Arnold Palmer Invitational: Bryson the only play at Bay Hill
The PGA Tour moves on to Bay Hill for the second leg of the Florida Swing where a cracking field will assemble at Arnie's gaff on Thursday. Steve Rawlings has your detailed preview of the event here...
“Bryson has been a bit disappointing in his last two starts, finishing 15th in the Genesis Open and only 56th in Mexico but he’s won four of his last 11 tournaments or five of his last 18 in you prefer and he’s just too prolific to let go unbacked at 18/1 given he clearly enjoyed the venue 12 months ago.”
Originally called the Florida Citrus Open and first staged back in 1966, the tournament was won by Arnold Palmer in 1971. Palmer then took over the event in 1979 and moved it to Bay Hill Country Club. It's been called the Bay Hill Invitational in the past but it's now well established as the Arnold Palmer Invitational and this will be the 41st renewal at Bay Hill, since Palmer took over the tournament.
Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Florida.
Par 72, 7,454 yards, stroke average in 2018 - 71.9
Originally designed in 1960 by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee, Arnold Palmer bought the course in 1976 and he spent the rest of his life tinkering with it. It played as a par 70 in-between 2007-09 but after a major renovation it reverted back to a par 72 in 2010.
A new course superintendent, Chris Flynn, was employed in July 2014 and he made significant changes to the course and the scoring improved as a result. The 2015 winner and defending champ, Matt Every, got to 19-under-par (six strokes better than 2014) and Jason Day won in 2016 with a 17-under-par tally. In blustery conditions two years ago, Marc Leishman won with highest total in seven years at 11-under-par but we we're back on track last year when Rory McIlroy won with an 18-under-par tally.
There are 84 bunkers and water is in-play on half the holes. All the greens were changed to Emerald Bermuda before the 2010 edition but they came in for much criticism in 2015 as they weren't in good nick at all, with a couple of players anonymously commentating on them before the off. "Speed may be a bit of an issue," said one competitor, "It looks like a comb-over!" said another. Arnie took the hint and after the event they were all changed again - this time to TifEagle Bermudagrass.
In keeping with Arnie's tinkering traditions, there have been changes to the course again this year. New tees on the par five fourth hole and par four ninth have lengthened the course by 35 yards to 7,454 yards and a new irrigation system has been introduced to water only the primary rough whenever preferred. As a result, the over-seeded rough has been allowed to grow as high as three-and-a-half inches.
The greens have been set at an extremely fast 13.5 on the Stimpmeter. Even when the wind doesn't get up, and it isn't forecasted to be much of an issue this week, the course is still a proper test and since 1988, only three men have shot four rounds in the 60s - runner-up, Kevin Chappell, three years ago, the winner, Every, in 2015, and the runner-up in 2008, Bart Bryant.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting with Featured Group coverage at 14:00 on Thursday, with full coverage starting at 19:30.
Last Five Winners
2018 - Rory McIlroy -18
2017 - Marc Leishman -11
2016 - Jason Day -17
2015 - Matt Every -19
2014 - Matt Every -13
What Will it Take to Win the Arnold Palmer Invitational?
This is a long track and the general perception is that big-hitters are favoured. I would agree with that but the stats don't really back that up. Rory McIlroy ranked number one for Driving Distance 12 months ago and Jason Day ranked sixth for DD three years ago but since Martin Laird won ranking fifth for DD the other five winners have ranked 11th, 49th, 48th, 34th and 26th.
It'll be interesting to see if the longer rough takes it toll this year but Driving Accuracy hasn't been important of late. Since Ernie Els win here in 2010, ranking fifth for Driving Accuracy, 17th (Marc Leishman in 2017) is the best any other winner has ranked. Rory ranked 48th last year, Every ranked 51st in 2014 and Tiger Woods, who only ranked 49th for DD, ranked just 71st for D.A when he won the last of his eight titles six years ago.
Leishman ranked first for Greens In Regulation two years ago but Rory ranked only 45th last year, Jason Day ranked 29th in 2016 and Tiger Woods won here in 2013 ranking just 34th for GIR.
Rory topped the Scrambling stats 12 months ago but Scrambling hasn't been an important recently with the last five winners before him having an average Scrambling ranking of just 26.4.
Like most winners here, Rory putted really well, topping both the Strokes Gained Putting and Putts per GIR stats and ranking second in the Putting Average stats. The 2017 winner, Leishman, only ranked 23rd for PA but four of the top-five ranked inside the top-six for PA that year and the four winners before him all ranked inside the top-seven for PA.
Although Rory didn't make the most of the long holes last year, Par 5 Performance is a good stat to ponder. Ernie Els ranked second for Par 5 Scoring when he won in 2010, the next three winners all ranked first, and Adam Scott, who played the long holes better than anyone else in 2014, really should have won the tournament. He led by seven at halfway and was matched at just [1.16] in-running before eventually limping home in third behind Matt Every. Leishman ranked second on the long holes two years ago and Jason Day ranked fifth in 2016.
