Arnold Palmer Invitational: Na worth chancing once more at Bay Hill

The 18th green at Bay Hill
The 18th green at Bay Hill

They've barely finished an enthralling Valspar Championship in Florida but our man's been busy ploughing through the record books ahead of this week's PGA Tour action at Arnie's Place. Read Steve's in-depth preview of the Arnold Palmer Invitational here...

"Matt Every was the first winner in five years not to have recorded a previous top-five finish on the Florida Swing in the weeks leading up to this event but he arrived at Bay Hill on the back of a tied 8th at the Valspar Championship so was clearly in good order. Think twice before backing anyone that hasn't featured at the Honda Classic, the WGC-Cadillac Championship or last week at Copperhead."


Tournament History

Originally called the Florida Citrus Open, the Arnold Palmer Invitational was first staged in 1966. Arnold Palmer, who won the event in 1971, took over the event in 1979 and moved it to Bay Hill Country Club and it's gone from strength to strength ever since.


Venue

Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Florida


Course Details
Par 72, 7,381 yards, stroke average in 2014 - 72.47

Originally designed in 1960 by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee, Arnold Palmer bought the course in 1976 and he's been tinkering with it ever since. It played as a par 70 in-between 2007-09 but after a major renovation it reverted to a par 72 in 2010.

The Bermuda greens, usually set to run at around 12 on the stimpmeter, are above average in size. There are 84 bunkers and water is in-play on half the holes, especially on the last. The tough 18th plays over-par every year and for the last three years it's ranked as the hardest on the course.

A new course superintendent, Chris Flynn, was employed in July last year and he's made three significant changes to the course since we last saw it. It's my impression that the said changes (detailed below) appear geared towards making the course easier for the playing public and as a result, I can see low scoring throughout the tournament this week.

Firstly, more than 1,700 tons of G-Angle sand has been spread over all 84 bunkers, which equates to around three inches of new sand per bunker. This G-Angle sand is said to be more angular and that it holds the ball up better which results in far less buried balls. The plan is to repeat the process every three years.

Secondly, five acres of fairway have been added and this, according to Flynn, is why.

"The fairways were very narrow. You can tell how the course was shaped and what was supposed to be fairway but the rough had encroached into the fairways. They had lost their shape over the years."

But before assuming that the changes just hand the advantage to the bigger hitters off the tee, Flynn also said: "It's easier for the average player but it also increases the chances for better players challenging the course to find a bunker or the water."

The third change to the course was an aggressive tree trimming exercise. Some trees have gone completely and those that had grown into the line of play have been cut back hard.


Useful Sites
Event Site

Course Site
Course Tour
Course Details
Twitter link
Tee Times
Weather Forecast
Alternative Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2014 - Matt Every -13
2013 - Tiger Woods -13
2012 - Tiger Woods -13
2011 - Martin Laird -8
2010 - Ernie Els -11


What Will it Take to Win The Arnold Palmer Invitational?

Eight time tournament winner, Tiger Woods, has managed to win around Bay Hill a few times despite not being at his best with his irons but most winners rank highly for greens in regulation. Somewhat surprisingly, Woods hasn't always ranked that highly for driving distance here either and you certainly wouldn't describe last year's winner, Matt Every, as a big-hitter but since the course reverted back to a par 72 in 2010, how you play the long holes has been key.

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 last year, really should have won the tournament - he led by seven at halfway and was matched at just 1.162/13 in-running before eventually limping home in third.

As is always the case in Florida, an ability to handle the Bermuda greens and the often high winds is essential - although at this early stage, the forecast suggests we're in for a fairly calm week.


Is There an Angle In?

Matt Every was the first winner in five years not to have recorded a previous top-five finish on the Florida Swing in the weeks leading up to this event but he arrived at Bay Hill on the back of a tied 8th at the Valspar Championship so was clearly in good order. Think twice before backing anyone that hasn't featured at the Honda Classic, the WGC-Cadillac Championship or last week at Copperhead.

As already stated, at this very early stage, we look set for a relatively benign week but keep a close on the forecasts. The late starters on day one last year enjoyed a big advantage of over two strokes and the draw could again be pivotal.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

Woods aside, outsiders have a reasonable record at this tournament but debutants don't. Robert Gamez, back in 1990, is the last player to win on his first visit to Bay Hill and the vast majority of winners have already shown some form here.

