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Read The Line

I just can't wait to be King ⛱️

Published about 1 month ago • 13 min read

Arnie's army

ORLANDO, FL

Another week... another longshot winner. Congratulations to Austin Eckroat and his team for seizing the opportunity down at PGA National. As we head into the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, we all must wonder when somebody from the top half of the odds board will step up! Watching these young stars is terrific, but the game survives on names and none of them are doing their job. In a limited field of 69 players, we have 22 in the top 25 of the OWGR competing for another $20 million dollar purse. Similar to Genesis, the top 50 and ties (and those within 10 shots of the lead) will play the weekend.

I am in Orlando very close to my old stomping grounds. The Bay Hill Club and Lodge is located just across the water from Isleworth Country Club. Besides being on-site, I have played the Champion (front nine) and Challenger (back nine) many times. Bay Hill has three nines to play should you ever visit. The third nine is called the Charger. The course was first designed by Dick Wilson in 1961, with a couple of enhancements over the years by Mr. Palmer. The most notable renovation was in 2009.

API starts in...

Count down to 2024-03-07T11:30:00.000Z

I believe from years of experience playing and watching this tournament live that Bay Hill is a very predictable golf course. Here's the main reason why; seven holes basically repeat themselves throughout the layout. For example, we start with a sharp dogleg on number one. There's a sharp dogleg on 10. Three plays as a dogleg left around water and four is a long, straight uphill par 5. Eleven is a dogleg left around water and 12 is a straight uphill par 5. This happens again and again around the routing. The pivotal point here, if you play some of the template holes at Bay Hill well, you can basically play them all well.

The Champion/Challenger layout displays a par 72 scorecard covering 7,466 yards. Ten tough par 4s with 50% of them measuring over 450 yards. The longest set of par 3s on TOUR represent one of the primary scoring issues at Bay Hill. Over the last five years, the average winning score is 8 under par. With weather conditions similar across all of Florida, I still see the softer green conditions and struggling turf in Orlando. We saw quite vividly how it affected scoring at PGA National and I see that trend continuing. Compound that with intermittent rain over the past couple of days and we have 18 dartboards ready for attack in Orlando.

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Course conditions

Bay Hill Club (Champion/Challenger)

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"How to watch?"

Coverage times

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Real-time weather

Orlando, FL

Palmer’s kingdom is a power players paradise. The fourth largest greens on TOUR, the field have larger than average targets. Trouble is, Bay Hill puts pressure on every shot. Thankfully, just like last week those firm and fast conditions do not exist this year. It has rained at some point each of the three days I have been here. Accuracy now becomes a huge advantage as we won’t see the Bay Hill bounce in this edition. Eight-four bunkers surround the landing areas and six different penalty areas come into play on nine different holes.

We have a Bermudagrass putting surface again, but the greens at Bay Hill use a hybrid strain that is very smooth. You won’t see nearly as much grain influence the roll. That’s why of all the Florida venues, I weigh Bermudagrass the least in the API. Power has always been an influencing factor to contend at Bay Hill and with the softer conditions speed should matter even more. Over 45% of approach shots are played from 175 yards or longer (30% over 200 yards).

Just like PGA National’s Champion, we must expect some serious scoring volatility. Eagle through double bogey is definitely in play across every hole.

  • Seven holes have a birdie rate over 15%.
  • The four par 5s average a 38% birdie rate while the remaining 14 holes average just 12%.
  • Eleven holes have a bogey rate over 15% and all four par 3s play over par for the week.

A token cut with 69 of the best the PGA TOUR has to offer keeps almost everyone in contention until Sunday afternoon. We have seen some unbelievable finishes here over the years and based upon what I’m seeing on the practice tee, we will be in store for a fantastic finish once again!

Read The Line recap 🗞️

Kurt Kitayama won in his rookie visit to the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Kitayama's putter led his attack on the par 4s gaining over eight strokes on the field. and playing them four under for the week. His nine under par total also included two double bogeys. Bay Hill is a tough test, make sure your best bets are willing to grind until the very end!

Sunday red

The elite players of the PGA TOUR are fed up. They are done with the politics, persistent questioning, and most of all their play. Walking the practice tee it feels like a major championship. It’s quiet and all business. Based upon my perspective, I don’t feel as if this atmosphere will help many of the upper echelon get it back together.

To conquer Bay Hill you need to follow through on the following skills.

