PGA Tour best bets: Arnold Palmer Invitational

March 1, 2022 10:05 PM

The Florida Swing got underway last weekend at the Honda Classic, where Sepp Straka (at a price of 125-1) became a first-time winner, the fourth in five weeks on the PGA Tour. Daniel Berger had a six-shot lead at one point Saturday and began Sunday ahead by five but shot a final-round 74, ranking dead last in the field for Strokes Gained: Putting over the final 18 holes. Meanwhile, Straka (100-1 this week) led the Honda field for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and Driving Accuracy (83.93% tied a career-best mark) and ranked fourth for Strokes Gained: Putting to become the first Austrian in history to win on the PGA Tour. Straka, who moves from No. 176 to No. 83 in the OWGR, now earns invitations to the Masters and the PGA Championship and locks up a two-year PGA Tour exemption.

This week, the PGA Tour moves to Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Despite the withdrawal of defending champion Bryson DeChambeau due to a wrist injury, this year's field is an improvement over last year and has higher quality at the top than last week. World No. 1 Jon Rahm (17-2) makes his first appearance in this event. 2018 API champion Rory McIlroy (12-1) has finished no worse than 10th (2021) in his last five years here. Scottie Scheffler (16-1) is just three weeks removed from his first PGA Tour win. Viktor Hovland (18-1) has the game to contend here but has never finished better than 40th. Hideki Matsuyama (25-1) has two wins this season, the only multiple winner so far.

Matthew Fitzpatrick (28-1) has three consecutive top-10 finishes at Bay Hill, including a runner-up in 2019. Sungjae Im (30-1) is coming off a rare missed cut last week but finished third here in back-to-back years (2019, 2020). Will Zalatoris (30-1) finished top 10 in his first appearance here last year and nearly won his first PGA Tour event five weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open. Tyrrell Hatton (33-1), the 2020 API champion, makes his 2022 stateside debut. The Aussie contingent is led by Adam Scott (35-1), who has three top 10s in his last four worldwide events, and Marc Leishman (35-1), the 2017 API champion and 2020 runner-up. 

Fifteen of the OWGR top 30 are in the field this week. 

The Event

The Arnold Palmer Invitational began 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 it. Palmer served as host from 1979 until his passing. The event took on his name in 2007. The API is one of only five events on the PGA Tour (Genesis Invitational, RBC Heritage, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament) to have invitational status. That means the field is smaller, at 120 players, and offers its champions a three-year PGA Tour exemption as opposed to two years. In addition, the top-three finishers who are otherwise not exempt will earn a spot in the British Open. 

With this event being held a week before The Players Championship, the field has more of an international flavor. Non-Americans have won here the last five years and seven of the last 11. No player has won more here than Tiger Woods, who has been victorious eight times (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013). Other major champions who have emerged victorious include 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 Course 

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 redesigns. The 7,466-yard, par-72 parklands course features a set of tough par-4s. Three of the par-5s measure more than 550 yards but are scoreable. The par-3s, which are the longest on tour, average almost 220 yards. Bay Hill, a course that tests all facets of the game, features 3.5 inches of overseeded rye rough plus green complexes that can run as fast as 12.5 on the stimpmeter. In 2015, all holes and green complexes were re-grassed with putting surfaces that feature TifEagle Bermudagrass. The greens are the seventh-largest on tour (7,500 square feet), The track is heavily bunkered (84), with water in play on nine holes. 

Bay Hill has ranked in the top 10 for toughest courses on tour in four of the last five years. In recent years, the fairways were widened and some trees were removed, making driving easier than before, but approach shots, shots around the green and putting provide most of the challenge. Conditions should be relatively firm and fast. Wind wreaked havoc in 2020, when Bay Hill ranked as the toughest course on tour.

Correlated courses to Bay Hill include PGA National, Quail Hollow, Memorial Park, Olympia Fields, Doral, Concession and Congaree. 

Recent History/Winners 

— 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 

​Statistical Analysis

Strokes Gained: Approach (Last 24 Rounds)

Strokes Gained: Approach is a key metric every week on the PGA Tour. Here are the leaders in this week’s field.

