It's time for Arnie's tournament! Welcome to one of the Tour's most iconic stops - Bay Hill Club in Orlando, FL.
This tournament has a lot of rich history. It holds invitational status and now "elevated event" status, much like the Genesis a couple weeks ago. That means yet again, a big ol purse of $20 million is up for grabs, including $3.6M to the winner.
Speaking of Tiger, this is also a tournament that he's historically dominated at. There are a handful of tracks that were on his annual schedule that he just obliterated fields at. Torrey Pines, Firestone CC, Augusta National, Muirfield Village, and Bay Hill are all courses that Tiger won 5+ times at, with Bay Hill leading the way with 8 wins. Some of his most iconic celebrations came here, including his first win in 2009 after the reconstructive knee surgery to repair the injury he played through at the 2008 US Open:
This tournament always bring the heat down the stretch, despite not having ended in a playoff this century. 11 of the past 17 tournaments has come down to a single stroke and last year was no different.
If the Waste Management was Scottie Scheffler's breakthrough win, the 2022 API was where he cemented himself as a top tier talent on Tour. He edged out 2020 champ Tyrell Hatton, the Hov, and Billy Ho despite parring the last 6 holes. That was indicative of the tournament as a whole, as wind and thick rough made the conditions at Bay Hill a battle all week. That's typical of this tournament, especially in recent years. Outside of the US Open, you almost never see a winning score as high as Scottie's 283, and the back 9 is a beast outside of the par 5 16th. Just as Gary Woodland. It was actually Woodland who was in position to steal this thing down the stretch, before a shocking double bogey-bogey finish dropped him back down to -3.
Anyways, it was Scottie's 2nd win on his 4 win heater culminating in a green jacket, and he's sure to be in the mix again this year, just like he was at Scottsdale in that title defense.
Last year's leaderboard and recent winners…
Bay Hill is a par 72 measuring 7,466 yards on the pro scorecard this week. It was designed by Dick Wilson in 1961, who designed a handful of other notorious Florida courses such as PGA National and TPC Blue Monster at Doral. Arnold Palmer purchased the club and lodge in 1974 and his family has owned it ever since, with this tournament starting in 1979.
It's well known for the role the water hazards play, which is surprising when you hear that water is only in play on 9 of its holes. Many of them force the players to make decisions based on both club choice and line, especially the 3rd and 6th. The rough is typically pretty gnarly and I've heard that's especially true this week.
In terms of what skillset plays best here, there is not a course on Tour with a larger emphasis on Strokes Gained: Off The Tee. I would attribute that more to driving accuracy than distance, mainly due to that aforementioned water. Long iron play is also a premium, with the shortest of the par 3's clocking in at 196 yards and the other three measuring over 215 yards. The greens are bermuda and are typically lightning fast, which tends to favor the more skilled putters on Tour. 18 is one of the great finishing holes with the water right and the pin usually tucked on the right on Sunday.
Best Hole - 6th Hole, Par 5 555 yards (… or is it?)
This is a whale of a hole where something interesting almost always happens. The lake that separates the 3rd and 6th holes is nearly a perfect circle. If the circle were to be a clock, the back tee box is at about 7 o'clock and the green is at 12, roughly a mere 350 yards away on a straight line. This creates a fascinating dilemma in terms of what line the players take off the tee. Obviously the further left your line, the more water and risk you take on. But if you take too conservative a line, you can easily hit through the fairway and leave yourself another risky dilemma based on your angle at the green for your 2nd shot. I can't really think of another hole on tour that is designed so simply while also being completely unique in the way it challenges the players.
Of course, this hole was the center of attention in 2021 as Bryson took on a completely different line as the rest of the field
This was rumored to be happening all week leading up to the event, so I had to fly my ass down to Orlando and catch it for myself first hand:
Of course, Bryson was injured last year and did not participate and joined LIV shortly after, so he will not be playing here again anytime soon. Maybe somebody will have the balls to try it again, maybe they won't. But he wasn't the first to give it a go, albeit unsuccessfully… if you had one guess as to who that was, who would it be?
