The PGA Tour heads east across the state of Florida to Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Last year, Marc Leishman kept the field at bay — but this year, there’s a certain big cat lurking, looking to breakthrough to the winner’s circle.
As everyone on the planet probably knows by now, Tiger Woods will be teeing it up at the Arnold Palmer for the first time since his victory here in 2013 — the eighth win in this event of his career.
If you thought the buzz last week at Innisbrook was fun, buckle up for the week at Bay Hill.
Besides when Tiger Woods comes in and dominates, the AP Invitational has seen its share of legends and unheralded stars claim victory. Names like Vijay Singh, Ben Crenshaw, Payne Stewart, Phil Mickelson and more have put their names on the trophy alongside Woods. Those names are joined, also, by names like Forsman, Nicolette and Every — Twice!
Here’s a look at those with a real chance to add their names to the history books at Bay Hill — and those who are just counting the weeks ’til Augusta:
Tiger Woods — Over the course of Tiger Woods’ illustrious career, he’s accrued 79 wins — so, to say he’s a horse for a bunch of courses, would be an understatement. That said, save for maybe Firestone, Bay Hill may be Woods’ best course. Couple his track record here — 8 wins, including four in a row from 2000-2003 — with his incredible performance last week and Tiger seems poised to collect Tour win No. 80 this week. Perhaps, it’s even fated. When Phil Mickelson won two weeks ago at the WGC-Mexico Championship, it had been 1,687 days since his previous win. This Sunday will be the 1,687th day since Tiger’s last win.
Justin Rose — After collecting a T-5 at the Valspar Championship last week, Justin Rose looks to pick up his first win on the PGA Tour since the 2017 WGC-HSBC Champions — a whopping 136 days ago. Rose has been, arguably, the hottest player on the planet since about October 1st of last year. He’s also been a force to be reckoned with at the AP Invitational, collecting five top-15 finishes since 2011. Put these together and you’ve got a recipe for success this week in Orlando.
Brian Harman — Brian Harman had a career year in 2017 and has picked up right where he left off in 2018. In just 10 starts this season, Harman has gone 9-10, collected five top-5’s, seven top-10’s hasn’t finished worse than T-33 all year long. After resting last week, Harman returns to action at the Arnold Palmer where he’s had three top-20’s in six trips. It’s hard to imagine he slows down here, and warrants your attention in all formats this week.
Tommy Fleetwood — If not Justin Rose, the other two hottest hands in global golf have been Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton. Fleetwood has been a force since joining the PGA Tour this season, having finished no worse than T-37 in five starts this side of the pond. Fleetwood finished solo fourth at the Honda Classic three weeks ago and finished T-14 last week at the Valspar. Last year, he finished T-10 in his debut at the AP Invitational, leading me to believe he’s going to stay hot this week in Orlando.
Tyrrell Hatton — The aforementioned Tyrrell Hatton comes into Bay Hill on a streak of success that’s impressive for anyone. Two wins, five top-8 finishes and no finish worse than T-19 dating back to September, 2017 — and some of that great form has come in his last two world-wide starts. Hatton finished T-3 at the WGC-Mexico Championship two weeks ago and solo 3rd Dubai Desert Classic. Hatton will win in the U.S. this year — you can count on it.
Marc Leishman — It’s hard for me to put Marc Leishman on this list this week, but his recent form hasn’t been spectacular. Leishman, who enters the week as the defending champion, has cooled a little in January and February after a career-year in 2017. The Aussie is still one of my favorites — fantasy and otherwise — but I can’t take the risk this week at Bay Hill. I hope I’m wrong — but doubt I will be.
Hideki Matsuyama — One of the popular choices this week that I just can’t condone is Hideki Matsuyama. Sure, he’s proven himself to be a reliable fantasy option almost every time he tees it up — but this week he’s trying to bounce back from injury. His track record at Bay Hill is solid (3-3 with a career- best T-6 in 2016) but not overwhelming. I don’t doubt he makes the cut, but I think expecting much more is a mistake.
Rory McIlroy — You all know it pains me greatly to put my boy Rors on the shelf, but that is the reality of the situation at the moment. With nothing promising in the bank this side of the pond in 2018, I’m saving his starts for the summer and fall — when he’s famous for heating up.