— Will Zalatoris, 24.8

— Viktor Hovland, 22

— Tom Hoge, 22

— Paul Casey, 21.3

— Luke List, 17.4

— Russell Henley, 16.6

— Scottie Scheffler, 15.5

— Hideki Matsuyama, 14.7

— Andrew Putnam, 14.6

— Jon Rahm, 14.3

— Lucas Glover, 14.3

— Pat Perez, 13.1

Strokes Gained: Approach (Last 36 Rounds)

— Paul Casey, 37.2

— Tom Hoge, 30.6

— Jon Rahm, 30.4

— Russell Henley, 28.9

— Viktor Hovland, 27.4

— Keegan Bradley, 25.1

— Talor Gooch, 23.2

— Adam Scott, 22.3

— Will Zalatoris, 22.3

— Lucas Glover, 18.5

— Adam Svensson, 18.4

— Pat Perez, 17.8

— Scottie Scheffler, 17.2

Proximity 200+ Yards (Last 24 Rounds)

Bay Hill has produced more approach shots from at least 200 yards than any course on the PGA Tour since 2016. Here are this week’s leaders, with feet gained per shot.

— Sebastian Munoz, 30.1

— Matthew Wolff, 29.3

— Sungjae Im, 28.1

— Viktor Hovland, 23.6

— Will Zalatoris, 23.5

— Maverick McNealy, 21.4

— Cameron Champ, 21.3

— Aaron Rai, 21

— Hideki Matsuyama, 18.9

— Rory McIlroy, 18.7

— Garrick Higgo, 17.9

— Jon Rahm, 17.9

— Tyrrell Hatton, 16.5

Proximity 200+ Yards (Last 36 Rounds)

— Matthew Wolff, 27.9

— Sungjae Im, 27.8

— Jon Rahm, 24.2

— Will Zalatoris, 19

— Hideki Matsuyama, 18.8

— Sebastian Munoz, 18.7

— Garrick Higgo, 18.5

— Maverick McNealy, 18.1

— Paul Casey, 18.1

— Viktor Hovland, 17.7

— Adam Scott, 17.6

— Tyrrell Hatton, 16.7

Par-3s of 200-225 Yards (Last 24 Rounds)

Bay Hill features the longest set of par-3s on tour, with an average of 216.5 yards. 

— Thomas Pieters, 7.5

— Kevin Na, 7.4

— Denny McCarthy, 7.3

— Brendon Todd, 6.3

— Beau Hossler, 6.2

— Zach Johnson, 5.7

— Chris Kirk, 5.6

— Matthew Wolff, 5.6

— Sam Burns, 5.3

— Tom Hoge, 5

— Lee Hodges, 4.9

— Alex Smalley, 4.6

Par-3s of 200-225 Yards (Last 36 Rounds)

— Thomas Pieters, 12.6

— Jason Kokrak, 9.6 

— Sam Burns, 7.7

— Kevin Na, 7

— Alex Smalley, 6.5

— Tom Hoge, 6.4

— Talor Gooch, 6.4

— Martin Laird, 6.3

— Matthew Wolff, 5.9

— Chez Reavie, 5.8

— Jason Day, 5.4

— Will Zalatoris, 5

— Danny Lee, 5

Strokes Gained: Par-5s (Last 24 Rounds)

The par-5s are all potential birdie opportunities and must be taken advantage of. 

— Matthew Fitzpatrick, 19.5

— Seamus Power, 14.3

— Max Homa, 13.4

— Hideki Matsuyama, 13

— Scottie Scheffler, 12.2

— Sam Ryder, 11.6

— Aaron Rai, 11.6

— Maverick McNealy, 11.6

— Sahith Theegala, 11.6

— Doug Ghim, 11.4

— Patton Kizzire, 11.2

— Martin Laird, 11.2

— Luke List, 10.5

Strokes Gained: Par-5s (Last 36 Rounds)

— Seamus Power, 21.8

— Matthew Fitzpatrick, 20.7

— Maverick McNealy, 17.4

— Max Homa, 17.1

— Rory McIlroy, 16.6

— Jon Rahm, 16.6

— Lucas Herbert, 16.5

— Sungjae Im, 16

— Hideki Matsuyama, 15.6

— Luke List, 15

— Aaron Rai, 14.5

— Talor Gooch, 13.3

Par-4s of 450-500 Yards (Last 24 Rounds)

Five of the 10 par-4s measure between 450-500 yards.