Who knows if anyone else has the balls to try it again. In 2021 I saw Rory (twice) and Jason Kokrak (now also LIV) each try to cut off more yardage on the weekend and end up overcooking draws into the drink. It's a shame we won't get to see Bryson go at it again but maybe somebody else has the stones.
Also, Emilliano Grillo gave us one of the greatest club tosses the world has ever seen on this hole back in 2017.
Looks like we're gonna get another breezy one at Bay Hill. Gotta love that. Especially on Friday. When they throw the little windsock on the graphic, that's when you know. And guess which hole is downwind when it's blowing SSW? That's right. #6. Could be prime conditions for somebody miles off the cut line to say fuggit and hit up on one into the jetstream and try to fly the blue monster.
The API is always an NBC and Golf Channel show. Fitting given Arnie heckin founded the Golf Channel. I don't know that people know and appreciate that like they should. Dude was a visionary. Check out this sweet promo they did back in '95 when he launched it
This is some good looking hardware. That's not just some little golfer on top. That's the King with his classic high helicopter follow through. I've always said I love trophies that capture the fabric of a given tournament and this does that in a big way. And speaking of fabric, starting in 2017 after Arnold's passing you also get one of his iconic red cardigan sweaters. I love everything about it. This is another high grade, I'm giving this ensemble an 8.6/10.
Jon Rahm is your favorite at +550 at the Barstool Sportsbook, as he will be any time he tees it up in the foreseeable future. I would think the gap between him might be a little bit smaller given that Rory has won here and has a history of good finishes at Bay Hill, relative to Rahm's 18th place finish in his only start here last year. But such is Rahm's dominance right now. He's that good.
Historically this tournament has been friendly to international golfers, despite Americans having won the last two API's. The layout itself is far from links-style, but the windy conditions that often make their presence known lends itself to that style of play. Tyrell Hatton's success here is a testament to that, as well as Lee Westwood's run at chasing down Bryson a couple years ago.
Matt Fitzpatrick is another guy who has had a lot of success here without a win, and he's my pick this week at +3300. His last 4 starts at Bay Hill have gone T-9, T-10, T-9, and solo 2nd. He's got more length to his game than he's had in years past and that's a big plus here. Don't let a couple missed cuts in recent events sway you here. Bay Hill is a horses for courses type of track and Matty Fitz is definitely a horse here.
Matt Fitz Top 10 +335 - I don't think I'm legally allowed to say free money, so I won't.
Viktor Hovland To Win +3000/Top 10 +335 - Another great price for a guy who almost won the damn thing last year.
Will Zalatoris Top American +1100 - I'm too wary of Rory and the guys above to take Zalatoris outright at +1800, which is a price that has been shortening by the hour. There's action flowing in on Will Z and this is my way of getting a piece.
Sam Burns 1st Round Leader +5000 - Remember when this dude went on a heater and was cashing 1RL tickets every other week? Feel like we're due for a resurgence from Burnsy.
Tommy Fleetwood To Win +8000/Top 10 +600 - Taking the links-style angle again here. Has 3 Top 10's in 6 starts here.
Billy Horschel To Win +9000/Top 20 +275 - Too far down the board for a guy who almost won here last year and has played this tournament 10 times.
Rory over Rahm +100 (Tournament H2H) - Course fit. Rahm is the play most other courses, but not here.
End In A Playoff +400 - 12 times this century the API has ended in a 1-stroke margin, but never in a playoff. Nothing has ever been more due.
One more thing… this tournament typically has a ton of leaderboard turnover from day to day. 36 and 54 hole leaders rarely convert outside of Tiger Woods… keep an eye out for some live betting opportunities along the way….
Lastly, I leave you with this. What a moment.
Enjoy the Arnold Palmer.