This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
ARNOLD PALMER INVITATIONAL
Winner's Share: $1.674M
FedEx Cup Points: 550 to the Winner
Location: Orlando, Fla.
Course: Bay Hill Club & Lodge
2020 champion: Tyrrell Hatton
It is really hard to believe that this will be the fifth Arnold Palmer Invitational without Arnold Palmer. He passed away in September 2016. It's also the seventh API in eight years without the man almost as synonymous with the tournament as Palmer, eight-time champion Tiger Woods. In another unsettling milestone, this week will mark the one-year anniversary of the final PGA Tour event completed before the pandemic changed golf, sports and the entire world. Little did anyone realize as Tyrrell Hatton was joyously donning the red cardigan sweater awarded the winner that just four days later everything would come to a screeching halt after one round of THE PLAYERS Championship.
While fortunate timing allowed the tournament to escape last year, it will not get away unscathed this time around, There will be fans at Bay Hill, but only at 25 percent of capacity. And unrelated to the pandemic, the field is taking a bit of hit from last year. Only three of the top-10 golfers in the world – Hatton, 2018 champion Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed – will be in this invitational field of 123. It's the price to pay for being slotted between two near-majors: the WGC-Workday and THE PLAYERS. But there are 13 of the top-25 and 29 of the top-50 in the world rankings on hand, plus a bunch of Euros sticking around after last week and, oh yeah, the biggest draw in all of golf these days. That would be Jordan Spieth, who will be making his Bay Hill debut in his continuing quest to return to, um, "back-ness." There are many other bold-face names in Bryson DeChambeau, Viktor Hovland, Paul Casey, Rickie Fowler, 2016 champion Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, 2017 champion Marc Leishman, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry and Will Zalatoris.
Interestingly, the past five API winners have been internationals, ending the dominating era of Woods and Matt Every (that's a joke, sorta/kinda). Last year, half of the top-12 finishers were internationals and two years ago it was eight of the top-nine. Some of those sticking around from last week's WGC include Lee Westwood, Victor Perez, Bernd Wiesberger, Robert MacIntyre and Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
For the past two years, Bay Hill has played very tough. In fact, last year it was the absolute hardest track on the PGA Tour, with Hatton winning at a mere 4-under-par. He shot 68 the first day then treaded water over the final 54 holes amid heavy rough, firm fairways, firm greens and unseasonally cold weather (the weather will be far milder this year). Six holes were among the 50 toughest on Tour all year, an astounding total for one course. The famed finishing hole, at 458 yards, was the fifth hardest hole on Tour, followed in short order by the 460-yard eighth, the 438-yard 11th, the 461-yard 1st, the 467-yard 15th and the 231-yard third. When formulating lineups, don't exclude last year but also don't lean on it too heavily.
At 7,400-plus yards, Bay Hill is not overly long by today's standards, especially for a par-72, but we just listed some very long holes. All four par-3s are 200-plus yards and there are five par-4s over 450. That means long iron play is important. That also tells us something about the par-5s. Three of the four are under 575 yards, one a mere 511, all are gettable and the golfers probably must make a big dent in them if they hope to win. Water is in play on half the holes. The greens are on the large side at an average of 7,500 square feet and fast at 12 on the Stimpmeter, and most of the golfers will continue to do their happy dance on their beloved Bermudagrass surface.
For the second time in three weeks, more than half the field will make the cut. That gives you a much greater chance to get all six of your guys through all four rounds – and you have to get six to have any chance – and lends support to a stars/scrubs approach this week.
Weather-wise, conditions are a far cry from last year. There will be some rain early in the week, and likely again on Saturday. High temperatures are forecast to be in the 70s all four days and the wind could kick up and increasingly be a factor as the week progresses.
API Interesting Factoids: For the two previous years, Bay Hill marked the the beginning of the Open Qualifying Series in the United States. But not this year. That's because the three spots that were awarded last year were never used, as the Open Championship was not played. So Joel Dahmen, Danny Lee and Keith Mitchell, who are in the field again this year, will be heading to Royal St. George's this summer. They all finished in the top-10 and were otherwise not exempt into the 149th Open.
API Fun Factoids: NBC's Gary Koch was a two-time winner, in 1977 and 1984, and Paul Azinger won in 1988. Palmer himself won it in 1971, when it was called the Florida Citrus Invitational and played Rio Pinar Country Club. He hauled in all of $30,000 for his one-stroke win over Julius Boros.
Key Stats to Winning at Bay Hill
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation, especially from 200+ yards
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
• Par-5 Birdie-or-Better Percentage
Two years ago they grew the rough, putting more emphasis on finding the fairways. Francesco Molinari won at 12-under, far better than Hatton but still a low score for the winner, who was normally in the upper teens. With the weather better this year, scores could go lower. Hatton was not long and not overly accurate off the tee. He really shined with his irons, ranking second in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, ninth in greens in regulation and 10th in proximity. He ranked 15th in putting – not very high for a winner. But then again, last year was all about pars, not birdies. Molinari ranked third in driving accuracy, sixth in greens in regulation fifth in scrambling and fourth in SG: Putting. He played the four par-5s in only 4-under for the week, a stark difference from prior years. In fact, Leishman got all 11 of his strokes under par on the par-5s, playing the other 64 holes at even par. Day was 10-under and McIlroy and Every both 9-under on the par-5s, meaning they made a big dent on the other holes, as well. As for putting, eight straight winners until Hatton had finished top-8 in the field.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Rory McIlroy - $11,500 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 9-1)
McIlroy is one of the few big-name guys who come back to Bay Hill year after year, even though its spot on the schedule is becoming more problematic. Of course, the fact that he's always in the mix is an attractive lure. The 2018 winner has also finished fourth, fifth and sixth in the past four editions.
