This Week’s Event: 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational ChampionshipPat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg debate their 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational picks and the week in betting at this week’s PGA Tour stop at Bay Hill.
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2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational Picks: Show Index0:32 Valspar Recap
9:59 Masters Odds
20:13 Key Stats
32:35 Top Odds
44:57 Rest of Field
1:04:59 Quick Picks
1:09:19 One and Done
2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational FieldDefending champion: Marc Leishman
120 players | Top 70 and ties make the cut | First tee time: 7:35 a.m. ET
The 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational (or API, for space savers), again has drawn one of the year’s premier non-Mmjor/WGC fields. The top end is stacked with Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama (returning from a wrist injury), Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton, Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren, 2017 winner Marc Leishman, Brian Harman, Francesco Molinari, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman in Orlando, representing the world’s Top 30.
There’s a quality group of internationals beefing up the strength of field: Adam Scott, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Hao Tong Li, Charl Schwartzel, Cameron Smith, Si WOOOOO Kim, Byeong-Hun An, Russell Knox, Graeme McDowell, Satoshi Kadaira, Shane Lowry and Danny Willett. Yes, he’s still alive. Although it’s been so long since he’s been relevant that my computer didn’t recognize his name.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Emiliano Grillo will make the looooooooong trek to Florida, too. Aphibarnrat decided, for whatever reason, to travel from Mexico City to Brunei, a country on the northern part of Borneo (to save you the Google search), and crush the field on the Asian Development Tour. He won by six strokes. And Grillo, seeing all the success Shubhankar Sharma had, jet-set across the world and will return from his appearance in the Indian Hero Open. He came in sixth place.
There’s a group of Americans adding even more name recognition, too. Kevin Kisner, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson, Kevin Chappell, Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, Luke List, Keegan Bradley, Jimmy Walker and Ollie Schniederjans will be at Bay Hill. And, because of the API’s invitational status, we’ll get a crop of fresh faces to complete on a big stage. We’re all familiar with Sam Burns after his last two starts (T12/T8), but there’s an additional quartet of 21-and-unders in the field this week: 2017 U.S. Amateur champion Doc Redman (from Clemson), 2016 U.S. Amateur Champion and man-bun enthusiast, Curtis Luck, Collin Morikawa (from Cal) and Brit Sam Horsfield. Despite the UK (or EU … for the moment) passport, Horsfield grew up in Orlando and played collegiately at the University of Florida. He also had two Top 4s in his past four Euro Tour starts, including a solo second at the Tshwane Open two weeks ago in South Africa.
But let’s be real — all eyes will be glued to world’s 149th-ranked player. Tiger Woods made casuals golf fans again, with a run at the novelty check at last week’s Valspar Championship. Even with a T12 in his previous start at the Honda Classic, expectations weren’t incredibly high for Tiger in Tampa, as he’d never previously played the course. Woods making the cut and not grabbing his back at any point were considered positive takeaways coming into the week. After Tiger teed off in the second-to-last group and collected a $572,000 paycheck for a second-place finish, the mood toward him has changed.
Currently grouped with Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Noren as the only players to sit inside the Top 10 in both Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green and Strokes Gained: Putting, Tiger looks likes Tiger again … minus a collar on his Sunday reds. Many were optimistic Tiger eventually would challenge for a win again, but if any said it would happen this quickly, simply put, they are liars. Ones whose pants are CONSTANTLY ON FIRE!!!!!!
Now, with Tiger essentially playing a home game, the world will believe he’ll cruise to a victory this week. I mean, he has won this event eight times in his career and is playing out of this world. And while a win for Tiger at Bay Hill wouldn’t be shocking, but there are some concerns. Each of the past seven winners has played in the API the year previously and made the cut. Tiger hasn’t played there since going back-to-back in 2013. That’s OK, though — all these trends only are a thing until someone breaks them, and Tiger certainly is talented enough to do it. I’d actually be more concerned with the amount of driver he might have to use with so much danger lurking off the fairway. The SMOKE WAGON is one facet of Tiger’s game that hasn’t been elite since his return. I’m sure Tiger can fix it on the fly, and his long irons are good enough to allow him to fall back on some holes, but if he gets hooked on his driver, there are no galleries and trees to stop of the ball from getting wet.
Now, I hope that isn’t the case — I’d love to see Tiger win this week. But I don’t want to make it seem like he’s a stone-cold lock to win. Plus, this field is stacked.
2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational Key StatsStrokes Gained: Approach
Birdies or Better Gained
Strokes Gained: Par 5s
Proximity 200+ Yards
Strokes Gained: Ball Striking
2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational CourseBay Hill Club & Lodge | 7,419 yards | Par 72
Greens: Bermuda | Ranked 9/50 in 2017 difficulty (+0.890)
The Tiger effect on our course knowledge is very much real. With Tiger prowling all weekend, you’re now familiar with the layout at Copperhead. Similarly, when we return to a track where Tiger has won eight times, everyone knows what to expect at Bay Hill.
