Onto the last leg of the Florida swing and we visit the one and only, Arnold Palmer and the wonderful Bay Hill. “The King” as he is so affectionately known plays host this week with this event being named after him since 2007.
As the name of the event suggests this is an invitational event, one of only 5 on Tour and subsequently the winner of this event gets a 3-year exemption on Tour (a rule brought in last year) which is a big deal in this day and age.
The Valspar Championship went to a play-off this past weekend and fans will be hoping for just as much, if not more excitement this weekend, at a course and an event loved by many.
One player in particular loves this place more than most – Tiger Woods. As we all know, Woods is currently taking an injury-enforced leave of absence which means he will miss the event he has won 8 times previously for the third year in a row, and the fourth time in total.
Arnold Palmer Invitational
7,419 yards, par 72. This Bay Hill course went under a considerable renovation in 2014, with more sand being added to the bunkers, the fairways widened and trees cut back, making the course easier, hence the -19 winning score from Matt Every last year.
A big gripe players had with the course last year was the greens, as the quality was lacklustre at best. They have resurfaced them for this year with TIFEagle Bermudagrass so they should be improved.
Good Florida form, and the ability the deal with the wind if it does pick up (early forecasts suggest it won’t) are good signifiers here, othe than that, there’s not really much that sticks out.
I would favour current form over course form this week, especially the current form over the last 2/3 starts when the events have been in Florida.
It is no coincidence that people start playing better when the Tour stops in certain parts of the country for extended periods of time, and that is no different when on the Florida swing.
I looked at the last five winners not named Tiger Woods, and also Every’s 2014 win as opposed to last year’s win and found that each of those five winners; Every (2014), Martin Laird (2011), Ernie Els (2010), Vijay Singh (2007) and Rod Pampling (2006) had all already notched at least one top-10 that season .
Of the 5 only Laird had missed his last two cuts, and his previous start before that was T11 at the Northern Trust so he was in decent form just before he won here.
Course form is always nice, and when you look and see that Every and Woods have shared 5 of the last 8 wins here (Every x2 and Woods x3) it could be argued it’s horses for courses, but I am still going to lean towards those playing nicely leading up to the event, especially if they’ve shown form in the Sunshine State over the last few weeks.
Prior to his first win here in 2014, Every had form figures of 34-24-MC-52 at Bay Hill – hardly spectacular, whilst Laird had played here once, finishing 74th the year Els won.
Els had won the event back in 1998 and also finished 18th in 2007 (his most recent start before his 2010 win), so he did show a previous liking.
It’s a mixed bag, so whilst course form is nice to have behind a player I’m still looking at the form over the previous 2/3 starts more than I am at current form.
To summarise, players who play well in Florida and have played some good golf in the last few starts will mainly be on my radar, with those that have course form to boot being even better prospects.
With this in mind, here are my picks for the 2016 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Justin Rose 16/1 (General) 2pts e/w: Justin Rose hasn’t quite found his best stuff yet this year, but even without finding top form, he is putting together a very respectable season.
The Englishman has two T6 finishes to his name (Frys.com Open & Pebble Beach) and followed that T6 finish at Pebble with a T16 effort at the Northern Trust Open – another good showing.
He made his first appearance of the “Florida Swing” at the WGC-Cadillac two weeks ago and finished a decent T17, and hopefully he can perform even better on his second start in the Sunshine State.
Rose has won the Cadillac Championship before and also has three top-10s at this course in the last decade so he looks a good pick to me this week.
He didn’t play here last year but his five most recent starts here read MC-2-15-3-MC, so although a mixed bag, if he makes the weekend he looks good value to at least place and although 16/1 is by no means a huge price, I would definitely take him over Jason Day who is ahead of him at 14/1, so I am happy to give him a chance.
It’s a great testament to his ability that even after posting two top-10s in five starts on the PGA Tour so far, it still seems like he’s having a quiet season.
Although effected by his limited starts, Rose ranks 7th in both Scoring Average and All-Around Ranking, so his game is clearly in good shape, and he can definitely contend this week.
