top 10 finishes in this event with a 13th last year. Last year's winner Scottie Scheffler (10/1) earned the famous red cardigan sweater and returns to defend his title.
Max Homa (16/1) already has a big victory in 2023 at the Farmers Insurance Open and nearly had a second one in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera two weeks ago before finishing runner-up to Rahm. Collin Morikawa (18/1) has three finishes of sixth or better in four 2023 starts. Will Zalatoris (22/1) finished fourth at Riviera in his best finish since having to miss the final four months of 2022 with a back injury.
Patrick Cantlay (20/1), Xander Schauffele (22/1), and Justin Thomas (25/1) have never been regular entrants in this event but are here with the API now being placed into elevated event status with a $20 million purse.
Tony Finau (22/1) has never really fared all that well here with a best finish of 28th in four career Bay Hill starts, but Matt Fitzpatrick (33/1) has four consecutive Top 10s here including a runner-up in 2019. Viktor Hovland (30/1) probably should have been victorious here last year but settled for a runner-up.
Several former API champions are also here this week including 2020 champ Tyrrell Hatton (35/1), 2019 winner Francesco Molinari (200/1), 2016 winner Jason Day (33/1), who has found some for as of late with three consecutive Top 10s, and 2011 winner Martin Laird (500/1). Conspicuous by his absence is eight-time API winner Tiger Woods, who elected not to enter this week just two weeks removed from making the cut at Riviera.
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 & Lodge. Arnold Palmer owned the club until his passing 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 passing and the event took on his name in 2007. The API is only one of five events on the PGA Tour (Genesis Invitational, RBC Heritage, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament) to have “invitational” status. This means that the field is smaller at 120 players and offers a three-year PGA exemption to its champion as opposed to a two-year for other PGA Tour events. In addition, three spots in this year’s British Open are available to the field based on performance as a part of the Open Qualifying Series. The three top finishers, who are otherwise not exempt, will earn a place in the British Open field.
With this event being held a week before THE PLAYERS Championship, this week’s field has an even more international flavor than normal. Non-American players have won here five of the last seven years. No player has won more here than Tiger Woods, who has been victorious here eight times (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013), but Tiger is not participating this week. Other major champions who have emerged victorious here at Bay Hill Club include Scottie Scheffler (2022), Bryson DeChambeau (2021), Francesco Molinari (2019), Rory 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 120-player field is comprised of players that meet the following criteria:
- Former winners of Arnold Palmer Invitational
- Major Winners (Five-year exemption)
- THE PLAYERS Championship winners (Five-year exemption)
- Tour Championship and World Golf Championship winners (Last three years)
- Genesis Invitational and Memorial Tournament winners (Last three years)
- Tournament Winner in the past year
- Members of most recent Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams
- Winner of prior year's U.S. Amateur Championship
- Winner of Arnold Palmer Award (Previous season's Rookie of the Year)
- Top-50 in OWGR
- Sponsor's Exemptions
- Top-70 prior season's FedEx Cup
- Top-70 current season's FedEx Cup
- PGA Section (North Florida) Champ/Player of the Year
- Below 70th position on current FedEx Cup Points List
The Bay Hill Club & Lodge was designed in 1961 by Dick Wilson and Bob Simmons and was owned by Arnold Palmer, who also did several re-designs, from 1974 to 2016. The stretching 7,466-yard, Par 72 parklands features a set of tough Par 4s plus three of the Par 5s measure over 550 yards but are scoreable. The Par 3s, which are the longest on tour, average almost 220 yards.
This is a course that ordinarily tests all facets of a player’s game and especially last year (windy conditions) when it ranked as the fourth most difficult on TOUR with an average round of 1.08. Bay Hill features 3″ of overseeded rye rough plus TifEagle Bermuda green complexes that can run fast at 12.5 on the stimpmeter. In 2015, all holes and green complexes were re-grassed with the putting surfaces, which average around 7,500 sq ft (2nd largest on TOUR). The track is heavily bunkered (84) and has water in play on nine holes. Last year, most of the sloping run-off areas from around the greens had been replaced with thick three-inch rough.
With the recent changes, Bay Hill has been rated in the top 10 in terms of the toughest courses on TOUR in five of the last six 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 here. The conditions should be relatively firm and fast. The wind wreaked havoc here in 2020 and Bay Hill ranked as the toughest course on the TOUR that year largely because of it. It's obviously recommended to check the weather forecasts each week, but especially this week.
