Arnold Palmer Invitational: Rory ripe for trading at Bay Hill

Golfer Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy - fancied to go well again at Bay Hill

The PGA Tour moves on to Bay Hill for the second event of the Florida Swing - the Arnold Palmer Invitational - so read our man's in-depth preview here...

"Hatton was the fifth non-American winner of the event in-a-row and Tiger Woods apart, Every is the only other American to win the event in the last 15 years."

Tournament History

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 43rd renewal at Bay Hill, since Palmer took over the tournament.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational was the last tournament to be completed on the PGA Tour last year before the pandemic caused a three-month break in the schedule.

Venue

Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Florida

Course Details

Par 72, 7,454 yards
Stroke average in 2020 - 74.11

Originally designed in 1960 by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee, Arnold Palmer bought Bay Hill 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.

BAY HILL 1.jpg

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 Bermudagras.

The bigger than average greens can be set at an extremely fast 13.5 on the Stimpmeter and the rough is a minimum of 3 ½ inches high. 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.

The wind did get up last year, and Bay Hill averaged 74.11 for the week, including splits of 75.91 and 75.06 in the third and fourth rounds. It was the highest scoring average in relation to par on a par 72 in a non-major in the last four completed seasons. That was also the highest that Bay Hill averaged since it scored 75.15 as a par 71 in 1983.

This year's Genesis winner, Max Homa, who was playing Bay Hill for the first time, was the only player to break par in round three last year and Matt Fitzpatrick, who somehow managed to shoot three-under-par in round four, was the only player all weekend to break 70. Only four players finished the week under-par.

We won't see anything quite so brutal this year with early indications pointing to a fairly benign week up until Sunday.

For more detail on the course, please see Andy Swales' piece here.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all for days, starting with Featured Group coverage at 11:45 UK time with full coverage beginning at 19:00.

Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Tyrrell Hatton -4 70.069/1
2019 - Francesco Molinari -12 70.069/1
2018 - Rory McIlroy -18 20.019/1
2017 - Marc Leishman -11 160.0159/1
2016 - Jason Day -17 18.017/1

What Will it Take to Win the Arnold Palmer Invitational?

Nothing jumps out at you statistically here. It's a long track so there's a general perception that big hitters are favoured but the stats don't really back that up. The first three home last year ranked 45th, 51st and 39th for Driving Distance and 12 months earlier, the front two ranked 36th and 54th.

Rory McIlroy ranked number one for DD when he won here three years ago and Jason Day ranked sixth five years ago but since Martin Laird won ranking fifth in 2011 the other five winners have ranked 11th, 49th, 48th, 34th and 26th.

Molinari ranked third for Driving Accuracy two years but 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 and the front two ranked 33rd and 41st 12 months ago.

As Andy points out, Bay Hill's greens aren't easy to hit and three of the last four winners have ranked inside the top-ten for Greens In Regulation. Hatton ranked ninth last year, Molinari sixth in 2019 and Marc Leishman hit more greens than anyone else when he won in 2017 but it is possible to win without a stellar week with the irons. Rory ranked only 45th in 2018, Jason Day ranked 29th in 2016 and Tiger Woods won here in 2013 ranking just 34th for GIR.

The last three winners have raked seventh, fifth and first for Scrambling but five winners before Rory having an average Scrambling ranking of just 26.4 so again, that's not the be all and end all but you usually need to putt well - although the last three winners haven't putted exceptionally well.

Hatton only had a Putting Average ranking of 13th last year, Molinari had a PA ranking of just 18th in 2019 and the 2017 winner, Leishman, only ranked 23rd for PA. Putting is usually the secret to success here though.

Last year was a bit different when the wind got up and it was more a case of surviving than making birdies. Although he ranked 13th, Keith Mitchell, who finished tied fifth ranking fifth for PA was the only player inside the top-eight to rank any better than Hatton. Earlier results suggest putting is very much key.

Rory topped both the Strokes Gained Putting and Putts per GIR stats and he ranked second in the Putting Average stats when he won three years ago, the runner-up to Molinari in 2019, Rafa 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 Leishman all ranked inside the top-seven for PA.

With very light winds forecast over the first three days, the scoring should be good and those that putt Bermuda well should come to the fore.

Is There an Angle In?

Tyrrell Hatton finished fourth on debut in 2017 and after finishing only 69th in 2018, he'd sat 11th and just four off the lead in 2019 before a poor final round saw him slip to 29th so the course form was there before he won last year and that's pretty standard for this event.

Hatton wins ARnold Palmer.jpg

Prior to his victory two years 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 four 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.

Hatton has won two Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, the two winners before him have won Open Championships and the two winners before that, Leishman and Day, very nearly have. Leishman was beaten in a playoff in 2015 and Day finished one stroke behind Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen, and the winner, Zach Johnson, who also has a fair record here.

