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Scouting the Routing: 2024 Arnold Palmer Invitational

Cameron Young - PGA DFS lineup picks daily fantasy golf draftkings

After a fun little hors d'oeuvre in Palm Beach Gardens, the PGA Tour's Florida Swing moves quickly into the first of two upcoming main courses: the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge.

"Major Championship Conditions" is a descriptor often overused in golf media, but with winning scores of (-9), (-5), (-11), and (-4) over the last four years, Bay Hill might be the closest we'll come in 2024 to see these players tested on a USGA-esque setup. And with virtually the entirety of the OWGR top 25 making the commitment to Arnie's event, a Major Championship-esque field is exactly what we've got on tap this week at the Home of the King.

Before we get into the illustrious oddsboard on tap for golf bettors Monday morning, this piece will serve to break down every key trend and statistic I'm weighing to project a player's viability in the outright market and set you up to make the crucial decisions necessary before the market shifts later in the week. Without further ado, here is my comprehensive scouting report on Bay Hill Club and Lodge and the 2024 Arnold Palmer Invitational!

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The Golf Course

Bay Hill Club & Lodge - Par 72; 7,466 yards

Past Champions

  • 2023 - Kurt Kitayama (-9) over Rory McIlroy & Harris English
  • 2022 - Scottie Scheffler (-5) over Hovland/Horschel/Hatton
  • 2021 - Bryson DeChambeau (-11) over Lee Westwood
  • 2020 - Tyrrell Hatton (-4) over Marc Leishman
  • 2019 - Francesco Molinari (-12) over Matt Fitzpatrick
  • 2018 - Rory McIlroy (-18) over Bryson DeChambeau

 

PGA National by the Numbers (Off-The-Tee):

  • Average Fairway Width -- 34.6 yards; 12th widest on the PGA Tour
  • Average Driving Distance -- 280.8 yards; Eighth lowest on Tour
  • Driving Accuracy -- 54.1%; Seventh lowest on Tour
  • Missed Fairway Penalty -- 0.40; Ninth highest on Tour
  • Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee Difficulty: -0.032; Sixth toughest on Tour

There are some aspects of Bay Hill's layout that can be framed as comparable to our first Florida stop (difficult scoring conditions, bermudagrass greens, and an ever-present threat of water), but the two courses strongly diverge in the tests they each provide players off of the tee. Whereas PGA National plays more like the short, positional tracks we find throughout the southeast (Innisbrook, Harbour Town, Sea Island, etc.), Bay Hill's mammoth 7,460-yard layout is more reminiscent of a Major Championship setup.

Five of the ten par 4s around Bay Hill measure over 450 yards, and only the fifth, 10th, and 11th holes provide players with even the slightest option to club down for position. On most of the Par 4s and 5s at Arnie's place, the design calls for players to squeeze drivers into some of the narrowest effective landing areas on Tour.

I say "narrowest effective landing areas" because despite measuring above Tour average in actual width, the firm, fiery nature of the fairways at Bay Hill means that players hit fairways at a well-below-average clip compared to courses with similar dimensions. In fact, in three of the last four iterations of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, players have failed to crest the 55% mark in driving accuracy -- a figure more comparable to microscopically narrow fairways of Torrey Pines than the 35-yard wide landing zones they advertise in Orlando.

This across-the-board reduction in driving accuracy is further exacerbated by some of the most penalizing rough we'll see all year. Since 2015, only five courses on the PGA Tour have featured a higher stroke penalty for off-line tee shots -- with players experiencing a nearly half-shot difference compared to equivalent drives in the fairway.

As a result, we've seen as strong of a correlation between elite driving and overall performance as you'll ever see on the PGA Tour. Last year, every one of the top 13 players on the leaderboard gained strokes off of the tee. The year before that, 10 of the top 12 rated above field average in Total Driving, and in the three preceding years, only 9 of the 43 top-ten finishers managed to attain that position whilst losing strokes with their tee shots.

As opposed to other long, driver-heavy venues like Torrey Pines, I do not believe there is a set profile to follow when weighing the merits of distance versus accuracy. For every Rory McIlroy, Cameron Young, or Viktor Hovland who has bombed their way to the top of the historical SG: OTT rankings here at Bay Hill, you can also find an Emiliano Grillo, Corey Conners, or Adam Hadwin who has found repeated success with a more precise off-the-tee approach.

I do, however, believe you need to possess at least one of these elite driving traits for me to feel comfortable about your overall prospects here at Bay Hill. I'll be weighing Total Driving acumen above all else and filtering particularly strongly against players who possess deficiencies in both of these key driving attributes. The length of this layout combined with the peril awaiting wayward tee shots means Bay Hill is about as ruthless as they come when penalizing the short and inaccurate.

