The Florida Swing takes a quick jaunt on I-4 over to Orlando’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge for the Arnold Palmer Invitational to wrap up the 2015 Florida Swing. This event is usually the toast of the tour of the Sunshine State (where dat bomb ass hemp be), but good luck trying to match the Spieth-Reed dual we were privileged to last week at Innisbrook (at this point, I’m ready to actually argue that Sean O’Hair wasn’t even actually there in the playoff. Nothing against O’Hair, it’s just that while I was watching him on my screen, I was wondering if NBC was going to give him the “dropped from coverage” treatment, simply because Reed/Spieth was everything we’ve been waiting for.)
This week is essentially a celebration of The King’s ever flowing swag, and stands as one of only five tournaments on the circuit that are true invitationals (others being Colonial, Heritage, Quicken Loans National, and Memorial). This means the riff-raff is trimmed by about 20-30 players, no Monday qualifier, and no “What Hole Will John Daly Light Himself On Fire” game. Florida’s golf epicenter has moved 2.5 hours southeast in the past few years, but Bay Hill typically features a slightly smaller field full of top-notch talent, many of whom are playing a home game.
This is the last event worth really caring about before The Masters (sorry, Texas), so let’s get to it.
How much you got?
After Honda, Cadillac, and Valspar, these guys are ready to start decimating the Florida avian population with a birdie bonanza, but PETA The King still has something to say about it. If you take Big Cat out of the equation, the winning score hovers around 8 deep on a year-to-year basis. so this falls on the other end of the spectrum from the John Deere free for alls.
It’s not a brutal track, but there’s trouble lurking at every turn and slippery greens can compound mistakes in a hurry. Bay Hill features a strong set of par-5’s, including the 6th hole, which is one of the most unique holes in golf. The tee shot is your annual physical appointment, where Dr. Palmer tests how big your stones are (Spieth has tested out of this exam), as you can try to bite off as much as you can chewover the lake. However, there’s nothing to give you any idea of depth perception or sight lines, other than the Luke Donald bail out area to the right (brought to you by TARP). This hole was the scene for Bubba’s 11 (!) in 2014, and subsequent drowning of Ted Scott before quitting because of his allergies (apparently this was the first ever golf tournament played outdoors). You have to admire Bubba’s courage to get all the way through round one though. This was basically golf’s equivalent to the Michael Jordan flu game.
The finish is similar to TPC Sawgrass up the road with a short, risk-reward par 5 16th with water (where Rickie Fowler’s ship sank in 2013 on Sunday with two water balls):
Fowler’s Sinking Orange Boat from the 2013 Monday Finish
It’s followed by a challenging par 3 17th over water, and a stern par 4 finish to a green framed by water. It’s a solid blend of chances to gain some strokes, with plenty of opportunity to get capsized.
Overall, it’s a solid track that seems to be well respected by the players, so we are a bit curious as to why the field seems to be a bit on the weak side this year (and in years prior). There’s no doubt in my mind that Arnie compares his event to Jack’s in the same way that he compares their playing careers, and we can’t help but note that his track and his event seems to play second fiddle to Muirfield Village and the Memorial when it comes to the invitationals. However, when it comes to the…
The suburban Orlando cluster castles vibe is predominate. But Arnold Palmer holding court adds an air of regality to the proceedings. Casting aside his legendary record breaking majors, it is Mr. Palmer’s on-course persona and off-course legend that is inspirational. He’s the embodiment of cool. Jack may have won more, but who cares? If given the choice to switch lives with either of them I’d choose Arnie ten out of ten times. This week is essentially a celebration of Arnie. Can you find anyone that has a bad thing to say about him? The dude just has swag. Loved this story from last year:
When Arnie was on his way to lunch, he asked a random tournament security guard if he wanted to join. (That's why he's The King.)
— Chad Coleman (@HashtagChad) March 19, 2014
Can’t get much cooler than this.
When Arnie is in the booth this weekend, take notice in how different it is to when Jack basically takes over play-by-play from Jim Nantz during the Memorial. A Nicklaus drinking game would only be legal if you drank every time Jack didn’t talk about himself. Arnie slaps his name on the tournament, then acts more like a tour guide that takes great pride in his guest’s experience instead of boring you with some random story about himself from the past. He’s a legend in every sense of the word.
Matt Every shocked us all, as Adam Scott collapsed, and his caddie cursed up a storm coming down the final stretch. We haven’t heard much from Every since, as he’s only landed two top 25’s since then (Derek Ernst has you in his sights, Matthew).
This one’s pretty simple. Pour yourself a Mark Steffenhagen, kick back, and relax. You’re on golf-watching auto-pilot this time of the year. No need to go too hard.
JB Holmes (30/1) – He’s been crazy close, he dominates par 5’s, and he finished T10 here a year ago. He’s also quietly moved all the way up to 20th in the OWGR. This could be the week he pieces it all together and doesn’t melt on Sunday.
Kevin Na (40/1) – Loves this place, and he’s coming off sneaky back to back top 10’s.
