Onward and upward along the Turnpike through Yeehaw Junction, all the way to Orlando we go for the second stop in the Florida swing.
The destination is yet another familiar one, the Bay Hill Club, the once and forever home of the great Arnold Palmer, and the Invitational named in his honor. The purse is $9.3 million with $1.67 to the winner. Palmer won $1.86 million in his Tour career.
The 7,466 yard par-72 layout was originally designed by Sunshine State stalwarts Dick Wilson and Joe Lee with the King his ownself doing a renovation in 2009. The finished product is a demanding ballstrikers palace loaded with dogleg fairways, undulating greens, 84 bunkers and water hazards, strategically placed per usual, on half the holes.
Max Homa is one of the more eloquent, articulate golfers on the Tour, so we’ll let him describe what he likes about Bay Hill and the challenge it presents.
“I think you hit a lot of mid irons into the greens and that’s my game, for the most part. It’s challenging tee to green and I typically drive it all right and hit my irons well, so I just think that the difficulty of it kind of fits, just because you have to leave it in the right spots and I feel like my misses with my irons are pretty tight right now, so I haven’t really felt like I’ve missed it in a really bad spot yet.”
Paul Casey is another elite quote on the PGA Tour.
“It’s one of those cool golf courses that you remember,” he said last year after returning to Bay Hill following a lengthy absence. “It’s not bland, it’s not dull, it’s got some very cool features that it sticks in your brain. When you remember the golf holes, I think that’s probably a sign of good design, good architecture.”
It all adds up to another over-par cut most likely (two weeks in a row!) and a winning score around 12 or 13 under par. Then again, the wind may have something to say about those numbers. As of Monday evening, the forecast looks outstanding. Temperatures in the mid-80s with 10-15 mph winds. These things change and on first glance it appears the late / early tee time wave may have a slight edge as the strongest breezes could blow Friday afternoon.
There are five par 4s measuring between 450-500 yards and four long, difficult par 3s that will stretch over 200 yards. The greens are more difficult to hit than the tour average 60.9 percent compared to 65.8. Fairways are slightly easier to hit (65.4 vs. 62.8) but longer hitters often reach for less than a driver to maneuver around the doglegs and keep their tee shots from running through the firm fairways. The rough appears thick based on photos posted on social media in the last week. A savvy sand game is helpful and also the ability to hold shots into the firm, fast greens.
Scoring on the par 5s is imperative to build momentum and maintain morale.
When in doubt go for it. In life, in golf and certainly this week at Bay Hill. Just like the King did.
As always, good luck.
Hayden Buckley, Martin Laird, Sebastian Munoz, Carlos Ortiz, Pat Perez, Taylor Pendrith, Aaron Rai, Sam Ryder, Adam Svensson, Matt Wallace.
Golfer power rankings
26. Tom Hoge – Playing for the sixth consecutive week, Hoge ran out of mustard at Riviera, suffering from a rare poor ballstriking effort and failing to advance to the weekend. Expect a return to form at Bay Hill because he gained at least 3.3 shots Tee-to-Green here each of the last two years, finishing T-15 in 2020. Also ranks top 30 in proximity from 200 yards-plus and scoring on 550-600 yard par 5s.
25. Sam Burns – Inexplicably missed three consecutive cuts on the West Coast and finished worse than the field average in SG: Tee-to-Green in his last four starts. Just means it’s an excellent time to buy low on the Bermuda grass aficionado who has made the cut in three of four appearances at Bay Hill.
24. Corey Conners – The Canadian pro missed three of five cuts on the West Coast, sprinkling a T-11 at the Sony Open and his usually reliable tee-to-green game was spotty at best. He even lost strokes on approach in consecutive starts. And he has just one top 10 in the last 18 tournaments. Still, he’s 15th in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 50 rounds, top 5 in SG:OTT and Good Drives Gained and finished third here a year ago.
23. Cameron Young – Graduated, in a short time, from the Bargain Bin to the Power Rankings. Backed up his impressive runner-up at Riviera with a T-16 at the Honda, gaining 4.4 shots Tee-to-Green. Making his Bay Hill debut but Bermuda is his preferred putting surface and he’s risen to No. 51 in the world.
22. Gary Woodland – Returns to Bay Hill for the first time since 2016. Never know why a player shifts his schedule but he did make the cut in his last three appearances. Gained 6.3 shots Tee-to-Green in a top 5 at the Honda last week and is 11th in approach shots from 200-yards plus and better than the field average in most other key categories.
21. Adam Scott – The driver (and the putter, of course) are the keys to success for Scott. That swing struggles to produce errant iron shots. The good news? He’s gained strokes Off-the-Tee in three of his last four starts and also been positive in Good Drives Gained. Scott remains an elite bunker player and doesn’t play here often but has finished top 5 twice.
20. Max Homa – Despite winning twice in the last 12 months continues to be undervalued in the betting and Fantasy markets. Finished T-24 and T-10 at Bay Hill the last two years, leads the field in scoring on 550-600-yard par 5s and is top 20 in Bermuda putting.
19. Christiaan Bezuidenhout – He’s consistently made our roster and cuts (5 of 6) in 2022. Strong bunker game, Bermuda putting and record on difficult courses makes him an obvious choice again this week. Finished T-18 and seventh in the last two Arnold Palmer Invitationals.
18. Talor Gooch – Another potential victim of exhaustion on the West Coast, making six starts, landing between 15th and 27th on four occasions and missing two cuts. Ranks top 25 in the field in the following areas: SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 50 rounds, scoring on 450-500 yard par 4s, scoring on difficult courses and recent performance at Bay Hill (T-43, T-26, T-13 in last three starts).
