Arnold Palmer Invitational: Hot Scott can keep good form going at Bay Hill

Adam Scott is the Punter's only pick at Bay Hill
Adam Scott is the Punter's only pick at Bay Hill

The Florida Swing comes to a close at Bay Hill where another strong field has assembled for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Steve Rawlings has the lowdown on this week's PGA Tour event and he fancies one of the market leaders to perform strongly again...


"Scott's incredible run will come to an end sooner or later but on a course that suits, and after a week off to refresh the batteries, an argument could be made that he should be a lot closer to Rory in the market."

Tournament History

Originally called the Florida Citrus Open, the Arnold Palmer Invitational was first staged 50 years ago. Arnold Palmer won the event five years later and he took over the tournament in 1979. He moved it from the Rio Pinar Country Club 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, 7,419 yards, stroke average in 2015 - 71.12

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 back to a par 72 in 2010.

A new course superintendent, Chris Flynn, was employed in July 2014 and he made three significant changes to the course, making it easier for the playing public.

Firstly, more than 1,700 tons of G-Angle sand was spread over all 84 bunkers, which equated to around three inches of new sand per bunker. This G-Angle sand is said to be more angular so it holds the ball up better which results in far less buried or fried egg lies. The plan is to repeat the process every three years.

Secondly, five acres of fairway were 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 handed 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 went completely and those that had grown into the line of play were cut back hard.

The result of the changes meant that scoring was considerably better last year with the winner, Matt Every, getting to 19-under-par.

There are 84 bunkers and water is in-play on half the holes. The 18th plays over-par every year and prior to last year it had ranked the toughest for three years in-a-row. That honour went to the par three second 12 months ago though and the finishing hole only ranked the eighth hardest.

All the greens were changed to Emerald Bermuda before the 2010 edition but they came in for much criticism last year as they weren't in good condition 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.

After the event they were all changed again - this time to TifEagle Bermudagrass - so quite what they'll be like this year I don't know, but I suspect that they'll run at around 12 on the stimpmeter and they'll be far better than they were in 2015.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky all four days, beginning on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2015 - Matt Every -19
2014 - Matt Every -13
2013 - Tiger Woods -13
2012 - Tiger Woods -13
2011 - Martin Laird -8


What Will it Take to Win The Arnold Palmer Invitational?

Nothing sticks out statistically here. Every ranked second for Greens In Regulation last year and he tied seventh for that stat in 2014 but prior to last year, since the course reverted back to a par 72, how you played the long holes had 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 in 2014, 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 behind Every.

As is always the case in Florida, an ability to handle Bermuda greens and the often high winds is essential and since 2009, every win bar one (Tiger Woods two years ago) has made more birdies than anyone else.

I fancy the scoring to be really low this year and Birdie Average would be my idea of the best stat to ponder.


Is There an Angle In?

Despite being the defending champ, Every was very much a shock winner last year and he was matched at over 600.0599/1 before the off. He was woefully out of form though, whereas in 2014, when he'd gone off at a double-figure price, he'd finished eighth at the Valspar Championship the week before and the five winners before him, between 2009 and 2013, had all recorded a top-five finish on the Florida Swing.

I fancy Every's win last year will prove to be very much an anomaly and I'd think twice before backing anyone that hasn't featured at the Honda Classic, the WGC-Cadillac Championship or last week at Copperhead.

Keeping a close eye on the weather forecast might make sense as the draw has been lopsided recently. Those drawn late-early enjoyed an advantage of 1.55 strokes last year and over two strokes in 2014 but at this very early stage the forecast suggests neither side of the draw will be disadvantaged considerably.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

Every was the seventh man to win the event more than once and Tiger Woods has won the tournament a staggering eight times so previous winners have a great record and course form counts for plenty, despite all the tinkering.

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

Every was never more than three off the lead at any stage between rounds last year and that's fairly typical. He'd been ten adrift at halfway in 2014 but that's misleading. Scott was seven in front of everyone at that stage so given he pretty much choked there's an argument for taking him out of the equation and if we do that, the winner was only two strokes off second.

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) who wasn't inside the front-three on the leaderboard with a round to go.

Being out of the lead could be a plus though given 15 players have held a clear lead at halfway in the last 20 years only five of them went on to win. And if very recent history is anything to go by, opposing silly odds-on shots in-running may be worth trying.

Stenson traded at below 1.42/5 on two separate occasions last year, more than an hour apart, and he was matched at a low of just 1.111/9. Eventual fourth, Morgan Hoffman, hit a low of 1.824/5, when he led by two with 10 to play, and in 2014, Scott was matched at just 1.171/6 before he lost his way.

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


Market Leaders

Given he didn't putt well; I thought Rory McIlroy's 11th place finish on debut last year was a really good performance. He claimed to have enjoyed the course and he felt that it fitted his eye so the chances are he'll improve on that effort this time around.

He was in fine fettle when last seen, at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but his final round collapse was disappointing and the other thing that puts me off a bit is that that he's changed his putting style. That brought about immediate improvement at Doral but will he progress or regress here? It's impossible to know the answer and for that reason, I think he's short enough.

The second favourite, Adam Scott, ticks every box. He couldn't get by Bubba Watson at Riviera but after wins in the Honda Classic and the Cadillac, he arrives at Arnie's Place in search of a hat-trick of wins. Something not achieved on the PGA Tour since Rory won three-in-a-row two years ago.

He clearly loves the course, having been seven clear at halfway two years ago, he ranks third for Birdie Average on the PGA Tour this season and he's in the form of his life. This incredible run will come to an end sooner or later but on a course that suits, and after a week off to refresh the batteries, an argument could be made that he should be a lot closer to Rory in the market.

Scott underperformed in this event 12 months ago but that could very easily have been a reaction to what had occurred in 2014 and that's one of the reasons I'm not too keen on Stenson's chances. Just as Scott had done the year before, Stenson threw the event away last year and some mental scaring could be present. He's not playing as well as he was last year either and he's not won in the States for two-and-a-half years now. He's finished inside the top-eight here in each of the last three years but he's not for me this time around and nor is the out-of-form Jason Day.

It's not surprising to see the world number three suffering a bit of a slump in form after the finish he had to 2015 but his lack of current form isn't my only concern. He's played here five times previously and he's missed the cut a couple of times and never bettered last year's finish of 17th.

Justin Rose finished third here behind Martin Laird in 2011 and he chased home Tiger in 2013 so has course form, but he hasn't done much of note lately and doesn't look a great price.


Selection

Although outsiders have a reasonable record, I'm happy to begin the week with a small bet on Adam Scott. It's going to take a Herculean effort to keep the run going but the week off will have done him good and it's impossible to crab his credentials. The 8/1 with the Sportsbook is more than fair and I'd have had him a couple of ticks shorter.


Selection

Adam Scott @ 8/1 (Sportsbook)


I may add a few outsiders before the off and I'll tweet them if I do but I'm now going to concentrate on the Hero Indian Open and I'll be back tomorrow with my preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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