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Arnold Palmer Invitational DFS picks 2024: Rory McIlroy is peaking

March 05, 2024
PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 18: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his shot from the ninth tee during the final round of The Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on February 18, 2024 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The PGA Tour’s fourth signature event of the season, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, remains one of the year’s best tests with a great field at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, a Dick Wilson design that has featured numerous renovations by the King himself over the years. It’s the second year in a row this event receives the signature banner, but in 2024, the field will be cut nearly in half to just 70 players. Similar to the Genesis Invitational, only the top 50 and ties will advance to the weekend.

While some may have felt that the Cognizant Classic last week was lacking its usual carnage, Bay Hill, which annually ranks as the toughest par 72 on the PGA Tour, should be able to pick up the slack. The Wilson design measures over 7,400 yards, featuring nine water hazards, some of the thickest rough on tour, and firm Bermuda greens that run upwards of 12 on the Stimpmeter. Add in the possibility of wind, and it should not come as a surprise that the cream usually rises to the top at this iconic venue. While Kurt Kitayama was a surprise winner last year, these have been comfortable stomping grounds for the likes of Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day and Tiger Woods over the years, and it will be fascinating to see if the trend of 2024 PGA Tour longshot winners can persist at potentially the most demanding tee-to-green track on the entire schedule. Let’s dive into the pricing.

Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge: Challenger/Champion
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105 Panelists

From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:

 

I've always been fascinated by the design of Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer's home course for over 45 years (although Tiger Woods owns it, competitively-speaking, as he's won there eight times.) For one thing, it's rather hilly, a rarity in Florida (although not in the Orlando market) and dotted with sinkhole ponds incorporated in the design in dramatic ways.

 

I always thought the wrap-around-a-lake par-5 sixth was Dick Wilson's version of Robert Trent Jones's decade-older 13th at The Dunes Club at Myrtle Beach. Each of the two rivals had claimed the other was always stealing his ideas. But the hole I like best at Bay Hill is the par-4 eighth, a lovely dogleg-right with a diagonal green perched above a small circular pond. OK, I admit that it reminds me of the sixth at Hazeltine National, another Trent Jones product, but I don't think Wilson picked Trent's pocket on this one, as both courses were built about the same time, in the early 1960s.I should pause here to point out that I have always given credit to Wilson (who died in 1965, four years after it opened) for the design of Bay Hill, going all the way back to the book I co-authored with Geoff Cornish, The Golf Course, first published in 1981. But the authorship of Bay Hill has been contested, and therein lies a story.

 

It starts with a call I received in late 1983 from Thomas F. Barnes, Jr., a Florida real estate developer, who saw my book and called to tell me that I had it wrong.

 

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$10,000 range

Play: Rory McIlroy, $10,600:

I’ve somehow displayed a great deal of restraint this year on Rory McIlroy, yet this is the perfect spot to utilize him. McIlroy possesses such a built-in advantage at Bay Hill due to his elite total driving ability and long iron play out of the rough. The four-time major winner is essentially starting on second base every time he tees it up at the iconic tour venue. The results speak for themselves—in nine appearances at Bay Hill, McIlroy has recorded eight top-15 finishes, a win in 2018, and a runner-up last year. In seven of nine starts here, McIlroy has gained more than six strokes from tee to green. Coming off a 21st at the Cognizant Classic where he gained another six strokes off the tee, McIlroy is peaking just in time to capture another red cardigan.

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$9,000 range

Play: Viktor Hovland, $9,900:

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Harry How

While Viktor Hovland has had a somewhat muted start to his 2024 season, this is the week the reigning FedEx Cup champion reminds people he’s one of the best players in the world. Hovland’s ball-striking really started to come around at the Genesis Invitational, and even more encouraging, he gained strokes around the green on both weekend rounds. Now he returns to a golf course that accentuates his elite total driving and long iron play, and where he has gained over nine strokes ball-striking in each of his two most recent starts at Bay Hill. Interestingly enough, all of Hovland’s best chipping performances have come on either firm Bermuda courses, or courses with thick rough. Those fading Hovland on the basis of his short game might be making a grave mistake.

