I will make no excuses this week for starting this preview off by once again talking about Tiger Woods. To see him in contention, with a very clear chance of winning come Sunday was great, especially at an event he has never played before.
That makes it two events in a row that Woods has played events he never used to enjoy/frequent and played better than anticipated and now all eyes will be on him here, at Bay Hill. This is an event Woods has won a record 8 times, and given how he has played on his return in 2018, it is easy to see why he is the favourite this week.
Woods simply didn’t hit his approaches well enough on Sunday at the Valspar, denying him enough looks at makeable birdie putts. That didn’t stop Woods causing some late drama on 17 though, after sinking a birdie putt, which he had no right to make. A 44-ft putt, where the make percentage was set at 3% was clearly not a big enough obstacle for Tiger, who sunk it like he had never been away. He gave himself a chance on 18 to tie Paul Casey in the clubhouse and force a play-off, but his approach again lacked the star power needed, after leaving himself a lot to do after taking iron off the tee. From 185 yards, Woods’ somewhat average approach left himself a 38ft putt to tie and he just couldn’t produce such a huge putt two holes in a row.
Either way, this was enough to convince the world the greatest to ever play the game of golf is back, and he looks set to win again this season, possibly even this week before hopefully contending in major championships once again.
A word on Casey to, who despite not being the most likeable player amongst fans, finally got the win his stellar play in recent seasons deserves. An emotional Casey was welling up at the Sky Cart whilst speaking to Tim Barter, as it is clear he has put in a lot of work and finally got the reward. Casey has also been dealing with the death of a close friend and he will be skipping Bay Hill this week to return to England for the funeral. Whether or not, having something else to dominate his mind other than golf actually played into his hands, no one can be sure but he dealt with adversity extremely well and got the win on Sunday.
This was just Casey’s second win on the PGA Tour and whilst he has won 13 times on the European Tour it is fair to say his talent level rightly demands a whole lot more.
In the last fortnight we have seen 47-year old, Phil Mickelson win a WGC and 42-year old Woods, coming off a spinal fusion surgery, push Casey all the way to the 18th, so there is still time for the Englishman yet, who at 40 probably has another 10 years on the PGA Tour, barring serious injury.
Onto this week and as ever, a strong field will contend the Arnold Palmer Invitational, at Bay Hill. The players have just three more weeks to prepare for Augusta, and those that have been struggling will look to piece some form together in that time, starting here.
This is quite often a players’ last start before Augusta, as some skip the WGC Match Play and plenty decide against playing the week before a major, even if the Houston Open is setup to replicate Augusta as best it can.
The Course and what it will take to win
Bay Hill Club & Lodge, 7,419 Yards, Par 72
After the 2014 renewal the course was made a little easier, with widened fairways, in order to get the original shape of the course back and the removal and trimming of some trees. These changes were reflected in the two winning scores that followed, as Matt Every shot -19 and Jason Day wrapped up the title with a score of -17 a year later. Marc Leishman’s winning total of -11 last year was more in line with the general scoring here, but the potential is clearly there for some low scoring this week.
Taking advantage of the Par-5’s here is a must, in order to go low enough to win as they all present great birdie chances. In the last ten years, the winner has ranked 7th or better in Par 5 Performance on seven occasions, with Every (both in 2014 and 2015) and Woods (2009) the exceptions.
In 2014 and 2015, Every ranked T15 and T16 respectively in Par-5 Performance, but was still -8 in 2014 and -9 in 2015, so it still played a huge part in his scoring. Every instead picked up shots on the field on the Par 4’s, ranking 2nd in Par 4 Performance in both years he won.
When Woods ranked T52 in this category in 2009, the winning score was just -5 and he was level-par on the long holes for the week. On the other three occasions he has won in the last ten years, he has ranked 1st twice and 7th. Woods, like Every did his scoring on the Par 4’s in 2009, ranking 1st in Par 4 Performance, finishing -4 on those holes and -5 in total.
In a week where the weather looks good with little-to-no wind, the scoring will be low and as a result so will the scoring on the Par-5’s. Expect the winner this week to be inside the top-10 at least in that category.
Mediocre course form can be overcome, as shown by some recent winners and contenders, including Matt Every. Before winning back-to-back in 14’ and 15’, Every’s best finish in four starts at Bay Hill was 24th, with a missed cut also in there.
Day, who won in 2016 also struggled in his first few goes here, with results of MC-MC-25-45 before the changes were made in 2014. He has since gone 17-1-23 so maybe he has benefitted from the changes, alternatively it could also be down to the fact he is just a better player these days.
