This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
ARNOLD PALMER INVITATIONAL
Winner's Share: $1.674M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Orlando, Fla.
Course: Bay Hill Club & Lodge
2019 champion: Francesco Molinari
This will be the fourth Arnold Palmer Invitational without Arnold Palmer, who passed away in September 2016. It also will be the sixth in seven years without the man almost as synonymous with the tournament as Palmer. Eight-time champion Tiger Woods announced Friday he would not be in the field, citing a back injury that first surfaced three weeks ago at Riviera. He surely wants to be ready for THE PLAYERS Championship next week and, of course, the Masters next month.
The tournament features five of the top 10 golfers in the world, and that's not all in terms of star power. No. 1 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Brooks Koepka, plus Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, head the field. Francisco Molinari stumbles into his title defense and 2017 champion Marc Leishman will serve as this year's tournament ambassador, a position added after Palmer's passing. In all, 13 of the top 25 in the OWGR and 25 of the top 50 are part of the 121-man invitational field. Invitationals are normally capped at 120 entrants, but pre-2000 API champs are exempt, clearing the way for 51-year-old Robert Gamez, the 1990 winner, to compete on Tour for the first time since missing the cut here last year.
For the second year in a row, Bay Hill marks the the beginning of the Open Qualifying Series in the United States. Three spots at Royal St. George's are available for players who are not already exempt and finish among the top 10 and ties. Last year, eight of the top nine finishers were internationals, including the first five. Interestingly, the past four winners at Bay Hill have been internationals, ending the dominant run of Woods and Matt Every (that's a joke, kinda). The winner not only gets a three-year exemption, as opposed to the traditional two years, on the PGA Tour for winning an invitational, he also now touchingly receives a Palmer-esque red sweater – a whole lot nicer than some of those hideous sport coats other tournament winners receive. Calm down, calm down, we're not talking about the Green Jacket.
Now, onto the course. For years, Bay Hill played as one of the tougher tracks on Tour. But after some modifications things got easier, beginning in 2015. Last year, however, the course stiffened. The rough was thicker, putting more emphasis on hitting the fairway. Bay Hill was the ninth-hardest track on Tour lat season. At 7,400-plus yards it's not especially long by today's standards, especially for a par-72, but all four par-3s exceed 200 yards and there are five par-4s over 450. That means long iron play is important. That also tells us something about the par-5s. Three of the four are under 575 yards – one a mere 511 – all are gettable and golfers will likely need to do a lot of damage on those holes if they hope to win. We'll expand on all that in the Key Stats and Champion's Profile below.
With almost three dozen fewer golfers than a standard 156-man event, more than half the field will make the cut. That gives you a much greater chance to get your six-man lineups through all four rounds and lends support to a stars-and-scrubs approach this week.
Weather-wise, the golfers could be looking at some pretty significant temperature changes. It's expected to hit 90 on Thursday before dropping into the mid-60s on Saturday. There's a little chance of rain over the first two days but, more importantly, the wind will be blowing all tournament.
Fun API champion factoids: NBC's Gary Koch is a two-time winner, in 1977 and 1984, and Paul Azinger won in 1988. Palmer himself won it in 1971, when it was called the Florida Citrus Invitational and played at Rio Pinar Country Club. He hauled in all of $30,000 for his one-stroke win over Julius Boros.
Key Stats to winning at Bay Hill
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Greens in regulation, especially from 200+ yards/strokes gained: approach
• Driving accuracy/strokes gained: off the tee
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Par-5 birdie or better percentage
After the course was modified in 2015, the winning scores were largely lower than before, in the upper teens. But they toughened things up last year, and Molinari won at 12-under-par. With a new accent on accuracy off the tee, no one was in better position than the laser-like Italian, who ranked third in driving accuracy, sixth in greens in regulation, fifth in scrambling and fourth in strokes gained: putting. Molinari roared back from five strokes off the pace to defeat Matthew Fitzpatrick by two strokes. It's his most recent win, as he has fallen on hard times since his Masters collapse. Molinari played the four par-5s in only 4-under for the week, a stark difference from prior years. In fact, Leishman recorded all 11 of his strokes under par on the par-5s, playing the other 64 holes at even par. Day was 10-under and McIlroy and Every both 9-under on the par-5s, meaning they made a big dent on the other holes, as well. As for putting, the last eight winners all finished top-8 in the field in strokes gained: putting.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Rory McIlroy - $11,800 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 5-1)
Really, this price might be cheap. McIlroy has finished in the top 5 in six straight starts worldwide. He has finished top-6 three years running at Bay Hill, winning in 2018. We could type out some stats, but why bother?
Tommy Fleetwood - $11,000 (14-1)
When we last saw Fleetwood ... no, we shouldn't go there ... but we have to. If the Englishman can recover from the 72nd hole at PGA National, his game is perfectly suited for him to be in the mix on the 72nd hole at Bay Hill. He ranks first on Tour in greens in regulation from 200-plus yards. Fleetwood finished third here last year and 10th in 2017.
