Well, the Valspar was a great week for Charl Schwartzel, but not so much for me.  My two highest owned players (Sean O’Hair and Danny Lee) both withdrew. We take the good with the bad in golf, because those kinds of bad breaks are very unpredictable. Don’t be too hard on yourselves, because it’s been getting progressively harder to get six golfers through the cut this season. Golf is by far the most volatile sport and we have to plan our strategies and manage our expectations accordingly.

Let’s move on to this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational which is held at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge course in Orlando. A lot of studs are in the field again, preparing for the WGC Match Play next week and the Masters thereafter. Our headliners this week are Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Justin Rose, and Hideki Matsuyama. For those of you new to golf, this was one of “Tiger’s Tournaments”… he’s won here eight times. Always a sad reminder of what he used to be, and we wish him well because golf is not the same without Tiger staring down opponents on Sundays. Bay Hill offers a more traditional par-72 course layout, with four par 3s, four par 5s, and ten par 4s.  The course is decently long, but a lot of the yardage comes in the Par 3s, which takes away the need for distance. There are many holes where players will be clubbing down off the tee and trying to position themselves for second shots. One aspect of the course worth mentioning is the new green surfaces, which means they will be firmer and faster than usual. Right away, this points me in two directions: First, look at players who hit the ball higher, because they are able to land the ball softly on these new greens. Secondly, greens will be harder to hit, so scrambling is even more important this week. One last point I’ll make is that many Tour players (even Europeans) make their homes in Orlando (at Isleworth or Lake Nona), so they are very familiar with Bay Hill and courses with similar conditions.  Players that jump to my mind are Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, and Charles Howell III.

Because this is more of a classical layout that requires accuracy off-the-tee and strategic placement of shots, I’m going to heavily factor in course history. There’s been a heated debate recently about the importance of course history, so let me give my quick opinion based on a conversation I had this week. Course history clearly matters: for example, Tiger won here eight times, and if that’s not enough for you, he’s won seven times on 4 other golf courses. Tour players have the flexibility to make their own schedules, and there’s a reason some players play a tournament ten years in a row, and skip others ten years in a row.  They want to maximize their success, so obviously players schedule around courses they love and that fit their eye. Course history for one or two years may not be a great indicator, but if a player has four or five top-20 finishes on a course that he’s played eight years in a row, that’s definitely something to factor into your research. And honestly, you don’t have to look much past this tournament’s history.  Not only do you have the Tiger angle, but you have two-time defending champion Matt Every. Every is a typical journeyman pro, who has no career wins except for the two wins at this tournament. He’s also from Daytona, Florida which checks the other box I mentioned above.  I’ll talk about a couple stats this week, but I’m going to spend a lot of my research looking into players with Florida ties and a good course/tournament history.  The key stats that I’ll be focusing on this week will be strokes gained tee-to-green, approaches from outside 200 yards (including the par-3 tee shots), and scrambling. For those of you who haven’t checked out Fantasy Golf Metrics (@FGMetrics), you can see detailed stat breakdowns based on current form and course history.  These stat references I’m listing are directly taken from their database.

 

  • SG: T2G

As we mentioned, players will be playing for position on this course, and I think experience will play a major role.  Rory played here last year for the first time and T-11th, so I fully expect him to better that finish this year. I always start at strokes gained tee-to-green on these types of courses. The greens should be firm this week, so really precise approaches (plus a high ball flight) will be key  Looking at the top-10 players in SG:T2G on this course specifically, you’ll see a mix of past contenders, pure ball strikers, and bombers who don’t mind clubbing down off the tee – notably Henrik “3-wood” Stenson. *Note: I excluded the top two players, Hideki Matsuyama and Rory McIlroy, because they’ve only played the course once.

