After Sungjae Im's fearless win at the Honda on Sunday, the PGA Tour moves to Bay Hill for the second leg of the Florida Swing - the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Steve Rawlings has your detailed preview here...
"Aussies, in-particular, seem to like Bay Hill and overseas players in general fair well. Having won the Honda Classic the week before, Keith Mitchell, finished tied sixth last year but he was the only American inside the top-nine places and Molinari was the fourth non-American winner of the event in-a-row."
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 42nd renewal at Bay Hill, since Palmer took over the tournament.
Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Florida.
Par 72, 7,454 yards
Stroke average in 2019 - 72.24
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.
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 conditions 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 were changes to the course again last year. New tees on the par five fourth hole and the par four ninth lengthened the course by 35 yards to 7,454 yards and a new irrigation system was introduced to water only the primary rough whenever preferred. As a result, the over-seeded rough was allowed to grow as high as three-and-a-half inches.
The bigger than average greens can be set at an extremely fast 13.5 on the Stimpmeter and even if the wind doesn't get up, the course is still a proper test. Since 1988, only three men have shot four rounds in the 60s - runner-up, Kevin Chappell, four years ago, the winner, Matt Every, in 2015, and the runner-up in 2008, Bart Bryant.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting with Featured Group coverage at 12:00 on Thursday, with full coverage starting at 19:00.
Last Five Winners
2019 - Francesco Molinari -12
2018 - Rory McIlroy -18
2017 - Marc Leishman -11
2016 - Jason Day -17
2015 - Matt Every -19
What Will it Take to Win the Arnold Palmer Invitational?
Bay Hill has been evolving for years which probably goes some way to explaining why no clear statistical trends have emerged. It's a long track and there's a general perception that big-hitters are favoured but the stats don't really back that up. Last year's winner, Francesco Molinari, only ranked 36th for Driving Distance, the runner-up, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, ranked 54th and the three men tied for third ranked 12th 55th and 56th. Rory McIlroy ranked number one for DD two years ago and Jason Day ranked sixth four years ago but since Martin Laird won ranking fifth in 2011 the other five winners have ranked 11th, 49th, 48th, 34th and 26th.
With slightly longer rough in play, Driving Accuracy appeared more important last year than it had been for a while. Molinari ranked third for DA and Cabrera-Bello ninth and that was the lowest a winner had ranked for that stat in many a year. Ernie Els won here in 2010 ranking fifth for Driving Accuracy but the six winners before Molinari had ranked 71st, 51st, 32nd, 44th, 17th and 48th.
Molinari ranked sixth for Greens In Regulation last year and Marc Leishman ranked first when he won three years ago but Rory ranked only 45th in 2018, Jason Day ranked 29th in 2016 and Tiger Woods won here in 2013 ranking just 34th for GIR.
Molinari ranked fifth for Scrambling and Rory topped the stats two years ago but Scrambling hasn't been an important stat of late with the five winners before Rory having an average Scrambling ranking of just 26.4.
Rory putted really well two years ago, topping both the Strokes Gained Putting and Putts per GIR stats and he ranked second in the Putting Average stats but Molinari had a PA ranking of 18 and the 2017 winner, Leishman, only ranked 23rd for PA. Putting is usually the secret to success here though. Last year's runner-up, Cabrera-Bello, topped the PA stats, four of the top-five ranked inside the top-six for PA when Leishman won and the four winners before him all ranked inside the top-seven for PA.
As is always the case in Florida, an ability to handle the Bermuda greens is essential as well as the capability to play in the wind. At this early stage, the forecast is for a breezy second half to Thursday and an AM-PM draw could be a significant advantage.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Prior to his victory 12 months ago, Molinari had form figures at Bay Hill reading 34-5-17-9-7-26, Rory had finished fourth in 2017 before he won a year later, Leishman had been third in 2011 before winning three years ago and 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 in 2018, Day was well-fancied in 2016 and Tiger has always been a short price but those three aside, outsiders have a reasonable record. Molinari was a [70.0] chance 12 months ago, 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, in-particular, seem to like Bay Hill and overseas players in general fair well. Having won the Honda Classic the week before, Keith Mitchell, finished tied sixth last year but he was the only American inside the top-nine places and Molinari was the fourth non-American winner of the event in-a-row.
