The Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard features a limited field of 123 golfers and provides solid perks to its winners. Since it’s now on the schedule as the week before the PLAYERS, the API does have some big names skipping it this year. Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and last week’s winner Collin Morikawa will all be missing in action here, but we do have several stars like Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy, who will be looking to pick up their first win of 2021. McIlroy is a former winner of this event (2018) and he’ll be joined by other past winners like Marc Leishman (2017), Jason Day (2016), and “the Butcher of Bay Hill®” Matt Every, who won here in back-to-back years in 2014 and 2015. Despite the slightly reduced field, the cut procedure remains the same this week with the top 65 players and ties making it to the weekend. DraftKings DFS players should note the reduced field also includes a few winners from years long past (Robert Gamez and Tim Herron) and quite a few international players. International players have won this event now five straight years running as many call Florida their US-based home anyways and use this event as a solid warm up before the run to Augusta.
Bay Hill—Orlando, Florida
Par 72, 7,400-7,500 yards
Bay Hill has hosted this event since inception but has undergone major renovations over the lifespan of this event. The course used to play as a par 70 between 2007 and 2009 but reverted back to a par 72 in 2010 and remains that way today. After 2014, fairways were widened in spots, with some overgrown rough and trees removed, making driving conditions a touch easier for the players on certain holes. New Bermuda greens were also added. Overall the winner of this event has only exceeded 12-under-par once so this venue still has some teeth especially when the wind gets up. Last year the wind really got up and turned this event into a huge battle of attrition with only a few players ending the event under par. The venue played as the hardest course on the PGA TOUR last year—even compared to the major championship venues—and yielded just a 74.106 scoring average.
As mentioned above Bay Hill features Bermuda greens, and as a traditional par 72 also features four par 5s—none of which play longer than 570 yards. As such, these holes will yield a ton of birdies or better and most of the past winners here have tended to dominate these holes during the week. While players will be able to score on the par 5s, Bay Hill does carry some challenges along the way, including three par 3s which measure in at 215 yards or longer. Players will also be challenged by the longer par 4 finishing hole, which requires an accurate drive off the tee and a steady-hand on the approach to a semi-island green.
There’s definitely birdie chances out there for players who are striking it well but also expect players who hit poor shots to be penalized…severely. There are over 70 bunkers on the course and water is in play on half the holes, including in numerous spots off the tee. The venue isn’t short but it has still produced a quaint mix of winners the past few years, as shorter hitters like Matt Every, Francesco Molinari and Tyrrell Hatton (2020) have performed well here, but bigger hitters like Jason Day and Rory McIlroy have also found success. This is a venue which requires a good all-around game, good mental composure and ability to hit precision approaches in pressure situations numerous times per round.
2021 Weather: We may not get the same kind of nasty conditions we got last year here, but we also aren’t going to be seeing sunny skies all four days either. Right now the forecast calls for highs in the low 70s for most of the week with a little bit of rain on Saturday, which could affect or even halt play. The first two days look devoid of any precipitation, which is nice, although it won’t be overly warm either and winds are set to gust between 7-10 mph for most of the first two days. As of now, Friday afternoon is slated to be a touch brighter and calmer than Thursday afternoon so watch for any movement later in the week to see if that holds true, as it could make for a slight wave differential. The weekend looks much tougher with colder temps and more wind so we could once again see a single digit winner here if that plays out.
Last Five Winners
2020—Tyrrell Hatton -4 (over Marc Leishman -3)
2019—Francesco Molinari -12 (over Matthew Fitzpatrick -10)
2018—Rory McIlroy -18 (over Bryson DeChambeau -15)
2017—Marc Leishman -11 (over Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman -10)
2016—Jason Day -17 (over Kevin Chappell -16)
- Five of the last six winners of this event all had recorded a top-5 finish at Bay Hill in a previous year before winning (exception: Day ’16, best previous here was T17).
- The last 10 winners of this event had all played the API at Bay Hill the year prior and made the cut.
- The last five winners of this event have all been International players (last American born player to win was Matt Every—2014, 2015).
