Continuing its march through the Florida swing, the Tour finds itself at the friendly confines of “Arnie’s Place”, Bay Hill Golf Club. This year’s tournament will be the first since the passing of the man whose name the event bares. It will certainly be a sad sight on Sunday when Arnie isn’t greenside on 18 to shake the new champions hand.
Outside of the majors and the WGC’s, the Arnold Palmer Invitational often features one of the strongest fields of the season; this year 28 of the top 50 in the world will be competing. Among the elites in the field is defending champion and world number two, Jason Day. Carrying Day to victory last year was his exceptional performance on the par-5s where he finished -10 on the week. Day is one of 120 golfers who will compete this week, with the top 70 and ties playing the weekend.
Unlike Copperhead last week, Bay Hill plays much more like the prototypical Florida golf course. Players will face heavy bunkering while also trying to avoid the seven large water hazards that are present here. The greens are made up of TifEagle Bermuda which was put in place before last year’s tournament. With the grass being close to full maturation, the greens will be running between 12-12.6 on the stimp meter, making them slightly faster than Tour average.
Of the 50 courses the Tour took on last year, Bay Hill ranked 28th in terms of scoring average (-.515). The course gave up the 11th most eagles of any course, most of which came on the par-5 16th. With a scoring average of .615 strokes under par, it ranks as the 11th easiest hole on the entire Tour. Heading to 18 with the lead is anything but a guaranteed victory as it is the most difficult hole on the course, last year averaging .237 strokes over par.
Since Arnie’s redesign in 2009, golfers have had to put a little more thought into club selection off the tee. When asked what the key shot on the course was Jason Kokrak said, “I think it’s a second-shot golf course. If you don’t give yourself the opportunity to hit a mid-to-low iron into the green out there it’s a tough golf course”.
- Strokes Gained: Tee to Green
- Strokes Gained: Approach
- Birdie-or-Better %
Strokes Gained: Tee to Green
A relevant stat every week that gets magnified on courses where ball position is of major importance. With the new TifEagle Bermuda fully grown in, the greens should become more firm, making it difficult for players to attack the pin like last year. Of the top 11 here last year, six finished inside the top 20 in SG:T2G at the end of the season.
Strokes Gained: Approach
Last year’s top 20 featured 12 golfers that finished inside the top 50 in SG:APP at year’s end. If looking to target a specific proximity range, 37% of all approaches over the last 11 years have come from over 200 yards. Combine that fact with all four par-3s playing at over 200 yards and long iron players become a major target.
Birdie or Better %
The average winning score here over the last five years has been -15. Players will need to exploit their scoring opportunities especially if the course returns to its 2014 form when it played at .473 strokes over par; 2013 was .928 over par.
Over the last 11 years, the winners of this event have gotten up and down 66.4% of the time versus the field average of just 55.3%. With many of the approaches coming from distance, the field average for Greens-in-Regulation is just 63.4%. Being able to get up and down to avoid bogey will be paramount for success.