Out of the Rough: The Arnold Palmer Invitational
The Honda Classic was a mixture of successes and failures. Most of our top suggestions didn’t come to play. Sungjae Im was my top suggestion last week and he missed the cut at plus four. Daniel Berger saved me in a few of my lineups although he was unable to hang on to that once five-stroke lead. Besides Berger, we had mild success with the likes of Billy Horschel (T16th) and Mackenzie Hughes (T48th) who were our next best finishes. The Honda Classic is a tough tournament and with a depleted field, it was hard to find a good lineup. We’ll see a better field for this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Honda Classic Results
Sungjae Im (+4) - MC
Matt Jones (+7) - MC
Christian Bezuidenhout (+1) - T25th
Charles Howell III (+6) - MC
Jim Knous (+7) - MC
Daniel Berger (-7) - 4th
Billy Horschel (E) - T16th
Mackenzie Hughes (+4) - T48th
Hudson Swafford (+7) - MC
Vaughn Taylor (+5) - T55
The Arnold Palmer Invitational takes place the week prior to The Players, which will see several of the world’s best golfers taking the week off in preparation for the biggest non-major of the year.
There will still be plenty of star power on display at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida. We’ll get to see World #1 Jon Rahm in action along with previous winners such as Rory McIlroy, Marc Lesihman, Jason Day and Matt Every.
Bay Hill is a par 72 course that has been the host of the Arnold Palmer since its inception. The course has seen multiple renovations since the tournament’s founding, most recently in 2014 with widened fairways and new Bermuda greens.
The course annually plays as one of the hardest on tour, even ranking the toughest overall in 2021. The rough is a big contributor to that, as it plays more to major tournament classifications.
Bay Hill has four par fives that do not play longer than 570 yards. This is where golfers will have to take advantage and record birdies across the tournament if they hope to compete.
Although the Par fives offer some mercy, the par threes on the course play longer than 215 yards and the final hole requires an accurate drive with a tight fairway before a tough approach shot onto a semi-island green.
There are over 70 bunkers on the course and half the holes feature water.
Look for major winning golfers to compete this week as four of the last six winners at Bay Hill have a major championship under their belt. This is how difficult this course plays.
As for the weather, we should see warm weather into the 80’s for the tournament. Expect higher winds on Friday that can really damper any round.
Statistics to consider this week include strokes gained: tee to green, strokes gained: approach and strokes gained: off the tee.
Additional trends include the fact that six of the last seven winners placed in the top five of the event the year prior, the past 11 winners played in the Arnold Palmer Invitational the season prior and made the cut and five of the last six winners were international golfers.
If you know me at all, you know I’m a statistics guy. Sometimes it works in my favor, oftentimes it doesn’t. I’ll continue to use the statistics in my analysis and predictions for this series. With that being said, the World #1 Jon Rahm ($11,400) checks every box for me. This season, Rahm is first on tour in strokes gained: off the tee, second in strokes gained: tee to green and fifth in strokes gained: approach. Rahm is the favorite this week and it’s obvious why. Also consider Rory McIlroy ($11,100) who too checks all of the boxes. When it comes to the trend of past Arnold Palmer Invitationals, Rory McIlroy finished tenth a year ago at the event and is a previous winner. On top of that, he is an international golfer. We’ve only seen him once this year at the Genesis where he finished T10th. He doesn’t have the qualifying rounds to be listed in the PGA official statistics. There’s a reason why Rahm and McIlroy are the two highest priced golfers on DraftKings.
If you followed the podcast at all last season, you know I’m a big time Will Zalatoris ($9,400) fan. He’s one of the best ball strikers on the entire tour. He’s currently first on tour in strokes gained: tee to green, first in strokes gained: approach and 25th in strokes gained: off the tee. He’s a great price at $9,400 as well. In his last four outings, Zalatoris has been nothing but great. He’s finished T7th, T6th, 2nd and T26th over his last four tournaments. When it comes to ball striking and placement, keeping the ball out of the tall rough, there may not be anyone on tour better than Zalatoris. Also consider Marc Leishman ($9,100.) Leishman is also a former winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He doesn’t fit the trend of finishing in the top five of the year prior’s event. Heck, he didn’t even make the cut the year prior. He is an international golfer however, so you can check that box off. Leishman obviously plays this course well, as apparent with a winning tournament in 2017, a T7th in 2018, a T23rd in 2019 and a second place finish in 2020. Lesihman is currently 30th on tour in strokes gained: tee to green, 32nd in strokes gained: approach and 8th in strokes gained: off the tee.
Keith Mitchell ($8,100) is third on tour in strokes gained: off the tee, 15th in strokes gained: tee to green and is in the top 100 in strokes gained: approach. Mitchell also made the cut in 2021, finished T5th in 2020 and finished T6th in 2019 at the event. It’s obvious that he knows his way around this course. He is also one of the hottest golfers on tour right now. He finished T9th at the Honda Classic, T10th at the WM Phoenix Cup, T12th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as well as a T7th at the Sony Open and T12th at the RSM Classic, all within the last six tournaments. Also consider Russell Henley ($8,500) here. Henley has not missed a cut dating back to October 10th of last year. Henley hasn’t played the Arnold Palmer Invitational since 2017. However, his game does suit this course well. Henley is 10th on tour in strokes gained: off the tee, seventh in strokes gained: approach and 90th in strokes gained: off the tee. His best round of the year came back at the Sony Open with a second place finish and the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open with a T7th place finish.
There’s a golfer in this field that is top 18 in each of the three statistical categories I previously mentioned and top seven in two of them. Luke List ($7,500) is that guy. He’s third on tour in strokes gained: tee to green, seventh in strokes gained: off the tee and 18th in strokes gained: approach. On top of that, he made the cut a year ago at the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational. He finished tenth in 2019, T7th in 2018 and T17th in 2017. Like Mitchell, he knows his way around Bay Hill. He also did win the Farmers Insurance Open a few weeks ago. Also consider Christiaan Bezuidenhout ($7,700.) The South African doesn't top any list of the three statistics that I’ve been paying a lot of attention to, but he is top 70 in all of them. Like the previous mentions, Bezuidenhout has had recent success at Bay Hill. He finished seventh a year ago and T18th in 2019. He fits a few of the trends that have given us proven winners over the past decade.
Danny Willett ($6,400) is my pick here. This is where the money is made. Like last week, Vaughn Taylor in this price range made the cut and got me some valuable points. I’m hoping for Willett to do the same. He’s had some mild success at this course over the last two years, making the cut in back-to-back Arnold Palmer Invitationals. He had a T18th in 2019 and a T31st last year. His game does fit this course well. He’s 36th on tour in strokes gained: tee to green and strokes gained: off the tee. He’s also top 100 in strokes gained: approach. Willett did make the cut last week at the tough Honda Classic. Andrew Putnam ($6,900) is another name to keep an eye on in this price range. He’s 29th on the tour in strokes gained: approach and 73rd in strokes gained: tee to green. What excites me the most is his fourth place finish at the event last year.
Strokes Gained: Proximity to Course
Strokes gained: proximity to course (SG: PTC) is the patented statistic developed by Lenny of the Out of the Rough Podcast. Each week, we will pick a golfer local to the course to be his SG: PTC choice. Last week was Chase Seiffert, who finished T25th at +1. That’s not a bad return at all.
This week, Lenny is going with John Pak. Pak moved to Orlando while in high school to train for the PGA tour.