Ask any touring professional on which course he's most likely to prevail and he'll say, "Yes." For a golfer to rule out any test is, at best, evidence of honest and humility, but every golfer in every field isn't programmed to think that he can't win every time he pegs it.
Then there is the subset of ability on certain tracks for whom victory isn't expected not because of talent, but because it's most sensible. There are horses for courses, and then there are perfect fits who should be horses for courses. Francesco Molinari at Bay Hill Club and Lodge is a perfect example.
The defending champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard already had a sparkling record at Bay Hill, but he needed seven attempts to capture the sterling silver trophy. Still, his title was so fitting on this track that you can envision Palmer himself flashing his trademark thumbs-up, ear-to-ear grin and twinkle in his eye if asked if Molinari could convert on his beloved home course in Orlando.
For more on why Molinari's profile is ideal for the test and other information about the competition, scroll past the projected contenders.
POWER RANKINGS: ARNOLD PALMER INVITATIONAL PRESENTED BY MASTERCARD
Defending champion Francesco Molinari, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick will be among the notables reviewed in Tuesday's Fantasy Insider.
What's made Molinari so dangerous throughout his career is his propensity to execute extremely well tee to green. Of course, that's been such a well-known fact for so long that, among devout fans of the sport, it's right up there with other obvious recurring narratives such as Tiger Woods' knack to intimidate, Phil Mickelson's skill as an escape artist and Brooks Koepka's confidence in the majors.
Nevertheless, case in point, en route to victory here last year, Molinari ranked T3 in fairways hit and he co-led in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee. He also placed T6 in greens in regulation and 18th in proximity to the hole. Still, while that performance defines his profile, Bay Hill requires the full bag to consider emerging as the champion. With considerable experience to understand this, the Italian finished fourth in Strokes Gained: Putting and fifth in scrambling. Checklist complete.
To be clear, the message isn't that firing on all cylinders from a statistical standpoint is required to win at Bay Hill, but taking the trouble out of play has enhanced relative value. If the all-around ranking could be accepted as something such as "Strokes Gained: Course Management," then it explains why Molinari ran away with that metric here last year, finishing with a robust value of 30 lower than Rory McIlroy, who finished T6 in his title defense.
When conditions allow for it, Bay Hill's TifEagle bermuda greens, which are not overseeded, serve as parts enforcer and equalizer. They're somewhat sizable at 7,500 square feet on average, but they could touch a PGA TOUR-long 13½ feet on the Stimpmeter. So, even for those who will pace the field in greens hit, managing misses will be just as important as avoiding three-putting when safely on. Consider that Bay Hill checked in with the fifth-lowest GIR percentage of 57.64 last year, or about 10.4 per round, and the field averaged a whopping 40 feet, one inch, in proximity to the hole, third-longest of any measured host site.
The stock par 72 relents a little bit on the par 5s, but the par 3s and par 4s are annual beasts. Each set has ranked inside the top 11 of all courses in each of the last three years. Last year's field averaged 72.378 on the scorecard, making it the toughest par 72 of all courses all season. This will be the second edition since the walk was stretched to 7,454 yards.
As of Monday afternoon, the field stood at 121. That's one more than the scheduled reservation because 1990 champion Robert Gamez is an add-on since his victory occurred before 2000. It's going to open with the potential mix of rain, storms and wind on Thursday, although all of it might hold off long enough to sneak everybody into the clubhouse after 18 holes. Timing of the inclement weather will come into focus nearer the start, but what's already certain is that it'll be warm. The daytime high for the opening round will approach 90 degrees.
A drastic cooling will follow and it'll be accompanied by a sunny sky and dry air for the remainder, but winds likely will continue to be cause for pause for many decisions.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.