The PGA TOUR stays in the Sunshine State as it heads across I-4 west-to-east from Tampa to Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge. For the second week in a row, gamers will be faced with how to use Tiger Woods but after his near-miss performance last week, I’m pretty sure I can nail the angle this week. There is plenty of star power in this invitational field of 120 but the eight-time champion on the road to redemption is clearly the headliner. The former Orlando resident will have the confluence of current form and course form smashing into each other as he arrives at the club that Arnold Palmer built, grew and made famous. The King will be here in spirit but it’s a shame he couldn’t see the return. The 40th edition at Bay Hill will play to a Par-72 and will stretch to 7,419 yards. The course underwent some fine tuning after the 2014 edition which saw tree limbs and trees reduced, expanding fairways and improving sightlines. All 84 bunkers also received brand-new G-Angle sand. After the 2015 event the fairways and greens were regrassed. Similarly to Innisbrook, Bay Hill installed TifEagle Bermuda greens and Celebration Bermuda fairways to improve playability tee-to-green. Similarly to Innisbrook, none of the contours on the greens were affected. Unlike Innisbrook, new hole locations were NOT added so maps of the greens are still valid and so are the reps from playing them. These greens have had three summers to properly grow in and should be ready to roll, quite literally. Along with the 500 FedExCup points for the fourth year in a row the winner will earn a THREE-year exemption on TOUR. Adam Scott was the last to set the course record with a 62 in 2014, while Matt Every owns the post-2009 refurbishment record of 269 (-19) in 2015. Tales of the Tape (Winners) After being torched in 2015 and 2016, Mother Nature decided a bit of breeze would be in store in 2017. One of the best wind players on TOUR took full advantage of the conditions as Australian Marc Leishman came from three shots off the 54-hole lead of Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman to pick up the check. His final round 69 saw him post 11-under-par 277 and was one of only 10 rounds in the 60’s on Sunday. It was a difficult week all around as dry, wind-swept Bay Hill fought back with chilly temperatures in the two rounds before the cut, which ended up at three-over-par, and warm and windy conditions after. There were only nine bogey-free rounds on the week and only 34 players finished in the red. The low round of the week, 65, belonged to Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy in the early wave on Saturday. Leishman became just the sixth international winner in 39 events. The 2016 edition introduced TifEagle greens and Celebration fairways and gnarly rough but Jason Day wasn’t bothered. The Australian stud went wire-to-wire and posted 17-under 271 to hold off Kevin Chappell by a shot. Rain softened the less-than-year old greens and the course played over a half-shot below par for the week. The top 11 players were double-digits-under-par while the top 16 finishers accounted for exactly six rounds of par or worse for the week. Chappell was the only player in the field to post all four rounds in the 60’s. McIlroy couldn’t improve on his T11 debut from ’15 as he squared FOUR doubles but he fired 65 on Sunday to claim T27. Derek Fathauer didn’t mind the new greens as he needed only 98 putts for the week to claim T12. After posting 13-under in 2014 he stormed home from three shots behind post 19-under 269 to pass 54-hole leader Henrik Stenson. A tough winter saw the greens in rough shape and the full complement of pin placements couldn’t be used. Every took advantage of the conditions on the greens and the absence of wind to post all four rounds in the 60’s. His total was the lowest this century, matching Woods from 2003, and his 25 birdies were the most in the last five events easily. The greens and fairways were replaced two months later. I’ve posted both winning years to analyze, enjoy. NOTE: Golfers inside the top 25 in each statistic on the 2016-17 PGA TOUR are listed only if they are scheduled to compete in the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. * – Finished inside the top 10 at Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard since 2013. Par-5 Scoring Rank Golfer 1 *Hideki Matsuyama 2 Luke List 4 *Rory McIlroy 7 Brandon Hagy 11 *Rickie Fowler 12 *Charley Hoffman 12 *Justin Rose 12 Charl Schwartzel 12 Kevin Tway 18 *Jason Day 18 *Marc Leishman 18 Pat Perez 18 Kyle Stanley 24 *Jamie Lovemark Strokes-gained: Putting Rank Golfer 2 *Rickie Fowler 3 Luke Donald 4 *Graeme McDowell 5 Brian Harman 7 Patrick Reed 8 Mackenzie Hughes 10 Shane Lowry 15 Cody Gribble 16 Brian Gay 19 David Lingmerth 20 *Kevin Kisner 21 Whee Kim 22 *Louis Oosthuizen 24 Camilo Villegas Bogey Avoidance Rank Golfer 7 Ian Poulter 9 Charles Howell III 10 Lucas Glover 11 *Rickie Fowler 15 *Hideki Matsuyama 18 *Marc Leishman 19 Pat Perez 24 John Huh 25 Ryan Armour Par-3 Scoring Rank Golfer 1 Tom Hoge 2 *Brandt Snedeker 4 *Rickie Fowler 4 *Graeme McDowell 4 *Adam Scott 10 *Marc Leishman 10 Ryan Armour 24 *Keegan Bradley 24 Camilo Villegas Former champion Jason Day remarked he believed finding fairways and putting were the keys to success at Bay Hill. With fairways plentiful in width and greens that usually run slick, I’ll agree with his assessment. Tee balls that don’t find the generous fairways will be punished with over-seeded rye grass that will make approach shots difficult. This will bring the sand and water into play when attacking the greens. Finding the fairway is a key for scoring because it will be easier to find the proper tier of these above-average sized greens from the short stuff. The Par-3 holes seem to be just as important as the Par-5 holes. They are all listed on the card at 199 yards or better so make three and get out. Palmer is famous for saying “you must play boldly to win” and his design will ask the player that question often throughout the round. Unlike Innisbrook, this resort course allows for the driver to be swung, just as Palmer would prefer. Water also returns to the menu as Bay Hill plays more like PGA National than Innisbrook and that could mean big numbers on the card. Whereas we’ve seen difficult golf down the stretch on the other two Florida stops (think “Bear Trap” and “Snake Pit”) this week the FIRST three holes, as a group, annually rank near the top of difficulty on TOUR. It’s been a dry March in Orlando and the forecast looks excellent so they should be able to set it up anyway they see fit. Of the 39 previous winners, the only European to lift the trophy is Martin Laird in 2011. Another odd statistic is rookies do not fare well here. Maybe they haven’t had enough experience to know when to keep the foot on the brake rather than the gas. The best rookie finish in the last three years is Smylie Kaufman (T12, 2016) but he had already won earlier in the season. It’s a course where veterans who know how to take their medicine will excel. Those same veterans usually excel in course management and are familiar with this track. I’ll point out that world-class players also haven’t had problem adapting. Check “Building Confidence” below for more information. Course Ratings: 2015: 36th-most difficult of 52 played; -0.801(first time under par since reverting to par 72 in 2010) 2016: 28th-most difficult of 50 played; -0.515 2017: 9th-most difficult of 50 played; +0.890 (second-most difficult par 72 behind TPC Sawgrass) Rob Bolton’s Power Rankings will give you more juice for the week so make sure you stop by. It’s also who I trust with the weather each week so pay attention!Â NOTE: The groups below are comprehensive to assist in data mining. Inclusion doesn’t imply automatic endorsement in every fantasy game as all decisions are specific to your situation. Confidence Men Selected golfers with multiple cuts made sorted by rank on the tournament’s money list. Building Confidence Sorted by best finish, selected golfers who are either finally finding form on the course or are still relatively new to the tournament but have enjoyed some success. Other Signs of Confidence Sorted by most recent top 10s, selected golfers for whom it’s been a few years since their last.
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