As is always the case in Florida, an ability to handle the Bermuda greens is essential. I touched on this in yesterday's De-brief and if you want to explore that further, Josh Culp's Future Of Fantasy website is the place to go here.
Wind is usually a factor in Florida but the forecast doesn't look too bad this week.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Rory had finished fourth in 2017 before he won 12 months ago, Leishman had been third in 2011 before winning two years ago and Matt Every was the seventh man to win the event more than once in 2015. Tiger Woods has won the tournament a staggering eight times, so course form stands up really well and previous winners have a great record.
Rory was a 16/1 chance last year, Day was well-fancied in 2016 and Tiger has always been a short price but those three aside, outsiders have a reasonable record. Every went off at huge prices for both his victories and Leishman was a [160.0] chance two years ago.
Unfancied players may do well here but debutants don't fare brilliantly and Robert Gamez, way back in 1990, is the last player to win on his first visit to Bay Hill.
Aussies seem to like Bay Hill and they could easily have won the four of the last five renewals. Adam Scott should really have won the 2014 edition and Matt Jones, who eventually finished third, held a great chance to win here in 2015.
Jason Day was only the fourth clear wire-to-wire winner in the tournament's history and he was the first to achieve the feat since Fred Couple in 1992 but being up with the pace is usually crucial here.
Rory McIlroy sat 13th and 11th, trailing by five and six strokes after rounds one and two last year and that was fairly well adrift compared to most winners. Leishman sat tied for 20th and four strokes adrift after round one two years ago before sitting fourth at halfway and third after round three and Every was never more than three off the lead at any stage between any round in 2015 and that's fairly typical.
Every had been ten adrift at halfway in 2014 but that's really misleading. Scott was seven in front of everyone at that stage so given he pretty much choked (see above) there's an argument for taking him out of the equation and if we do that, the winner was only two strokes off second place.
Tiger came from four back at halfway in 2013 but the three winners to precede him were all in front after 36 holes and we have to go back to 1997 to find a winner (Phil Mickelson) that wasn't inside the front-three on the leaderboard with a round to go. Rory sat third and two back last year.
Being out of the lead could be a plus though given 18 players have held a clear lead at halfway in the last 23 years only six of them went on to win. And if very recent history is anything to go by, taking on long odds-on shots in-running may be worth trying.
Henrik Stenson was matched at [1.58] last year and he's the fifth player in six years to trade at long odds-on before getting beat. And it wasn't a million miles from being six from six...
Kevin Kisner, who didn't do an awful lot wrong two years ago, hit a low of [1.34] and although Jason Day got the job done in the end in 2016, it wasn't before an almighty scare. He drifted right out to above [7.0] having been matched at only [1.4] and he needed a truly world class finish to take the spoils.
Prior to that, Stenson traded at below [1.4] on two separate occasions in 2015, more than an hour apart, and he was matched at a low of just [1.11]. Eventual fourth, Morgan Hoffman, hit a low of [1.82] when he led by two with 10 to play, and in 2014, Scott was matched at just [1.16] before he lost his way.
If you plan to trade in-running, bear in mind how difficult the finish is here. The par five 16th is the easiest on the course, averaging just 4.35 last year when there were 24 eagles and 233 birdies recorded throughout the week, but with four of the final five holes averaging well over-par year after year, that's the only respite coming in.
One final strange thing of note, despite some thrilling close finishes, there hasn't been a playoff here this century.
The eight-time winner, Tiger Woods, has withdrawn due to a neck injury and the world number one, Dustin Johnson, is also absent but this is an extremely strong field for a non-major.
Defending champ, Rory McIlroy, boasts strong course and current form and he heads the market and Justin Rose will probably contend after a bit of a break given he has four top-nine finishes here in his last seven starts.
Brooks Koepka's course form isn't great, reading 26-70-MC, but it wasn't good at the PGA National before last week's Honda Classic and he very nearly won, trading at a low of [1.75]. I can see him contending and it's hard to discount Florida specialist, Rickie Fowler, who traded at less than 3/1 last year before a disappointing finish over the weekend. He finished alongside Koepka on Sunday and he was third here in 2013.
The 2016 winner and world number 11, Jason Day has to be considered a very likely winner and you write the prolific world number five, Bryson DeChambeau, off at your peril. His second last year, having only played here once before (27th in 2016) was a cracking effort.
In contrast to the Qatar Masters, which I've previewed here, this event hasn't been especially kind to me over the years so I'm being cautious before the off and playing only Bryson DeChambeau at 18/1 with the Sportsbook.
Bryson has been a bit disappointing in his last two starts, finishing 15th in the Genesis Open and only 56th in Mexico but he's won four of his last 11 tournaments or five of his last 18 in you prefer and he's just too prolific to let go unbacked at that price given he clearly enjoyed the venue 12 months ago.
Bryson DeChambeau @ 18/1 (Sportsbook)
I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.
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