The First Tee – Arnold Palmer Invitational

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly March 13, 2018 01:08

The First Tee – Arnold Palmer Invitational

Bay Hill typically proves to be a tough test for golfers, with one of the stronger (and smaller at only 120 golfers) fields on tour averaging above par here. Winds can become a big factor at Arnie’s tournament, so this is another week where it’s crucial to check the weather – although the course is tree-lined, the trees are fairly fair apart and don’t offer much if any protection.

One note on DK pricing: because this is a shorter field, the possibility exists to go stars and scrubs with less golfers making the cut. With Tiger sure to be popular at $10,000, going balanced and starting below him could be the contrarian play.


The course is a long par-72, at 7419 yards with four par-3s and four par-5s. Last season, all four par-5s and a lone par-4 (the 370-yard 13th) averaged under par, with the other 13 holes all averaging above par. There were 37 eagles made in 2017 in what was a tougher outing than normal thanks to high winds – Marc Leishman’s -11 winning score was the lowest since Martin Laird’s -8 in 2011 – and 179 double bogeys or worse; bogey avoidance is important here, as is par-5 scoring.

Off the tee, golfers will be looking at some very different things depending on the hole; although the course average fairway width at the 275- and 300-yard markers is a fairly wide (relative to the past few weeks at least) 35-yards across, that average is pulled up quite a bit by the 6th hole where fairways are 68 yards wide. Golfers that can bomb it will get some added width in the fairways, but that’ll be tough to do on a course where the holes have severe doglegs, bunkers, or water in play.

If golfers miss the fairway, the rough is fairly thick and penal, and the fairways have lots of slope and undulation which has the added benefit of extra roll-out for shorter knockers, but that can also push the ball into that thick rough. A lot of the approach shots this week will still come from 175+ yards away as golfers go with long-irons or woods off the tee, and again, it’s a long-ish course at 7419 yards.

Getting to the green at Bay Hill is done about ~62% of the time on average, an average number, but sticking it close to the pin is tough. The greens have lots of levels and slope, and have tricky run-off areas into short fringe or worse, into bunkers. They’re slightly fast (around 12.5 on the stimp) and firm greens, and the greens are Tifeagle Bermuda that was installed in 2016. Play around the greens see a slight uptick in importance thanks to the sheer amount of greenside bunkers and run-offs, so keep that in mind this week as well.


The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Off the Tee
  • Putting
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Bogey Avoidance %
  • Birdie or Better %
  • Proximity from 175+ Yards
  • Par-5 Scoring
  • Scrambling (I hate this stat, but it’s a lesser evil this week)

Top-Tier Golfers

Tommy Fleetwood ($9500): Although Fleetwood only has 12 measured rounds this season, his stats show out very well for what’s needed at Bay Hill:

  • 2nd Strokes Gained: Tee to Green
  • 14th Strokes Gained: Around the Green
  • 20th in Birdie or Better % / T20 in Par-5 Birdie or Better %, and most impressively,
  • 15-under par in approach shots outside 175 yards (67 attempts)

Fleetwood is a master with his irons, especially when going for the green (1st), and he sits 38th in SG: Approach. With a lot of doglegs left here, Fleetwood’s solid distance from the edge of the fairway should leave him a ton of room to get clear approach shots; the Brit also hits the fairway 65.63% of the time.

Tommy’s only played this event once – last year – and finished T10 with a final score of -6 after opening with a horrible 78. After taking a week off post-Mexico, expect Fleetwood to maintain his elite level of play, although he may be quite chalky given how soft the pricing up top is. It’s very easy to make a Fleetwood lineup that starts with one of Rickie, Rory, Tiger and Hideki, so it’s definitely something to consider.

Brian Harman ($8800) – Fellow FGI writer Ryan Baroff’s pick to win this week is intriguing for a lot of reasons; Harman has had an excellent year with only one missed cut (at Farmer’s) in eight events, six of which were top-10 finishes. His course history is spotty or fantastic depending how heavily you weight missed cuts, as he’s finished T17 or better in half of his attempts, but missed the cut in the other half.

Harman’s strokes gained numbers don’t look fantastic off the tee (T50th), but a large part of that is thanks to his complete lack of distance: he sits 144th in driving distance at a woeful 291.5, and that includes his week in Mexico where he was hitting it 300+. On the other side of that though is the fact that Harman’s nails at finding the fairway (just under 70%), is 23-under par outside 175 yards (121 attempts), and is third in SG: Approach.

He consistently gains strokes around the green in his career, so his short game if he misses the green is nothing to stress over – currently 67th but going back to 2013 has never lost strokes – and over the last three years his putter has lit the world on fire (currently 6th, 5th in 2016, 15th in 2015 in SG: Putting). Starting with a Fleetwood/Harman combo – which would mean passing on Tiger – leaves a very, very balanced lineup the rest of the way if that appeals.


Value Golfers (below $8000)

Scott Piercy ($7500): This season, there’s no one better on tour on approach than Scott Piercy. Digest that for a moment.


He’s been struggling off the tee, losing strokes thanks to hitting it a touch short – 296.8 on average but remember he didn’t get the Mexico bump – and has been awful at finding the fairways, only pulling that off 58.47% of the time. That will bump his SG: Approach number, because even finding himself in those poor positions, Piercy is still getting to the green in regulation a huge 70.93% of the time (14th). He’s always been an undervalued player in terms of scoring, with the 25th-best BoB% (40th on par-5s), averaging 4.13 birdies per round, and he’s an under-price at only $7500.

Piercy’s putting is always a question mark, but he’s already picked up four 3BIR streaks on the year (22 total rounds) and can get hot and cold at any time. Given his strong iron play, his poor flatstick makes him worth the risk.

His course history is incredibly bad with three missed cuts in three attempts so he may slip under the radar, but he’s only missed one cut this season (WMPO) in eight events and has five top-25s which includes a T6 at CareerBuilder.

Emiliano Grillo ($7600): Although Grillo faded down the stretch at the Hero Indian Open and is flying across the world to play this week, he still offers excellent value at his price tag, as he’s got a T7 and T17 in his only two efforts here and has yet to miss a cut this season. Of his eight PGA events, Grillo has two top-10s, including at a very tough Honda Classic where he finished T8.

Grillo performs well on tough courses and can play in the wind, and is a very strong second-shot golfer. Outside 175 yards, the Argentinian is 10-under (95 attempts), and he’s currently 55th in SG: Approach. He’s almost the opposite from Piercy, in that Grillo is so often placed in good spots – he’s 29th in driving accuracy and 54th in distance, 9th in SG: Off the Tee – that it’s harder for him to gain strokes on the field with his irons.

He’s finding 71.01% of greens in regulation (13th), and is having a miracle season with his putter which could be scary; Grillo is typically a bottom-100 player on the greens, but this season is 18th in SG: Putting. Either that’s a sign of improved play – after all, Grillo is only 25 years old – or early-season variance, but his price tag makes it worth the risk.


Good luck this week! You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey if you have any questions, and my DMs are always open.

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly March 13, 2018 01:08

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