Now in its fourth year as the anchor leg of the Florida Swing, the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard has experienced its fair share of modifications in that brief period of time.
After three years as a par 70, Bay Hill Club & Lodge underwent extensive work, added a couple of hundred yards and returned the par to 72 in 2010. While there have been more birdies, aggregate scoring has also risen.
Bay Hill posted a scoring average of 73.203 last year, second-highest among 21 par 72s in non-majors. Wind played a primary role, but consider that Martin Laird's 8-under 280 was the second-highest winning score in the 46-year history of the event. (Mike Nicolette defeated Greg Norman in a playoff in 1983 after both posted 283.)
There's virtually no let-up anywhere on the course. Last year, its quartet of par 3s ranked most difficult on the PGA TOUR in birdies or better at 8.33 percent. The par 4s ranked third at 12.01 percent. Even the four par 5s refuse to relent, checking in at 12th-most challenging.
At 7,419 yards on the scorecard, the host track would seem to favor long hitters, and make no mistake, Laird and 2010 champ Ernie Els have some pop, but Bay Hill has remained inside the top 10-20 in terms of shortest measured drives as a par 70 and par 72. Furthermore, forgiving fairway widths open the door for all types of players.
This dynamic slots Bay Hill as a second-shot golf course, and that is supported by the fact that its greens are among the most difficult to hit in regulation; it ranked 15th last year and first as recently as 2009. Once on them, there are few gimmies. Last year's putting average was 1.841, tied for fourth-highest on the season. It checked in at 14th in 2010.
Experience is vital. A cursory peek at recent results reads like a who's who of veterans, and none of the 21 rookies that competed here in the last three years posted a top 10; only four posted top 25s. Additionally, course history goes hand in hand with course management. The field of 120 is best served to let Bay Hill come to it, as forcing the issue is a recipe for a short stay.
The weather forecast is somewhat favorable for low numbers as winds are expected to be light to moderate throughout, but can certainly change quickly. Temperatures will rise into the low 80s, and there is a risk of inclement weather late in the weekend.
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|Power Rankings: Arnold Palmer Invitational|
In 2012, our expert will be publishing his list of players who didn't quite make the top 10 for that particular week. Here are five other players Rob Bolton likes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard:
11. K.J. Choi ... He's posted just one top 25 in a full-field event all year (T24, Northern Trust), but he closed last week's Transitions with a 4-under 67. In nine starts at Bay Hill, he has a pair of top 10s including a career-best T6 a year ago.
12. Martin Laird ... The defending champion is off to yet another strong start to his season with a pair of top fives. While he missed the Transitions' cut on the number, he's currently third on TOUR in greens in regulation, ninth in ball-striking and fifth in birdie average.
13. Mark Wilson ... Since his third-place finish at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, he's failed to crack a top 25 in three starts but hasn't missed a cut. Shared ninth at last year's Palmer, carding one of just six rounds in the 60s in difficult scoring conditions in the finale.
14. Nick Watney ... Quietly riding a consecutive cuts made streak of 14 starts, including three top 20s this season. Shared fourth at Bay Hill in 2009. Ranks 11th on the PGA TOUR in greens in regulation and T40 in bogey avoidance.
15. Jason Dufner ... Forgettable record at Bay Hill in four starts but last week's effort at Copperhead cannot go ignored. He played his first 40 holes in bogey-free 10-under and held the outright lead at the midpoint of the Transitions. Sits T15 on TOUR in bogey avoidance.