Water and sand (85 bunkers) are ubiquitous, the rough is longer than a millennial’s attention span, and the holes are longer than they measure on the scorecard, with the average drive over 5 yards shorter than at the average PGA Tour event. With water hazards directly affecting 10 holes, players are forced to lay up off the tee to keep dry or set themselves up for a clean look at the green. That, or potentially pay the price, like on the Par 5 sixth hole. You can take on the water to save some distance to try and get to the green in two, or you can end up carding an 18, like John Daly did in 1998. Grillo did the same thing, on a much smaller scale, last season. The water on the sixth consumed two of his balls — and one of his irons, for good measure. Since 1983, No. 6 has produced 22 scores in the double-digits. That’s the most on Tour by a wide margin.
Most of the field will shy away from challenging the water, however, and that leads to a lot of long irons. Over 33 percent of approach shots come from beyond 200 yards, so it’s no surprise that players such as Tiger, Stenson, Rose, Keegan, Rory and Scott all have experienced success at this event over the years. Quality long irons will help mitigate the difficulty of the long Par 3s (three over 200 yards), the lengthier Par 4s (six over 450 yards), make the Par 5s slightly easier, and potentially open up an eagle opportunity on the 16th hole. Of the 37 eagles carded at Bay Hill in 2017, 22 were made on No. 16 (22 of the 36 came on No. 16 in 2016).
Despite the potential for blowups, scoring should be bountiful. Before last year, the previous two champions flirted with 20 under par by tournament’s end, and 2017 proved to be a tad more difficult, but Marc Leishman still managed to breach double digits. Overall, seven of the past eight winners in Orlando have been 277 or better.
Finally, my guy, Jude DeLoye, has found a very successful stat correlation for Bay Hill over the past half-decade. Players sitting inside the Top 30 in Par 3 Efficiency from 200-225 yards and Top 30 overall in Birdie or Better Rate have won four of the past five years, and qualifiers in both metrics have made the cut 82.6 percent of the time the last two seasons.
2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational Picks — Targets From Each RangeHideki Matsuyama
Playing for the first time since a wrist injury forced him to withdraw in Phoenix, Matsuyama is one of three players who hit the DeLoye T30/T30 special (along with Fowler and Kisner). Yes, the wrist is worrisome, but it likely eliminates some of the popularity that typically comes along at a ball strikers’ course with a full complement of Par 5s.
Previous to his WD, the world’s No. 6 player hadn’t finished outside the Top 12 in any of three other 2018 starts. If you can stomach the risk and potential downside with his wrist, Hideki likely will be an ownership steal from the top end.
After a glorious run to finish last year and to begin this one (T2nd/Win/T4), Fowler has been a mixed bag of unimpressive results (MC/T11/MC/T37). The question is, why? Well, you can point directly to his short game.
Despite gaining an average of just under three strokes with his approaches over his past three events, Fowler has forgotten how to chip and putt. He has lost almost nine full strokes with his putter in his last two starts. And he missed the cut at Honda, so that’s just six rounds. Not great, Bob! In fact, his minus-5.9 strokes gained (well, lost) putting at WGC Mexico was the second most in any single event in his career.
We just witnessed Paul Casey keep it together with his putter for an entire tournament, and I’ll bank on a historically good putter to quickly figure this out. Even including his recent struggles, Fowler sits fifth in this field in putting over the last 100 rounds. Plus, with so much talent and Tiger at the top of this field, it’s likely many will instantly give him a hard pass.
We’ve seen Bubba, Casey and Gary Woodland win over the past two months — the era of bad-putting, supreme ball strikers is upon us. And Scott is the poster boy for that skill set.
The Aussie is killing it off the tee, sticking his irons, chipping well and, as usual, missing more 3-foot putts than everyone else combined. Classic Adam Scott. He’s lost almost three strokes per start over his last three events, yet he has churned out solid finishes since the Tour moved to the East Coast (T13/T16). Embrace the variance and pray he can get his flat stick to half the level of the remainder of his game, because tee-to-green, Scott is peaking right now.
A former runner-up at this event, Chappy hasn’t finished worse than T31 since the swing season, and he’s even collected two Top 10s during that seven-tournament stretch. He’s been the best player off the tee over the past 24 rounds and been in the positives with his approaches in three consecutive starts.
His only issues have been around the greens. Fortunately, the Bermuda rough at Bay Hill seems to pose few issues for his short game. In six starts at the API, Chappell has only lost strokes to the field once — he’s gained more than 2.5 three times. And, as a bonus, you get him at a much better value than normal because of the bigger names in this field.
Keegan Bradley/Luke List
If I’m going with the entire All Can’t Putt squad, I might as well toss on the bench players — Keegan and List. Over the past 24 rounds, Keegan is tops in the field tee-to-green, and List sits fourth. They’re generating beaucoup birdie tries, and that’s what you want at Bay Hill.
Keegan has been measurably worse on the green, failing to gain strokes with his putter since the Wyndham Championship last August — that’s a span of 13 events. List has been a bit better. He’s actually been a half stroke positive with his flat stick in his past five starts, and it’s done wonders for his bank account. He’s reeled off five consecutive top-30 finishes, with three T16s.
Other notable names appearing near the top of stat models and the win simulator at FantasyNational.com: Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, James HAAHHHNNNNNNN, Alex Noren, Scott Piercy, Jamie Lovemark, Jason Kokrak
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo’s (@ThePME) 14 Fantasy Sports Writing Association nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting) and genre (humor). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is ThePME) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.