GIR and SGT2G the two key stats
Course form counts at Bay Hill
Overseas players have a strong record
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 45th renewal at Bay Hill.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational is the fourth designated field event on the PGA Tour this season and as a result the line-up is incredibly strong with 44 of the world's top-50 in attendance.
Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Florida.
Par 72, 7,466 yards
Stroke average in 2022 - 73.9
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.
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 a fast 13.5 on the Stimpmeter and the rough is usually set at a minimum of 3 ½ inches high. Even if the wind doesn't get up, the course is still a proper test and since 1988, only three men have shot four rounds in the 60s - the runner-up, Kevin Chappell, seven years ago, the winner, Matt Every, in 2015, and the runner-up in 2008, Bart Bryant.
The par five sixth is a fascinating U-shaped par five where we witnessed all sorts of fun in 2021 with the eventual winner, Bryson DeChambeau, attempting what had previously been considered as the impossible.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 12:00 on Thursday.
Last Seven Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2022 - Scottie Scheffler -5 25.024/1
2021 - Bryson DeChambeau -11 15.014/1
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?
Unsurprisingly, nobody hit it further off the tee than Bryson in 2021 and Rory McIlroy also ranked number one for Driving Distance when he won here five years ago.
The 2016 champ, Jason Day, ranked sixth and Martin Laird ranked fifth for DD in 2011 but although a long track, length hasn't been imperative. Scheffler ranked 13th last year and the other seven winners over the last dozen years have ranked 45th, 36th, 11th, 49th, 48th, 34th, and 26th.
The 2019 winner, Francesco Molinari, ranked third for Driving Accuracy but that's the lowest a winner has ranked for that stat in many a year.
The last three winners have ranked 55th, 25th and 33rd for DA and the six winners before Molinari ranked 71st, 51st, 32nd, 44th, 17th and 48th.
Scheffler eagled the par five 16th (the easiest hole on the course) on both Friday and Saturday and he played the par fives better than anyone else all week. He also putted very well, ranking fourth for Putting Average.
He also ranked first for Strokes Gained Approach and inside the top ten for the most important stats at Bay Hill - Greens In Regulation (9th) and Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green (8th).
The first and second in 2021, DeChambeau and Lee Westwood, ranked second and first for both GIR and SGT2G and they're the two key stats to concentrate on.
Bay Hill's greens aren't easy to hit and five of the last six winners have ranked inside the top-ten for GIR. And the last seven winners have ranked eighth, second, fifth, 13th, seventh, 13th and fourth for Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green.
Course Form Counts at Bay Hill
Scheffler had finished 15th on his only previous outing here but in four previous visits to Bay Hill, the 2021 winner, DeChambeau, had finished second and fourth and the four winners before him had all finished inside the top-five here before they won.
Matt Every was the seventh man to win the event more than once in 2015 and Tiger Woods has won the tournament a staggering eight times, so course form stands up really well and previous winners have a great record.
Understandably, given how important course form is, debutants don't fare well and Robert Gamez, way back in 1990, is the last player to win on his first visit to Bay Hill.
The world number one, Jon Rahm, who was at the top of the rankings this time last year too, finished only 17th on debut.
Links lovers shine at Arnie's
Scheffler hasn't threatened to win an Open Championship yet, but he was eighth on debut in 2021 and he sat fifth with a round to go last year before finishing 21st.
DeChambeau is yet to contend in an Open Championship but the man that ran him close two years ago, Westwood, is a renowned links exponent and that's been a common theme at Bay Hill.
The 2020 winner, Tyrrell Hatton, who was second last year, has won two Alfred Dunhill Links Championships, the two winners before him, Francesco Molinari and McIlroy, have both won the Open Championship and the two winners before that, Marc Leishman and Jason Day, very nearly have.
Leishman was beaten in a playoff in 2015 and Day finished one stroke behind the three playoff protagonists that year - Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen, and the winner, Zach Johnson. And Oosty and Zach both have top-tens at Bay Hill on their CVs.
The 2010 winner, Els is a two-time Open champ and Tiger Woods can play links tracks quite well too so that's a decent angle in.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Although the last two winners have been Americans, overseas players have a great record here.
Norway's Viktor Hovland was alongside Hatton and Billy Horschel in second last year, the second and third in 2021 and the first three home in 2020 were all from overseas and, having won the Honda Classic the week before, Keith Mitchell, who finished tied sixth, was the only American inside the top-nine places four years.