 

PGA National by the Numbers (Approach):

  • Green in Regulation Rate -- 57.5%; 3rd lowest on the PGA Tour
  • Strokes Gained: Approach Difficulty: -0.047; Third toughest on Tour
  • Key Proximity Ranges:
    • 200+ yards (accounts for 31.7% of historical approach shots)
    • 150-175 yards (18.1%)
    • 175-200 yards (17.4%)

The emphasis I'm placing on ball-striking only continues as we reach the second shots here at Bay Hill. Top-five finishers on average have gained 4.3 shots to the field with their approach shots, and since 2019, only two players have managed to attain a top-ten finish whilst losing strokes in this category.

As you'd probably expect from a golf course of Bay Hill's reputation, I do not expect players this week to get a great number of wedge or short-iron opportunities into these greens. Instead, to gain the requisite amount of strokes it's taken to climb the API leaderboard, guys will have to create birdie opportunities with a long iron in hand. Last year, a whopping 48% of approach shots came from beyond 175 yards, and as I discussed in the previous section, the firmness of Bay Hill's turf plays a hugely adverse role in the percentage of successful outcomes.

Since 2019, Bay Hill's greens have been hit at a paltry 54.2% clip in regulation (nearly 11% below the Tour Average). It's ranked as a top-five course on Tour in approach difficulty in each of those last five seasons, and especially for players forced to play from 3-4" thick rough, the exceedingly firm surfaces make it practically impossible to avoid running the ball off of the back.

As a result, these two crucial ball-striking metrics are as intertwined this week as we've seen to date in 2024. Looking back at recent leaderboards, it's very rare to see a player excel on approach whilst rating poorly in driving accuracy, while you can find a clear correlation between the week's top iron players and those that have positive driving accuracy splits. I will be weighing proximity to the hole, greens in regulation, and poor shot avoidance from the aforementioned key ranges of 175 yards-plus, but this isn't a week where I'm willing to endorse an elite iron player in spite of deficiencies elsewhere. To win at Bay Hill, you'll have to check a variety of key checkpoints alongside the usual second-shot ceiling we look for every week.

 

PGA National by the Numbers (Around the Greens):

  • Scrambling Percentage -- 57.2%; 0.3% below Tour Average 
  • Sand Save Difficulty -- +0.025; 10th easiest on Tour
  • SG: Around the Green Difficulty: +0.002; 12th toughest on Tour

While around the green play has historically been the least predictive of the four strokes gained metrics to success at Bay Hill (just 12.8% of total strokes gained), it's difficult to envision anyone getting across the line at this golf tournament without a few key par saves.

Over the last five years, no winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational has rated out below field average in either SG: ARG or Sand Save %. With the green complexes themselves being some of the toughest on Tour to putt on from 5-15 feet, tap-in pars will be worth their weight in gold on a course that features ten holes with a bogey or worse rate >20%.

I will weigh ball-striking much more heavily than around the green acumen this week, but as Viktor Hovland has found out in each of the last two seasons, no amount of ball-striking can outrun a horribly deficient short game at the King's Court. An elite around-the-green acumen has proven to be more of a luxury than a necessity through the years at Bay Hill, but as we mentioned in the earlier off-the-tee section, this venue will not hesitate to expose those with extreme deficiencies around these treacherous green complexes.

 

PGA National by the Numbers (Putting):

  • Average Green Size: 7,500 sq. feet
  • Agronomy -- TifEagle Bermudagrass
  • Stimpmeter: 12
  • 3-Putt Percentage: 3.1% (0.07% above Tour Average)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting Difficulty: -0.010; 8th toughest on Tour

Perhaps the most direct correlation between the opening two stops of the Florida Swing comes on the greens. As both are seeded with TifEagle Bermudagrass, running about a 12 on the Stimpmeter, players will once again be faced with some of the quickest putting surfaces they'll see all year. Bay Hill, in particular, is known for its lack of regard for cutting its greens down to lengths you only see in a barber shop. I can assure you that the resulting lack of friction between ground and ball will cause a lot of stress for players grinding over five-foot par putts (especially if the wind begins to blow this week in Central FL).

Over the last twelve seasons here at the King's Court, not one winner nor a runner-up has lost strokes putting in the process. Given the historic headaches we've seen players endure from short and mid-range on these greens, Bay Hill is not the place I'd be looking for a downtrodden putter to rebound. At the very least, I'll be looking for a degree of historic success on similarly lightning-quick Bermuda greens (PGA National, Sedgefield, Quail Hollow, Eastlake, etc.).

