ARNOLD PALMER INVITATIONAL
Winner's Share: $1.556M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Orlando, Fla.
Course: Bay Hill Club & Lodge
2016 champion: Jason Day
Just over three months into the new year we have already reached what surely will be the most poignant moment on the PGA Tour calendar this season: the first Arnold Palmer Invitational without Arnold Palmer. Palmer passed away last September at the age of 87, and while there has been an ongoing stream of sadness and tributes in the golf world ever since, it will crystallize in a whole new light this week as the legendary "King" will not be on hand at his beloved Bay Hill.
This touchstone moment has not arrived without controversy, as a handful of top golfers are skipping the tournament that has borne Palmer's name since 2007. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson are among those bypassing Bay Hill, citing the crunched PGA Tour schedule: one WGC event two weeks ago, another next week, and the Masters just two weeks after that. The opposing viewpoint is quite simple: It's Arnold Palmer; show up and pay your respects. One way or another, despite all the talk of who won't be in Orlando this week, the field is packed, with an OWGR strength-of-field rating of 531, second only to the Genesis Open this season. Four of the top five in the world, five of the top 10, and 14 of the top 25 are entered. Ironically, only four of those 14 are Americans, as a top-flight international contingent has come stateside in advance of next week's Match Play event. Defending champion and No. 2-ranked Jason Day, No. 3 Rory McIlroy, No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama, No. 6 Henrik Stenson and No. 9 Rickie Fowler head the field. In checking the DraftKings board, there are some really bizarre prices this week, not so much with the top echelon of golfers but with the mid- and lower-range guys. Those will be examined further in the “Value Picks” section below.
Now, on to what will actually take place Thursday: golf. Bay Hill for years ranked as one of the tougher courses on Tour, but the past two years it played easier after some modifications, mostly to the greens (36th hardest out of 52 tracks in 2015, 28th of 50 in '16). Bay Hill is long at 7,400-plus yards, though it plays even longer, with four par-3s of 200-plus yards and five par-4s exceeding 450. You'd think the course would favor the biggest hitters, but it doesn't. As we see with increasing evidence week after week, the mid-range hitters are so long these days that they are long enough. What happens from the fairway to the bottom of the cup is paramount at Bay Hill, and we'll expand on that in the Champion's Profile below. The par-4, 458-yard 18th proved to be the toughest hole on the course last year. It starts off easy enough, but trouble lurks at the long, kidney-shaped green guarded by sand, rocks and water. There were 28 scores of double bogey or worse, meaning a one or even two-stroke lead on Sunday could lead to a fantastic finish. At that point, the void left by Palmer's passing will really hit home. For the first time in many years, the winner won't receive a congratulatory handshake from the King himself.
Key Stats to Winning at Bay Hill
• Greens in regulation
• Proximity to the hole
• Putting average (putts per GIR)
• Efficiency scoring: Par-3 200-225 yards, par-4 450-500 yards
2016 - Jason Day
2015 - Matt Every
2014 - Matt Every
2013 - Tiger Woods
2012 - Tiger Woods
2011 - Martin Laird
2010 - Ernie Els
2009 - Tiger Woods
2008 - Tiger Woods
2007 - Vijay Singh
Over the past decade, the tournament was dominated by, of course, Tiger Woods and also, um, Matt Every. Woods won four times in that stretch and Every remarkably captured two in a row. One common theme with Woods in 2013, Every -- in '14 and '15 -- and Jason Day -- in '16 -- was that they all finished in the top 10 in putting average. A look at the past four years shows that the majority of top finishers were among the putting leaders on the week. The larger-than-average greens (6,500 square feet) underwent modifications in 2015, and we saw a drop in scores. Normally in the 13-under range, the winning score was 19-under-par in 2015 and 17-under last year, and you can't reach those numbers without sinking a bunch of putts. Every also was machine-like in GIR and proximity. While Woods and Day didn't stand out in those categories, their closest pursuers did. Not all of our picks will be great putters because this track is about more than just putting. We also want GIR/proximity stalwarts to make the cut and get some decent cashes, s we're factoring in golfers who do well on long par-3s and par-4s.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Before we get to the picks, we wanted to address some real eyebrow raisers in the prices that stood out this week. For instance, we were prepared to jump on Martin Laird, but not at the eye-popping price of $8,100. That's more than Tony Finau, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer, Webb Simpson and others. Kaymer is $7,400, the same price as Bud Cauley, who should be in the $6,000s. Wesley Bryan at $7,100 and Charles Howell III at $6,900 are low-balled, meaning they are bound to be popular picks, especially in cash games. If you want to stand out from the crowd in GPP contests, steer clear of them. Lastly, pity the 24 golfers who somehow are priced lower than 50-year-old sponsor invite John Daly. There are no words.
Tier 1 Values
Henrik Stenson - $11,500 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 8-1)
Stenson finished in the top five the past three years at Bay Hill. Last week, he was T7 at the Valspar despite sub-par iron play. His putting was exceptional, and it's unlikely his iron game will be so off again. The Swede is the second most expensive in the field, behind only the $12,000 tag that comes with Rory McIlroy. McIlroy was considered, and he likely will be in the mix, but at that price he needs to win to pay off. We're lukewarm on Hideki Matsuyama, only because of his $10,300 price, but ice cold on defending champion Jason Day -- especially at $10,600 -- until he picks up his game.
b>Rickie Fowler - $9,900 (15-1)
Fowler has one strong finish here, a T3 in 2013, but he's now playing his best golf in a few years. He is 13th in GIR, 15th in strokes gained: putting and 19th in proximity. Plus, he’s 10th in par-4 scoring 450-500 -- oh, and he's first in scoring average.