— Cameron Young, 18.8

— Maverick McNealy, 17.1

— Luke List, 15

— Rory McIlroy, 13.7

— Viktor Hovland, 12.9

— Billy Horschel, 12.8

— Carlos Ortiz, 12.6

— Andrew Putnam, 12.1

— Seamus Power, 10.9

— Hideki Matsuyama, 10.9

— Scottie Scheffler, 10.4

— Sungjae Im, 10.1

Par-4s of 450-500 Yards (Last 36 Rounds)

— Maverick McNealy, 21.6

— Viktor Hovland, 19.4

— Rory McIlroy, 18.5

— Cameron Young, 17

— Jon Rahm, 16.8

— Billy Horschel, 16.5

— Adam Schenk, 16.4

— Luke List, 13.8

— Andrew Putnam, 13.3

— Luke List, 12.1

— Sebastian Munoz, 11.7

— Lanto Griffin, 11.6

Strokes Gained: Short Game (Last 24 Rounds)

The average percentage of greens hit in regulation at Bay Hill is lower than the tour average. The greens are pretty quick, too, so take a look at Strokes Gained: Short Game (Putting + Around The Green).

— Denny McCarthy, 26

— Scottie Scheffler, 24.6

— Stephan Jaeger, 21.9

— Brendon Todd, 20.3

— Rory McIlroy, 19.8

— Rory Sabbatini, 19.4

— Billy Horschel, 19.1

— Kevin Tway, 18.2

— Russell Henley, 17

— Cameron Tringale, 17

— Beau Hossler, 16.7

— Ian Poulter, 16.6

Strokes Gained: Short Game (Last 36 Rounds)

— Denny McCarthy, 36.6

— Beau Hossler, 32.4

— Ian Poulter, 32

— Stephan Jaeger, 27.4

— Kevin Na, 26.7

— Sungjae Im, 24.7

— Marc Leishman, 22.6

— Pat Perez, 22.2

— Cameron Tringale, 21.8

— Rory McIlroy, 21.6

— Brendon Todd, 21.4

— Billy Horschel, 21

Strokes Gained: Putting on Fast Bermuda (Last 24 Rounds)

The Bermuda greens will roll at about 12.5 on the stimpmeter.

— Matthew Fitzpatrick, 26.3

— Sam Burns, 25.8

— Zach Johnson, 21.3

— Brendon Todd, 19.5

— Patrick Reed, 17.8

— Christiaan Bezuidenhout, 16.8

— Lanto Griffin, 14.9

— Kevin Kisner, 13.6

— Denny McCarthy, 13.6

— Kevin Tway, 12.8

— Scottie Scheffler, 12.3

— Billy Horschel, 12.2

Strokes Gained: Putting on Fast Bermuda (Last 36 Rounds)

— Sam Burns, 38.9

— Brendon Todd, 33.4

— Kevin Kisner, 32

— Matthew Fitzpatrick, 30.9

— Zach Johnson, 29.7

— Denny McCarthy, 26

— Patton Kizzire, 25.3

— Billy Horschel, 25.1

— Ian Poulter, 24.6

— Scott Stallings, 23.4

— Charles Howell III, 20.9

— Patrick Reed, 20.9 


​Victor Hovland (18-1)

While Hovland has never finished inside the top 40 at Bay Hill, he is a much different player with four worldwide wins in his last 17 events. He was third heading into the weekend here last year, so there are good rounds logged at Bay Hill for the Norwegian.  ​Hovland still seeks his first PGA Tour victory stateside, but he has some good Florida form during his young career. In 2021, he finished second in the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession and third in the Valspar Championship at the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook. Both of those courses feature TifEagle Bermudagrass greens. His recent recent success on Bermudagrass, including victories at the Hero World Challenge and the Dubai Desert Classic, is combined with Hovland ranking near the top of this field in metrics such as Strokes Gained: Approach, Proximity from 200+ Yards, and Par-4 450-500 Yards.

Will Zalatoris (25-1)

Zalatoris finished 10th here last year despite being fatigued. He felt the need to fulfill his obligation to this event because he was the recipient of the Arnold Palmer scholarship when he played college golf at Palmer’s alma mater, Wake Forest. Zalatoris is tops in this field for Strokes Gained: Approach over the last 24 rounds and fifth for Proximity from 200+ Yards. He must overcome some scar tissue from a few weeks ago, losing in a playoff at Torrey Pines in pursuit of his first PGA Tour win. 

