This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
ARNOLD PALMER INVITATIONAL
Winner's Share: $1.638M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Orlando, Fla.
Course: Bay Hill Club & Lodge
2018 champion: Rory McIlroy
It's hard to believe that this already will be the third Arnold Palmer Invitational without Arnold Palmer, who passed away in September 2016. It's a tribute to him that the tournament continues to thrive with one of the strongest non-major/WGC/playoff fields on the PGA Tour calendar. Even this season's reconfigured schedule has not kept the stars from coming to Bay Hill, though we'd be remiss to not mention that THE PLAYERS Championship being next week provides a nice boost. Unfortunately, the tournament took a hard hit Monday, when the man almost as synonymous with the tournament as Palmer withdrew.
Tiger Woods, who has won here eight times and came pretty close last year in the nascency of his comeback, cited a neck strain for pulling out. It's a shame all the way around, as Woods again had been trending upward with three straight top-20s. DraftKings had already released its prices by the time Tiger withdrew, and he was the No. 2 guy on the board. No. 1 is the defending champion. Rory McIlroy ended an 18-month winless drought a year ago, but now he arrives for his title defense with another 12-month void. That's a whopping two-and-a-half-year stretch with just a single win for one of the sport's signature players. But McIlroy has done everything but win the past couple of months, riding four consecutive top-5s into Bay Hill, including runner-up at the WGC-Mexico two weeks ago.
Whenever Tiger isn't around, fellow 40-something Phil Mickelson becomes the star attraction. Lefty is making his first trip to Bay Hill since 2013, and that's fortuitous for tournament organizers in light of Woods' exit. In all, the field features six of the top 10 in the world, 12 of the top 20 and 30 of the top 50. That should put the API on par with Riviera and the Memorial – Woods' and Jack Nicklaus' tournaments, respectively – for the best "regular-event" field all season. Also on hand this week is Justin Rose, the runner-up when Woods last won here in 2013. The Englishman, who dropped to No. 2 in the OWGR this week, will double as one of the tournament's rotating co-hosts, a practice implemented after the passing of Palmer. He will be joined this year by former Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman and Orange County (Fla.) mayor Jerry Demings. Other bold-faced names include 2018 co-host Rickie Fowler, No. 3-ranked Brooks Koepka, No. 5 Bryson DeChambeau and 2016 champion Jason Day. The field is normally 120, but this year Ernie Els, Tim Herron and Robert Gamez have been grandfathered in as pre-2000 Bay Hills champions. Not so coincidentally, all are old enough to be grandfathers. On the topic of champions, a couple fun API champion factoids: NBC's Gary Koch was a two-time winner, in 1977 and 1984, and Palmer himself won it in 1971, when it was called the Florida Citrus Invitational and played at Rio Pinar Country Club. With more than 30 fewer golfers than in a max field, but still the traditional top 70 and ties making the cut, you have a far better chance than usual to get your six lineup selections through all four rounds. In fact, that will almost surely be a requirement this week.
For years, Bay Hill played as one of the tougher tracks on Tour. But after some modifications, things got easier beginning in 2015. Last season, it ranked as the 15th-hardest track. At over 7,400 yards it's not especially long by today's standards, especially for a par-72, but all four par-3s exceed 200 yards and there are five par-4s exceeding 450. That means long iron play is important. That also tells us something about the par-5s. None is longer than 575 yards, all are reachable in two shots and golfers must make a big dent in them if they hope to win. We'll expand on all that in the key stats and Champion's Profile below. The 18th has traditionally been the hardest hole, but last year it was overtaken by the 231-yard No. 2. The 458-yard 18th was right behind, and there were 24 scores of double bogey or worse, something that could lead to a fantastic finish come Sunday evening, or a disastrous one, depending on your viewpoint.
Weather-wise, we're looking at near-perfection with a warm, virtually rain-free week. Right now, the forecast calls for mild breezes, as Bay Hill is situated about as far inland as possible in Florida. But that tepid wind always has the potential to change at a moment's notice. There's a slight chance of rain on Sunday.
