Let’s get elevated.
The PGA TOUR rolls into Bay Hill Club & Lodge for the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard for another week of high-quality golf amongst a stacked field with 44 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings on deck.
World number one Jon Rahm will aim for a fourth TOUR win in his last six starts but with number two Scottie Scheffler and number three Rory McIlroy both former champions at Bay Hill, he won’t be short of a fight.
The golf home of the late great Arnold Palmer has seen some amazing champions join Scheffler (2022) and McIlroy (2018) on the honor roll, most notably Tiger Woods and his eight titles. While Americans have triumphed the last two seasons, the preceding five went to two Australians (Jason Day, Marc Leishman), an Englishman (Tyrrell Hatton), an Italian (Francesco Molinari) and the Northern Irish McIlroy.
To get the lion’s share of the $20million purse players will need to be on point in Strokes Gained: Approach. It’s a ball-striker's course, something Woods’ eight titles can attest to, and in recent years the greens have been some of the toughest on TOUR to hit in regulation.
We will dive in deeper to approach shots from 200-225 yards which have been significantly above the TOUR average each year at Bay Hill and we will look at which players miss the least on the left side from the tee.
“For the most part, you want to miss right off the tee because that's always going to give you the better chance going into the greens. A lot of the hazards are on left,” Rahm said Tuesday from Bay Hill.
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A year ago, extremely tough conditions saw the winning score at 5 under and in 2020 it was 4 under. The forecast calls for high winds on Friday and with hard and fast greens expected to be on the menu once more, another year of single digits under par for the winner wouldn’t be a total surprise even if the rough appears a little less forgiving than recent times.
Even if these elite players get it to double digits under, as has been the case nine of the last eleven years, bogey avoidance will be crucial. The scoring opportunities sit squarely on the long holes with the four par 5s routinely the easiest on the course. If you don’t excel in Par 5 Scoring this week, you might be in trouble. Scheffler was 11 under on the par 5s a year ago and won the tournament at 5 under. DeChambeau was 10 under on par 5s the year prior and Hatton was six under on par 5s when he won the tournament on four under.
Here is a look at the players in this field currently ranking inside the top 15 on TOUR in these key stats.
STROKES GAINED: Approach
2 – Tom Hoge
3 – Xander Schauffele
5 – Jon Rahm
6 – Tony Finau
7 – Rickie Fowler
8 – Rory McIlroy
9 – Collin Morikawa
11 – Nick Hardy
12 – Gary Woodland
14 – Scottie Scheffler
15 – Max Homa
Approach from 200-225 (RTP)
1 – Rory McIlroy
2 – Viktor Hovland
3 – Cameron Young
6 – Patton Kizzire
8 – Adam Scott
10 – Matt Fitzpatrick
11 – Jason Day
12 – Sungjae Im
14 – Scott Stallings
15 – Jon Rahm
3 – Tyrrell Hatton
9 – Justin Suh
10 – Charlie Hoffman
12 – Alex Noren
14 – Kurt Kitayama
Par 5 Scoring
1 – Jon Rahm
2 – Patrick Cantlay
3 – Justin Thomas
4 – Will Zalatoris
5 – Rory McIlroy
5 – Adam Scott
7 – Tony Finau
7 – Sungjae Im
9 – Collin Morikawa
9 – Garrick Higgo
11 – Viktor Hovland
12 – Tyrrell Hatton
12 – Xander Schauffele
15 – Matt Fitzpatrick
15 – Shane Lowry
15 – Cam Davis
1 – Scottie Scheffler
2 – Patrick Cantlay
3 – Brian Harman
4 – Andrew Putnam
5 – Jon Rahm
6 – Tom Kim
6 – Jason Day
8 – Will Zalatoris
10 – Tony Finau
11 – J.J. Spaun
12 – Max Homa
12 – Aaron Baddeley
Rahm takes top billing on the betting boards this week at 6/1 with McIlroy at 9/1, Scheffler at 10/1 before Will Zalatoris and Collin Morikawa both clock in at 18/1.
Rahm has three TOUR wins from his last five starts, plus two DP World Tour wins late last year. He has one previous appearance at Bay Hill, a T17 from last year.
“Last year was extremely difficult conditions. I learned why Tiger has had such success here. It's a ball-striker's golf course. We need to be very accurate with the irons, and obviously, like everywhere else, you have to be good on the greens,” Rahm said.
McIlroy is the 2018 champion at Bay Hill and has made the cut all eight times he’s played, Seven of his appearances are inside the top 13 and his worst showing is a T27. McIlroy won his opening TOUR event this season (last October) but was average on his way to a T32 at the WM Phoenix Open and T29 at the Genesis Invitational in recent starts.
Scheffler was a recent winner in Phoenix. His last six TOUR starts have all been inside the top 12 (and he was runner up at the Hero World Challenge as well). He is the defending champion at Bay Hill. He was T15 in his only other Bay Hill appearance.
Zalatoris was T10 in 2021 and T38 in 2022 at Bay Hill but as a former Wake Forest product has an affinity with the course. He comes into the week off a sneaky fourth place finish in Los Angeles that had a closing 64.
Morikawa’s four TOUR starts in 2023 have resulted in a runner up, a third, a missed cut, and most recently a T6 in Los Angeles. He was T9 at Bay Hill in his last appearance there.
The lean this week is to Rahm at the top of the top. Until he shows otherwise, he is clearly the form player in the world. Scheffler can’t be discounted but he is potentially facing the tougher side of the draw if Friday’s winds of over 20mph eventuate in the afternoon wave.
While Jason Day (25/1) and Tyrrell Hatton (35/1) fall between the top of the board and the mid-tier and deserve a little attention, others to keep an eye on include Tommy Fleetwood (60/1), Keegan Bradley (70/1) and Adam Scott (80/1).
Fleetwood is five from six making cuts at Bay Hill, three of which were top 10s.
Bradley has suited up at Bay Hill 11 times before and has made the cut the last 10 straight. He has four top 11 returns.
Scott has made the cut at Bay Hill nine of 12 tries with two third place finishes.
Brian Harman (100/1) and Sam Ryder (140/1) could surprise while Aaron Baddeley (750/1) is this week’s lottery option.
Harman is only four from nine at Bay Hill and hasn’t played since 2020 but his bogey avoidance could come in super handy.
Ryder is two from three at Bay Hill in the past but he is one of just three players (Rahm and Max Homa) who rank inside the top 21 of BOTH Strokes Gained: Approach and Strokes Gained: Putting this season. Six of the last eight winners at Bay Hill combined the two elements to be victorious.
Baddeley is nine from 12 career at Bay Hill with two top 10s and his bogey avoidance on point this year. He has six top 10s this season and the last time he played the event he was tied third with a round to play in 2019, only to fade to T17.