Wednesday, March 3, 2021

What To Look For: 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill

 Collin Morikawa wins the WGC Workday Championship at The Concession Golf Club:

I didn't release picks for the Workday since the Tour had never played there.  But it appeared to be a very heavy approach shot course (I have yet to run the numbers) which is typical for a Nicklaus design.  It also appeared to feature lots of opportunities to make triple bogey or worse.


This week the Tour comes to Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The API is my favorite non-major of the year.  Not only due to it being my 'home tournament' (it's less than 1 mile from my home golf club), but it's the fan friendliest event I've ever been to.  It's a fairly easy course to walk, they have bleacher seating right behind the driving range (some of the seating is indoors with A/C), the fans can get right close to the players on the putting green and the parking is pretty good.  

For the practice rounds and pro-am, one can park for free just off the 6th hole.  During the event they prefer you park at Universal Studios and take a shuttle over, although I recommend parking at one of the strip malls and taking an Uber of Lyft over.

But Bay Hill is just a good, solid golf course with some beautiful holes and it closes out well with a eagle-able par-5 16th hole, perhaps the best par-3 on Tour (sans majors) in the 17th hole and then the beautiful 18th hole where so many iconic moments have happened.

And it's pretty much a course with 'standard' PGA Tour features.  That's why the weather often dictates the winner.  

A lot of readers ask me what type of conditions and designs favor long hitters vs. short hitters and how to curb long, but reckless drivers have on a golf course.

The answer is basically in the math...

In order to favor the shorter, but more accurate hitter one needs to reduce the standard deviation in driving distance and increase the standard deviation in fairways hit.  I will go into design features next week at Sawgrass that can cause that to happen.  But for Bay Hill we'll talk about the weather.  Because Bay Hills has about average length of a Tour course and average width fairways and about average length rough...when it gets dry the course actually favors the shorter, but more accurate hitters.  The longer hitters have to lay-up more in order to find the fairway and still have issue doing that.  That lowers the standard deviation in driving distance while the standard deviation in fairways hit increases.

But when the opposite happens...the course playing favors the longer hitters.  Mainly because it's easier to find the fairways and with the doglegs (there's essentially 9 doglegs on the course) the longer hitters gain a sizable distance advantage due to geometry.

Here's a look at the weather for this week (click to enlarge)

So this could be very odd.  It's been very dry and hot by Orlando standards for the past 12 months.  My home club is dry, but not at the 'crusty' stage, yet.  A lot of it depends on the rain on Saturday.  But my predictions is the scores will be a little higher and in the end the course will favor the longer hitters on Sunday.

Speaking of longer hitters, it could be interesting to see how Bryson DeChambeau plays the course.  Particularly the par-5 6th hole which doglegs around the water and plays to 590 yards according to the scorecard.

However, it's 'only' 345 yards of carry from the tee to the front fringe.

A couple of years ago I saw Cameron Champ attempt it over in a practice round, but didn't really come close due to his low launch, low apex height ball flight pattern.  Bryson hits the ball much higher than Champ and if the wind is right and the stars align, he could reach this green in 1 shot and be putting for an albatross.

My prediction is that if the wind isn't a factor, he'll play more to roughly 320 yards carry and put himself roughly 70 yards to the front edge of the green.  However, that will still given him nearly a 160 yard advantage to what would be considered a 'very good' drive and more like 180 yards advantage over an 'average' drive for the field.

Other than that, Bay Hill is a mid-to-long iron play course.  If it gets crusty out there, then shots from 10-20 yards become more important because there is some legitimate difficult on those shots at Bay Hill.  

Most of the Tour players I've talked to really enjoy Bay Hill.  Some don't like it when it gets wet there because it can play ultra soft at times as holes #2, #3, #6, #7, #8 and #11 all sit in a bowl.  But the greens have been some of the best on Tour over the last 5 years since they switched to TifEagle and there's always a good turnout of fans.  Prior to Covid-19, it was also a very festive atmosphere in the houses surrounding the course.

Projected Winning Score: -11


Viktor Hovland +1,200
Bryson DeChambeau +1,200
Tyrrell Hatton +1,600
Paul Casey +2,800
Francesco Molinari +3,300

Emiliano Grillo +8,000
Keegan Bradley +12,500
Brendan Steele +15,000
Joel Dahmen +20,000
Chez Reavie +20,000



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