Bay Hill features one of the toughest sets of Par 3s and Par 4s on Tour. Each of the four Par 3s is over 200 yards long (216-yard average), and in total, averages 0.16 strokes over par. Five of the Par 4s are over 450 yards long, and some play even longer because players have to use “less-than-driver” and choose to lay up. Seven of these Par 4s have bogey-or-worse rates higher than 20%.
With scoring so difficult, especially on the Par 3s, the four Par 5s take on greater importance this week. They have a birdie-or-better average of over 38% each and are reachable in two shots. They definitely give players (especially the longer hitters) a chance to separate themselves from the field and will play a major role in determining who wins this week.
Bay Hill may have the toughest two-hole closing stretch on Tour. The Par 3 17th is a 221-yard tee shot often hit into a stiff north wind over water to a well-bunkered green. The hole only has a birdie rate of 8.7%. The 18th is a 458-yard Par 4 that begins with a nervy tee shot also hit into the prevailing north wind that brings water into play on the right for the longer hitters and out of bounds into play on the left for shorter hitters. Bunkers surround the back and left of the green to punish any players looking for other places to bail out.
Correlated courses to Bay Hill include PGA National, Quail Hollow, Memorial Park, Olympia Fields, Doral, Concession, the Country Club, and Congaree.
2022: Scottie Scheffler (-5/283); 20/1
2021: Bryson DeChambeau (-11/277); 13/1
2020: Tyrrell Hatton (-4/284); 55/1
2019: Francesco Molinari (-12/276); 33/1
2018: Rory McIlroy (-18/270); 20/1
2017: Marc Leishman (-11/277); 100/1
2016: Jason Day (-17/271); 14/1
2015: Matt Every (-19/269); 300/1
2014: Matt Every (-13/275); 66/1
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
Last year, Scottie Scheffler led the field for Strokes Gained: Approach on his way to victory at Bay Hill. In 2021, Tyrrell Hatton ranked second on Approach during his winning week. The weather conditions could be as difficult this year as Friday and Saturday look to have higher winds, placing even more importance on iron play.
Strokes Gained: Approach (Last 36 Rounds)
- Tom Hoge 37.4
- Rory McIlroy 33.6
- Xander Schauffele 33
- Tom Kim 31.2
- Collin Morikawa 28.7
- Scottie Scheffler 25.2
- Will Zalatoris 23.8
- Tony Finau 22.9
- Sepp Straka 21.8
- Shane Lowry 21.6
- Jason Day 21.4
- Corey Conners 20.2
- Alex Smalley 19.5
- Ben Griffin 18.7
- Si Woo Kim 18.6
- David Lipsky 18.1
Over 36% of approach shots come from over 200 yards here at Bay Hill, which is the most on TOUR. Long irons are vital to victory here.
Proximity Gained 200 Yards (Last 36 Rounds)
- Sungjae Im 23.2
- Adam Svensson 20
- Patrick Cantlay 19.2
- Collin Morikawa 18.5
- Gary Woodland 18.3
- Jon Rahm 17.9
- Xander Schauffele 17.4
- Tom Kim 16.9
- Tom Hoge 16.9
- Thomas Detry 16.6
- Davis Riley 16.2
- Justin Suh 15.4
- Patton Kizzire 15.1
- Wyndham Clark 14.8
- Nick Hardy 13.2
- Rory McIlroy 13
Distance off the tee is never necessarily a disadvantage, but the actual driving distance is 16% lower than the average TOUR course at only 282.5 yards. A proper mixture of distance and accuracy is the ticket here.
Total Driving (2022-23 PGA TOUR season)
- Keith Mitchell 26 (15 11)
- Shane Lowry 45 (32 13)
- Scottie Scheffler 56 (28 28)
- Tyrrell Hatton 67 (42 25)
- Patrick Cantlay 75 (17 58)
- Viktor Hovland 79 (37 42)
- Hayden Buckley 82 (58 24)
- Will Gordon 89 (32 57)
- Jason Day 90 (62 28)
- Matt Fitzpatrick 95 (60 35)
- Jon Rahm 100 (6 94)
- Rickie Fowler 102 (35 67)
- Si Woo Kim 115 (103 12)
- Max Homa 119 (53 66)
- Sungjae Im 122 (76 46)
- Davis Thompson 124 (19 105)
Notes: Driving Distance Rank Driving Accuracy Rank; TOUR average is 217.