The five winners before Bryson were all overseas players and that 2019 edition was the first event 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 had finished inside the top-five in a PGA Tour event on American soil.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2022 - Scottie Scheffler solo third - trailing by two 7.06/1
2021 - Bryson DeChambeau T2 - trailing by one 3.412/5
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
Tiger's record here is incredible, and he was in front at halfway for four of his eight Bay Hill wins but if you disregard the GOAT, we're left with a mixed bag of results here.
Jason Day won wire-to-wire in 2016, Tyrrell Hatton led through 36 holes in 2020 and Ernie Els and Martin Laird were both in front at halfway before winning in 2010 and 2011 before Woods won the seventh of his eight having led through 36 holes in 2012 but we've seen a couple of off the pace winners of late too.
Scottie Scheffler was matched at a high of 420.0419/1 when he trailed by eight at halfway last year, Francesco Molinari was matched at 180.0179/1 before round four - four years ago, having tumbled from third to 17th with a three-over-par 73 on Saturday, and Rory McIlroy sat 13th and 11th, trailing by five and six strokes after rounds one and two in 2018.
All three of those winners are major champions so they're capable of making the extraordinary look conventional and winning from off the pace isn't easy but the stats tell us that being in front hasn't been ideal of late, with seven of the last nine third round leaders having failed to convert.
And it's also worth highlighting that as many as 20 players have held a clear lead at halfway in the last 27 years and only six of them went on to win.
Bay Hill's a tough venue, getting to the winning line is difficult, it's been a great place to take on odds-on shots in-running.
When Rory McIlroy hit a low of 1.855/6 in 2019, before finishing sixth, he was the sixth player in seven years to trade at odds-on and get beat and although the winners were the only players to hit odds-on in both 2020 and 2021, two players went odds-on last year before getting beat.
The halfway leader, Viktor Hovland, hit a low of 1.695/7 and Gary Woodland was matched at just 1.75/7 when he hit the front with an eagle at the par five 16th on Sunday before he double bogeyed the tough par three 17th.
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 4.51 last year when there were 24 eagles and 183 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 4.34 12 months ago.
One final strange thing of note, despite some thrilling close finishes, there hasn't been a playoff here this century.
Since finishing the 2021-22 PGA Tour season with a disappointing 15th place finish at the Tour Championship in August, Jon Rahm has produced ridiculously strong form figures reading 2-1-4-1-8-1-1-7-3-1 to return to the top of the Official World Rankings so it's absolutely no surprise to see him at the head of the market here.
His incredible run of form is down to an improvement on the greens and his worst Putting Average ranking since the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in September is 29th at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, where he still finished seventh.
It's impossible to oppose him given the form he's in and another win wouldn't surprise anyone but he failed to break 70 when debuting last year so given how important course form is here, I'm happy to swerve him before the off.
With oodles of Bay Hill experience and course form figures reading 11-27-4-1-6-5-10-13, Rory McIlroy is the closest man in the betting to Rahm but 32nd at the Phoenix Open and 29th at the Genesis Invitational in his last two starts are uninspiring efforts.
The difference between the world number one Rahm, and the world number two, Scottie Scheffler, could not have been clear last time out at the Genesis Invitational.
While Rahm was rolling his rock with aplomb, poor Scheffler was missing putt after putt at Riviera. Rahm ranked seventh for PA and 12th for Strokes Gained Putting, gaining more than 4.5 strokes, while Scheffler ranked 53rd and 28th, gaining less than two strokes. He had his superb tee-to-green game to thank for his 12th placed finish.
Scheffler putted better when successfully defending his Phoenix Open title in his penultimate start and that shows us he can defend but it's al about the putter for last year's winner and he makes little appeal before the off.
Last year's US Open winner, Matthew Fitzpatrick, hasn't really got going yet this year.
He finished a respectable seventh at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in his first start of 2023 but he's missed two cuts since with an uninspiring 29th at the Phoenix Open in-between the two weekend's off.
That's quite a negative but his course form is so strong that I'm happy to chance him at 44.043/1.
As is usually the case here, it took him a little while to get to grips with Bay Hill but after producing form figures reading MC-27-13-MC, he's finished inside the top-ten in each of his last four starts, with his second place finish in 2019 the highlight.
Tyrrell Hatton arrives in better form having produced form figures reading 2-7-38-6-40 since November and his course form is decent too, reading 4-69-29-1-21-2. I was happy enough to take 46.045/1.
Matthew Fitzpatrick @ 44.043/1
Tyrrell Hatton @ 46.045/1
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter