PGA Core Plays
Arnold Palmer Invitational
By Derek Hill
PGA Core Plays
API March 5th – 8th
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I have to start this off with a quick review of last week. There really were two winners over the weekend. The first was the golf course. PGA National was just awesome. It has quickly become one of my favorite courses. Talk about a course that delivers a show and some drama, even with a subpar field. The second winner was obviously Sungjae Im. It was only a matter of time before the talented youngster ended up on top. He stared a tough course in the eye and didn’t blink. He was aggressive and attacked some pins in some dangerous locations. The two birdies he made at 15 and 17 were incredible. Kudos to him.
With that being said, I would expect a lot of similarities this week. Bay Hill is a course that also requires course management skills and the ability to avoid trouble. It is no surprise that a lot of the guys who finished in the top 10 at PGA National were high finishers in last year’s Arnold Palmer invitational (Fleetwood T3, Im T3, An T10, Steele T17.) There are some ways in which the courses differ. Bay Hill presents a few different challenges than what we saw last week. This week we will see longer rough that will many times cause players to shorten up off the tee to avoid the long stuff. Also, the greens at Bay Hill are among the toughest the players will see all year. They’re large in size and are lightning quick. If that isn’t a tough enough test, you have to factor in that it is tough to get the ball close to the hole. Average proximity to the hole at Bay Hill is 40’1”. That means guys are going to have some long, fast putts. Don’t be surprised to see a fair amount of 3 putts this week. 2 stats that will be very valuable this week are SG: Putting and 3 Putt avoidance. Keep those in mind.
However, it isn’t all about putting this week. Bay Hill requires a complete game to get the win. Look at Molinari’s recipe for success last year. Sure, he was 4th in SG: Putting, but he was also T1 in SG: off the tee, 6th in GIR, and 5th in scrambling. GIR % at Bay Hill is very low, so guys that can hit greens will be at an advantage. Scrambling is important for the reason just listed. Greens are tough to hit, so getting up and down will be a frequent requirement. Maybe the most important stat of the week would be SG: Tee to green. That means guys are finding the fairway, avoiding the rough, and giving themselves a chance at birdies, or at least 2 putts for par.
The best chances to score this week will be on the par 5s. Par 5 scoring will be important because the par 3s and par 4s are tough. All 4 par 3s play >200 yards so par 3 scoring 200-225 yards is another stat to look at.
This week you will have a big decision to make, do you go with what the stats tell you or do you go with the hot players despite what the numbers say? Hopefully we can point out some who fit into both.
The last thing you should keep in mind is that invitationals like the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week have slightly smaller fields. That means that a higher percentage of players make the cut. This gives the long shots a better chance at scoring you some big points this week. My recommendation would be to pick a few of the can’t miss guys and then pick a couple value plays who project well.
If you are unsure of why I like a guy in the “others to consider” category, reach out to me on twitter @derekhill87. I would love to share my thoughts.
These are the guys that have the best shot:
Top-End Pick: Rory McIlroy
I wouldn’t make a single lineup that didn’t start with Rory. In his last 6 starts he has gone T3, Win, 4th, T3, T5, 5th. That is unreal. Add the fact that he hasn’t missed a cut at Bay Hill and in his last 3 starts there he is T4, Win, T6. 1st SG: Tee To Green (3rd approach, 7th off the tee.)
Other guys I like:
Sungjae Im: Red hot. Winner last week. T3 in his first start at Bay Hill last year. Projects well again this week.
Bryson DeChambeau: Great form as of late. T5 at Riviera. 2nd at Chapultepec. Runner up at Bay Hill last year. 11th SG: Tee to Green, 21st SG: Putting
Others to consider: Tommy Fleetwood, Xander Schauffele, Adam Scott, Patrick Reed
Mid-Tier Pick: Marc Leishman
Recent winner at the Farmers Insurance Open. Winner at Bay Hill in 2017. 2 other top 10s at this course. 16th in SG: Tee to Green (4th in SG: Approach)
Other mid-tier guys I like:
Byeoung Hun An: Last 2 starts at Bay Hill: 10th, 14th. 2 top 10s in his last 3 starts including a T4 last week at a similar test in PGA National. Unlikely winner this week due to his putting, but the rest of his game gives him a great chance of cracking the top 10 again.
Henrik Stenson: 4 top 5s at Bay Hill since 2014. Winner at Hero World Challenge just a few months ago.
Others to Consider: Francesco Molinari, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Ian Poulter, Jason Day, Tyrrell Hatton, Lee Westwood, Harris English, Wyndham Clark
Value Play: Jazz Janewattananond
We don’t get to see him much on the PGA tour as he spends most of his time playing internationally, but make no mistake about it, the kid can play. He is ranked 40th in the world for good reason. This is his first time playing Bay Hill, but I think he could have a solid first showing. He hasn’t missed a cut in his few PGA Tour events since fall of last year. 2nd in approaches from 200-225 yards. 8th in SG: Putting
Other guys I like:
Patrick Rodgers: Made 3 of 4 cuts at Bay Hill. Has a 20th and a 7th place finish to his name. Playing well as of late. 6th in 3 putt avoidance. 14th in SG: Putting.
Harry Higgs: Made 8 of last 9 cuts. When looking at important stats for the week his isn’t stellar but very good all around. 21st SG: Off the Tee, 80th SG: Putting, 84th SG: Tee to Green.
Others to consider: Emiliano Grillo, Pat Perez
Derek Hill Grew up in rural Utah. Married my his wife, Krista in 2010. Derek and Krista have 2 young daughters. Derek earned an undergrad degree from UVU, a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Weber State University, and Masters in Nursing Anesthesia from Samford University. Derek