The 2010 winner, Els is a two-time Open champ and that Woods fella can play links tracks quite well too so that's a decent angle in.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Recent winners, Rory and Day, were well-fancied and Tiger was always an understandably short price but those three aside, outsiders have had a reasonable record of late.

The last two winners went off at around 70.069/1, Matt Every went off at huge prices for both his victories (2014 and 2015) and Leishman was a 160.0159/1 chance four 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. The first three home last year were all overseas players and having won the Honda Classic the week before, Keith Mitchell, who finished tied sixth, was the only American inside the top-nine places two years.

Hatton was the fifth non-American winner of the event in-a-row and Tiger Woods apart, Every is the only other American to win the event in the last 15 years.

The 2019 edition 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.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 - Tyrrell Hatton led by two strokes 3.8514/5
2019 - Francesco Molinari T17 - trailing by five 130.0129/1
2018 - Rory McIlroy solo 3rd - trailing by two 4.94/1
2017 - Marc Leishman T3 - trailing by three 16.015/1
2016 - Jason Day led by two strokes 1.9210/11

In-Play Tactics

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 180.0179/1 before round four two years, having tumbled from third to 17th with a 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 four 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.

Hatton, having sat fifth after round one, led thereafter and 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 seven third round leaders have failed to convert and 18 players have held a clear lead at halfway in the last 25 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 1.845/6 in 2019 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 1.584/7 in 2018, Kevin Kisner, who didn't do an awful lot wrong four years ago, hit a low of 1.341/3 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 7.06/1 having been matched at only 1.42/5 and he needed a truly world class finish to take the spoils.

Prior to that, when Every defended in 2015, Stenson traded at below 1.42/5 on two separate occasions, 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 12 months earlier, Scott was matched at just 1.162/13 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 4.47 last year when there were 18 eagles and 201 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. The 18th is really tough and it averaged 4.4 12 months ago.

One final strange thing of note, despite some thrilling close finishes, there hasn't been a playoff here this century.

Market Leaders

Rory McIlroy heads the market and rightly so. After a very rare missed cut at Riviera a fortnight ago, the world number eight finished sixth at the WGC Workday Championship without ever really threatening to win but his course form figures here are exceptional.

He followed a promising debut 11th in 2015 with a disappointing 27th a year later but he's produced course form figures reading 4-1-6-5 over the last four years and he's traded at a short price on every occasion.

He was matched at a low of 3.55 when finishing fourth from off the pace in 2017, 1.845/6 when only sixth in 2019 and just 2.245/4 last year. I thought he'd be a bit shorter than he is and he looks highly likely to make for a decent back-to-lay vehicle.

Bryson DeChambeau also missed the weekend action at Riviera two weeks ago and he started last week's event poorly too. There were only five players below him on the leaderboard after his opening 77 but his 64 on Friday was the lowest round of the week and he finished the week in a tie for 22nd, thanks largely to a working putter.

If the US Open champ can build on last week, with course form figures reading 27-2-46-4, he's one to fear.

But for a disastrous eight on the par four ninth on Friday, Viktor Hovland may well have won last week's WGC event but he finished the week tied for second - beaten by three.

He's playing superbly and in six starts since winning in Mexico in December he's only once finished outside the top-six but in two visits to Bay Hill he's never broken 70, finishing 40th and 42nd, and he's half the price he was last week so I'm happy to swerve him.

As already stated, Tyrrell Hatton defended his Alfred Dunhill Links title on the European Tour so that's no barrier but I'm not convinced he represents value at 21.020/1 after finishing alongside Bryson last week.

Selections

As tweeted earlier today, I've taken a position on Rory at 11.010/1 which I'll look to trade in-running. As highlighted above, he's been matched at a short price here in each of the last four years and I'll look to lay him back at a short price once the tournament begins. He's almost certain to be a part of the Featured Group coverage on Sky so monitoring the position should be fairly straightforward.

I'll be back later with the Find Me a 100 Winner column but my only other pick before the off at less than 100.099/1 is Tommy Fleetwood, who I was lucky enough to take 65.064/1 about before he shortened up.

I had a juicy bet on Fleetwood here in 2017 at 27.026/1 before the off and it's somewhere he's looked likely to win ever since he finished 10th on debut in 2016 - having opened up the event with a 78! He finished only 26th when carrying the weight of my wager but he returned in 2019 to finish third so the course definitely suits him.

I'm no big Fleetwood fan (betting-wise) as he usually looks too short in the betting but after a disappointing weekend in Saudi in his penultimate start, a lacklustre effort last week (tied 44th), and a missed cut in this event last year, he was somewhat overlooked this morning.

Selections:
Rory McIlroy @ 11.010/1
Tommy Fleetwood @ 65.064/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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