Not everyone celebrates anniversaries, and not all anniversaries are worth celebrating, but the first anniversary always serves as an exercise in perspective.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard was the last tournament completed before the pandemic that forced a three-month shutdown in 2020. Given everything that has happened and what we know now, that the hiatus lasted only three months is a remarkable achievement. The collaboration with local communities has been paramount in sustaining a safe and competitive environment.
Yet, a break from how Bay Hill Club and Lodge tested last year presented an opportunity for a different kind of recovery. Scroll past the projected contenders for details of how extreme it played and why, what the limited field can expect this week and more.
POWER RANKINGS: ARNOLD PALMER INVITATIONAL
The Fantasy Insider will be delayed until Wednesday. Notables reviewed will include Jordan Spieth, Max Homa, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Hideki Matsuyama.
Despite the circumstances that triggered the shutdown of 2020, those who attempted to tame Bay Hill needed a minute to lick their wounds. The stock par 72 averaged 74.106 for the week, and that included splits of 75.913 and 75.058 in the third and final rounds, respectively. It was the highest scoring average in relation to par on a par 72 in a non-major in the last four completed seasons. It also was the highest that Bay Hill averaged since it scored 75.150 as a par 71 in 1983, the first year that data was recorded in earnest.
Arnold Palmer’s primary objective was to have fun, but that was the furthest thing from it. Persistent gusty winds north of 20 mph throughout pummeled the field. It averaged just 9.1 greens in regulation per round, lowest of any non-major in 15 years. That seems like a misprint given that greens average a roomy 7,500 square feet, but they also run up to 13-and-a-half feet on the Stimpmeter with penalizing undulations, so precision on approach is at a premium.
With nowhere to hide to swallow the pride, it’s no wonder that Tyrrell Hatton’s 4-under 284 was the highest winning aggregate in tournament history. He ranked outside the top 30 in both distance of all drives and fairways hit, but that’s fine when the wind is a factor. The Englishman managed the rest of his game exquisitely, slotting T9 in GIR (10.5 per round), 10th in proximity, 15th in Strokes Gained: Putting and second in bogey avoidance. He also co-led the field in par-3 scoring and played the par 5s in 4.63 to rank T17.
With that recap scaring everyone straight, a pivot to this week’s forecast is relevant. After a relatively benign first two days with high temperatures in the mid-70s, things will turn for the worse after the 36-hole cut falls. There’s a very good chance of rain on Saturday. With the threat, winds will freshen considerably and stick around for Sunday’s finale when the sun returns. It might not reach 70 degrees on the weekend.
The only notable modification since Hatton’s victory was made on the tee at the par-4 13th hole. It’s been expanded to allow for another 12 yards and can now extend to 382 yards. The entirety of that increase equals the overall bump in Bay Hill’s overall length to 7,466, longest in tournament history.
Wayward drives may find rough at three-and-a-half inches and longer. That helps explain why disrespecting the value of course management off the tee can lead to a bad day. As usual, the TifEagle bermuda greens have not been overseeded for the competition.
The perks for winning mirror what Max Homa earned as the champion of The Genesis Invitational: 550 FedExCup points and three-year PGA TOUR membership exemption (or additional season if already exempt through 2023-24 or 2024-25). He also receives a three-year exemption into THE PLAYERS Championship.
The field stands at 123 as of Monday afternoon. Former winners Robert Gamez (1990), Paul Goydos (1996) and Tim Herron (1999) are add-ons as champions pre-2000. If any withdraws before his opening round, he will not be replaced.
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.
MONDAY: Power Rankings
WEDNESDAY: 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.