Fade: Max Homa, $9,200:

While Max Homa has certainly had success at Bay Hill in the past, something appears a bit off for him right now. In five starts this year, the six-time PGA Tour winner has yet to record a top-10 finish, despite him having the most success historically on the West Coast swing. Now Homa travels to Florida, a part of the country he has had considerably less success. A staple of Bay Hill are its rock hard greens, which require an incredibly high ball fight and precise long iron play. Homa has not gained over a stroke on approach in four straight starts, and he ranks bottom 10 in this field in both proximity 200 yards from the rough and the fairway. Until I start to see some form on approach, Homa is an easy fade right now, particularly on this golf course.

$8,000 range

Play: Will Zalatoris, $8,900:

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Icon Sportswire

We have officially entered the prime Will Zalatoris stretch of the schedule. Due to his elite total driving, long iron play and high ball flight, the 26-year-old is always a threat at more challenging, longer courses such as Torrey Pines, Riviera, Augusta National, and of course, Bay Hill. In fact, Zalatoris actually ranks first in this field over the last three years in strokes gained tee to green on firm courses with thick rough. Coming off a runner-up finish at the Genesis Invitational where he gained over a stroke in all four major categories, Zalatoris’ game is rounding into form at just the right time.

Fade: Wyndham Clark, $8,500:

Wyndham Clark has been kind to this column already in 2024, but I know when it’s time to hop off. In three appearances at Bay Hill, Clark has failed to finish inside the top-30, losing over 1.5 strokes off the tee in each start. Coming off a disappointing missed cut at the Genesis Invitational where he lost strokes in all four major categories, the former U.S. Open champion is trending in the wrong direction.

$7,000 range

Play: Corey Conners, $7,800:

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Harry How

Despite not being a bomber, Corey Conners has been able to find a modicum of success at Bay Hill via his elite accuracy off the tee and long iron play. In his past three appearances in Orlando, Conners has recorded three top-25 finishes. While the putter is always the biggest concern with the Canadian, Conners is actually one of the biggest gainers on fast Bermuda greens, and he has quietly had a lot of success in Florida, ranking seventh in SG/total in the Sunshine State over the past three years.

Fade: J.T. Poston, $7,900:

J.T. Poston has made many DFS golf players a lot of money this season, but the art of daily fantasy is knowing when the run is over. Poston was able to feast on shorter, easier courses with a higher greens in regulation percentage that perfectly accentuated his skill-set, but Bay Hill is a stark contrast. Poston already showed serious signs of decline last week at the Cognizant Classic with a 66th-place finish, capped by a Sunday 75, the second-to-worst round of all players who made the cut. I will be excited to fire Poston back up when we hit some of the bentgrass birdie-fests over the summer, but this is not the spot.

Flier: Stephan Jaeger, $7,200:

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Orlando Ramirez

Stephan Jaeger disappointed many DFS players with a MC on the number at the Cognizant Classic on the heels of a third-place finish at the Mexico Championship. As a result, we are seeing a dramatic decrease in pricing and an ideal buy-low spot on a player that fits Bay Hill incredibly well. Jaeger is one of the better total drivers and long iron players in this field, and he’s quietly had a lot of success on firm and fast Bermuda courses. Don’t read too much into two anomalous rounds at PGA National—this is an excellent opportunity for Jaeger to rebound.

$6,000 range

Play: Patrick Rodgers, $6,500:

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Hector Vivas

Min Woo Lee is the easy answer here, but it does not take much insight to acknowledge that a $6.6K Min Woo Lee is severely underpriced. We may see astronomical ownership this week on the big-hitting Australian, and I do believe it is warranted at that price tag. With that being said, for those looking for a much lower-owned pivot, I present Patrick Rodgers. The former Stanford standout remains one of the most powerful drivers in this field, and he has an elite short game and resume on firm and fast Bermuda greens as well. Coming off a sixth-place finish at the Mexico Championship where he gained over five strokes off the tee, don’t be surprised if Rodgers finds his way to the first page of the leader board come Sunday afternoon.

Andy Lack is a PGA Tour writer and podcaster from New York City who now resides in Los Angeles. He hosts Inside Golf, a twice weekly podcast focused on the PGA Tour, betting, daily fantasy, golf course architecture, and interviews, as part of the BlueWire podcast network. As well as contributing to Golf Digest, Andy is also a data analyst and writer for Run Pure Sports, where he covers PGA Tour betting and daily fantasy. He came to Golf Digest’s betting panel after previously writing for RickRunGood.com, the Score and GolfWRX. In his free time, Andy can likely be found on a golf course. Follow him on Twitter: @adplacksports