Arnold Palmer Invitational storylines: Another longshot winner?

Arnold Palmer Invitational storylines: Another longshot winner?

This week's PGA Tour event is the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a signature event at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida. Here are some of the leading storylines, courtesy the Golf Channel research department (click here for more details):

The Year of the Longshot Winner on PGA Tour (So Far)

This PGA Tour season, six of the nine champions won at 100-1 pre-tournament odds or higher. The lowest pre-tournament odds of any winner is Jake Knapp at the Mexico Open at Vidanta (40-1).

A comparison of the first nine PGA Tour events of calendar year 2023 vs. calendar year 2024:

  • One winner at 100-1 or higher odds in 2023 vs. six winners at 100-1 or higher odds in 2024

  • Six winners ranked inside top 50 in world in 2023 vs. one winner ranked inside top 50 in world in 2024 (Wyndham Clark, No. 10 in world when he won at Pebble)

The last time there was a similar start to the calendar year on the PGA Tour (just one top-50 winner through nine events) was in 2011, when just one winner through the first eight events was ranked top 50 in the world. Note: That run was broken at the WGC-Match Play, where world No. 9 Luke Donald prevailed (he became world No. 1 three months later).

Star-Studded Field, Headlined By Scheffler and McIlroy

World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler (2022 API champion) and world No. 2 Rory McIlroy (2018 champ) lead a loaded field at this fourth of eight signature events. The only eligible player not in the field is Tony Finau.

McIlroy, though, could be the one to beat considering his record here. Since his 2015 debut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, McIlroy leads all players in: top-10s (6), score to par (-62), SG tee to green (+68.2), SG off the tee (+24.2), and SG approach (+34.6).

Kurt Kitayama Back to Defend After Gutsy Win in 2023

While Kurt Kitayama was among the top 50 in the world entering Bay Hill last year, he would prove a longshot winner at 220-1 odds. Among the players he beat on a tight leaderboard: McIlroy, Scheffler, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, and Viktor Hovland.

Kitayama also won despite hitting two balls out of bounds for the week (tee shot on the fourth hole in Round 3, leading to double bogey; tee shot on the ninth hole in the final round, leading to triple bogey). While rare, winning with two OB balls/stroke-and-distance penalties has happened before. A few notable examples:

  • Bobby Jones won the 1923 U.S. Open despite two OB balls, and John McDermott won the 1912 U.S. Open despite two OB balls (in 1912, though, OB was just a distance penalty rather than stroke and distance)

  • Dustin Johnson won the 2017 WGC-Mexico Championship despite two stroke-and-distance penalties (one ball was OB, other one got stuck in a tree and was deemed lost)

Bay Hill Arguably PGA Tour’s Toughest Test

In three of the last four years, the Arnold Palmer Invitational has produced a single-digit-under-par winner. Among courses with at least 500 rounds played, Bay Hill has been the most difficult course on the PGA Tour over the last four years.