Justin Rose - $9,500 (15-1)
Rose is another golfer playing better this year, plus he has three top-10s at Bay Hill since 2011. He's first on Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee, 26th in proximity, and 28th in GIR. Being 72nd in strokes gained: putting is okay when surrounded by all the other robust numbers. Rose is also second in par-3 scoring 200-225.
Tyrrell Hatton - $9,100 (30-1)
Hatton has been climbing in the OWGR, and his DraftKings price now reflects his 16th-place standing. He has never played this tournament before, but that was the case at the Honda (T4) and WGC-Mexico (10th), too. He was top-10 in SGP at both tracks. Before last week, he ranked third in par-4 scoring 450-500, though he currently does not have enough rounds to qualify.
Tier 2 Values
Thomas Pieters - $8,700 (30-1)
Pieters has teed it up three times in North America in 2017, with top-5s at Riviera and Mexico sandwiching a missed cut at the Honda. His GIR and proximity numbers don't look great, but his other metrics do: Pieters is fourth in strokes gained: total and ninth in SGP. He has been a man of extremes this season, sitting second on Tour in par-4 scoring 450-500 but dead last -- 205th -- in par-3 scoring 200-225. Pieters finished T76 last year in his API debut.
Francesco Molinari - $8,600 (40-1)
Molinari has four top-20s in his five PGA Tour starts this year, and he likes Bay Hill, too, going T9-T17-T5 the past three years. He's fourth on Tour in putting average this season.
Zach Johnson - $8,500 (50-1)
Johnson is more of a niche pick these days as opposed to a week-after-week stalwart. He has continued to thrive at Bay Hill even while his overall game has slipped, missing only one cut here going all the way back to 2005. More importantly, he finished top-10 the past two years. Johnson sits 12th in SGP and 23rd in putting average.
Jason Kokrak - $7,900 (80-1)
Kokrak was T20 at Bay Hill in 2016 and top-6 in both years prior. He obviously likes the joint, plus he had two recent top-25s before last week's T58. Kokrak is 42nd in GIR, 32nd in par-3 scoring 200-225 and 37th in par-4 scoring 450-500. As for his putting numbers, don't ask. In this case, current form and Bay Hill history take precedence.
Tier 3 Values
Martin Kaymer - $7,400 (50-1)
We like Kaymer a lot at this price. He hasn't played Bay Hill since missing the cut in 2008, but he is coming off a T23 in Mexico and a T4 the week before at the Honda. By sitting out the Valspar, he doesn't have enough PGA Tour rounds to be ranked statistically, but he did beforehand and ranked first in par-3 scoring 200-225 and sixth in par-4 scoring 450-500. Kaymer also putted well at PGA National.
Kyle Stanley - $7,400 (Field, 5-1)
We've ridden Stanley often this season with terrific results, but now his price has creeped and he's no longer in the long-shot grouping, giving us a bit of pause. He's coming off a T27 last week at Valspar and is top-25 in both the par-3 and par-4 efficiency stats we're focusing on this week. Plus, he's sixth on Tour in proximity.
Wesley Bryan - $7,100 (50-1)
Bryan hasn't played Bay Hill before, but he hadn't played Riviera (T4), PGA National (T4) or Copperhead (T7), either. It's a mystery why his price is so low. He won't keep notching top-10s, but we'll pick him as long as he's playing well. Bryan is 30th on Tour in putting average.
Charles Howell - $6,900 (60-1)
Again, it's ridiculous why Howell's price is so slow. He has totaled seven top-25s on the season and hasn't missed a cut at Bay Hill since 2008, with four top-25s in that stretch. He's 23rd in GIR, 56th in proximity and 48th in putting average. Howell turned out to be a poor pick last week at $9,400, but at a whopping $2,500 cheaper he is a green-light special.
Marc Leishman - $6,800 (80-1)
Leishman has had mixed success at Bay Hill, although he turned in a T17 last year. He's top-20 in both the par-3 and par-4 efficiency stats and 12th in putting average. Leishman is rested, having been idle since a T27 at the Honda three weeks ago.
Ian Poulter - $6,800 (Field, 5-1)
Poulter is still trying to fulfill his major medical extension and could take a big dent out of it this week. He has made six straight Bay Hills cuts, and until last year they were all top-25s. Poulter has made the cut in all four of his 2017 starts, and he's 55th in putting average.
Brian Harman - $6,700 (Field, 5-1)
The left-hander missed three successive Bay Hill cuts before a T17 a year ago. Harman's GIR and proximity numbers are poor, but he's 10th on Tour in putting average.
Lucas Glover - $6,700 (Field, 5-1)
Glover is terrific from the fairway, standing 10th on Tour in GIR and 15th in proximity. Despite poor putting, that should be more than enough to carry him to a sixth straight cash this season. He was 27th at Bay Hill a year ago.