Tiger Woods apart, Matt Every is the only other American to win the event in the last 14 years and it's quite clear that the tricky set up suits those that have learned their trade on the European Tour.
Last year was the first time since the 2010 Open Championship that no Americans were in the top-five in a PGA Tour event and it was the first time in at least 15 years that no American finished inside the top-five in a PGA Tour event on American soil.
And talking of Open Championships. The last two winners have won Opens and the two winners before them have come very close. Leishman was beaten in a playoff in 2015 and Day missed the playoff by a stroke.
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.
Molinari was matched at [180.0] before round four last year, having tumbled from third to 17th with three-over-par 73 but even with that poor round, he was never more than five adrift. Rory McIlroy sat 13th and 11th, trailing by five and six strokes after rounds one and two in 2018 and that was fairly well adrift compared to most winners. Leishman sat tied for 20th and four strokes back after round one three 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. Adam 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 place.
The manner of Molinari's victory looks like a one-off given we have to go back to 1997 to find the last winner (Phil Mickelson) that wasn't inside the front-three on the leaderboard with a round to go. Being up with the pace is clearly a big plus but being in front hasn't been ideal of late - five of the last six third round leaders have failed to convert and 18 players have held a clear lead at halfway in the last 24 years and only six of them went on to win.
Bay Hill's a tough venue, getting to the winning line is tough and it's been a great place to take on odds-on shots in-running. Rory McIlroy hit a low of [1.84] last year and he was the sixth player in seven years to trade at odds-on and get beat. And it wasn't a million miles from being seven from seven...
Henrik Stenson was matched at [1.58] in 2018, Kevin Kisner, who didn't do an awful lot wrong three 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 4.45 last year when there were 16 eagles and 214 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.
Rory McIlroy has impressive Bay Hill form figures reading 11-27-4-1-6 and he's finished inside the top-five in each of his last six starts. It's impossible to argue against his chances this week and some will see him as the proverbial each-way bet to nothing. He's also highly likely to trade much shorter in-running, as he did last time out in Mexico and here last year, so he could make for an ideal back-to-lay trading vehicle but I'm just a bit concerned by the forecast. If Rory gets drawn in the afternoon on day one and the forecast worsens, odds of less than 6/1 could look skinny.
Tommy Fleetwood played brilliantly here for three rounds last year but his 76 in round three scuppered his chances and he finished tied for third. He was tenth on debut three years ago and 26th in 2018 so the course suits him perfectly but can he lift himself after his latest disappointment?
Tommy led the Honda by a stroke with a round to go and he went odds-on after he'd birdied the two opening holes in round four but the brakes went on after that. He's an incredible talent and he's more than capable of leading them all a merry dance around here but he's been a frustrating player to follow in-contention.
Bryson DeChambeau is another in need of a lift. He traded at odds-on two weeks ago in Mexico when two-clear on the back-nine but he was collared by Patrick Reed late on and that must have stung. He was 27th here on debut in 2016 before finishing runner-up two years later but he could only finish tied for 46th last year so his course form is a bit in-and-out.
I may add a few more once I know the draw, and once I have a bit more confidence that the forecast is going to be more accurate the nearer we get to the off, so I'll update Twitter with any additional picks but for now I'm just going for Kevin Na before the off.
I've backed him a couple of times of late and he seems to want to play well in the weeks I'm not on but Dave Tindall makes a great case for him here and he's just too big at [120.0].
Kevin Na @ [120.0]
*Selections Added After the Draw*
I'm pleased to see that Kevin Na has been assigned the seemingly favourable early start on Thursday and as both Henrik Stenson and Tyrrell Hatton have been drawn early on day one, they've been added too. Both were on my shortlist so I was more than happy to take [48.0] and [70.0] respectively and I've also chanced a couple of players I've been following for a while at big prices - Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Sam Burns - now that they too get the ball rolling early tomorrow.
Dave Tindall has also focused on the early starters in his First Round Leader piece here.
Selections added after the tee times published:
Henrik Stenson @ [48.0]
Tyrrell Hatton @ [70.0]
Christiaan Bezuidenhout @ [270.0]
Sam Burns @ [450.0]
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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