Forelinx Fantasy Preview ⏤ Arnold Palmer Invitational

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The Florida Swing continues on the PGA TOUR with this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, FL. The King will loom large this week as the event is hosted at the late icon's former winter home and perhaps the finest golf course design among the hundreds he authored over his many years in the design business. While the event does not have the field strength we've seen in past years when the King was still around, there are still a fair number of headliners in attendance. Tyrrell Hatton will be defending the title he won here in the last pre-COVID PGA TOUR event of 2020, but the golf course is not expected to play nearly as difficult as the test he conquered last year with a winning score of four-under par.

Tyrrell Hatton joined an impressive list of champions at Bay Hill with that win last week, but none among them is more at the forefront of our mind than the eight-time winner of this event Tiger Woods. The Big Cat will not be on hand at Bay Hill this week on account of the horrific injuries he sustained in last week's car accident in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. He suffered multiple compound fractures of his right leg in that crash and is still recovering at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA. We at Forelinx have the greatest player of our generation in our hearts this week and hope that his recovery goes as smoothly as possible.

The Field and the Favorites

While the field is not as strong as we're used to seeing at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy (+850) brings plenty of star power and enters the week as the betting favorite. He had a strong week last week (T6) and has been in the top ten more often than not this year. He's won at Bay Hill before (2018) and historically has played very well throughout the Florida Swing. The four reachable par-five holes should play right into his hands as one of the best drivers of the ball as well as one of the game's preeminent long iron players. 

The second favorites are something of a surprise as Bryson Dechambeau (+1200) hasn't been playing particularly well and Viktor Hovland (+1200) is still looking for his first domestic win on the PGA TOUR. The former has driven the ball extremely poorly of late and if he can't find a way to put the ball in play off the tee he will struggle to score around Bay Hill. That having been said, Dechambeau has had success here with a runner-up finish back in 2018 (to McIlroy) and a top-five finish here in the difficult conditions the players faced last year. Hovland has been a threat to win a lot lately and certainly merits consideration in his own right this week as well.

Tyrrell Hatton (+1600) wouldn't be a terrible bet to repeat as champion this year given his success on the golf course last year as well as the form he's displayed thus far this year. He began 2021 with a win at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship on the European Tour and has backed up that performance with a pair of top-25 finishes and a T6 at the Saudi International. His short game and toughness are two of his best assets and if the wind blows at Bay Hill (driving the scores up) he'll become even more of a threat to win.

Patrick Reed (+2000) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (+2100) are the next best contenders on the board and both will likely have a similar blueprint to win around Bay Hill should either manage to bag the trophy this week. They will hope the golf course plays firm and fast and scoring is similar to what we saw last year as both players have dined out on their ability to save par. Fitzpatrick got himself in the hunt a few weeks back at Riviera, but poor ball striking saw him careen down the leaderboard over the weekend. The inverse was true for Patrick Reed last week as his short game and putting (usually two strengths of his) let him down on Sunday at the WGC Workday Championship.

The Golf Course

The Bay Hill Club and Lodge is a really thrilling track that presents multiple risk/reward opportunities throughout the experience of playing the golf course. Most of these tests are put to the players thanks to the omnipresence of water throughout its eighteen holes and players who bite off more than they can chew could rack up some big numbers here. Fan favorite John Daly can certainly testify to that as he recorded the highest score in PGA TOUR history at the sixth at Bay Hill when he made an 18 at the par-five sixth. Daly tried to cut the corner of the dogleg around the large lake that hugs the entire left side of the hole. He pumped ball after ball into the hazard and no doubt his infamous feat will no doubt play on the minds of the players this week when they face the same challenge off that tee.

Par-five performance will play a major role in determining who wins at Bay Hill this week. Part of the success that Tiger Woods had here (especially early in his career) was predicated on his dominance of the five-par holes and it will be essential that the winner grab his fair share of birdies (and even eagles) during the sixteen opportunities he will have to play the four three-shot holes. All four are likely reachable depending on the wind conditions, but the sixth and the sixteenth stand out as the most polarizing among them. The sixth was mentioned above as a challenging carry both from the tee and into the green such that well-executed shots will yield birdies and eagles but poor efforts can lead to bogies and doubles. The sixteenth is one of the shorter five-par holes on the PGA TOUR, but the tight driving area and water-surrounded green complex will catch the player who sleeps on this easily-reachable hole.

It's difficult to determine what the winning score will be this week as there has been a wide range of winning scores here of late. Last year's winning total of 284 (four-under par) was the highest winning score in the history of the event, but it was just a few years prior that Rory McIlroy won with an eighteen-under total of 270. The determining factor in which two versions of the golf course will be presented will likely be the wind strength and the corresponding firmness of the turf. With a little bit of rain and a fair bit of wind in the forecast, it's tough to know which of nature's elements will most strongly impose its will on the tournament. Saturday's forecast calls for wind and rain, but Sunday calls for a dryer windy day and it's tough to tell how difficult the course will play given those contrasting influences on the course's difficulty.