The Tour comes back to one of my favorite Tour events, The Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill:
Why do I like Bay Hill so much?
Obviously, it being Arnie's tournament is a big reason.
But, it's also the most spectator friendly event on Tour. The parking is the best, it's one of the easiest courses on Tour to walk as a spectator. There are bleachers and upper deck seating right on the driving range. And during the event it's quite a party atmosphere with the surrounding houses celebrating the event with viewing parties throughout the course.
It's also a very good design. I've always felt that Arnold Palmer is the most underrated course designer. I think because he doesn't quite have the history and mystique of Tillinghast, Ross or MacKenzie and doesn't have the vast array of Tour designs like Dye, Fazio and Jones that Mr. Palmer usually gets overlooked. But, he was one of the more clever designers out there that was good at keeping his designs fair. Hit bad shots and you're punished. Hit good shots and you're rewarded. Some holes are not what they seem and he really wanted you to keep the ball below the cup.
A few of my favorite holes at Bay Hill are the par-5 4th hole.
It goes uphill, but is still reachable in two on occasion. It's easy to miss right which has a better angle into the hole, but there is water on the right that comes into play. Left provides a worse angle, but the bunkers can also come to play. The green is elevated and makes approach shots for those that lay-up more difficult. But a good drive and 2nd shot can really swing the door wide open for competitors.
Then there's the par-4 8th hole:
The fairway is settled down a bit and the green is more elevated. You will see a lot of players lay-up off the tee here, but the closer they can get to that fairway bunker on the left without going in, the better off they generally are. It may only put the golfer 30 yards closer, but the approach shot is more difficult than your average 180 yard approach shot and that is what many golfers don't account for.
Then there's the par-4 13th hole.
This is a hole where almost the entire field will lay up. The reasoning is that if they lay-up they will only have about 135-155 yards into the hole and that is 'no big deal.' But what is not accounted for is that this is a more difficult 145-ish yard approach shot than your normal approach shot from 145 yards. That and a lay-up shot puts the fairway bunkers into play. Obviously, some players are too long to hit driver with the water coming into play. But for the others...the players that hit driver tend to play #13 far better than the rest of the field.
And then there's the par-3 17th:
The video doesn't do the hole justice of how daunting and beautiful the hole is. The bunker off the water is a unique and gorgeous touch as well. This is a very difficult approach shot. But, Mr. Palmer countered it perfectly by making it a very flat green that has a very high make percentage for putts. In other words, it's difficult but fair. And it's breathtaking and exciting due to the possiblity of ending up in the water off the tee and the putts that can fall either leading to a key birdie or double bogey down the stretch.
And the 18th hole is the last 'Critical Hole' on the course and between 16, 17 and 18 you have a terrific stretch of finishing holes.
If there's a problem with the event it's that the tickets are not cheap. A practice round ticket costs $55. You can go to a practice round for The PLAYERS Championship for $15. And the field is usually only 'okay.' Hopefully with The PLAYERS Championship moving to March next year...that will entice more of the world's top talent to add Bay Hill to their schedule.
Most of the strokes will be lost and gained on mid-to-long approach shots:
PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -13
Tiger Woods +550
Justin Rose +1,600
Marc Leishman +3,500
Patrick Reed +3,500
3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS
Cameron Smith +5,500
Jason Kokrak +7,500
Sam Burns +8,000
Kevin Na +10,000
Russell Knox +12,500
JB Holmes +15,000