Paul Casey (42-1)

Casey’s two wins in the Sunshine State came in the Valspar Championship (2018 and 2019), and he also finished top 10 in two of his last three starts at Bay Hill (2016 and 2021). He has ranked in the top 10 in Strokes Gained: Tee To Green in his last two PGA Tour starts. In four worldwide starts in 2022, he has finished 16th, 12th, 24th and 15th, with the latter coming at Riviera last time out. While Casey often has trouble with the putter, he tends to perform best on very fast greens. 

Keith Mitchell (45-1)

Mitchell finished ninth last week at the Honda but probably should have had a top five considering he lost three shots over his last five holes. He is playing his best golf in recent years, with five finishes of 12th or better in his last six events, and he clearly has a sense of urgency. He has not yet qualified for any majors this year. The Georgia Bulldog might also have a little extra motivation, having stood and cheered greenside for former college teammate Sepp Straka last weekend. 

Billy Horschel (53-1)

“Bermuda Billy” disappointed last week on the greens and settled for a 16th-place finish despite being fifth in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach, fifth for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and seventh for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green. Last year was the first time Horschel missed the cut in nine appearances at Bay Hill. Despite his poor performance last week on the greens, he had been in good form with the flatstick and around the greens, ranking seventh in this week's field for Strokes Gained: Short Game.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout (65-1)

Bez has finished 18th (on his second career PGA Tour start) and seventh here the last two years. His short game is one of the best in the world, but the most encouraging sign is he has gained off the tee in two of his last three starts, overcoming the biggest weakness in his game. He finished only 25th last week but shot 66 in the final round.

​Chris Kirk (75-1)

Kirk is a four-time PGA Tour winner who took time away from the game in 2020 to battle alcohol issues. He regained his PGA Tour playing privileges last year. This week, he comes to Orlando off two good finishes (14th in Phoenix and seventh at the Honda). He finished eighth at Bay Hill last year and has finished 15th or better here in four of his last five appearances. Including his victory at the 2020 King & Bear Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour, Kirk has a victory and two other top-eight finishes in three of his last six starts in Florida. Kirk tends to putt better on faster Bermuda greens and ranks 18th this season for Strokes Gained: Putting. 

Puerto Rico Open

The PGA Tour holds an alternate event this week at the Puerto Rico Open. The winner of the Puerto Rico Open earns a smaller chunk of FedEx Cup and OWGR points than at other events. As an alternate event, the winner does not earn a bid to the Masters but still receives a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and entry into the PGA Championship. Alternate events always have lower quality fields, and this event is no exception, but there is still a lot on the line for these players. 

Matthias Schwab (20-1) will attempt to make it consecutive winning weeks on the PGA Tour for Austria after finishing seventh last week at the Honda. John Huh, who finished ninth in the Honda last week, and Mark Hubbard, who was 15th, are both priced at 22-1, along with Joseph Bramlett, who finished top 10 here two years ago. Kurt Kitayama (25-1) is coming off his best PGA Tour finish (third at the Honda). DP World Tour mainstays Victor Perez (25-1) and Rafa Cabrera-Bello (28-1) are looking to gain ground in locking up their PGA Tour playing privileges. 

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. A par-72 of 7,569 yards, the course is an exposed parklands that can be susceptible to windy conditions. There are eight lakes and 62 bunkers, but wind is the primary defense. The fairways and greens are both Paspalum. The greens are relatively large (6,500 square feet) and slow (10.5 stimpmeter).

Recent History/Winners 

— 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 and Sam Saunders** 

Playoff win over Troy Matteson*** 


Rafa Cabrera Bello (28-1)

Last year, Branden Grace earned this column a winner at the Puerto Rico Open, and perhaps RCB can do the same in a similar price range. Cabrera Bello was as high as No. 16 in the OWGR in 2018 but went winless for more than four years before a victory at the Spanish Open last fall. He has followed up that form with a runner-up in Abu Dhabi. The Spaniard has played this event twice before with a 24th in 2014 and a 10th in 2015.

Austin Smotherman (40-1)

A 2021 Korn Ferry Tour graduate, Smotherman ranks third in this week's field for Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (ninth off the tee, 14th approach) over the last 24 rounds. He finished 11th and 33rd at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach during the West Coast swing. Smotherman began his professional career on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, so he is comfortable in this part of the world, and finished ninth and 19th last year at the KFT events in the Bahamas.

