The Florida Swing kicks on as the TOUR heads from Bradenton to Orlando for this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.
As the name suggests, this field is limited (currently 123) but there is still a cutline to sweat, unlike last week's WGC.
Currently sitting in the second tier of PGA TOUR events, this week's winner will take home 550 FedExCup Points which is more than the week-to-week event (500) but less than a major (600).
A recent theme of this event has been internationals lining up to steal all the glory. Over the last five editions, Americans have led or co-led after just seven rounds while internationals have led or co-led 18 times over that same stretch. Let's take a deeper dive into the course to see if there is any reason why that might be the case.
Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge is the host course this week. It's played that role since the 1979 edition.
Over the years, this has played as a par 70 (3x), par 71 (11x), and par 72 (28x).
This week it's setting up to be a par 72 that stretches out to 7,466 yards. Having four par 5s doesn't make it any easier, though, as three of the last four winners have ended the week on 12-under or worse. It's a tough test.
Off the tee, golfers will be clubbing down on a lot of the par 4s but they'll need their big stick dialed in to take advantage of the par 5s. This element does a good job of bringing more players into the mix. Big hitters are more likely to feast on the par 5s but plodders are less likely to toss up a big number on the rest of the holes.
There is water lurking on half of the holes, like we've come to expect when playing in Florida.
All that water leads to a fair amount of big numbers. The field averages 1.77 doubles or worse per 72 holes which ranks it 8th among courses that are played on a year-to-year basis on TOUR.
Once golfers reach the greens they'll be faced with relatively large (7,500 square feet) bermudagrass greens that typically run very fast (12+ feet on the stimp). Comfort on bermudagrass is a big plus this week when looking for golfers that may be arriving without much form during the West Coast Swing.
Arnie was on the record for wanting this course to mimic a U.S. Open from tee-to-green and then be Augusta-like around the greens.
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Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
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."
Rory McIlroy: "I need to take advantage of the par-5s, because that’s — 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."
Bubba Watson: "It’s kind of right in front of you, but you have to play it a certain way and I get bored hitting irons off tee, so I try to hit driver a lot, which obviously backfires sometimes and sometimes it’s good."
Rickie Fowler: "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."
Justin Rose: "There’s really no way to fake it around Bay Hill. The rough’s pretty thick. Generally the greens are quite firm which requires pretty pinpoint iron shots. There’s enough trouble out there that mentally it’s a challenge. You have to really commit to shots. There’s a lot of I guess intimidating-looking golf shots out there on this golf course. "
I think Rory talks about the ideal gameplan which sounds easy enough but it can be difficult to remain disciplined and stick to that plan, as you can tell from something like Bubba Watson's quote.
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:
Muirfield Village GC
The theme seems to be courses with lots of water in play and/or courses with speedy, bermuda greens.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 73 degrees. Winds at 6 to 9 MPH.
Friday: Partly Cloudy with a high of 77 degrees. Winds at 6 to 9 MPH.
There is some rain expected Saturday afternoon but it looks perfect otherwise.