17. Lanto Griffin – He’s made eight consecutive cuts, with a trio of top 10s thanks to a steady long game and his skill set answers the questions asked at Bay Hill. He’s fifth in scoring on 450-500 yard par 4s, 12th in Bermuda putting and 28th in proximity from 200-plus yards over the last 100 rounds.
16. Chris Kirk – Another good combination of current form and course fit. Showed off his short game skills in a top 10 at the Honda, has a strong track record on difficult courses and has landed in the top 15 in his last three appearances at Bay Hill. Some players look comfortable pitching and putting on Bermuda and Kirk sits near the top of the list.
15. Sungjae Im – Little surprised by his missed cut at the Honda, which means Im hasn’t played tournament golf on the weekend for three consecutive weeks. He may be in shock. Once that wears off he’ll be happy to land at Bay Hill where he’s finished third twice and 21st last year in three starts. Much better than the field average in every meaningful stat.
14. Luke List – The Farmers Insurance Open champion has met the ballstriking test Bay Hill presents before, finishing 17-10-7 from 2017-19. Now he arrives in excellent form in the right areas: ninth in scoring on 450-500 yard par 4s, sixth on 550-600 yard par 5s and 12th in proximity from 200 yards or longer.
13. Paul Casey – Had a notion to slot him higher. Short game concerns were a deterrent (115th in Sand Saves, 65th in Scrambling). Elite driving and strong mid-to-long iron play can carry a man a long way at Bay Hill, though and Casey checks all those boxes. Tied for 10th here last year.
12. Marc Leishman – Never difficult to build a strong case for Leishman at Bay Hill, considering he won the tournament in 2017, finished T-7 in 2018 and runner-up in 2020. His current form is also promising with three T-16s or better on the West Coast, including a strong Tee-to-Green effort at another demanding ballstriking layout, Torrey Pines.
11. Maverick McNealy – Just keeps getting better and underpriced again. Has made eight consecutive cuts, finishing no worse than 38th in the run and gained shots Tee-to-Green in seven of the last eight. Top 30 in Good Drives Gained and GIR gained and top 10 in proximity outside 200 yards and 450-500 yard par-4 scoring. Made the cut in two of three API appearances.
10. Tyrrell Hatton – A chronic underachiever in the United States – everywhere but Bay Hill where he won in 2020, tied for fourth in 2017 and has landed in the top 30 in two other tries. Making his PGA Tour debut for 2022. Promising pair of top 6s in the DP World Tour desert swing. Excellent long iron player and has performed well on difficult, rough-heavy layouts.
9. Jason Kokrak – There’s ample reason to back Kokrak at Bay Hill. His par 5 and long par 4 mastery is a good start. He’s tied for 10th, 18th and eighth the last three years here, despite putting worse than the field average in two of the three starts. And, he’s excelled on difficult scoring courses and those featuring long rough over the last 50 rounds.
8. Matt Fitzpatrick – Yet another European who loves the sight of Bay Hill, sandwiching a 13-2-9-10 around a missed cut here in the last five years. Best in the field on 550-600 yard par 5s and Bermuda putting. Top 15 in sand saves as well. Driving the ball a shade longer in 2022. Needs a win on U.S. soil.
7. Viktor Hovland – The math indicates our friendly Norwegian Forest Cat should love to prowl the Bay Hill fairways. A trio of indifferent results suggests otherwise. Obviously he enjoys the layout or he wouldn’t continue to return. We’re going to focus on sixth in scoring on 450-500 yard par 4s, fourth in proximity from 200 plus and a gradually improving short game.
6. Hideki Matsuyama – Doesn’t love Bermuda greens (93rd). Has made the cut each of the last five years at Bay Hill with a best finish of 18th. Crushes the par 5s, is an elite bunker player and is reliable on approach shots of 200 yards or more (26th). Confidence has reached another level since his Masters victory, a third title since wouldn’t be a surprise.
5. Keith Mitchell – Elite driving and a deft short game have propelled Mitchell to the most consistent golf of his PGA Tour career. He finished 12th or better in five of the last six tournaments, ranks 23rd in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green, gained 4.7 shots on the Bermuda greens at the Honda and has a pair of top 6s in the last three years at Bay Hill.
4. Rory McIlroy – Another past champion on our list, McIlroy sounded pleased with the state of his game following a tie for 10th at Riviera. He’s finished 4-1-6-5-10 at Bay Hill the last five years, a testament to his ability on 450-500 yard par 4s (best in field) and general badassery with the longer clubs in the bag. Also second in the field when scoring is difficult.
3. Jon Rahm – I watched quite a bit of Rahm’s first two rounds at Riviera thanks to the Tour’s snazzy new streaming package. He looked out of sorts, unhappy with his swing and stroke yet at week’s end he was tied for 21st. That’s how the elite players roll. At some point a hot streak is coming. He tops every model because he’s the best at most of the important aspects of golf – driving, iron play, scoring, that sort of thing. Could see him loving Bay Hill in his first appearance here.
2. Scottie Scheffler – Backed up his maiden win in Scottsdale with a professional tie for seventh at Riviera, gaining 5.7 shots on approach. Led the Arnold Palmer Invitational in SG: Tee-to-Green in 2020 in a tie for 15th. Dines on the par 5s, second in GIRs gained and an excellent putter on Bermuda surfaces.
1. Will Zalatoris – He’s going to win soon. Finished sixth, second and 26th in three starts on the West Coast and lost at least 1.3 shots on the greens in each tournament. The last three tournaments where he gained strokes putting were played on Bermuda greens. Ranks second in the field in proximity from 200 yards or longer and top 20 in difficult course scoring, Bay Hill scoring and long rough course scoring. Tied for 10th in API debut a year ago.