Unsurprisingly, Floridians and Florida residents have an outstanding record.


In-Play Tactics

Although Adam Scott failed from a seemingly unassailable position 12 months ago, Bay Hill is still a front-runners track and making up ground is very tough.

Every was ten adrift at halfway last year but that's misleading. Scott was seven in front of everyone at that stage so given he choked there's an argument for taking him out of the equation and if we do, the winner was only two strokes off second. Tiger came from four back at halfway in 2013 but the three previous winners 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.

One final strange thing of note - there hasn't been a playoff here this century.


Market Leaders

Is this where Rory McIlroy gets his 2015 PGA Tour campaign up and running? He's disappointed so far, missing the cut at the Honda Classic and finishing only 9th at the Cadillac. I think this course should suit him but given the poor record debutants have around Bay Hill, and how ragged his game has been in Florida so far, I'm more than happy to give him a miss. You have to wonder why he's never been here before and why he's here this year and I suspect he's trying to gear up for Augusta which is now just a little over three weeks away.

After finishing the week outside the top-20 with an over-par score on each of his first three attempts, Henrik Stenson has really started to get to grips with Bay Hill and his last three outings, over the last three years, have seen him finish 15th, 8th and 5th. He was in the thick of things at the Valspar Championship yesterday, finishing a shot shy of the playoff, so he has the perfect blend of course and current form but he's not for me at the price.

I'm most certainly nitpicking, but Stenson so often fails to deliver in-the-mix stateside and to a certain extent that happened yesterday. He got off to a blistering start with birdies at his first two holes but went off the boil after that, playing the next 11 holes in one-over-par. He hit a high of 80.079/1 in-running when his chance looked gone, but seemingly out of the equation and presumably fractionally relaxed, he birdied three in-a-row from the 14th onwards before missing from 12 feet on the 17th when back in the hunt.

Plenty of people will read this and think I'm being far too picky but I've evidenced that effort in so much detail as it was so typical of Stenson's in-contention play in the States. This course suits, he's in fine fettle, but he flatters to deceive too often for my liking and for that reason I'm happy to leave him out.

Bubba Watson withdrew here last year after shooting 83 in round one before going on to triumph for a second time in the US Masters and he has a really strange Bay Hill record. The course clearly suits him yet it seems to irritate him too. He led here through three rounds in 2008 before dropping down the leaderboard to finish tied for eighth and he sat third through 54 holes in 2011 before a final round 78 saw him plummet to a tied for 24th. He finished tied for fourth here in 2012 and were he to turn up this week and trounce the field I'd not be the least bit surprised. I've played him here on numerous occasions, only to watch him lose the plot and I'm not going to do it to myself this time around - not when he's trading so short.

Jason Day is yet to show much of a liking for Bay Hill with only one sub-par round to his name in four visits so he's easy to dismiss and so is fellow Aussie, Adam Scott, who missed his first cut in almost three years last week at Copperhead. I'm always quick to bang on about the 'Nappy Factor' when anyone new to parenthood wins but to address the balance somewhat, is being a father for the first time the distraction that hindered Scotty last week? I suspect it's more his switch to a short putter but either way, he's makes little appeal after last week's showing.


Selections

I was more than happy to take another chance on Kevin Na - who I backed in this event 12 months ago, as well as last week at the Valspar. His performance at Copperhead, where he finished a never nearer 10th was perfectly decent, as is his form around Bay Hill. After missing his first two cuts, he's produced form figures reading 11-2-30-4-14 and given he comes here after a pair of top-tens on the Florida Swing, I thought he was a fair price at around 60.059/1.

My only other pick at this stage is one of yesterday's playoff protagonists, Sean O'Hair, who has shown a real liking for Bay Hill in the past. Given he hasn't shown anything in ages, I'm a bit worried he could bounce this week but the fact that he finished third here in 2008, seven days after winning at Copperhead has swung me in favour of a small wager. That shows he can take his form forward and he really does seem to like this place. He was also runner-up in 2009 and his only top-ten of a quite dismal 2014 season came here at Bay Hill.


Selections:
Kevin Na @ an average of 62.0
Sean O'Hair @ 65.064/1

I'll be back tomorrow with my Madeira Islands Open preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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