Though the Arnold Palmer Invitational is a staple on the PGA Tour that golf fans look forward to, players might be wincing as they arrive at Bay Hill this year. That’s because Bay Hill played as the most difficult course on tour in 2020, playing 2.1 strokes over par on average. Only four players—winner Tyrrell Hatton, Marc Leishman, Sungjae Im and Bryson DeChambeau ended the tournament under par.
The demands at this Arnold Palmer-designed layout are immediately apparent when the golfer stands on the tee box. According to my course key stats model at RickRunGood.com, strokes gained/off the tee has proven to be the single-most important stat for success at Bay Hill. Even further, SG/off the tee is more predictive of success at Bay Hill than any other course on the current schedule.
Expect plenty of fireworks from Bay Hill this week as we head to the final tune-up before The Players.
Here are my favorite plays (and a couple golfers most likely to disappoint) in each price range for the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Price range: $9,000 and above
High Upside: Sungjae Im ($9,700 DraftKings | $11,300 FanDuel)
In his young career, Im has already made it a habit of playing well in Florida. Not only did he capture his first victory at the Honda Classic last season, but he immediately backed it up at this event by finishing third. In fact, Im has finished third in each of his two trips to Bay Hill. There are some demanding tee shots at Bay Hill, which shouldn’t bother Im, who is one of the better drivers on tour.
Safest Option: Viktor Hovland ($10,600 DraftKings | $11,900 FanDuel)
Hovland continues to climb leader boards on truly a regular basis. Since his win in Mayakoba seven starts ago, he has five more top-10 finishes. He played well enough to win last week at The Concession before finishing T-2. Few golfers are as dialed in as Hovland, who currently carries a 23-event cut streak.
Most Likely To Disappoint: Jordan Spieth ($9,300 DraftKings | $10,800 FanDuel)
There’s no doubt that Spieth is in excellent form—in fact, this is his best form in recent memory. He heads to Bay Hill with three consecutive top-15 finishes, two of which are top-five finishes. The concern for Spieth is his driver. Per the RickRunGood.com course model, SG/off the tee is the stat that is most correlated to success at Bay Hill. Spieth currently ranks just a few spots from the bottom of that category and has a propensity for hitting some loose tee shots.
Pick To Win: Patrick Reed ($10,200 DraftKings | $11,600 FanDuel)
Patrick Reed loves a big stage! He has nine PGA Tour victories that include two playoff events, two WGCs, the Masters and the Tournament of Champions. And he also won at Torrey Pines, where conditions can make the pros look like fools. Now he heads to Bay Hill, which was the most difficult course on tour last season. He will look to carry over his great play from last week, a T-9 finish, into Bay Hill.
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$8,000 to $9,000
High Upside: Marc Leishman ($8,200 DraftKings | $11,600 FanDuel)
After the restart in the summer, Leishman was statistically one of the worst players on tour. However, he’s turned it around in 2021 and has earned three top-25 finishes in his past five starts. The most impressive part has been his approach game. He currently ranks 55th for the season, but he’s been much better as of late. If that wasn’t enough, Leishman has been magnificent at Bay Hill including a victory in 2017 and a runner-up finish last season. Combine his recent resurgence with his course history, and Leishman becomes an appealing option.
Safest Option: Will Zalatoris ($8,600 DraftKings | $10,000 FanDuel)
Zalatoris can do it all—entering Bay Hill on a stretch of five tournaments that have resulted in four top-25 finishes. Since the U.S. Open, 11 starts ago, Zalatoris has gained strokes on approach in all but two events. The two that he lost, he lost less than one total stroke in that category. He’s proving to be incredibly consistent on a weekly basis without much deference for field strength or course. Bay Hill requires excellent ball-striking, so expect Zalatoris to be in the mix again.
Most Likely To Disappoint: Kevin Na ($8,000 DraftKings |$9,700 FanDuel)
Na is already one of the most volatile golfers on the PGA Tour, and Bay Hill magnifies his flaws. Na ranks 134th in SG/off the tee this season and 123rd in SG/approach. That’s the opposite profile for golfers who have found success at Bay Hill. When you look at it that way, it’s not that surprising that Na has missed the cut in two of his past four trips and finished T-36 in the other two.