The four Par 5s are the four easiest holes on the course as they all had a birdie rate of over 30% last year.
Strokes Gained Par 5s (Last 36 Rounds)
- Garrick Higgo 28
- Rory McIlroy 23.5
- Shane Lowry 22.5
- Jon Rahm 21.8
- Wyndham Clark 21.1
- Patrick Cantlay 20.8
- Kyle Westmoreland 20.5
- Xander Schauffele 19.2
- Justin Thomas 18.5
- Taylor Pendrith 17.4
- Sungjae Im 17.3
- Tony Finau 17
- Patrick Rodgers 16.3
- Eric Cole 15.7
- Cam Davis 15.4
- Davis Thompson 15.1
These greens will start at about 12.5 on the stimpmeter on Thursday and eventually get up close to 14 on Sunday.
Strokes Gained Putting Lightning-Fast Bermuda Greens (Last 36 Rounds)
- Beau Hossler 40.9
- Zach Johnson 33.1
- Matt Fitzpatrick 31
- Sam Burns 26.7
- Brendon Todd 25.7
- Mackenzie Hughes 23.5
- Sungjae Im 21.4
- Tyrrell Hatton 21.1
- David Lingmerth 20.4
- Christiaan Bezuidenhout 19.6
- Kevin Kisner 17.7
- Xander Schauffele 16.7
- Andrew Putnam 15.4
- Seamus Power 13.6
- Sam Ryder 13.1
- Keegan Bradley 13.1
These greens, at 7,500 sq ft on average, are some of the largest on TOUR. Lag putting will be tested this week.
Bogey Avoidance (Last 36 Rounds)
- Jason Day 31.6
- Scottie Scheffler 29.7
- Rory McIlroy 27.1
- Tony Finau 26.2
- Matt Fitzpatrick 25.5
- Sahith Theegala 25
- Andrew Putnam 24.7
- Xander Schauffele 23.9
- Patrick Cantlay 23.2
- Thomas Detry 22.7
- Sungjae Im 22.3
- Mackenzie Hughes 22
- Si Woo Kim 21.7
- Jon Rahm 21.6
- Adam Hadwin 20.7
- Max Homa 20.2
- Brian Harman 20
The Birdie or Better Percentage at Bay Hill is just 17.8% for the last five years as compared to a TOUR average of 20.7%.
Birdie Or Better Gained (Last 36 Rounds)
- Jon Rahm 51
- Rory McIlroy 47
- Will Zalatoris 36
- Max Homa 35.9
- Taylor Montgomery 31.6
- Tony Finau 29.9
- Seamus Power 27.5
- Patrick Cantlay 27.1
- Viktor Hovland 26
- Jason Day 25.4
- Cameron Young 24.9
- Justin Thomas 24.1
- Ben Griffin 22.6
- Scottie Scheffler 21.5
- Patrick Rodgers 21.2
- Collin Morikawa 20
While the run-off areas have been replaced by rough around the greens, bringing notoriously poor chippers like Viktor Hovland into play, Scrambling will still be important due to the green complexes being elevated along with having tiered and undulating surfaces surrounded by significant bunkering.
Scrambling Gained (Last 36 Rounds)
- Andrew Putnam 20.3
- Mackenzie Hughes 19.2
- Hideki Matsuyama 18.5
- Aaron Wise 18.5
- Jason Day 15.4
- Matt Fitzpatrick 15.2
- Danny Willett 15.1
- Max Homa 14.5
- Patrick Cantlay 13.6
- Aaron Baddeley 12.6
- JJ Spaun 11.3
- Tony Finau 10.5
- Sam Burns 9.9
- Eric Cole 9.7
- Tommy Fleetwood 9.6
- Alex Noren 9.6
- Joseph Bramlett 9.3
- Tyrrell Hatton 9.1
The 18th and 8th holes were the two toughest holes at Bay Hill last year with a bogey or worse rate of 25% and both measure around 460 yards.
Strokes Gained Par 4s 450-500 Yards (Last 36 Rounds)
- Sam Ryder 23.7
- Viktor Hovland 21.3
- Max Homa 20.8
- Rory McIlroy 20.3
- Tyrrell Hatton 17.4
- Wyndham Clark 17.2
- Jason Day 16.7
- Sahith Theegala 16.6
- Patrick Cantlay 15.5
- Hayden Buckley 14.5
- Tommy Fleetwood 14.4
- Joel Dahmen 14.3
- Taylor Pendrith 14.1
- Luke List 14
- Keegan Bradley 14
Three of the four Par 3s measure in this range and the four Par 3s were four of the six toughest holes at Bay Hill for birdie rate at just under 11%.
