Arnold Palmer Invitational Preview

The stars are lining up again this week at Bay Hill Club and Lodge for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

It feels front-loaded, the current rate of designated events but that's just the state of the schedule now that we are in the heart of the season.

You'll have trouble finding many back-to-back weeks moving forward that don't feature at least one elevated event.

This week's limited field of 120 golfers will be trimmed to the low 65 and ties after 36 holes.

The Course

Bay Hill Club and Lodge returns to host another edition of the API. They've been hosting since the 1979 edition of this event.

This Dick Wilson design was laid out in the early 1960s and reworked by Arnold Palmer in 2009.

Glancing at the scoresheet, we see a par 72 that stretches to 7,466 yards.

That yardage sounds reasonable for today's standards with it being a par 72 but it does play longer due to the setup of the course. There are many holes that suggest less-than-driver off the tee which puts an emphasis on mid-iron and long-iron approach performance. Adam Scott took that less-than-driver mentality to an extreme last year when he took the driver out of his bag when playing the API.

Sticking with the theme of course setup, last year featured thick rough around the greens which was a major change from the norm at Bay Hill which traditionally has featured more runoff areas, giving players more options to showcase their short game. The switch to thick rough put a bit more emphasis on the putting aspect of the short-game equation since there is more guesswork and hoping to get lucky when you deal with thick rough around the greens.

The green complexes are relatively large with an average square footage of 7,500 but don't mistake that for easy. The TifEagle Bermuda runs extremely fast, "championship speeds" you might say.

As you might expect from a Florida course, big numbers are common here. The rate of double bogeys at Bay Hill is lower than PGA National or TPC Sawgrass but does stack up similarly with other water-heavy venues such as TPC Southwind and TPC Twin Cities.

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Rory McIlroy in 2022: "You take care of the par-5s here. You play conservatively the rest of the way, especially how the golf course here has been set up the past few years. You play for your pars, and then you try to pick off birdies on the par-5s and some of the easier holes. If you just keep doing that day after day, you're going to find yourself around the top of the leaderboard."

Jason Kokrak in 2021: "I think you can play this place a ton of different ways. You don't have to hit a lot of drivers here (you can if you would like to) but you hit a lot of long irons off the tees. Some of the other guys are hitting maybe a hybrid or a 5-wood off the tee where I'm hitting maybe a 4-iron so I think that makes the fairways a little bit bigger for me, easier to hit. And I'm a high-ball hitter, so I think being able to hit it higher into the greens and stop it in some spots that some other guys can't."

Rafa Cabrera Bello in 2019: "There's a lot of challenging shots, pretty much on every hole it's inviting you to take a risk and it really gets you focused on what you want to do. Of course it's testing you because of all those daunting shots. You commit, I mean, it forces you to commit and I really enjoy that challenge."

Risk-reward course with a focus on attacking the par 5s. As Kokrak pointed out, you don't have to hit a lot of drivers but length is still very valuable.

Correlated Courses

Using historical data we can look at overperformance and underperformance at this week's host course and compare that to all of the courses played out on TOUR. Here are the ones that shared a lot of overlap:

Torrey Pines
TPC Scottsdale
TPC Sawgrass
Detroit GC

Attacking with the driver, dodging trouble with risk-reward shots, and fast greens.

The Weather

Thursday: Sunny with a high of 87 degrees. Winds at 11 MPH gusts up to 25 MPH.

Friday: Sunny with a high of 88degrees. Winds at 22 MPH, gusts up to 40 MPH.

After a calmer-than-usual week at PGA National, Mother Nature returns to have some fun with this week's strong field. Heavy winds are probable for much of the week.

Golfers to Watch

Rory McIlroy

McIlroy has fallen flat in recent weeks, but only by his lofty standards. We were promised a Rory versus Rahm duel in 2023 but we've got a T32 and T29 out of Rory. He could certainly flip the script this week as Bay Hill has been one of "his courses" over the years, finishing T13 or better in seven of eight starts including a win. "It's been a course that's fit my eye from the first time I played here, and just one of those courses that I enjoy coming back to and feel like I can contend at."

Jon Rahm

He's back in the World No. 1 spot and rightfully so but he has just two career top 10s in Florida, a T6 at the Valspar and a T9 at THE PLAYERS. A big part of that is him playing a light schedule in the Sunshine State but it also says something about his comfort, or lack of comfort, on the traditional Florida tracks. Of course, he gained 10.1 strokes tee-to-green last year at Bay Hill, so I'd say he's plenty comfortable here if he can figure out the putting part of the equation.

Max Homa

He continues to establish himself as one of the 10 best golfers on the planet but he's on the same West Coast plan as Rahm. For Homa, he also has just two career top 10s in Florida, a T6 at the Valspar and T10 at this event (2021). That could be a scheduling issue or might be a comfort issue. Either way, it's something gamers should at least consider before locking in Homa based on recent form.

Sungjae Im

On the flip side, Im has done a lot of heavy lifting in Florida, and on bermudagrass in general. The young Korean is 4-for-4 with a pair of podium finishes at Bay Hill, which puts him in line to be a strong rebound candidate after disappointing last week at PGA National.

Jason Day

The Aussie is kind of hard to ignore right now. He arrives with finishes of T21 or better in eight of his last nine starts. He also happens to be a past champ at Bay Hill (2016). Past performance is no guarantee of future success but there are a lot of past performance markers pointing in Day's direction this week at Bay Hill.

Ranking the Field

1. Rory McIlroy
2. Jon Rahm
3. Scottie Scheffler
4. Tony Finau
5. Xander Schauffele
6. Max Homa
7. Patrick Cantlay
8. Will Zalatoris
9. Collin Morikawa
10. Viktor Hovland
11. Sungjae Im
12. Justin Thomas
13. Jason Day
14. Gary Woodland
15. Tyrrell Hatton
16. Cameron Young
17. Tom Kim
18. Matt Fitzpatrick
19. Sam Burns
20. Jordan Spieth