Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Arnold Palmer Invitational - Fantasy Picks

Henrik Stenson has been playing as well as just about anyone on the Florida Swing. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Late in 2012, while appearing on Golf Channel, Arnold Palmer joked that Rory McIlroy might wind up with a broken arm if he didn't tee it up at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Well, while this week's edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard is the third since The King called the current No. 1 to task, the 25-year-old Ulsterman is poised to make his debut in the tournament.

In his presser before The Honda Classic earlier this month, McIlroy said, "What Arnold Palmer has done for our game and what he's done for the PGA TOUR, it was about time that I showed up there and played in his tournament."

What McIlroy will find inside the ropes is potentially easier than he may think. Bay Hill's scoring average of 72.473 in 2014 was the lowest since it was reverted to a par 72 in 2010. Its splits in par-3, par-4 and par-5 scoring were also five-year lows, while greens in regulation, average distance of putts made and par breakers were high-water marks for the same range.

Even though McIlroy is making his first appearance, everyone in the field of 120 will be getting its first look at new sand in the 84 bunkers that dot the 7,419-yard par 72. In addition to being more economical to maintain, specially engineered angular grains of the hazard will help eliminate plugged lies. Widened fairways and larger landing areas near greens also benefit the competitors, at least in theory. While aggressive strategy must be supported with a sharp short game, it's the latest extension of the reversal from the challenging layout that played as a par 70 in 2007-2009.

Much like how the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club, host of last week's Valspar Championship, will be undergoing a restoration this year, Bay Hill will be replacing its existing Bermudagrass greens with TifEagle Bermuda shortly after the API concludes.

Beginning with this year's tournament, the PGA TOUR is awarding the winners at Bay Hill and the Memorial Tournament presented by National Insurance with a three-year exemption of status. That's one year longer than the customary perk. Winners will also be exempt into THE PLAYERS for three years.

Warm and humid conditions will greet the field on Thursday. A threat of rain exists throughout, the strongest of which on Sunday when it should cool a bit. Winds are forecast to be moderate at worst, but not expected to emerge as a narrative.
  1. Henrik Stenson - Fourth-place finishes in last two weeks chased a pair of T13s abroad. His 6-for-6 slate at Bay Hill includes top 10s in his last two starts.
  2. J.B. Holmes - Settled for solo second at Doral, losing a wire-to-wire bid. Opened with an impossible 62. Perfect in eight trips to Bay Hill; T10 last year.
  3. Adam Scott - Time to start a new cuts made streak. Ended four-year hiatus at Bay Hill with solo third last year. Led after each of the first three rounds.
  4. Bubba Watson - Allergies got the better of him at Bay Hill last year, but his record is strong. Four top 15s to open 2015, including a solo third at Doral.
  5. Rory McIlroy - His B-game is a net A-minus game. "Scuffled" to a T9 at Doral, his 11th top 10 since The Open Championship last summer.
  6. Harris English - Field-low 65 on Sunday at Copperhead fueled a T10, his third top 10 of 2015. T14 here last year. Currently sixth in adjusted scoring.
  7. Ian Poulter - Local resident hasn't finished worse than T21 in last four editions; third in 2012. Coming off T24 at Copperhead. Tied for third at Honda.
  8. Jason Day - Fifth trip, but just his second in last five editions (T45, 2013). T31 at WGC-Cadillac was first finish outside top 20 in last six starts.
  9. Keegan Bradley - Recent inconsistency steps aside for course history for the world's 36th-ranked golfer. Tied for third here in 2013; solo second last year.
  10. Kevin Na - Tearing up the Florida Swing. Top 10s in both starts. Four top 15s in last five tries at Bay Hill, including a T2 in 2010 and T4 in 2012.
  11. Jason Kokrak - Snapped out of a slump at Copperhead with a T7 where he co-led the field in par-4 scoring. Length matters at Bay Hill; solo fourth in 2014.
  12. Hideki Matsuyama - First appearance at Bay Hill. Co-leads the PGA TOUR with five top 10s. Has another two top 25s. Ranks second in par-4 scoring.
  13. Sean O'Hair - Phenomenal week at Copperhead where he lost in a playoff. T25 two weeks prior at PGA National. Only top 10 of 2013-14 was T10 at Bay Hill.
  14. Brooks Koepka - Second appearance (T26, 2014). Tied for 17th at WGC-Cadillac Championship two weeks ago. Sits fourth in adjusted scoring average.
  15. Rickie Fowler - His tee-to-green game was on point at Doral where he placed T12 to end a drought without a top 40 at four starts. T3 here in 2013.

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This article was written by Rob Bolton, originally posted on PGATOUR.com. (Connect with Rob on Twitter @RobBoltonGolf)

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