Ian Poulter (40/1) – Things are going a little bit too well this year, aren’t they? If Poulter is going to try to ruin that, I want to at least make some money off of it. He always plays well here, and he’s been playing well lately. Listen, money talks. If Poulter is going to win this thing and be able to buy four more Ferrari full body suits, then I want to at least be able to buy enough bourbon to numb the pain.
Gary Woodland (100/1) – He’s not been on his game lately, but he bombs it, and I like him on a par 72 with four par-5’s. He’s finished in the top 27 here the last two years.
Daniel Berger (110/1) – MC at the Valspar, but top 25 in the previous four and in five of the previous six. If he had won in the playoff at the Honda, would he be 110/1 right now? These odds confuse me. This guy is a stud.
Fantasy Corner: Rory. Stenson. Bubba. J-Day. Scott. Brooks. Lot of A-listers to choose from this week.
(Tracker: +18 units in 2015. Last week: -6. Funds are continuing to hemorrhage. At this pace, I’ll be right at even before Patrick Reed wins the Masters and wins me $2K.)
- Tron’s Take – On the subject of The King and his resume of commercial endorsements, I really admire the way this guy has stuck to his blue collar roots en route to making stupid amounts of money off the course. I highly recommend reading Tom Callahan’s phenomenal Golf Digest piece from 2009 – Palmer in his Prime. This piece was exactly what I needed to truly understand Arnie’s impact on the game, and on sports in general. In my younger years I only knew him as that old guy with white hair in a sweater who would be +18 on Friday at Augusta. Then at a certain point I’d seen enough of him in those tire commercials that were a staple of my middle school years, that I started to dig a little deeper. I’ve had a man crush on him ever since. Tires, The Golf Channel, air travel, cigarettes, the state of Pennsylvania, iced tea and lemonade, IMG. These are all things that Arnold Palmer espoused. All masculine, American stuff.
- The European Tour (Madeira Islands Open) event this week is an absolute joke. S.S.P. Chawrasia is the highest ranked player in the field, coming in at 173. He’s the only player in the top 250 in the world playing, and there’s only one other player inside the top 350 in the world. The shame in this is you get more OWGR points (18) for winning the Madeira Islands Open than Henrik Stenson got for finishing one shot out of the Valspar Championship playoff (15.6). This is why I’m forced to roll my eyes when people cite European Tour victory totals when hyping a surging Euro’s resume.
@NoLayingUp is that a person or a battleship?
— Big Randy (@BigRandyNLU) March 16, 2015
- It’s about damn time Rory showed up for this thing. He could use the reps after (by his standards) a disappointing start to the PGA Tour season, and this seems like a course that should suit him well. I have a weird and unsubstantiated theory in my head that Rory should be dominating courses that Tiger has historically dominated in the past, and Bay Hill should be no exception. Courses that are open to hitting a lot of drivers, that typically play soft, and have an abundance of par-5 oil should suit his bomber style greatly. And look at Rory’s last three PGA Tour wins: Hoylake, Firestone, and Valhalla. I mean, this theory is helped by the fact that Tiger has won basically everywhere he has gone, so don’t take this bonfire take too seriously. But I could easily picture him winning this week, then going to Muirfield Village in May and lapping the field.
- Speaking of the Big Cat – were people honestly surprised that he’s skipping this year? I mean, you guys saw what I saw in San Diego and Phoenix right? I was shocked to see that he didn’t have the skull mask on in the new Nike commercial.
- I’m keeping a close eye on the dudes that have switched from the long or belly putters to the short putters. My stance has always been that these guys anchor for a reason. The exception to that is Adam Scott, who was actually never even that great with the broom putter. With a hat tip to Jake Nichols, I’d like to note the following for Adam Scott: In strokes gained putting, he was +0.25 in 2004-2006 (short), -0.45 in 2007-2010 (short), and -0.05 in 2011-14 (long). So the idea that he can’t putt with a short putter is ridiculous. And the idea that the broom transformed his career is pretty far from true as well. But two guys I’m keeping an eye are Keegan and Webb. I found this Steve Flesch tweet very interesting:
Webb is 92nd thus far in putting in '15. Finished 34 and 40 last 2 yrs. Keegan is 148th now. 47th and 49th previous 2 yrs. Anchoring matters
— InTheFlesch (@Steve_Flesch) March 16, 2015
- Shoutout to Barry O’Hanrahan from the “A Good Talk Spoiled” podcast, who showed me and 20 of my friends around Dublin, Ireland this past weekend. Jameson, Guiness, rugby, and debauchery made for a fantastic St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Their podcast is worth listening to for the accents alone.
- A couple of editorial notes on these previews: A lot of the stuff that applies to multiple years carries over (course, vibe, etc.) – obviously some of it is straight repeat, but for the most part we’re trying to build on the stuff that was well-received and keep the good vibes rolling, and then obviously build the picks section from scratch every week. As we always say, we’re not journalists. We’re just dudes bullshitting about golf, interspersing random observations with creative writing, and telling it to you reals – and if we ever get to the point where it’s not about that, please let us know. Seriously.