Key Stats to Winning at Bay Hill
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Greens in regulation, especially from 200 yards/strokes gained: approach
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Par-5 birdie or better percentage
2018 - Rory McIlroy
2017 - Marc Leishman
2016 - Jason Day
2015 - Matt Every
2014 - Matt Every
2013 - Tiger Woods
2012 - Tiger Woods
2011 - Martin Laird
2010 - Ernie Els
2009 - Tiger Woods
Since 2015, the winning scores have largely been lower than before, with Every at 19-under, McIlroy at 18-under and Day at 17-under. Leishman's 11-under was an aberration since the course was made a bit easier. But constants through all four of those victories were par-5 scoring and putting. In fact, Leishman got all 11 of his strokes under par on the par-5s, playing the other 64 holes at even par. If the trend of lower scores holds, that won't be good enough this week. Day was 10-under and McIlroy and Every both 9-under on the par-5s, meaning they made a big dent on the other holes, as well. As for putting, the last seven winners all finished top-8 in the field in strokes gained: putting. McIlroy was first a year ago, along with first in driving distance, proximity to the hole and scrambling. Even with McIlroy's subpar greens-in-regulation numbers for the week (T45), all those firsts will get the job done probably 98 times out of 100.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Rory McIlroy - $11,400 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 7-1)
McIlroy has done everything in 2019 but win, with top-5s in each of his four starts. All of them have been on the PGA Tour, so we have to say the decision to focus on the PGA, as opposed to the European, Tour is maybe, kinda working out for him. Before winning at Bay Hill a year ago, McIlroy tied for fourth in 2016. Quite simply, he checks off all the boxes this week...except one. Curiously, he's ranked only 49th in par-5 birdie or better percentage. But don't let that stand in your way of picking McIlroy. He would jump to No. 5 in the world with a win.
Justin Rose - $10,700 (10-1)
Rose has a bunch of near-misses at Bay Hill. He finished second once and third twice, including last year. Rose has already won in 2019, at Torrey Pines, so it's quite clear he's on form despite missing the cut in his one tournament since then, in Saudi Arabia. Rose this week can regain the top spot in the OWGR he just ceded to idle Dustin Johnson. (Brooks Koepka can also reclaim the No. 1 standing, but only with a win.) Rose is ranked third on Tour in par-5 birdie or better percentage.
Jason Day - $9,900 (14-1)
Bypassing the Nos. 3 and 4 guys on the DK board, Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka, was our toughest call this week. They finished co-runner-up a week ago at the Honda. But for a few reasons, including course history and pricing, we are moving on to Day. The 2016 champion has finished only top-25 in his two subsequent visits, and his iron play remains a concern (he's losing strokes and is ranked 149th on Tour in strokes gained: approach). But Day still manages to get the job done, with top-5s in his past two starts at Torrey Pines and Pebble, and seven straight top-20s dating to the Tour Championship. In a very small sample size, Day is ranked sixth on Tour in strokes gained: off the tee, 13th in SG putting and 39th in par-5 BOB.
Bryson DeChambeau - $9,700 (16-1)
DeChambeau is $700 cheaper than Fowler and $500 cheaper than Koepka. And he was the runner-up to McIlroy a year ago – when he was a jaw-dropping-in-hindsight $6,900. DeChambeau was a disappointing T56 last time out at the WGC-Mexico, but before that had run off 11 straight top-20s, four of which were wins. His most recent win was at Dubai in January. DeChambeau is ranked eighth on Tour in strokes gained: off the tee, 33rd in SG approach and 18th in SG tee to green. He is also fifth in par-5 BOB.
Tier 2 Values
Marc Leishman - $9,500 (25-1)
Leishman has three top-5s already in 2019, but also two other finishes outside the top-40 – a full house, of sorts. When you look at his Bay Hill track record, we're banking on something much closer to a top-5. Leishman was the 2017 champion, and followed that up nicely with a T7 a year ago. He's ranked 12th on Tour in strokes gained: approach, 14th in eagles and 20th in par-5 BOB.
Hideki Matsuyama - $9,300 (20-1)
It's hard to envision Matsuyama returning to his lofty perch near the top of the world rankings, but after a lost season he's showing just how solid his game still is. Matsuyama has a top-5, a top-10 and two other top-20s in his past four starts. His results at Bay Hill were not great the past two years, but he tied for sixth in 2016. As usual, the only thing standing in Matsuyama's way is his putter. He's ranked third on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green, fourth in scrambling, fifth in SG approach and 27th in par-5 BOB.
Charles Howell III - $8,600 (40-1)
Back inside the top 50 in the world for the first time in more than a decade, Howell, at age 39, is quite a story. He's finished top-20 in five of his six 2019 starts, including a T14 last time out at the WGC-Mexico. And of course he won for the first time in forever in his final start of 2018, at the RSM Classic. Howell is ranked second on Tour in greens in regulation, 19th in strokes gained: approach and 15th in SG putting. He's made 10 straight cuts at Bay Hill, with a T14 a year ago.
Lucas Glover - $8,200 (50-1)
In some ways, Glover's story is more remarkable than Howell's. With his personal life splashed across social media last year, Glover found himself playing in something called the Boise Open on the Web.com Tour last September, his ranking at No. 162. He is now up to 92nd after finishing in the top 20 in seven of his 2018-19 starts, three of which were top-10s, including last week's T4 at the Honda. Glover is ranked third on Tour in both greens in regulation and scrambling, but the headline may be that he's 65th in SG putting. He tied for seventh at Bay Hill two years ago.
