The Arnold Palmer Invitational preview with Skeeter McGillicuddy
The 2017 renewal of the Arnold Palmer Invitational is the first since the passing of the King. So expect a double dosing of maudlin music and reverence off the scale this week. We however must try and find the winner. The event always seems to be compromised by it’s positioning coming as it does after the WGC, and the importance these play, and the proximity to the Masters. Nevertheless the event has a quality field with Rory heading the market. Shorn of Dustbin and Jordan it still ranks well with amongst others, Jason, Henrik, Hideki and Rickie adding the glamour.
Bay Hill is an old fashioned Florida layout and in keeping with many venues has been returned to some of its old glory. In an age of massive drives and balls generally flying stupid distances course have resorted to taking a step back to toughen up and differentiate a course – once they run out of the distance option. At 7,400 plus Bay Hill is long but no monster. Against a recent run of events the fairways are positively generous at an average of 33 yards at the 250 mark.
Recent winners include Day, Every (who?), Tiger and stable favourite Laird. Scores are trending lower and with the 6,500 ft average green size and wider fairways you would expect a wining score nearer to -20 than 10.
Rory is the class act and will contend even with his B game but in his second event back he’ll want to win but will rather want to fine tune if he can’t. In his second start back he could just find one or two who out peak him this week. Henrik never wins, Hideki is clinging to something, like Thomas and I’d look elsewhere if none of these appeal. Pieters and Hatton are in great form but the prices are tight so we’ll look elsewhere.
Morgan Hoffmann is still a maiden on the Tour after 121 events and this year generally is nothing to write home about but he did finish 4th here in 2015 and showed some form three weeks ago at the Honda with his career best finish, a tied 2nd. The secret to that performance was a great stokes gained putting figure – surprise – man putts well – he contends. Hoffmann will not be on many people’s short list and his career to date is modest but he has the underlying credentials to contend and off the back of his fine performance at the Honda and his 4th here 2 years ago, when he opened with 65 / 66, I’m inclined to think he can spring a surprise.
Emiliano Grillo, the diminutive Argentinean whose talent is at odds with his stature is another stable favourite who has flattered to deceive in 2017 – but that’s not going to deter us. This boy will win and win big. A nice 17th here last year suggests he likes the course but on the bare face of it his recent performances have left a lot to be desired. The tee to green game is all there but so to is the weakness – his putting. Grillo’s stokes gained putting is a sorry reflection of a man who is struggling. Not that he hasn’t put some fine rounds together, rather that these flashes are but that – moments of brilliance. Last weeks efforts at the WGC were more a few moments of madness early on and were it not for the fact there was no cut he’d have been home on the weekend. Saved from that ignominy Grillo produced a solid 69 / 69 weekend and on that basis plus the fact he hits 70% of greens he’s carry’s ours this week.
Tony Finau by contrast is a huge man, bang in form, hits it miles, and is right up there in the key stats that might matter this week – fairways and greens. He came home like a scalded cat at the Valspar on Sunday where he mixed great ball striking with equally good putting. Three top tens in his last seven starts combined with a hard finishing 43rd last year, closing with a 67, Finau is a more seasoned player now and this could be his time. The closing 64 at the Valspar when scoring proved tough suggests he comes her on fire.