2020 Winner: Tyrrell Hatton (4-under par)
2020 lead-in form (T6-T46-win-T14-T6)
- This event has seen several different styles of golfers compete and win so while it’s hard to favor one metric completely over another, strokes gained approach and tee to green play again are likely to be the best stats to lean on here.
- Last year’s winner Tyrrell Hatton gained the most strokes on approach of any of the past four winners, but also gained across the board in all the major areas. He wasn’t crazy long or dominant off the tee but he was solid enough and also ranked 14th in Putting.
- Despite Bay Hill being long and holding four par 5s then, we can’t really describe it as a bombers course, as many of the longer holes require players to place the ball off the tee and really stress long iron approaches and put an emphasis on good scrambling. Approaches from >200 yards are the most common of any at this venue and GIR%’s are quite a bit lower here when compared to the PGA TOUR average.
- Winners here have really tended to dominate on the greens too as Hatton was the first winner in the last seven years to rank outside the top-8 in SG: Putting.
Finding Values (DraftKings Sportsbook)
Odds to win are one factor to think about when picking players (but not the only thing, so be careful putting too much weight on them). This section is going to detail a few of the players who have the best fantasy value comparative to their DraftKings Sportsbook odds of winning this week.
- Matthew Fitzpatrick +2500 and $9,800
- Jordan Spieth +3000 and $9,300
- Hideki Matsuyama +2800 and $9,400
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
HORSES FOR COURSES
1. Rory McIlroy ($11,500; best finishes: win-2018, T4-2017): There’s clearly something about Bay Hill that suits Rory’s eye, as the Northern Irishman comes into this year’s version flashing finishes of T5-T6 wins here over the past three seasons. He’s yet to miss the cut at Bay Hill over his last five starts and has enjoyed the Florida stretch throughout his career. He deserves lead horse status this week.
2. Marc Leishman ($8,200; best finish: win-2017, 2nd-2020): Leishman won this event back in 2017 but has also posted finishes of T7 (2018) and 2nd (2020) at Bay Hill, a venue that clearly suits his strong all-around game. The Australian has finished inside the top 25 here in five straight appearances and makes for a solid course history play.
3. Tyrrell Hatton ($10,000; best finish: win-2020, T4-2017): Hatton has come to Bay Hill four years running now and only finished outside the top 30 once. That run also includes two great finishes, including his stupendous, grind-it-out win last year in brutal conditions. He’s sixth in SG: Total stats at this venue over the last six years despite only having played here four times in that span.
4. Francesco Molinari ($8,700; best finishes: win-2019, T7-2017): Molinari’s another International player who has come to Bay Hill consistently and found success here almost immediately. The Italian won here in 2019, gaining a ton of strokes on the greens that week and has finished inside the top 10 at Bay Hill now in three of his last four starts.
5. Matthew Fitzpatrick ($9,800; best finishes: T9-2020, 2nd-2019): Fitzpatrick rounds out the American-less course horse section this week as the Englishman is another Euro-Tour regular who seems to really take to this event/venue. He finished runner-up here in 2019 and has finished inside the top 15 at this event in three of the past four seasons. He is really priced up though so you’ll need a big week if chasing him.
DRAFTKINGS DFS STRATEGY
Cash Games: Casey and Hatton a solid balanced approach
Bay Hill has a slightly lesser field but we do have a solid crop of players in the mid-tiers to choose from here. Paul Casey ($9,100) is coming off a solid stretch of play (T5 at Pebble) and sits sixth in Strokes Gained: Ball-striking over the last 50 rounds. Tyrrell Hatton ($10,000) is playing excellent golf right now and ranks 5th in SG: Approach stats over that same span. He’s got a fantastic record at Bay Hill where he’s never gained less than +2.0 strokes putting over four career starts. Sam Burns ($8,400) and Emiliano Grillo ($7,400) also make for great cash game targets here given their solid recent form and course history.