Tier 3 Values
Ian Poulter - $8,000 (40-1)
Poulter has jumped 10 spots in the world rankings already in 2019, thanks to a pair of T3s and T6s in his past four starts, the most recent being a tie for third in Mexico. He has made eight straight API cuts, including a T3 back in 2012. Poulter is ranked sixth on Tour in greens in regulation and ninth in strokes gained: around the green. And get this: The 43-year-old Poulter, never known for his distance, is ranked fourth in par-5 BOB.
Si Woo Kim - $7,800 (60-1)
Kim has found some sort of putting elixir. Outside the top-150 in strokes gained: putting the two previous seasons, Kim is now ranked fourth. That's carried him to top-5 finishes in his past two starts at Pebble and Riviera. Let's hope the spell hasn't worn off after a two-week break. Kim has never done anything of consequence at Bay Hill – MC-T49-T63 in his three visits – but we may now be seeing the still-only 23-year-old finding his form on the PGA Tour. Remember, Kim won twice at 21, including THE PLAYERS.
Michael Thompson - $7,600 (60-1)
Thompson faded to a tie for 16th on Sunday at the Honda – and that was his worst finish in five starts. This stretch has helped the 33rd-year-old soar from 313th in the OWGR at the start of the year to 123rd currently. He's done it with an all-around game, but one that's at its best closer to the hole. Thompson is ranked 14th on Tour in scrambling and 29th in strokes gained: putting. He's also 53rd in par-5 BOB. Thompson has played Bay Hill only once before, tying for 36th in 2012.
Rafa Cabrera Bello - $7,500 (50-1)
This seems like an odd place to find the No. 34-ranked golfer in the world, one who has cashed top-25 in his three PGA Tour starts this year, including a T19 at the WGC-Mexico. The weak spot of the Spaniard's game is off the tee, but that shouldn't hurt him so much this week, which could allow his approach numbers to improve. Cabrera Bello is ranked 34th in scrambling and 23rd in strokes gained: putting heading into his maiden visit to Bay Hill.
J.T. Poston - $7,100 (150-1)
As we mentioned above, the likelihood of your competitors getting all six guys through to the weekend is greatly enhanced this week. That's where Poston comes in. The 25-year-old has made the cut in all six events he has appeared in this year. He doesn't excel in any one area – though he is ranked 19th in eagles – instead using consistency to get the job done. This will be Poston's first start at the API.
Danny Willett - $7,000 (125-1)
Willett finished T25 at Pebble Beach and T33 at Riviera before tying for 27th at the WGC-Mexico. His worst score over those 12 rounds was a 71. It's not flashy, but it's what needs to be done to make it to the weekend. A year ago, the Englishman withdrew from Bay Hill and was ranked outside the top 250 in the world. Now, he's 73rd. The strength of Willett's game is his iron play, which should come in handy this week. He's 19th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: approach and 20th in greens in regulation. Willett is also tied for 57th in par-5 BOB.
Talor Gooch - $6,800 (100-1)
***Gooch has withdrawn from this week's event
Gooch shook off two straight missed cuts, which came on the heels of two straight top-5s, with a T20 last week at PGA National. He's definitely been hit-and-miss this season, but the hits have been big ones. Gooch is another strong iron player, ranked an elite fourth on Tour in strokes gained: approach and 22nd in SG tee to green. Gooch was in the Bay Hill field for the first time a year ago and tied for 26th.
Dominic Bozzelli - $6,500 (Field, 12-1)
If you don't have a lot of cash left, and you want a guy to simply make it to Sunday, you could do worse than going with the guy ranked second on the entire Tour in strokes gained: putting. Bozzelli for sure has been a mixed bag this season, but he has made seven of his past eight cuts, highlighted by a tie for fifth at the Desert Classic. Bozzelli is a better-than-average 69th in scrambling and 73rd in greens in regulation. Perhaps most importantly this week, he's ranked 19th in par-5 BOB. That's what a strong putter can do for you.
Patrick Rodgers - $6,900 (150-1)
With Talor Gooch (thumb) having withdrawn on Wednesday morning, we turn to Rodgers. He opened 2019 with four straight missed cuts, but has rebounded nicely with a T15 at Riviera and a T30 last week at PGA National. Plus, Rodgers has had some success at Bay Hill, tying for seventh last year and for 20th in 2016. He's a middle-of-the-pack guy in a lot of areas: 78th in strokes gained: off the tee, 76th in SG tee to green and 89th in both SG around the green and in par-5 BOB. Where Rodgers is better than average is on the greens, ranking 34th in SG putting.