Martin Laird who won here in 2011, finished 74th on debut 12 months prior and has never finished better than 34th in six starts since, despite making the cut each time. A good week on the Par-5’s (1st in Par 5 Performance) is what aided him that week.
Kevin Kisner who went so close to winning last season also had a rather uninspiring book of form here, with finishes of MC-49 in his first two looks but put that to one side to go well last time.
What is important though is getting a look at the course at least once in tournament play. You have to go back to 1990 when Robert Gamez won here, for the last time a player won on debut in this event, so it is clearly beneficial to have had a previous start in this event.
All in all, Bay Hill appears to be the sort of course that if you have been playing well, particularly in the Florida Swing you will have a chance to go well here. Good Bermuda putting is key and as mentioned before, scoring well on the long holes is going to be essential, so they would be two areas that stand out to me, alongside showing some positive signs in Florida already this year.
Here are how the last five winners of this event ranked in Par-5 Scoring and SG: Putting the week they won, as well as their Florida form that season.
P5 Scoring SG: Putting Florida Form
Marc Leishman (2017) 2nd 2nd T27 (Honda Classic)
Jason Day (2016) T5 6th N/A
Matt Every (2015) T16 8th T63 (Honda Classic)
Matt Every (2014) T15 3rd T24 (Honda) T8 (Tampa)
Tiger Woods (2013) 1st 1st T37 (Honda), Win (WGC)
Tiger Woods (13/2)
Jason Day (12/1)
Justin Rose (14/1)
Rory McIlroy (20/1)
Rickie Fowler (20/1)
Brian Harman 40/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Brian Harman has been playing exceptionally well this season, much like last season and his T5 finish at the WGC in Mexico was further evidence of that.
It is very easy to see why Harman is playing well, just by taking a quick look at his stats. He ranks 6th in Strokes Gained: Putting and 9th in Strokes Gained: Total, as well as 2nd in Greens in Regulation and 16th in Scrambling. Add to this that he ranks T14 in Par 5 Scoring Average and he certainly has the right profile to win here.
Harman does rely fairly heavily on his putting at times, but he does everything he needs to do well enough to win here and that’s why I think he is clearly overpriced at 40/1.
In six starts at Bay Hill, Harman has literally been 50/50, missing three cuts, countered by three top-17’s. The three top-17 finishes become a lot more impressive when you look a little closer.
Back in 2012 when Harman finished T15, he was just two shots shy of the group of seven players that were tied for 4th. This was after opening the week with a five-over round of 77. Had Harman have just shot level par on the opening day (he broke par in each of the last three rounds), he would have finish in a tie for 2nd.
It was a similar story in 2016, when Harman finished T17, as Harman finished two shots shy of the three players who were tied for 9th. This time around though, he had no horrific rounds, he was just steady all week long (69-71-70-70).
Again 12 months ago, Harman put together a familiar week finishing T13, two shots shy of Hudson Swafford and Tommy Fleetwood in 10th.
If Harman, who has played the best golf of his career over the last two years can just shave a shot a round off his usual scoring here, there’s every chance he contends and there is no reason to doubt that he can do that here.
Harman ranked 2nd in Strokes Gained: Putting in Mexico, but just 31st in Par 5 Performance, so should he improve on the long holes here, he should be bang in contention.
Adam Scott 40/1 (UniBet) 1pt e/w:
Adam Scott has made a strong return to form during the Florida Swing, after struggling for much of last season and the start of this one, so he will hope that can continue that here at Bay Hill this week.
The Australian had a strong record here, before missing the cut in 2006 and 2009 and a lenghty absence from 2010-2013. Since though he has put together a strong run, finishing 3rd, 35th and 12th in his last three starts.
In 2014 Scott should have won here, blowing a 54-hole lead after a round of 76 on Sunday. He lost out by two shots, so could have still won if he was even level of one-over for the day, signifying one of the biggest blow-ups of his career. He can put this behind him this year though, as he continues to strike the ball beautifully.
Of course, Scott’s putter is always going to be a concern but he has finished 13th and 16th in his last two starts whilst ranking 56th and 75th respectively in Strokes Gained: Putting so if he improves even slightly on greens he knows well this week, there’s a good chance he will contend.
At this point, you are purely betting on whether Scott can putt even just respectably for four rounds, which at 40/1 I am happy to chance that he will. When 3rd here in 2014, Scott ranked 14th in SG: Putting, and that will be the sort of ranking he will need to achieve this week.
Zach Johnson 66/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Zach Johnson has quietly been playing very solidly in 2018 and he looks to be returning to something close to winning form.
Johnson has finished inside the top-23 in six of his seven starts this season, with the T57 finish at the Phoenix Open the exception. This suggests Johnson’s game is in very good shape, and an improvement in one area could be the difference on any given week.
