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Fantasy Golf Picks: 2017 Arnold Palmer Invitational Sleepers, Starts & Preview

Patrick Mayo Staff Writer March 13, 2017 11:28AM EDT

Arnold Palmer Invitational
Defending Champ: Jason Day

FNTSY Sports Network’s Pat Mayo and Cam Stewart debate their Arnold Palmer Invitational picks and the week in betting at this week’s PGA Tour stop at Bay Hill.

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Arnold Palmer Invitational Field
120 Players | Top 70 and Ties Make The Cut

A year ago, Jason Day got up-and-down from the bunker on 18 to preserve a one stroke victory over Kevin Chappell. Before hoisting a novelty check worth a little less than $1.2M over his head, he participated in the standing tradition, as all players do upon finishing their rounds at Bay Hill: he shook hands with Arnold Palmer. As it turned out, Day was the last person to partake in this embrace. The King passed away at age 87 last September.

Routinely one of the strongest non-Major fields, many speculated that the overall quality of this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational would be diminished without the general of Arnie’s Army around to entice the talent to make a pit stop in Orlando. However, many have showed up to pay their respects to one of the game’s all time legends. Weird thing is, most are international players. Odd, considering only five non-Americans have triumphed at this event since it moved to Bay Hill in 1979.

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Of the 18 players in attendance who are currently ranked inside the world’s top 30, just four bleed red, white and blue. I mean, technically Day and the UK guys do too, but you know what I’m getting at here. Defending champ Day (2), Rory McIlroy (3), Hideki Matsuyama (4), Henrik Stenson (5), and Rickie Fowler (9) form the elite contingent, and the field is boosted by Alex Noren (11), Justin Rose (13), Danny Willett (14), Paul Casey (15), Tyrrell Hatton (16), Branden Grace (19), Bubba Watson (17), Brooks Koepka (23), Brandt Snedeker (24), Charl Schwartzel (27), Louis Oosthuizen (28), Thomas Pieters (29), and Matthew Fitzpatrick (30). In all, 28 of the top 50 will be teeing off at Bay Hill. Oh, Adam Hadwin looks to keep his momentum going and make it two in a row. Up 47 spots to No. 51 in the world, with a fresh invite to Augusta in tow, the Canadian has been one the most consistent performers in the world over the last two months.

Since the API is one of five tournaments with invitational status, it doesn’t conform to the normal qualification standards of PGA events. There are only 120 players in the field this week, and you’ll be seeing some odd ball names over featured TOUR regulars. Only the first 70 players on the previous year’s money list are guaranteed invitations. After that, it’s open season.

19-year-old Aussie Ryan Ruffels, who’s been hiding out on the South American Tour like his real last name is Krieger, returns to Bay Hill for the second straight season. To counterbalance, John Daly is taking a break from his Champions Tour duties to give us a glimpse of how cigarette smoke can ravage the human epidermis. That’s if you don’t have a seizure looking at his pants first.

We’ll be getting our first look at top ranked European amateur Matthias Schwab too. The 22-year-old Austrian has made four of five cuts in professional events, and was named a first team All-American following his 2015-16 season at Vanderbilt, which included a third-place showing in the NCAA Championship. He’ll retain his amateur status until he graduates later this year but he is certainly a name to stash away for later in the season.

Also, Sean O’Hair is currently listed in the field for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but pulled out of the Valspar Championship after the second round with a neck injury. There’s a chance he withdraws before the commencement of play at Bay Hill, so monitor his status closely if you plan on using him in your lineup. Or, to makes things easy, DON’T!!!!!

Arnold Palmer Invitational Key Stats

Strokes Gained: Approach The Green
Birdies or Better 200+ Yards
Strokes Gained: Around The Green
Par 3 Efficiency 200-225 Yards
Par 5 Birdies or Better

Arnold Palmer Invitational Course
Bay Hill Club & Lodge | 7,419 Yards | Par 72

A familiar layout to even the casual golf observer, mainly from all those causals tuning in for one of Tiger’s eight wins, Bay Hill features enough aqua to ensure waterboarding can survive into the next millennium. There’s also so much sand that David Lynch may take another crack at Dune. Between the 84 bunkers and seven water hazards, expect to see a slew of crooked numbers, and even a few breaching double-digits. Seriously. The aforementioned Daly once made an 18 on Hole 6 in 1998. Shockingly enough, Daly’s not the only one to mangle that hole. Since 1983, No. 6 has produced 22 scores in the double-digits. That’s the most on TOUR, by a wide margin. Despite the potential for blowups, scoring will be bountiful. The last two winners have inched ever-so-close to -20 by tournament’s end. And, with the way scoring has been going this season, I’d expect this to be the first year we see a player get across that barrier. Maybe a couple.

