The Arnold Palmer Invitational ⏤ Expert's Picks & Analysis

Fantasy Golf

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The PGA TOUR continues its Florida swing as the players head inland from Palm Beach Gardens to the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The memory of the King looms large at this event as Bay Hill is not only one of Palmer’s designs but was also his winter home for so many years. We may not witness his presence in body anymore, but his spirit will certainly be felt throughout the week at this special event that bears his name.

After a daunting test last week at the Honda, the players should find the confines of Arnie’s creation far friendlier that what Jack’s work presented at PGA National. That having been said, the weather forecast calls for a breezy week and especially a blustery opening round—with wind gusts of 25-30mph forecasted for Thursday’s action. This wind should dry the golf course up some and potentially lead to a higher winning score than we may be used to in this event.

The field is headlined by the world’s number one player and the betting favorite this week—Rory McIlroy. He’s joined by four others from the top ten—including Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott, Tommy Fleetwood and Patrick Reed. Tiger Woods, an eight-time winner of this event, opted not to play after experiencing some back stiffness and choosing to rest his body ahead of the upcoming Masters Tournament.

Group A 

There are six strong players in this marquee grouping but we think the choice here is relatively obvious. World number one Rory McIlroy has been an absolute beast as of late and (going back to the fall series) has yet to post a finish outside of the top-five in the last four months. He finished 3rd at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego and then followed that up with a fifth-place finish at Riviera and a fifth-place finish two weeks ago at the WGC Mexico Championship. Moreover, he’s quite comfortable at Bay Hill—having won this event just two years ago back in 2018. We cannot imagine anyone who picks him will be disappointed.

The only drawback of picking Rory is that he is likely to be well-owned by the rest of the field and you may not be able to create any separation by selecting him. If you’re looking to make a contrarian pick here—your best bet might be to run with Adam Scott. He’s another player that has shown some strong form as of late. He posted consecutive wins at the Australian PGA Championship and the Genesis Invitational before coming back down to earth with a 26th-place finish two weeks ago at the WGC Mexico Championship. His driving ability should give him a leg up over most of the competition in the field this week and his high ball flight should help him find some of the more hidden hole locations at Bay Hill.

Group B 

This grouping features six strong players, but one of them (Rickie Fowler) has some form issues to be concerned about. He managed a decent start to the year, but it’s been a rough go for him since the American Express. In the three events since Palm Springs, he’s managed just one made cut (a T37 at TPC Scottsdale) and is coming off another missed cut last week at the Honda Classic. Xander Schauffele hasn’t been too bad this season—making every single cut and finishing in the top 25 in each of his last three starts—but he’s yet to crack the top ten since returning to the mainland after his second-place finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Finau, Reed and Matsuyama have all managed multiple top-ten finishes and Reed even bagged a win just a few weeks ago at the WGC Mexico Championship, but we’re going to ride the hot hand here and go with Tommy Fleetwood. He seemed poised to bag his first PGA TOUR victory last week at the Honda Classic, but a final hole water ball derailed his chance to match Sungjae Im’s six-under score in the clubhouse and bumped him down to a third-place finish. He also finished 2nd at Abu Dhabi back in January and his worst start of the calendar year is a very reasonable 18th-place finish at the WGC Mexico Championship. We think there’s a high floor for him here and can’t imagine him having a week that will let down anyone who opts to draft him at Bay Hill.

Group C 

This is a tough group to pick as the results for most of these players to date have been all over the map. One consistent result has been the ice-cold streak for defending champion Francesco Molinari since last year’s epic Masters Tournament collapse. He won here by two over Matthew Fitzpatrick last year and appeared poised at the 2019 Masters to cement his place among the best in the game. Instead, he drowned a pair of golf balls in the water at twelve and fifteen on Sunday and hasn’t been heard from since. Strike his name off the list of possibles from this group.

Lee Westwood makes a compelling case as he’s had a very resurgent year so far. He bagged a win on the European Tour early in the year at Abu Dhabi and was sniffing around the lead over the weekend at last week’s Honda Classic. He finished in fourth and would be a reasonable choice, but we worry that this sudden burst of form might have a sell-by date associated with it.

Our selection is going to be Henrik Stenson. While he is making his first start of the year, he’s by far the most pedigreed player in the group and his laser-like iron play should stand him in good stead should the wind blow as predicted. If things calm down, he’s also a guy that can make a lot of birdies when his putter gets hot and we think he’s a fine candidate to kick off his 2020 campaign with a strong start at Bay Hill.

Group D 

This is another grouping that features six players with a mixed bag of results to start the year. J.B. Holmes had a relatively solid West Coast Swing—posting top-sixteen finishes at his first three starts (San Diego, Phoenix, Pebble Beach) before a rough weekend at Riviera dropped him out of the top-50 in that event. Bubba Watson finished 6th at Torrey Pines and 3rd at TPC Scottsdale, but then struggled at Riviera (MC) and finished 18th at the WGC Mexico Championship. Ryan Moore managed a sixth at The American Express in Palm Springs but missed the cut in Phoenix and finished 30th at Riviera.

We’re going to go with Billy Horschel here as his best finishes of 2020 are the most recent of the bunch. He managed a 9th place finish in Phoenix as well as a 9th place finish at the WGC Mexico Championship and his final-round 75 at the Honda Classic kept him from another top-twenty finish in that event as well. Six of his last twelve rounds have been in the sixties and we think he’s a safe bet to make the cut and maybe even a dark horse to post a high finish.

Group E 

A quick look at this group and fantasy players might check their phones to make sure the year is actually 2020 and not 2000. This crop of aging veteran players combines for a dozen major championships, but all six are well past their sell-by date and know their best golf is behind them. The potential for four or five of these players to miss the cut makes this an important group—as it may be the best opportunity to create some separation from the field by being the contestant who can sniff out which among these oldies will play all four rounds.

He’s been feast or famine this year, but we’re going to go with Phil Mickelson. He’s finished third in two of his five starts in 2020, but the other three outings he’s missed all three cuts. He’s a past champion in this event (back in 1997) and while he may be a liability for a missed cut, he definitely has the most upside of any of these six players. There’s reason to believe there is some good golf in him as we’ve seen it of late—the question is can he get “Good Phil” to come out this week or will we be seeing more of “Bad Phil.”

Group F 

If Group E represents the old guard then Group F picks six players who form a young brigade of potential future stars of the PGA TOUR. Viktor Hovland just grabbed his first win of his budding career a few weeks ago in Puerto Rico and he’d be a fine choice among the six players listed here. Cameron Champ has already won on the PGA TOUR as well, but he’s been less than stellar to start the year and was most recently seen missing the cut at Riviera. Former U.S. Amateur champion Doc Redman had been relatively solid so far, but his missed cut last week at the Honda Classic is cause for concern.

Our pick is Max Homa as he comes off an extremely strong start to the season out on the West Coast. He had a slow start in Hawaii and out in Palm Springs, but since managed four starts with no worse than a 14th-place finish at the AT&T Pebble Becah Pro-Am. He finished 5th at Riviera after contending for most of Sunday and added that to a sixth-place finish in Phoenix and a ninth-place finish at Torrey Pines. He gets more and more comfortable every week and appears primed to bag his first win sometime in the relatively near future.

Winning score projection: -16