Strokes Gained Par 3s 200-225 Yards (Last 36 Rounds)
- Patrick Rodgers 10.8
- Viktor Hovland 10.2
- Tom Kim 8.8
- Joseph Bramlett 7
- Sam Burns 5.9
- Francesco Molinari 5.6
- Thomas Detry 5.4
- Jon Rahm 5.2
- Sahith Theegala 5.1
- Luke Donald 5.1
- Emiliano Grillo 4.8
- Nick Hardy 4.7
- Aaron Baddeley 4.7
- Will Zalatoris 4.4
- Gary Woodland 4.1
- Jason Day 4.1
- Si Woo Kim 4.1
- Patton Kizzire 4.1
Rory McIlroy 10/1 BetMGM
The question is often asked of who is the best player in the world when he is at his best? In recent years, the answer has always been Rory McIlroy more often than not. Now there is some debate with Jon Rahm's current run.
McIlroy has won here before (2018) and has not finished worse than 13th in his last six appearances here. Surely, he is motivated as Rahm has taken the OWGR No. 1 spot.
He is not in poor form considering he ranks second on Approach, second for Birdie Or Better Gained, second for SG: Par 5, and third for Bogey Avoidance over the last 36 rounds.
Will Zalatoris 21/1 Circa Sports
Zalatoris put the questions regarding his health and fitness to bed with a fourth at Riviera two weeks ago.
When it comes to tough tests such as this, Zalatoris is the most consistent of the lot. 5-under par totals at last year's PGA and US Open were enough for runner-up finishes each time.
Zalatoris was 10th on debut here two years ago. He earned the Arnold Palmer scholarship while playing golf at Wake Forest. Undoubtedly, he is motivated to win the King's event.
Viktor Hovland 31/1 Boyd Sports
Hovland won the Hero World Challenge back in December, so despite a lukewarm start of three Top 20s in four starts in 2023, he is not all that far removed from winning form.
He should have won here last year as he had a four-shot lead on the Saturday back nine, but weather conditions helped bring him back to the field.
Matt Fitzpatrick 36/1 Boyd Sports
Fitzpatrick has started a bit slow in 2023, but he comes to one of his best courses this week.
Furthermore, he probably comes in with a good frame of mind having re-lived his career triumph at last summer's U.S. Open which was chronicled on Episode 5 of the new Netflix series Full Swing.
Keith Mitchell 52/1 Circa Sports
Mitchell leads the PGA TOUR for Total Driving.
'Cashmere Keith' was fifth at Riviera two weeks ago and fourth at Pebble Beach earlier this month. He also has finishes of fifth and sixth here at Bay Hill in 2020 and 2019 respectively.
Rickie Fowler 77/1 Circa Sports
It has been a while since Fowler made my card and he does not really have a stellar history here, besides a third in 2013.
However, his game is starting to come around having reunited with Butch Harmon as his instructor.
Gary Woodland 110/1 Circa Sports
Woodland was in the mix to win here and actually had the lead at one point on the back nine last year before finishing fifth.
He was ninth in the Genesis two weeks ago having ranked third in approach, first in GIR and second in proximity from the rough; while also top 10 off-the-tee. He putted these greens well last year, ranking 6th in the field.
Matchups (13-7-1; 0-2-1 last week)
Rory McIlroy -115 over Scottie Scheffler (BetMGM)
Justin Rose 100 over Chris Kirk (BetMGM)
Tommy Fleetwood 100 over Seamus Power (BetMGM)
Puerto Rico Open
While most of the world's best are in Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a mix of former PGA TOUR wins, seasoned veterans, and young upstarts are looking to provide a jolt to their respective TOUR careers at the alternate Puerto Rico Open event.
Tournament favorite Nate Lashley (14/1) is a former PGA TOUR event winner (2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic) who has finished Top 10 here twice in two appearances —seventh last year and eighth in 2019. Ben Martin (16/1) had his last and only TOUR victory in 2014 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open but was Top 5 last week at the Honda Classic and finished third here in 2014. Andrew Novak and Scott Piercy follow in the market at 22/1.