Matt Kuchar 40/1 (Betfred & Coral) 1pt e/w: Matt Kuchar is a player I don’t like to back too often because generally, for me he doesn’t ever seem to represent great value, that and I may still be bitter about his final round 74 at the 2014 Masters, when he was my favourite pick of the week (yes I am aware that was nearly two years ago!!).
Either way, this week I really like his chances and at 40/1 think he’s very fairly priced. Now, one thing you do not get from Kuchar this week is course form, as he’s only played here four times- most recently in 2003. As he has been absent for 13 years, I really don’t think it’s worth looking into that form, as not only has the course changed but so has he.
Kuchar had won before his last start here, as he won the 2002 renewal of the Honda Classic, another event in Florida but he has won a further six times since 2009 and that is the Kuchar we are interested in.
In his last three starts he has finished 11th, 28th and 8th, with the 11th coming last week at the Valspar Championship. The 28th place finish was at Doral the week before, which is a course that really doesn’t set up for him.
This course should setup just fine for him and with two top-11 finishes in his last three starts it looks as if the Florida-born veteran has settled into good form.
He’ll be keen to stay in form as the Masters draws closer and he will be looking for his third win in Florida adding to the aforementioned 2002 Honda Classic win as well as the 2011 Players Championship. He hasn’t won since the 2014 RBC Heritage but he looks in good shape to make a good run at changing that this week.
Smylie Kaufman 110/1 (Bet365) 0.5pt e/w: As well as having the best name on Tour (there really is no question about it), Kaufman has also impressed on the golf course, winning on just his 5th start, at the Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Vegas earlier in the season.
Kaufman caught the eye of many more two weeks ago when he finished in a tie for 8th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship – his first appearance in a WGC.
He now has two top-10’s to boast on top of his win in Vegas, and he definitely looks comfortable in Florida. Heading into the Honda Classic, Kaufman had missed two straight cuts at the Phoenix Open and the Northern Trust Open but he bounced back with a T37 finish at PGA National which he then followed up with that 8th place at Doral a week later.
Looking at his odds of 110/1 you wouldn’t think he has 1 win, two-10’s and three top-25’s (two of which were top-15 finishes) to his name this season, against just two missed cuts in his rookie year.
The 24-year old is clearly still in the early years of his career, but he has looked like a seasoned-pro so far this year, and as a result it doesn’t bother me that he has not played on this course before. When it’s your first full season on Tour, you are always going to be seeing golf courses for the first time, but Smylie is clearly able to adapt and as a result I am very happy to have him on-side at a three-figure price.
He ranks 13th in the All-Around ranking, which shows just how great he is playing right now and I am expecting him to feature at the top of the leaderboard once again this week.
Scott Brown 125/1 (SkyBet & StanJames 6 places) 0.5pt e/w: I mentioned earlier that it’s no coincidence that people play particularly well in certain areas and since we have got to Florida, Brown has finished 7th (Valspar Championship) and 10th (Honda Classic) and I am hoping he can keep that form up this week.
Brown didn’t play here last year and he missed the cut in 2014, however on his course debut in 2013 he finished a very respectable 13th place, and I am hoping with the current form that he’s in that he can better that performance this week.
When he won here in 2013, he was in hot form with finishes (most recent first) of 27-1-7-3 so he had already won in recent weeks.
As this form proves, Brown is a streaky player and with top-10s in his last two starts I really do think he is in for another great week here at Bay Hill.
It’s also easy to forget that Brown held the 54-hole lead at the Farmers Insurance Open but the weather and toughness of Torrey Pines’ South Course got the better of him in the final round as he closed the week with a devastating 87 which dropped him 48 places to finish T49.
Now I know it’s all ifs and buts, however if Brown had managed to even just break 80 he would have another top-10 to his name this season, however maybe luckily for us he didn’t as he looks to be flying under the radar at 125/1 this week.
I love this event and I am hoping to get back on track after a disappointing couple of weeks. I will trying to post a DraftKings preview Tuesday afternoon, but as I am off to Cheltenham this week that may prove difficult.