 

Key Stats Roundup:

  • Heavy emphasis on elite Total Drivers of the ball. Players who can excel in both distance and accuracy receive a sizeable leg up, but among the two, I do have a slight preference for those who can avoid Bay Hill's penal rough
  • Weighing a variety of different iron metrics this week, ranging from Proximity to the Hole, Strokes Gained per Shot, GIR %, and Poor Shot Avoidance. Specifically honing in on splits from 175 yards and beyond, where I expect nearly half of this week's approaches to come from
  • Strokes Gained on Longer Golf Courses with Difficult Scoring Conditions (Torrey Pines, Muirfield Village, and Quail Hollow offer the best stylistic fits that we see year-in and year-out, but I'll also be looking at recent performances at Major Championships).
  • Par 5 Scoring
  • Long-term Putting Splits on Fast Bermuda Greens
  • With low GIR rates and heavily bunkered green complexes, Sand Saves will also be an auxiliary stat in my modeling, as will a variety of key scoring stats we use at more difficult venues (Bogey Avoidance, Scrambling %, etc.)

 

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The Sunday Shortlist

Before the odds come out on Monday morning, here are two to three names I’ve identified as significant targets upon my initial research.

Cameron Young

We've seen Cameron Young ride prolonged stretches of hot and cold throughout his four-year stint on the professional stage, and with finishes of 3rd, 8th (x2), and 16th within his last five starts around the world, it would seem as if the 26-year-old has found another rich vein of form as he continues his search for a maiden PGA Tour title.

Now, the former Demon Deacon arrives at a venue that should be tailor-made for his ball-striking profile, as Young rates inside the top five in both Total Driving and Long Iron Proximity. Cam's also shown in his two previous starts on the West Coast that he's capable of dominating similarly large ballparks in Scottsdale and Riviera -- gaining a combined 13.1 strokes between his driving and iron play, and has started his career at the Arnold Palmer with two of the better driving performances this tournament has seen in recent years (+4.6 SG: OTT in each of his first two starts).

Young also produced the best tee-to-green week of his 2023 season here last year (+9.7 strokes in a T10 finish), and although his short-term short-game splits leave a lot to be desired, Cam has recorded two splendid weeks around the greens in Orlando (+2.6 and +2.4 SG: ARG in 2022 and '23). In his short time on Tour, Young has made a name for himself as a guy to watch at the sport's most difficult venues (Southern Hills, Riviera, Royal Liverpool, etc.), and with early markets valuing him as the 15th-best golfer in this field, he makes for a compelling upside play in the 35-1 range.

 

Will Zalatoris

I do worry that his recent runner-up performance around Riviera will cause the market to overvalue his winning prospects, but it's difficult to break down a course like Bay Hill and not consider Will Zalatoris as one of the more compelling players on the betting board. With recent finishes of 2nd and 13th at Riviera and Torrey Pines -- essentially ten months removed from any sort of comparable data point, Will proved he's still one of the Tour's biggest risers when conditions are at their toughest.

Perhaps more compelling than the 6.7 strokes he gained ball-striking in Pacific Palisades, however, are the recent developments we've seen out of Zalatoris's short game. Over his last three starts in Palm Springs, La Jolla, and Los Angeles, Will has managed to gain strokes in each of the two short game metrics (ARG & Putting). By my records, this is the only time in Will's PGA Tour career he's been able to manage this feat, and it stands to reason that his short game will have improved with the lack of time his back troubles would have allowed him to work on the full swing.

Zalatoris's new broomstick putting style has been particularly impressive from inside of ten feet -- ranking as a top 20 player in this field thus far in 2024 (88.75% make percentage). If these new short-game gains are truly here to stay for Will, he's due to become one of the most bankable players in the sport -- especially at venues such as Bay Hill, where his elite combination of driving distance and long-iron play already provides him with a huge advantage. In three starts at the Arnold Palmer, Zalatoris has never gained less than 5.5 strokes to the field with his ball striking, and if books are willing to give us another price break (i.e., something bordering on 30/35-1), I'm more than willing to back Will to finish the job he just fell short of in Pacific Palisades.

 

 

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Marvin Harrison Jr. - Fantasy Football Rankings, College FB, WR, NFL Draft Sleepers

Coach Knows Ball: Marvin Harrison Jr. 2024 NFL Draft Film Breakdown of Ohio State WR

Welcome to Coach Knows Ball, an NFL Draft series analyzing the top prospects in the 2024 class. I'm a college football coach with nine years of NCAA experience and have been scouting NFL Draft prospects for over 15 years. This series will give a deep dive into the film of some of the top players... Read More