Arnold Palmer Invitational Tournament Preview

The 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About Bay Hill Golf Club Before Tee Off

Believe it or not, the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational was the last “normal” golf event we’ve seen played in front of fans in a non-pandemic world. It pre-dated the PGA Tout brand, which was actually XFL Tout this time last year (Roughneck Nation where you at?!). A year later, I exist, this site exists, and we’re back to Bay Hill, just sans fans.

The 2020 API was a real anomaly scoring-wise thanks to some of the most significant sustained winds the event has ever seen. A -4 final score from Tyrrel Hatton was good enough to win, even despite shooting +3 over the weekend. To put that into perspective, the winning totals in the 3 years prior were -12, -18, and -13. In this year’s Sony Open, I targeted players coming off of a down 2020 event showing due to uncharacteristically inclement weather, and I’ll be looking to do the same again this year for the API. Wind tends to be difficult to forecast with gusts and all, but needless to say, we’ll have to keep an eye out for weather reports as the week goes on, if mother nature turns this into another slugfest.

We’re coming in hot off of a Collin Morikawa outright cash, but if life’s given you lemons, add a little iced tea and indulge yourself in some Arnold Palmer action.

Bay Hill Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,402
  • Par: 72 (4x 3’s / 10x 4’s / 4x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Historic Cut Line: +2 to +3
  • Comp Courses: Silverado Resort & Spa, TPC Boston, TPC Scottsdale, Liberty National, Kiawah Island (Ocean)
  • Past Winners: Tyrrel Hatton (20), Francesco Molinari (19), Rory McIlroy (18), Marc Leishman (17), Jason Day (16)
  • Other Past Winners In The Field: Robert Gamez (90), Paul Goydos (96) and Tim Herron (99), Martin Laird (11), Matt Every (14, 15)

I really like Bay Hill. It’s a beautiful looking track, and it’s not typically a birdie-fest, so the cream tends to rise to the top (I’m ignoring you, Matt Every). This is not quite the strength of field we’ve been accustomed to the last couple of weeks at the WGC Workday and Genesis Invitational, but it still includes world class names like Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Tyrrel Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Sungjae Im, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Reed, and Jordan Spieth.

7,402 is slightly above-average length-wise for a Par 72 on Tour, but recent wins from players like Hatton, Molinari, and Every prove that distance is not a pre-requisite to win here. SG: OTT is certainly important, but you can get away with middling Distance and Precision off the tee, so being above-average in both Distance and Accuracy will go a long way here. On the other hand, there is almost no correlation between SG: ARG and success at this event. So like many other courses, strong SG: APP, GIRs, Ball Striking, and Putting are going to dictate who contends to win this week.

Looking at Total Strokes Gained at the API over the last 5 years Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson, and Marc Leishman have a significant edge on the rest of the field. Looking at Average Strokes gained to account for younger, less experienced players, Sungjae Im, Keith Mitchell, Bryson DeChambeau and Luke List also pop.

I don’t always try to force Comp Course history into my models, but it is interesting to see two recent Northern Trust tracks pop up here in TPC Boston and Liberty National. That carries through not only in the Ball Striking dependency, but also in the scoring conditions. If you buy into the Northern Trust comp narrative, Jason Kokrak pops up #1 T2G, as he finished T13 at TPC Boston and T12 at Liberty National.

Key Stats

  • Good Drives Gained / SG: OTT
  • SG: APP / SG: Ball Striking
  • GIRs Gained
  • Birdies Gained / Bogey Avoidance
  • Par 4 Scoring (400-450, 450-500)
  • Par 5 Scoring (550-600)
  • Proximity 150-175
  • SG: Putting (Bermuda)
  • Course History

Stats To Avoid

  • Driving Accuracy / Fairways Gained
  • SG: ARG, Scrambling, SG: Short Game
  • 3-Putt Avoidance
  • Par 3 Scoring
  • SG: P (TOT)

If you looked at the key stats last year coming into this event, you’d find Tyrrel Hatton #1 SG: OTT (and #2 SG: APP), and Marc Leishman #1: SG APP. These were $8K-range players on Draft Kings last year, and they went on to finish #1 and #2 in the tournament. It’s not always that simple, but if it was, I would just tell you to play Rory McIlroy (#1 OTT L24 rounds) and Matthew NeSmith (#1 APP L24 rounds) and be done with it.