Zach has always been known for his short-game and in particular his putting, but so far this season he currently ranks just 81st in Strokes Gained: Putting, and should he find his touch on the greens, a win could be on the horizon.
In his four starts on Bermuda greens so far this season, Johnson has ranked 33rd, 40th, 65th and 29th in SG: Putting and whilst it is encouraging that his best effort came last week, there is clearly scope for improvement. Should he find something on the greens this week, that he has struggled to so far this season, Johnson could well be in contention come Sunday.
Despite his struggles on the green, Johnson does still rank 30th in Par 5 Scoring Average this season, and that will help him here. He also ranks 9th in Scrambling, which can be even better once the putter clicks.
At 66/1 you are getting an in-form player who has finished 11th or better four times here since 2009, including twice in the top-9 in the last three years.
Kevin Chappell 75/1 (Bet365) 1pt e/w:
In very similar fashion to Zach Johnson, Kevin Chappell has been solid all season long, missing just one cut, and finishing inside the top-31 in his other eight starts. Of course his 15th and 21st place finishes in limited fields at the Hero World Challenge and Tournament of Champions respectively are nothing to shout about, but there have been some highlights.
A T6 finish at the CareerBuilder and T8 finish at Pebble Beach are the standout performances so far, but he can better both of those performances at a course he enjoys this week.
Back in 2016 Chappell finished 2nd on three separate occasions, and two of those runner-up finishes came in Florida, at Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass.
Again like Johnson, putting can be Chappell’s Achilles Heel, something that until last season held him back from winning on the PGA Tour. He grabbed his maiden victory at the Valero Texas Open in 2017 and he will look to build on that this week.
If and when Chappell has a good putting week, he is going to get himself right back into contention once again, adding to his two top-8 finishes already this season.
When you look at Johnson at 81st in SG: Putting and think he’s putting bad, it is easy to see why Chappell has not got another win this season, as he ranks 140th in that area. He also ranks just 124th in SG: Around the Green, so his short game needs some serious work.
The rest of his game is in great shape though, ranking 5th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 12th SG: Tee-to-Green and 26th in SG: Approach-the-Green. A T35 ranking in Par 5 Scoring Average would be a whole lot better too, with any sort of decent showings on the greens.
This is a happy hunting ground for Chappell, with finishes of 24th in 2012 and 14th in 2014 to add to that 2nd place finish in 2016 so he could be in for another top finish this week.
At 75/1, he is clearly overpriced and any sort of improvement on and around the greens could well see him replicate his performance of two years ago and hopefully go one better.
Patton Kizzire 100/1 (Betfred) 0.5pt e/w:
Patton Kizzire started the season with a bang, finishing 10th, 4th and 1st in his first three events, before winning again in Hawaii at the Sony Open.
Two wins already this season, Kizzire should always be looked at when a big price as he is this week. He suffered a dip in form, following his win in Hawaii, finishing T42 at the CareerBuilder, T31 in Phoenix and missing the cut at the Honda but has hopefully put that behind him now.
A T12 finish in Mexico last time out, following a closing round of 66 was a welcome return to form for Kizzire and he will look to put his strengths to good use this week.
Kizzire ranks 11th in Par 5 Scoring Average and T19 in SG: Putting this season, and ranked similarly in Mexico. He ranked 11th on the Par-5’s and 25th in Putting, so should his putting pick up slightly, he can look for another big finish this week.
Sitting at 51st in the World Rankings, Kizzire will be looking to crack the magic number this week, and will also want to reclaim top spot from Justin Thomas in the FedEx Cup rankings. He is currently just 259 points shy of Thomas, with both posting two wins and four top-10 finishes so far this season. Kizzire has taken 11 events, whilst Thomas has done it in just 8, but it is an impressive effort nonetheless.
Kizzire missed the cut on debut here last year, but as stated earlier mediocre course form can be overcome, it is the experience that is vital. Returning a better player this time around, Kizzire will be keen to improve in an event that could well suit now his game is in better shape.
After finishing 2nd in his 2016/17 season opener, Kizzire went on to miss five of his next nine cuts heading into this event, including the week before at the Valspar. Even when did make the weekend in that span he finished no better than T57, so it is hardly a surprise he missed the cut on his debut here.
Simply put at 100/1 I am happy to chance that one of the surprise packages of the season can add to his already strong start to this season and put in another good performance this week. He has two wins, four top-10’s in total and finished T12 in a stacked WGC field last time out, so I cannot fathom as to why he is three-figures this week.
Total Points Staked this week: 9
Profit/Loss for 2018: -39.4