  • Palmer’s Invitational requires power. Bombers have a definite advantage here. Count Scottie, Rory, and Bryson as recent winners.
    • Rory’s record here is incredible. He has nine starts, each one he’s finished inside the top 30, the last seven he has finished inside the top 13, and he won in 2018!
    • The rough is similar to PGA National. It is not nearly as dense as it was a year ago. I’m favoring length over accuracy off the tee. Throw it as far down there as you can and play from there.
  • Seven of the last 10 winners separated themselves on approach from 175 yards or more. Five of them from 200+ yards! Long iron approach play is one key to winning, but even more important is how high you hit those long approaches. Soft conditions will help a little but keeping it close from 205 is a skill the best possess. Winners gained five strokes on the field with their iron game the year they won, and those biggest gains were almost entirely from long range.
  • For having large greens, players will miss a bunch of them. The rain will give you some help, but the better you are at collecting GIRs, the more you will score. Those who do miss will need to scramble. You won’t see this show up on the strokes gained charts, but short game can help you in multiple ways at Bay Hill. Scoring around the short par 4s with your wedges, par 5 scoring, and saving plenty of pars.
    • I have weighed bogey avoidance higher than BoB% this week. That does not happen very often (if at all) outside of majors.
    • One other note, sand play always comes into the equation for the contenders on Sunday. Our outrights and best bets will be more than capable at the beach.
  • Bay Hill is a quirky place to putt. The greens are some of the smoothest in Florida, but having played there so many times, I could never quite get comfortable. I think Mr. Palmer was always massaging them. Even the members of Isleworth who belonged to both clubs would consistently remark on the subtle complexity of the Champion and Challenger putting surfaces.
    • I do not believe you need to be a great putter to win here, and more importantly, you don’t even need a strong resume on Bermudagrass.
    • Are you trending toward a good week with the flatstick, that’s my main concern.
  • I looked through the various par scoring records. Winners gain the most on par 4s, which makes sense. There are more opportunities and its definitely worth giving it some weight.
    • Digging deeper, winners gain almost twice their advantage on the field in strokes gained on the par 3s as compared to the par 5s.
  • Course history counts around Mr. Palmer’s place. Leaderboards are littered with the same players over the past decade.

My last consideration is strokes gained annoyed. Frustration is not a good motivator. I have seen too many PGA TOUR stars looked annoyed on-site. They are distracted and can’t hide their demeanor. It’s really interesting and definitely opening the door for first time winners. Even inside a field of 69 players we can find some less than obvious names to win.

I have not changed my strategy for selecting outrights. Instead, I’m weighing mood as much as approach play. These guys are golfers and not politicians or financial strategists. If the TOUR continues to keep them distracted, I know one of these under the radar guys on our outright list can certainly seize the moment.

Outright Winners - Arnold Palmer Invitational

The sixth ranked player in the world, Patrick Cantlay finished fourth last year on his first visit to API.

  • Cantlay leads the PGA TOUR in round one scoring; 64.60.
  • Fourth at Genesis and eleventh after three rounds at AT&T.
  • Great OTT and long iron player, Cantlay is ranked eleventh in the field T2G.
  • A true sign of being well-rounded, Patrick ranks ninth in par 4 scoring.

Sam Burns is coming off four straight top 10 finishes.

  • Burns is ranked first in Bogey Avoidance for the field.
  • Sam is also ranked first in scrambling which is key to scoring on the par 5s, short par 4s, and saving pars everywhere else.
  • Ranked eighth in par 4 scoring and top 15 in approaches over 200 yards.
  • Sam is gaining an average of six strokes on the field over his last five starts.

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Inside the ropes at the 2023 Genesis Invitational


Welcome back!

Please pay attention to the countdown timer below, the ladies are in Asia and start on Wednesday night for one more week.

The Blue Bay LPGA took a five-year break from the LPGA calendar. The defending champion is Gaby Lopez in 2018. What was definitely one of the premiere events on the schedule is a welcome sight to return. One of the few events outside the majors with a purse over $2 million dollars and a full field, the winner on Sunday will receive $330,000. The third week of this spring Asia swing has also taken a toll on the weary travelers. It's nice to see six of the top 10 in the Rolex World Rankings, but not much after that. Only eight of the top 40 are in the field of 108.

Following the Asia events, there's a week off during THE PLAYERS Championship and then we are back to the states. Just three events are on the schedule leading up to the season's first major: The Chevron Championship. In many ways, it makes sense to see a majority of the LPGA sit this one out. The six at the top going against the field creates some challenging odds on the outright betting board. Don't worry, I am going to keep the card tight and come up with a way to win.