But if we broaden the scope of performance at Bay Hill over the last 6 years, it tells a more conclusive story that a combination of SG: Ball Striking (OTT + APP), Good Drives Gained, and SG: P – Bermuda are best indicators of success here. The only difference between SG:OTT and Good Drives Gained is that the latter will credit tee shots that miss the fairway as a “Good Drive” if that player is still able to hit the Green In Regulation on that hole. What that says about Bay Hill is that you may get more run-offs to the First Cut, Rough, or Fairway Bunkers that knock down a player’s OTT numbers, but don’t inhibit those players from still reaching the green on their approach.

This course is not Riviera or Torrey Pines, so you can win here without a great short game. That’s mainly due to the fact that most of these greens are protected by water, so if you’ve avoided the water hazards on approach, chances are you’ve either caught the green or left an easy chip from a false front. In the same vein of Good Drives Gained emphasis, being a Fairway Finder here doesn’t give you much of a leg up on the field, given how accessible the greens can be from just off the fairway. In the end, I’ll probably stay away from Bombers who spray their drives just as much as I avoid Fairway Finders who fall towards the bottom in Distance. Above-Average Distance + Accuracy off the tee should be enough.

What To Look Out For at the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational

Let’s start off with a few fun facts about one of the longest-standing events on the PGA Tour circuit.

  • An International player has won this event in each of the last 5 years and an American player not named Matt Every or Tiger Woods has not won since Kenny Perry in 2005.
  • Matt Every is a surprising course horse here with back to back wins in 2014 and 2015. Last year, he was First Round Leader, firing a Thursday 65. He then followed that up with a Friday 83 en route to a MC. This was only the second time since 2013 a player went from FRL to MC; the other was Camilo Villegas just down the road at the 2013 Honda Classic.
  • Tiger Woods has won the API 8 times, all within a 13 year span, including 4 straight from 2000-2003
  • The Molinaris love it here. Francesco has never finished worse than T34 at the API, including 4 T10s and a win in 2019. His brother Edoardo, though not in this field, has a T2 and T12 in his two career trips to the API.

I have started tweeting out a chart that short lists 30 players by tier that I’m interested in for Outrights and DFS, based on where I project the pricing and odds will be come Monday. And as I thought about it, I felt like that information really does belong in here, so going forward I will start to bullet these out in each of the Tournament Preview articles. Just note these are not based on actual pricing, but rather the tiers I see these players as values in, based on my projections.

  • Tier 1 (<20/1, $10K+): Tyrrel Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Reed
  • Tier 2 (20-39/1, $9K): Sungjae Im, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Francesco Molinari, Harris English, Marc Leishman, Paul Casey
  • Tier 3 (40-69/1, $8K): Sam Burns, Max Homa, Cameron Davis, Henrik Norlander, Will Zalatoris, Cameron Tringale, Corey Conners
  • Tier 4 (70-100/1, $7K): Jason Kokrak, Matthew Nesmith, Charley Hoffman, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Lanto Griffin, Matt Jones, Luke List
  • Tier 5 (>100/1, $6K): Keith Mitchell, Martin Laird, Tom Hoge, Zach Johnson, John Huh, Chris Kirk

In my models, Tyrrel Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sam Burns, and (bit of a surprise) Charley Hoffman are popping no matter how I splice it, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on this core when odds are released on Monday. On a secondary tier, working in more of a subjective eye test, I really like how Max Homa, Cameron Davis, Henrik Norlander, Matthew NeSmith, Jason Kokrak, Matt Jones, and Luke List are trending as well for this event.