Akshay Bhatia (28/1) finished T-4 and T-7 earlier this year in the two Bahamas events on the Korn Ferry Tour. Cameron Percy (30/1) finished 12th last week at the Honda and has finished seventh in each of the last two years in this event. Erik van Rooyen (33/1) earned his lone PGA TOUR victory in another alternate event, the Barracuda Championship, back in 2021. Ryan Gerard (40/1) earned his spot in this field courtesy of a fourth last week at the Honda and finished T-3 three weeks ago on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Former Puerto Rico Open champions in this week's field include 2013 champ Scott Brown (80/1), 2019 winner Martin Trainer (100/1), 2017 winner D.A. Points (250/1), 2012 winner George McNeill (500/1), and 2011 winner Derek Lamely (600/1). Last year's champion Ryan Brehm is in this week's field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The Puerto Rico Open began as an alternate tour event in 2008 and has maintained that status ever since. From 2008-2015, this event was opposite of the WGC event at Doral before going opposite of the WGC-Dell Match Play in 2016 and 2017. Last year, it was the alternate event to the WGC-Workday Championship and this year it is held opposite the Arnold Palmer Invitational. There was no event in 2018 due to Hurricane Maria so a Puerto Rico Open Charity Day one-day event was held in its place.
The Grand Reserve Country Club in Rio Grande, on the northern coast of Puerto Rico and about a 40-mile drive northeast of San Juan, has hosted the Puerto Rico Open since its inception in 2008. The course is a typical coastal resort track that was designed by Tom Kite in 2004. It is a Par 72 of 7,506 yards and is an exposed parklands that can be susceptible to windy conditions. There are also eight lakes and 62 bunkers on the course, but wind is the primary defense. The fairways and greens are both Paspalum and those greens are relatively large (6,500 sq ft) and slow (10.5 stimpmeter).
2022: Ryan Brehm (-20/268); 80/1
2021: Branden Grace (-19/269); 22/1
2020: Viktor Hovland (-20/268); 12/1
2019: Martin Trainer (-15/273); 125/1
2018: No Tournament due to Hurricane Maria
2017: D.A. Points (-20/268); 175/1
2016: Tony Finau (-12/276); 50/1*
2015: Alex Cejka (-7/281); 125/1**
2014: Chesson Hadley (-21/267); 50/1
2013: Scott Brown (-20/268); 50/1
2012: George McNeill (-16/272); 55/1
2011: Michael Bradley (-16/272); 135/1***
2010: Derek Lamely (-19/269); 110/1
Playoff win over Steve Marino - *
Playoff win over Jon Curran, Emiliano Grillo, Tim Petrovic & Sam Saunders - **
Playoff win over Troy Matteson - ***
Michael Kim 30/1 BetMGM
Recent winners of this event have tended to play well at Pebble Beach just a few weeks prior and Michael Kim fits that bill with a T-11.
Kim ranks fourth in this field for Strokes Gained: Approach over the last 36 rounds and 9th for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green over the last 36 rounds.
Matti Schmid 45/1 BetMGM
The former No. 10 world amateur earned his way to the PGA Tour via the Korn Ferry Tour Finals at the end of last year, finishing ninth in the second of those events there – the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship.
The German ranks 13th in driving distance and 39th off-the-tee, which could pose well on a wide-open exposed layout here. He also finished eighth in an alternate event last summer at the Barbasol.
Kevin Roy 55/1 Bet MGM
Roy arrives with solid form finishing 29th at the Honda Classic last week where he ranked third for Total Driving, fifth for Driving Accuracy and second for Ball Striking.
He ranks second in this field for Strokes Gained: Approach over the last 36 rounds.
Hank Lebioda 55/1 BetMGM
Lebioda is another that played well at Pebble Beach several weeks ago (15th).
He ranks eighth in this field for Strokes Gained: Approach over the last 36 rounds.
Brent Grant 90/1 BetMGM
Grant earned his card through the Korn Ferry Tour last year where he ranked as the second-best ball-striker, fourth in GIR and sixth in total driving, possessing both length and accuracy with driver.
He is also No. 1 in this field for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee over the last 36 rounds.
Brandon Matthews 100/1 BetMGM
Big hitters like Ryan Brehm, Viktor Hovland, Martin Trainer and Tony Finau have taken out 4 of the past 6 renewals here and Matthews certainly fits into that category ranking third for Driving Distance on the PGA TOUR.
Matthews won in Colombia and finished second in Panama on the Korn Ferry Tour last February, so he's proven that he can win in tropical climates.