Viktor Hovland - $10,600 (12-1)
There doesn't seem to be much that can knock Hovland off the first page of the leaderboard these days. In his past seven starts, he's finished in the top-6 six times, beginning with his win at Mayakoba and most recently his co-runner-up at the Workday. Not even traveling from San Diego to Saudi Arabia then back to Los Angeles in a four-week span could derail him.
Matthew Fitzpatrick - $9,800 (25-1)
Those expecting to see the names of Patrick Reed ($10.200) and/or defending champion Tyrrell Hatton ($10,000) right here, we don't blame you. It was very difficult to take on a pass on them. But we turn to Fitzpatrick, who has expressed an affinity for Bay Hill, saying he likes to play difficult courses. He was ninth last year, runner-up the year before and 13th two years before that. On top of that, he's been on the leaderboard the past two weeks in loaded fields at Riviera and The Concession. We keep waiting for Fitzpatrick's first PGA Tour win. Is it coming soon?
Sungjae Im - $9,700 (20-1)
When Im finished third here last year for the second year in a row, he was the hottest guy going, coming off a win at the Honda. He certainly loves Florida. Including last week, Im has made seven starts in the Sunshine State and has four top-5s. Last week he only tied for 22nd, but that was coming off a rare and eternal-for-him two weeks off. Maybe he was rusty?
Tier 2 Values
Jordan Spieth - $9,300 (30-1)
Spieth has never played Bay Hill, but there's really not much of a learning curve here. It's long but flat and pretty straightforward. The good news for Spieth is that the fairways are pretty wide open. That should minimize his biggest weakness, which is accuracy off the tee. If it turns into a putting contest, which it can, Spieth fans should stay glued to their screens.
Paul Casey - $9,100 (30-1)
Casey has not played here often, just four times in the past 13 years and not since 2017. But he's here now, after taking off last week's WGC. Which is weird. Maybe it speaks to Tour's schedule changes of the past couple of years. Casey has only one top-10 at Bay Hill but when his game is on it's a course he can play well at. And his game has been on of late.
Francesco Molinari - $8,700 (25-1)
It wasn't too long ago that Molinari was down in the $6,000s. But he's riding three top-10s in his past four starts. And of course, he won here two years ago, his fourth Bay Hill top-10 in a six-year span.
Sam Burns - $8,400 (40-1)
We wrote two weeks ago that something just didn't add up with Burns, wondering how someone with such good stats didn't have more high finishes and was ranked only 149th OWGR. He promptly nearly won at Riviera and is now ranked 78th. He's made the cut three years running at Bay Hill, albeit without a high finish, but his game off the tee and on the green are just outstanding right now.
Tier 3 Values
Jason Kokrak - $8,100 (40-1)
For years, Kokrak has been among the fastest ways to get from tee to green. But finishing the hole was another story. Somehow, someway, a switch flipped beginning about six months ago. After years of being outside the top-100 in Strokes Gained: Putting, Kokrak now stands ninth. He won the CJ Cup in the fall for his first PGA Tour title, briefly cracked the top-25 in the world rankings and is now 31st. In the past seven years at Bay Hill, he has three top-10s and two other top-20s – all long before that switch flipped.
Charley Hoffman - $7,600 (100-1)
They say mullets are coming back in fashion. Not that the 44-year-old Hoffman still has one, but he has been staging a bit of a comeback himself. He was seventh at Pebble Beach last month and 14th at the Sony back in January, as he's climbed from around 175th OWGR to 143rd right now. Hoffman was also top-15 at Bay Hill three of the past four years, including 13th last year and runner-up in 2017.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout - $7,500 (80-1)
The young South African is proving to be among the more formidable internationals when playing a PGA Tour event. He tied for 32nd last week at the Workday, and he made the cut in both the Masters and U.S. Open late last year. "Bez" made his Bay Hill debut a year ago in those adverse conditions and he tied for 18th.
Ian Poulter - $7,300 (100-1)
This will be the first look at Poulter on the PGA Tour this year – unless you were watching him tie for 35th last week at Puerto Rico. Now ranked 61st, he didn't qualify for the first WGC of the year but is still positioned for the Match Play later this month. Poulter has made the Bay Hill cut 10 years running, though he's had only one top-25 in the past five years.
Chris Kirk - $7,000 (100-1)
Kirk could be the leading contender right now for Comeback Player of the Year. He's made seven of his past eight cuts, including a remarkable runner-up at the Sony to secure his card when his major medical extension was expiring. He's added two more top-20s since then. Kirk didn't play Bay Hill last year as he was dealing with his personal issues, but he was top-15 three of the previous four years.
Matthew NeSmith - $6,900 (125-1)
Regular readers now know our affinity for NeSmith. This is the fourth straight start in which we are tabbing him – he's finished seventh, T16 and T20 in the first three. And since he's still sub-$7,000, it's a no-brainer. NeSmith leads the Tour in greens in regulation heading into his second API. He missed the cut last year.
Zach Johnson - $6,900 (150-1)
Nobody does mediocre on the PGA tour like the 45-year-old Johnson. He's made 11 straight cuts and missed only three over the past year. And he's made 10 straight cuts at Bay Hill. The tradeoff is that he doesn't get many high finishes these days, though he did tie for eighth at the U.S. Open. So if you're looking to almost ensure yourself a sixth guy to make it through to the weekend, Johnson could be your man.
Sepp Straka - $6,400 (200-1)
Straka is a better-than-average golfer across the board – he's inside the top-100 in every strokes-gained category but highly ranked in none of them. But he is 67th in greens in regulation and 41st in birdie average. Straka has made 10 out of 13 cuts this season with four top-25s. He missed the cut in his maiden visit to Bay Hill last year.