Blue Bay LPGA starts in...

Count down to 2024-03-07T02:00:00.000Z

The Jian Lake Blue Bay course was built in 2012. Designed with championships in mind, the par 72 layout covers 6,712 yards. First played in 2014, the average winning score is 10 under par for the five editions. Past champions include major winners Sei Young Kim, Shanshan Feng, and Minjee Lee. Overall, it is a really tough test of golf. Twelve holes have water in play and the course is covered in bunkers. I counted 110 in my research, but the number does not convey how much sand is really on the golf course. If you miss the green grass, I guarantee you are either in water or sand.

Four of the previous five tournaments was one by a single stroke. It reminds me of PGA National and the Champion Course. Better yet, TPC Sawgrass and the amount of scoring entertainment it can provide. Looking back through the previews, recaps, and results you can tell this event had a major championship feel. The course has a stereotypical collection of four par 3s (average length 172 yards), four par 5s (avg. 537 yards), and 10 par 4s (avg. 387 yards). Only four of the pars 4s measure over 400 yards and the par 5s are reachable.

Getting the winning formula will not include much to do with the forecast. A pleasant thought considering the challenges of the past two weeks over in Asia. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-80s every day and just a slight chance of rain Saturday night into Sunday. Jian Lake is located on the island of Hainan off the coast of Vietnam. Winds are predicted in the mid-teens, but chances are if it gets a little stormy over the weekend the wind will pick up. If that happens, keep an eye on the scoring because just maintaining par will become the goal.

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Course conditions

Jian Lake Blue Bay Golf Course

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"How to watch?"

Coverage times

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Real-time weather

Sanya, Rep. of China

Keep it in play

The Tanjong Course last week at Sentosa Golf Club and the Jian Lake Blue Bay course are two very tough back-to-back tests. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the players who competed the last two weeks took off for the states because of the venue. Even with 108 players in the field, the LPGA will cut to the top 65 and ties. To get across that 36-hole threshold you better keep the ball in play. Get to Saturday and keep yourself in contention. If Sunday's weather goes a little wild anyone can come close on this competition layout.

The first player priority is managing your ball away from all of the trouble. Strokes gained T2G (SG:T2G) is a great measure for who has kept their ball in scoring position for the first month of the LPGA season. Thirteen of the 14 tee shots bend and all of them present either sand or water off the tee. The card says 6,700+, but two of the par 4s can be set up to be reachable and we have four medium length par 5s. The most popular approach range is 150-175 yards. A little on the longer side, the elite players can differentiate themselves easily from the field quickly.

Also keep an eye on the grass. For the first time this year, we won't be playing on Bermudagrass. The greens are covered in Platinum Paspalum. The rest of the course is Seaside Paspalum which we saw in Mexico at Vidanta Vallarta. You know how the ball plays on that spongy surface. It makes around the green play a little easier and putting slow. There isn't much rough around the fairways, so where you do land on grass off the tee you will see a decent lie in the grass.

With all of the sand, scrambling and sand play makes sense as well. Picking outrights is like splitting hairs. A couple of key up and downs in the middle of round will mean the difference between contending and winning. Holes five through eight are great example of what this course can challenge you with. Two tough par 4s, then a medium length par 3, followed by a reachable par 5. All four have water in play and can easily allow a sub-par score or create havoc. The blend of the two is very similar to last week.

All major champions have won to start the season. The exact opposite of the PGA TOUR. Amazing what can happen when the stars focus on golf. They get the job done. This card will be focused on similar players. The odds are low, so we will keep it tight. The Blue Bay promises to be a great event, so set your alarms and enjoy one more week of overnight golf.

Outright winners - Blue Bay LPGA

Ayaka Furue has been the most consistent player on tour this season. In four starts, she has three top 10s!

  • Just never misses the short grass, she hits 89% of her fairways. I'm not kidding.
  • Ranked third in scrambling and second in par 4 scoring for the players at Blue Bay.
  • Ayaka is an excellent putter which is a great complement to her accurate iron game.

While the LPGA took weeks off, Olivia Cowan went back to the Ladies European Tour and competed.

  • One of the best young ball strikers on tour, ranked third in the field SG:T2G.
  • Cowan scores a bunch of birdies and that's why she's been selected. Her scoring potential in this field can only be matched by the top 5 betting favorites.
  • Ranked first in approach for the field, Cowan is only 90-1 because she hasn't won yet.
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