Tournaments: Dial up the variance with Bryson and Davis
Despite only finishing T22 last week, Bryson still had 99.0 DKFP and had two eagles in his final round. That kind of scoring is what we strive for in DFS and he’s scored well around Bay Hill, landing 119.5 points here in 2018. I like Tommy Fleetwood ($9,000-see below) here for an ownership pivot in GPPs too but Cameron Davis ($7,900) is a similar style of player to Bryson and can also bring the scoring. He’s averaging 81.3 DKFP over his last 10 starts and also ranks out 16th in Birdie or better %, a stat he ranked 14th in last year. Davis is playing Bay Hill for the first time but is a solid ceiling play for GPPs. Other potential GPP targets here include Alex Noren ($7,300) and Erik Van Rooyen ($6,900).
1. Viktor Hovland ($10,600, T2-T5-T6) – Hovland’s really stepped up his game of late. The Norwegian has now finished inside the top-5 in four of his last five starts and has gained +4.0 strokes or more on his approaches in three straight starts. One disastrous hole aside, and he could have easily picked up the win last week.
2. Max Homa ($8,500, T22-win) – Homa followed up his win at Riviera with a T22 at the year’s first WGC event. He hasn’t missed a cut on the PGA TOUR since the Masters and has gained +4.0 or more strokes TTG in four straight starts as well.
3. Sam Burns ($8,400, 3rd- T49) – Burns was the hard luck loser at Riviera a couple of weeks ago but the 24-year-old has shown great progression in 2021. He’s now recorded three top-10s in his last 10 starts and ranks 8th in SG:TTG play over the last 50 rounds.
4. Jordan Spieth ($9,300, T15-T3-T4) – Spieth took last week off, but he’s definitely put together his best stretch of play in quite some time. The three-time major winner has finished T3-T4-T15 in his last three starts and will be playing Bay Hill for the first time in his career this week.
5. Francesco Molinari ($8,700, T8-T59-T10) – Molinari is also on the comeback trail and finished T8 his last time out at Riviera. He now has three top-10s in four starts on the PGA TOUR this year and gained strokes in every major category his last time out.
Honorable Mention: Matt Jones ($7,400) and Cameron Tringale ($7,700)
MY PICK: Tommy Fleetwood ($9,000)
Fleetwood comes into this event well-under the radar for many DFS players as the Englishman made just his first start on the PGA TOUR last week at the WGC-Workday. The T44 finish there isn’t going to jump off the page for anyone, but it is worth noting that Fleetwood had already made four starts on the Euro Tour prior to last week, which yielded two top-10 finishes. Most of Fleetwood’s troubles from last week also came on Concession’s tricky greens, where he lost -6.3 strokes putting. This week will mark his fifth time playing Bay Hill though and while he’s yet to dominate on these greens either, this is a venue where experience can certainly go a long way—see “winning trends”—and Fleetwood has already gained T3 and T10 finishes here in previous seasons.
From a DFS perspective, we’re getting a player who is likely in better form than his last start indicated and will now have a week of “acclimatization” after coming in from overseas and dealing with the headache that is international travel these days. This has been a great spot for European and International players over the years and it wouldn’t shock me if Fleetwood followed that trend and put in a solid week against lesser competition here. Either way, I like buying in on Tommy here as there’s little to no hype around him right now and his game doesn’t seem far off at the moment.
MY SLEEPER: Matthew NeSmith ($6,900)
NeSmith has been a stat stuffer so far this season. The 27-year-old comes into this week ranked first in GIR % on the PGA TOUR and has exceeded 80.0 or more DKFP in five of his last 10 starts. Further, while he’s not getting as much press or media love as players like Will Zalatoris ($8,600) or Doug Ghim ($6,600), NeSmith now ranks 17th in SG: Tee to Green stats and ranks ahead of both those players in bogey-avoidance on the PGA TOUR right now, a stat that makes him a tad more attractive this week given how tough Bay Hill has played the past few years.
NeSmith’s also been a solid iron player and currently ranks third in this field in SG: Approach stats over the last 50 rounds, but he’s also cleaned up the other parts of his game and has now gained over a stroke ATG in three of his last four starts as well. This venue has been dominated by players with great approach and tee to green games of late, with last year’s winner Tyrrell Hatton profiling as a similar style of player to what we have in NeSmith. While a first win in this limited field event may be too big an ask, backing him at under $7K on DraftKings seems like an automatic play here as he’s putting up elite numbers right now in most areas and seems well underpriced this week.
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