I always look forward to the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in the middle of March, but with Tiger Woods’ re-entry into the golf stratosphere the tournament has now become a can’t-miss event in a calendar apparently full of them.
Woods will tee it up with stars Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Rose this week in Orlando. Woods is playing for the second straight week and also presumably the final time before the 2018 Masters. Oh yeah, and he’s won four of his last six outings at Bay Hill.
Let’s take a look at this week’s contest.
What: Arnold Palmer Invitational | Where: Orlando, Florida | When: March 15-18
Field and odds
- Tiger Woods: 6-1
- Jason Day: 12-1
- Justin Rose: 16-1
- Rory McIlroy: 18-1
- Rickie Fowler: 18-1
- Tommy Fleetwood: 22-1
Field strength: A
Woods is the rising tide that lifts all boats. This was already a strong field, but he makes it borderline elite. And if the crowds last week in Tampa were any indication, we’re in for a complete and total circus at the API. You know, the way professional golf with Tiger Woods involved should be.
Three stories to watch
1. Can Fowler or McIlroy get on track? Fowler is currently 46th in strokes gained on the PGA Tour, and McIlroy is 84th. They’ve had different issues, though. Fowler is No. 139 in strokes gained putting, which is way off his normal pace (he finished second last year), and McIlroy is No. 151 in strokes gained on approach shots (he finished 52nd last year). McIlroy’s putting hasn’t been great either. These two have combined for five top 10s at Augusta in the last four years, but neither looks to be in great form at the moment. They’ve also both experienced mild success at Bay Hill so maybe one or the other or both can get back on track this week with time running out until the first major of the year.
2. Tiger’s return: I think I’ve slotted “Tiger’s return” in one of my three stories to watch for most of the past month. First, it was his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines. Then, it was his return to Riviera where he hadn’t been in over a decade. Now it’s a return to the scene of so much success over the years. Woods has won this event a staggering eight times. Even stranger? He also has seven finishes outside the top 10.
Tiger’s Bay Hill finishes:
— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) March 12, 2018
Still, everything is pointing to his first victory anywhere since 2013. He played great last week. He always plays great at this tournament. I mean (see below). The whole world will be watching, and I’m curious to see how Woods fares as the frontrunner. He hasn’t been that for five years, and though he’s built a career and a life around being that kind of competitor, I want to see how he responds as the favorite.
Phil Mickelson’s win drought lasted 1,687 days.
Sunday at Bay Hill will be 1,687 days since Tiger Woods’ last victory.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) March 11, 2018
3. Sneaky Day: Jason Day is kind of quietly having an awesome year. He only has four starts, and he hasn’t finished worse than T11. That includes a win at the Farmers Insurance Open and a T2 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. From a sustainability standpoint, I’m not sure how long his run can last given the fact that he’s gaining almost two (!) strokes per round on the field, but he’s a really interesting pick not only this week but at Augusta in three weeks.
- 2017: Marc Leishman
- 2016: Jason Day
- 2015: Matt Every
- 2014: Matt Every
- 2013: Tiger Woods
Quite a crew here. Tiger, by the way, has three two-tournament winning streaks at this course.
Arnold Palmer Invitational picks
Winner: I am all the way in. If it blows like it did last year and scores balloon, his ball-striking could carry the day. Nothing worse than a T21 in five starts this year, although this will be his first appearance at Bay Hill. He’s fourth in strokes gained.
Top 10: As noted above, Day is sort of flying under the radar this week (who isn’t, though, I guess). His approach shots have been really bad in 2018 (185th on the PGA Tour), but I’ll ride that hot putter to yet another top 10.
Sleeper: Barn Rat! He’s finished top 10 in both of his starts at this event and finished T5 in his last outing (WGC-Mexico Championship). He should not be 50-1.
Tiger watch: This is such a good spot for Woods (obviously). Not only does he always play well here, but the course has gotten tougher since he last won it in 2013. That plays into his hands nicely these days, and anything outside the top 10 this week will be a mild disappointment.