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The First Tee at The Arnold Palmer Invitational
If 2016 is the year of redemption, we'll have an action packed year like one we haven't seen since Tiger first stepped foot on the PGA Tour. After Adam Scott put together back to back wins, Charl Schwartzel was the most recent former major champion to step up and throw a wrench in the hierarchy of the World Golf Rankings. Schwartzel played impressive golf, gradually getting better with each round, shooting 71-70-69-67 to hold off Bill Haas and Ryan Moore en route to winning the Valspar Championship. This tournament in particular was one that I liked Schwartzel's chances, as his steady brand of golf fit the course very well. In recent years I have grown accustomed to siding with repeat-champions, however the Tour has evolved in the post-Tiger domination, with many players capable of winning each week. It is for this reason that DFS golf has proven to be increasingly competitive, and with the tournaments getting bigger each week, you have to be creative in your approach and ahead of the curves instead of just looking at the trends of recent seasons. In addition to Scott and Schwartzel, players like Stenson, Oosthuizen and Rose are a couple more names I'll be looking at in the coming weeks to land their names atop leaderboards.
We are just three weeks away from the first major of the season, and each week that passes by we start to see some of the biggest names in golf sharpen their sticks. The Arnold Palmer Invitational always boasts a star studded field, and this year is no exception. Players line up at the front gate to get the chance of standing on the 18th green with “Mr.Palmer", a thrill akin to winning a major championship. It is for this reason that a rather mediocre player—by Tour standards— in Matt Every has won the title two consecutive years. For a player of Every's caliber, it is nearly unheard of to repeat at an event that garners such high profile players, but you cannot argue with his results. He didn't get lucky, he went out and snatched victory from Henrik Stenson's hands last year by making birdie on the 72nd hole, not an easy feat when the pressure is on. Every will be a popular play this week, but if the odds were stacked against him for a repeat, you can imagine what they are for a three-peat.
The field is led heavy hitters such as Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Justin Rose and Hideki Matsuyama. With the exception of Jordan Spieth and Ricky Fowler, you have five of the top seven players in the world in the field this week, with each holding this tournament in high regard. Not to be slighted, other standouts include Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore and Paul Casey.
Bay Hill is about as different a course as you'll see in such close proximity to last week's venue, Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead course. While both courses boast Bermuda fairways and greens, the layout of the two courses couldn't be more unique. Innisbrook is target golf, with long hitters having very little if any advantage due to the premium placed on finding fairways and setting up the proper angles with approach shots.
Bay Hill is much more of a bruiser's course, tipping out at 7,419 yards and playing to a par 72. According to PGATour.com stats, last year's edition saw the highest percentage of fairways hit (70.2%) and greens in regulation (68.14%). Additionally, players were converting birdies on 29.3% of their GIR, and scrambling stats were equally impressive with players getting up and down on just under 60% of their attempts.
Bay Hill was designed by Dick Wilson in 1961, and is widely revered as his best work. Bay Hill stays true to his architectural style, with the green surfaces raised above many of the fairways. This was at a time when drainage was part of the fundamental challenges facing course architects. After being acquired by Arnold Palmer in 1974, drainage hardly become a worry, with constant updates and state of the art turf being added as turf technology evolved. The look of the course is pure lush, and the greens continuously receive rave reviews after each edition. If there is one specific skillset that gives players an advantage at Bay Hill, it would be precision with mid and short irons. You cannot separate yourself from the field by merely hitting fairways and greens, you have to assault the course with birdie attempt after birdie attempt.
It might en-vogue to favor a guy like Adam Scott after his most recent success, but his skillset fits the course to a tee, and it should come as no surprise that he shares the course record with a 62 in 2014. The same can be said for players like Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson and Jason Day.
- 1.)Adam Scott: I normally do not apply so much recency bias, but it is hard to argue with Scott's results, and even more importantly his confidence. Bay Hill sets up perfectly for him, and despite the quality and depth of the field, Scott has the good to win his third consecutive tournament. Scott leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained: tee to green and par five scoring, again, two metrics that will contribute heavily towards success at Bay Hill.
- 2.)Henrik Stenson: There is some debate in the DFS world as to whether Stenson deserves the high salary that accompanies him on DraftKings ($11,100), which is the third highest behind Scott and McIlroy. I believe he does, as he's shown the ability to win high profile events when surrounded by the best players in the world, and there aren't a whole lot of players that can say that. Stenson is a local who makes his home at Bay Hill, a fact that cannot be understated. His familiarity with the course shines through when looking at his past results, T15, 5th, 8th and 2nd in his last four trips to Bay Hill. His ownership percentages should also be kept in check given the talent and recent results of the players in his price range.
- 3.)Rory McIlroy: There isn't a whole lot that needs to be said for the top three players in my rankings. These are the weeks where I find it helps not to overthink the top part of your rosters. You want players who you know can win outright, and Rory certainly fits that bill. He missed a chance at the WGC Cadillac, however Adam Scott won that tournament more than Rory lost it. He led the field in par 4 scoring at the WGC, and that is without a doubt the most important metric to look for this week. He will cost you a pretty penny, but there is more than enough value in the 7K range to balance out your rosters.
- 4.)Brandt Snedeker: He comes into the week having rested fully after injuring his ribs several weeks ago. On a course where the field will be hitting 70% of the greens, I want to look for an x-factor that can separate a player from the field. For Snedeker, that is his putting. If he can find a groove, I like him as one of the best PP$ play this week and has the game to win the API. Top 15's in his last two tries.
- 5.)Zach Johnson: There are a number of players who could fill in the rankings after the big three, most notably Jason Day. With that said, ZJ is offering salary relief this week which should serve as an important factor given the salaries of the top players. He's finished in the top 10 five times at the API, culminating in a T9 last year.