Bryson DeChambeau - $10,400 (20-1)
Something has gotten into DeChambeau in 2020, and it's not just extra muscle. He was eighth in Dubai, fifth at Riviera and then runner-up in Mexico, where he kind of let Patrick Reed take the title away. DeChambeau is absolutely pounding the ball, averaging more than 320 yards off the tee to rank fourth on Tour in driving distance. He's also ranked fourth in strokes gained: off the tee, 20th in greens in regulation and even 21st in SG: putting. DeChambeau was runner-up to McIlroy two years ago and is a real threat to win this week.
Xander Schauffele - $10,000 (25-1)
Interestingly, Schauffele has not played this tournament before. But he's never had much trouble quickly acclimating to new, difficult tracks. Since a runner-up at the Tournament of Champions Schauffele has three top-25s in four starts – great for most golfers, but not for him. He's fallen out of the top 10 in the world, to 12th. Putting is the problem; otherwise he's elite, ranking second in strokes gained: tee to green.
Tier 2 Values
Henrik Stenson - $8,800 (40-1)
Stenson has been so good for so long at Bay Hill that last year's tie for 17th was a bad year. In the five previous editions he was top-5 four times. Stenson is 43 now, but he still can deliver – he was eighth at the U.S. Open and won the Hero World Challenge. Stenson has yet to play in the States in 2020, having last teed it up in Saudi Arabia in January.
Matthew Fitzpatrick - $8,500 (50-1)
I'll be honest: Every time I pick Fitzpatrick I immediately envision Lucy swiping the football just as Charlie Brown is about to kick. That said, Fitzpatrick was Bay Hill runner-up a year ago. He was runner-up at a strong Abu Dhabi field in January. He's up to a career-best 24th OWGR. What could possibly go wrong?
Collin Morikawa - $8,400 (40-1)
Morikawa still has yet to miss a cut as a pro. He opened 2020 with four straight top-25s, then just missed another at Riviera. Morikawa is ranked 10th in strokes gained: tee to green, seventh in greens in regulation from 200-plus and 16th in par-5 birdie or better.
Bubba Watson - $8,300 (50-1)
Watson has had some decent finishes here over the years, making his past six cuts (not including a WD). And that's when he couldn't put. If you didn't notice, something has gotten into Watson on the greens this season: He's currently ranked 19th in strokes gained: putting. That could explain all the good finishes so far this season.
Tier 3 Values
Scottie Scheffler - $7,700 (60-1)
We often see young golfers shine in the fall season, only to fade when the fields get tougher after the new year. Scheffler started to wobble with missed cuts at Torrey Pines and Phoenix. But he showed he belongs with top-30s at both Riviera and Mexico. Scheffler is ranked 14th in strokes gained: off the tee, 31st in greens in regulation and 38th in GIR from 200-plus heading into his Bay Hill debut.
Ian Poulter - $7,600 (80-1)
Poulter has made nine straight cuts at Bay Hill, including last year's top-25, his sixth in that span. He had a couple of top-25s on the European Tour in January and just missed another at the Honda last week.
Rafa Cabrera Bello - $7,600 (80-1)
Cabrera Bello was priced at $7,500 a year ago heading into his Bay Hill debut. He finished third and now costs only $100 more. The Spaniard has been busy so far in 2020; this will be his seventh start. He's coming off top-20s at both Riviera and Mexico with a game well suited for Bay Hill.
Harris English - $7,400 (100-1)
English has continued his renaissance season with a pair of top-20s in this past two starts, including the Honda. He already has six top-25s in 2019-20. English is ranked second on Tour in greens in regulation and 18th in strokes gained: tee to green. He has made the Bay Hill cut five times in the past seven years.
Kevin Streelman - $7,000 (125-1)
If you're looking for a high finish here, maybe it's best to move on. If you're looking for cheap golfer to make the cut, Streelman is a good option. The veteran has made the weekend in seven of his last eight trips to Bay Hill over the past decade. He's ranked 40th in strokes gained: off the tee, much more for accuracy than distance. He's also ranked 67th in greens in regulation from 200-plus. And get this: He's tied for 16th in par-5 scoring average. Granted, Streelman's missed more than half his cuts this season, but he's made three of his past four, all at tough tracks: PGA National, Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines.
Talor Gooch - $7,000 (150-1)
Gooch missed the cut at the season-opening Greenbrier but since then has made the cut in 11 straight events, tied for the longest current stretch on Tour season-to-date. Gooch is ranked 13th in strokes gained: tee to green and 25th in greens in regulation. He's played Bay Hill once before, tying for 26th two years ago.
Adam Long - $6,700 (150-1)
Long is not a long hitter (sorry) but he is straight, ranking 30th on Tour in driving accuracy and 44th in greens in regulation. That's what we're looking for this week, especially sub-$7,000. He's not great around the hole, but he is in the top half in strokes gained: putting, ranking 92nd. Long just missed a top-25 last week at PGA National, tying for 27th. Impressively, he tied for 10th in his Bay Hill debut a year ago.
Robby Shelton - $6,300 (250-1)
We're taking a deep dive into Shelton, realizing that more than half the field makes the cut. But there's more: Shelton of late has played well on the tougher tracks, worse on the easier ones. He was an impressive tie for 11th last week at PGA National, and also tied for 36th at Torrey Pines. Shelton is ranked top-50 on Tour in both strokes gained: off the tee and in greens in regulation from 200-plus yards out. He's played Bay Hill once before, missing the cut three years ago.