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Rory McIlroy
Katie Goodale-Augusta Chronicle/USA TODAY Sports
Culp's Corner

Arnold Palmer Invitational Preview

by Josh Culp
Updated On: March 4, 2019, 6:03 pm ET

Moving onto leg two of the Florida Swing, a limited field of 123 golfers will head to Orlando for this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational. 

It's a prestigious event that has been held at Bay Hill Club & Lodge since 1979. It has been played in Orlando since the inaugural 1966 edition but the first 13 editions were played at Rio Pinar CC. 

Despite the limited, invite-only field of 123, the cut rules will remain Top 70 and Ties which means a larger percentage of golfers will play all four rounds, compared to full-field events. 

The Course

Bay Hill Club & Lodge was a par 71 that played at 7,013 yards when it first started hosting in the 70s. It's now a par 72 that stretches out past 7,400 yards. 

Despite all that length, it's not a course that you can bomb and gouge. There are eight water hazards in play. The course generally plays firm which allows you to club down on some of the par 4s and play conservatively. Distance becomes in important, but more so with the irons because there are a lot of long approaches. That puts a major emphasis on destroying the par 5s. Rory talked about the ideal game plan when referencing Tiger's dominance here, but more about that in the quotes section. 

Those par 5s are where most of the scoring will take place this week. They all yield eagle rates over 1% with the par-5 16th being the most susceptible to low numbers (5.8% eagle rate and 55.5% birdie rate). The par-5 sixth is the toughest of the bunch as it has water entirely down the left side of the hole which can lead to some big numbers if your ball-striking is not dialed in or the wind picks up. 

Most courses like to greet you with a handshake but that's not the case here as holes 1 and 2 are two of the four toughest holes on the course. The hardest? That would be the closing, par-4 18th which features water short and right of the green but a pack of bunkers guarding long and left. Not a fun hole when you're coming down the stretch on Sunday, trying to close out a lead. 

There hasn't been one route to success here as none of the strokes-gained sub-categories stand out in terms of predicting top-10 finishes over the last five years. The highest for the stats I look at is actually SG Putting form which is very, very rare to see. Other than that it just says we should look for elite birdie makers and GIR machines. 

For grass types, it will be similar to last week at the Honda, with ryegrass rough and bermuda greens. The greens used to get overseeded but they redid all the greens in 2015 and no longer need to overseed the putting surfaces, since the 2016 edition. They also get them running incredibly fast with an average stimp of 12.9 feet since the resurfacing. 


Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Rory McIlroy: "look at Tiger’s won it plenty of times around here and that’s what he did, he can be conservative and play conservative for the most part, but if you make birdies on the par 5s, you’re going to be right up there."

Jimmy Walker: "There were a lot of irons off the tee, just kind of playing the golf course fairly safe. I wasn’t pushing it today, like I said, just kind of playing to corners and trying to hit some greens."

Graeme McDowell: "I think the golf course’s evolved a lot over the last 10, 15 years here. Going from having a lot of rough around the greens to lots of run off areas, greens continue to get better and better here, and that is one of the big things about the legacy of this tournament and Mr. Palmer is this is a bit of a love/hate golf course for a lot of guys."

Rickie Fowler: "To me, it’s similar style of golf that we have actually played the last two tournaments for me, Honda and at Mexico. It’s not too demanding off the tee as far as you’re not always having to hit drivers and it’s not too narrow. There’s holes where you’re hitting 3-woods and potentially irons, but you do have to get the ball in the fairway. And it’s very much a second shot golf course."

Paul Casey: "Tif? It’s amazing. If you can’t make putts on this kind of putting surface, then I don’t know where you can make putts. But they’re treacherous, they’re tricky. Everybody’s probably, who’s watched API, is familiar with the putts that Tiger’s made over the years on 18. There’s a lot of slope, a lot of speed on these greens. They’re not easy. But, boy, they’re wonderful."

Overview: Players talk about taking less than driver on a lot of the par 4s but then feasting on the par 5s. Golfers also talk about how fast these bermuda greens are. 


Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week: 

Augusta National (Masters)
TPC Sawgrass (PLAYERS)
Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo)
Sheshan International (HSBC)
Muirfield Village (Memorial)

The main themes here are FAST GREENS and BIG NUMBERS. All of these courses either have a lot of water hazards, or green speeds that typically run at 12+ feet on the stimp. 

Augusta National is a big one because Arnie was on the record saying that he wanted this to play like a U.S. Open off the tee but Augusta around the greens.

In 2012, Justin Rose had this to say about the Augusta comp, "I think the course has evolved into being a good warm up for Augusta in terms of, there seem to be a lot more run-offs around the greens, which is similar to what you face at Augusta. I think it’s quite a difficult chipping test, playing this course.

The run-offs, the overseed is quite sticky, as it is at Augusta, too, and I think the greens are quite quick this year; depending on the rain and what have you, should get pretty firm. Around the greens are some similarities and overall if you look at this golf course it tends to suit a right-to-left ball flight for the most part. There’s a lot of dogleg-lefts around lakes, so if you start to get comfortable seeing a right-to-left flight this week, that will also suit you well at Augusta." 


The Weather

Thursday: Sunny with a high of 73 degrees. Winds at 7-to-12 MPH. 

Friday: Sunny with a high of 80 degrees. Winds at 7-to-9 MPH. 

Weekend: More sunshine with winds staying relatively calm around 7-to-12 MPH all week. 

It looks like a great week for weather, with only a slight chance of showers on Sunday, currently. 

Josh Culp

Josh Culp joined NBC Sports Edge in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.