So, how do you score? Well, there’s a bunch of different ways that allow almost any style to prevail. With four Par 5s littered across the course, bombers will have the ability to power their way to some easy birdie opportunities. All four Par 3s measure over 200 yards. Couple that, with over 34% of approach shots coming from beyond 200 yards, and you have a very defined distance to target. Cross referencing those two stats and seeing who they match up with in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green seems sensible.

While there are a myriad ways to make birdies, we come back to avoiding those giant numbers. From the past results, it appears the best way to do that is either through an immaculate short game or scotching hot putter, or both. Since putting can so capricious week-to-week, focusing on the more consistent skill of SG: Around-The-Green is the smarter move. Especially with these greens being so well protected by the bunch of hazards. Last year, Day and Chappell finished first and second in SG: ATG and their position on the final leaderboard mirror it. In 2015, the top four in the field from just off the greens – Morgan Hoffmann, Kevin Na, Ben Martin and Matt Jones – all finished inside Top 6 for the week.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Picks (Yahoo! Game)

Jason Day & Rickie Fowler – Any time you’re gifted the ability to stack two Top 10 players into your lineup, you do it. Rickie has already won this season, enters in scotching form (T16, 1st, T4), and sits Top 45 in all facets of the strokes gained metric – Off the Tee (23rd), Approach (6th), Around the Green (43rd), and Putting (5th). That’s good for a second place ranking in overall strokes gained. Plus, we know Rickie’s far more comfortable rolling it on Florida’s Bermudagrass greens… Day is the most well-rested of the elite and seems primed for a repeat in 2017, except for one key component: putting. For the year, the Aussie is 185th in SG: Putting. Strange for one of the best putters on the planet. Fortunately, since putting is the most variant of all stats and players will veer towards their career norms over a larger sample, Day is bound for regression. Regression in a positive way. If you want to go contrarian, Graeme McDowell is the guy in this group.

Hideki Matsyuama, Justin Rose, Paul Casey, & Kevin Kisner – Don’t worry about Hideki’s recent struggles, his ball striking and short game are still elite, which is necessary at Bay Hill… Rose has four Top 15s in his last five trips to Orlando along with three Top 5 finishes in his past five overall. As a bonus, he’s second in the field from the key Par 3 Range, trailing only Martin Kaymer… Casey has just been playing too well to not pop at some point. One of these weeks his flat stick won’t fail him and he’ll be situated atop the leaderboard. Despite a 165th rank in SG: Putt, the Brit has played five straight weekends with Top 20s in his last two starts. Mainly fueled by an elite approach (16th) and short game (3rd)… Statistically, Kisner has been elite this season. He just disappears for one round every event. He’s still producing quality finishes (T11/T48/T10/T25/T4), but has these momentary lapses on short putts. He’s a lot like Casey in that way. However he’s contended at THE PLAYERS before and has the requisite short game (33rd)/approach (5th) combo to generate enough birdie tries to overcome a few missed shorties. Don’t sleep on him being 11th on TOUR from the key P3 range either.

Henrik Stenson & Cameron Smith – Stenson will likely be the most-played golfer this week; don’t even think about fading in this format. Stenson’s played 10 consecutive sub-par rounds at Bay Hill & 17 of his last 18. He’s -50 in last 5 API starts. In that period, he’s never failed to come inside the Top 15 (T3: 2016, 2nd: 2015, T5: 2014, T8: 2013, T15: 2012). Need more? Well, outside out ingesting some rotten taquitos in Mexico, Stenson has been a Top 10 ATM lately – T7/WD/2nd/T8. Plus, Stenson has prevailed at the biggest corollary course too, TPC Sawgrass… Since we’re going chalk with the first spot, let’s swerve for our second player. Cam Smith has made 10 of 11 cuts this season and rates out well in most of the key stats. His short game has been getting better every week. He’s up to 22nd in SG: ATG after finishing second in the field last week at Valspar. He generates an amazing amount of birdies on Par 3s (13th) and has been on the premier putters on TOUR inside 10-feet (3rd). The Aussie is primed for a breakthrough, I’m banking on this being the week. If you’re not feeling Smith, Kaymer, Pieters, Zach JohnsonTommy Fleetwood, and Hatton are all viable options.

The Pat Mayo Hour covers the entire scope of the Fantasy sports landscape from Football to Reality TV, daily and yearly leagues and everything in between. You can watch the Pat Mayo Hour every weekday at 3:00pm EST, 8:00pm EST and Midnight on the FNTSY Sports Network Television channel or on your Apple TV, Xbox, Roku or Amazon Fire Stick. If you have a Fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at PatMayoHour@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show. 

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