Nate Lashley (40-1)

Lashley has missed four of his last five cuts, including last week. He gained nearly 3.5 shots on approach (fifth in the field) but lost five strokes putting at the Honda. He actually ranks 15th in this field for Strokes Gained: Putting over the last 24 rounds, which shows that last week might have been an aberration. He has played here once before, finishing eighth in 2019. He also won the Corales Puntacana, held in the Dominican Republic, in 2017, when the event still had Korn Ferry Tour status. Like Smotherman, Lashley began his pro career on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

Sung Kang (70-1)

Kang ranks No. 1 in this field for Strokes Gained: Putting and fourth for Strokes Gained: Short Game over the last 24 rounds. He gained five strokes on approach three weeks ago in Phoenix, but his iron game has been in and out since. Kang won at Trinity Forest in the Byron Nelson in 2019, a wide-open course with generous fairways and big greens, much like Grand Reserve.

Brandon Wu (80-1)

Wu missed the cut on the number last week at the Honda, but he did shoot one of the lower rounds of the week with a 66 on Friday. He also gained on approach at both Pebble Beach and The American Express. Wu was 28-1, due to good Korn Ferry form, in this field last year and finished seventh. The price has drifted up enough to warrant a bet.

​Magical Kenya Open

The DP World Tour resumes after a three-week hiatus at the Magical Kenya Open. This is the third year the Kenya event is part of the DP World Tour after being promoted from the Challenge Tour in 2019. 

Dean Burmester (14-1) heads the field this week off a runner-up finish three weeks ago at the Dimension Data Pro-Am, played as part of his native South Africa’s Sunshine Tour. Fellow South African Justin Harding (16-1) won this event last year at the Karen Country Club. This year, the event will be held at Muthaiga Golf Club. Adri Arnaus (16-1) was runner-up in the 2019 event, also held at Karen. Adrian Meronk (16-1) finished fifth on this course in the 2017 event when it was part of the Challenge Tour. 

Muthaiga Golf Club in Nairobi is a 7,184-yard, par-71 parklands course that dates back to 1926. The front nine plays 400 yards longer than the back nine with a 36-35 split. The club claims to have the fastest greens in Africa, which were switched to Bentgrass as part of Peter Matkovich's 2004 renovation. Matkovich is a former Sunshine Tour player with many designs to his credit in Africa, especially in South Africa. Nairobi sits at about 5,000 feet above sea level, so the course will play shorter than its yardage. 

​Recent History/Winners

— 2021: Justin Harding (-21/263); 33-1

— 2020: Tournament canceled (COVID-19)

— 2019: Guido Migliozzi (-16/268); 300-1

Both events held at Karen Country Club


​Adrian Otaegui (40-1)

Otaegui has made three straight cuts, including a third-place finish at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship. The Spaniard has the profile of previous winners here that hit it straight. He is a three-time DP World Tour event winner. 

Shubhankar Sharma (45-1)

Just three starts ago, Sharma finished runner-up to Thomas Pieters in the Abu Dhabi Championship, where he led the field on the greens and was eighth for Strokes Gained: Approach. Sharma finished 20th for approach and 44th for driving accuracy on the DP World Tour in 2021. His most high-profile career performances are littered with other classic tree-lined courses, such as a top 10 in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and a ninth-place finish in the WGC-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec, a course which has the look of Muthaiga and is also at high altitude.

Sean Crocker (50-1)

After a strong finish to 2021, Crocker started 2022 with consecutive missed cuts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. However, the drop in class here might be what the doctor ordered.  Crocker finished fifth off the tee and seventh on approach for the DP World Tour in 2021. 

Wil Besseling (50-1)

Besseling is one of the longer drivers on the DP World Tour. He was seventh on this course five years ago in the Challenge Tour event. Finishes of fourth in Austria, sixth at Valderrama and 13th at Crans-sur-Sierre show that even with his power he can go well on a tight parklands layout.

Adrien Saddier (125-1)

Saddier finished runner-up on this course to Aaron Rai in the 2017 Challenge Tour event. The Frenchman has book-ended his last five starts with two seventh-place finishes, including at Crans-sur-Sierre, which is a correlated course. He led after 36 holes last time out at the Dimension Data Pro-Am before a poor third round dropped him to an eventual finish of seventh.

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