 

Player

SG:T2G Bay Hill

Francesco Molinari

6.293

Henrik Stenson

6.195

Justin Rose

6.020

Vijay Singh

5.499

Sean O’Hair

5.293

Jason Kokrak

4.990

Morgan Hoffman

4.539

Bud Cauley

4.529

Kevin Na

4.373

Vaughn Taylor

4.299

 

As you can see, these are some of the most highly touted players of the week, based on course history, and everyone on this list makes for a great play this week. *Update: Kevin Na has withdrawn, so don’t play him. For tournament purposes, I’ll likely avoid Jason Kokrak and Morgan Hoffman because they will be highly owned this week relative to the players around them. And at their price points, you can find better value and consistency. Henrik Stenson, however, will likely be my highest owned player this week. The only issue with Stenson is that he never wins, which means I’ll have to pair him with another top-tier target, forcing me to look for value in lower priced players.

 

  • Long Approaches (>200 yards):

You have to be a little careful with this stat this week, because the course features long par 3s that fall in this range.  I’m going to factor approaches from 200+ yards and par 3 scoring at Bay Hill. Par 3 data on this course is a little skewed due to sample size, so throwing out players who’ve only played once, several names stuck out to me:  David Lingmerth, Scott Brown, Bud Cauley, Daniel Summerhays, Jason Kokrak, and Morgan Hoffman.

Taking a look at the top-10 players in proximity from outside 200 yards on this golf course, you’ll see: Lucas Glover, Paul Casey, Bud Cauley, Retief Goosen, Zach Johnson, Brendon Todd, Harris English, Chad Campbell, Vaughn Taylor, and Jason Kokrak. Although his price tag might steer people away, Jason Kokrak’s name is popping up too many times to ignore. I think his ownership will be higher than it’s ever been, so I’m staying away. Also, Kokrak was a high school golf opponent of mine in Ohio, and spoiler alert, he destroyed me in every tournament. I’m still bitter.

 

  • Scrambling:

These new greens are going to be firm and fast, and with long approaches throughout the course, I think GIR % will be very low. Scrambling is crucial since players will miss a bunch of greens, so I’m looking at scrambling percentage from previous years at Bay Hill. There is always an unpredictable aspect of chipping and putting, but usually you can get a general idea of players who are comfortable with their short games on Bermuda grass.

Again, I’m going to compile some data based on scrambling percentage from Bay Hill, using FGMetrics. I’ve excluded those players with only one appearance at this event. What you’ll notice again is the number of players who have great course histories and have homes in Florida.

 

Player

Scrambling %

Appearances at Bay Hill

David Lingmerth

76.9%

3

Kevin Na

71.2%

7

Francesco Molinari

65.7%

3

Morgan Hoffman

65.1%

2

Daniel Summerhays

64.6%

4

Luke Donald

64.0%

2

Freddie Jacobson

63.9%

7

Henrik Stenson

62.9%

7

Keegan Bradley

62.4%

4

Retief Goosen

61.3%

8

 

Remember, sample size of all stats can be skewed for a number of reasons, so don’t make these numbers the end-all of your picks.  I do think, however, if you factor in the Florida/Bermuda/Course History angles, you’ll have success this week!  Instead of picks this week, here’s my top-25 players based on my own model of course history, key stats, and price:

 

  1. Matt Kuchar
  2. Rory McIlroy
  3. Charles Howell III
  4. Hideki Matsuyama
  5. Justin Rose
  6. Henrik Stenson
  7. Kevin Kisner
  8. Billy Horschel
  9. Smylie Kaufman
  10. Ryan Palmer
  11. Vijay Singh
  12. Jason Day
  13. Brendan Steele
  14. Retief Goosen
  15. David Lingmerth
  16. Paul Casey
  17. Scott Brown
  18. Francesco Molinari
  19. Matt Jones
  20. Emiliano Grillo
  21. Graeme McDowell
  22. Webb Simpson
  23. Zach Johnson
  24. Bud Cauley
  25. Lucas Glover

 

Good luck this week!

 

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