Pick To Win: Francesco Molinari ($8,700 DraftKings | $10,300 FanDuel)
It’s clear that 2021 has been a resurgence for Molinari who has already notched three top 10s in his first four starts. That resurgence has been powered by his approach game, ranking 36th on tour this season. Molinari found victory at Bay Hill in 2019 and has three other top-10 finishes in his past five trips. This is the ultimate convergence of recent form and course history.
$7,000 to $8,000
High Upside: Justin Rose ($7,800 DraftKings | $9,700 FanDuel)
It’s a bit jarring to see Rose this deep down in the player pool—especially for someone who will be making his 16th trip to Bay Hill and has converted on three top 10s previously. His recent form has been a bit uninspiring, but some might overlook the fact that he finished T-2 in Saudi Arabia just a few weeks ago. He certainly doesn’t offer the consistency of years past, but he offers upside at what should be low ownership.
Safest Option: Cameron Tringale ($7,700 DraftKings | $9,500 FanDuel)
Tringale has spent the last 18 months rounding into a solid tour player and fantasy option. He’s currently on a stretch of seven consecutive cuts made with six of them resulting in top 30s. He’s flashed upside at Pebble Beach (T-7) and the RSM Classic (third). Per the RickRunGood.com golf database, he’s gained strokes on approach in all seven of those events. He’s showing us an excellent floor and that he can make plenty of noise if he can have a good putting week.
Most Likely To Disappoint: Si Woo Kim ($7,500 DraftKings |$9,300 FanDuel)
Si Woo Kim is one of the hardest golfers on the planet to try and predict, but here goes nothin’! Since his win at the American Express, Kim has missed three of his past four cuts with his approach performance at Riviera the most concerning. He lost 5.75 strokes on approach that week, his worst approach performance since the 2019 Charles Schwab Challenge. Kim has historically been a streaky player who sometimes enters sustained stretches of both good and poor play.
Pick To Win: Cameron Davis ($7,900 DraftKings | $9,600 FanDuel)
Davis has been maturing on a near weekly basis, earning three top 15s this season. The RickRunGood.com golf database offers “strokes gained/ball-striking” as a statistic. It’s not an official tour stat but is created by adding SG/off the tee and SG/approach. Davis has been brilliant in this category, gaining on the field in 12 of his past 14 events. He will lean on that part of his game to try and contend at Bay Hill.
RELATED: Arnold Palmer Invitational 2021 picks: We break down the entire field on this week's "Be Right" podcast
$6,900 and below
High Upside: Matthew NeSmith ($6,900 DraftKings | $8,500 FanDuel)
NeSmith has impressed with an approach game that few can compete with. He ranks ninth on tour in strokes gained/approach and has hit more greens in regulation than anyone. That great iron play has resulted in three consecutive top-20 finishes, including a T-7 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Safest Option: Brendan Steele ($6,900 DraftKings | $8,400 FanDuel)
Steele is a seasoned veteran who is rarely going to just give a tournament away. He has uncharacteristically lost strokes on approach in each of his past two starts, which would normally be the recipe for a short week—but not for Steele. He made the cut in both of those events, extending his active streak to five in a row. Per the RickRunGood.com golf database, Steele has only lost strokes on approach in four of his past 16 measured starts. I expect him to grind all week long and provide a solid floor.
Most Likely To Disappoint: Doc Redman ($6,400 DraftKings | $7,700 FanDuel)
Redman will be the first to tell you that the start of his 2021 has not gone the way he envisioned. Over a longer sample, he’s been one of the better ball-strikers on tour but has failed to gain strokes on approach in four of his past six. To compound the issues, he’s lost strokes putting in five consecutive starts. I’m not as worried about the putter, but to see Redman struggle with his longer clubs is a reason for concern.
Pick To Win: Erik van Rooyen ($6,900 DraftKings | $8,200 FanDuel)
The South African flashed brilliance at times last week, ultimately finishing T-37. He’s made a habit of popping up on the first page of the leader board over the past year. He’s gained strokes in all four major strokes-gained categories this season and is much longer off the tee than we realize. He’s certainly a more valuable “dart throw” than many of his peers in this range.
Rick Gehman, founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.