This past week was another great stretch for the PGA Tour, as Paul Casey defeated the odds-defying Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed to win his first PGA tour event in nearly 10 years. Casey played with a heavy heart after the loss of a friend the weekend prior, and he will skip Bay Hill this week to attend services in England. Casey had a great week despite not hitting many greens in regulation- of the 28 greens he missed this week he went just +4 on those holes. His Sunday 65 was capped off with 13 1-putts and a chip-in birdie, and according to Justin Ray of the Golf Channel, Casey’s 21 putts in the final round are the fewest by a tournament winner in 18 years.
Despite many golfers surging towards the top of the leaderboard Sunday, including Patrick Reed who almost forced a playoff before bogeying the 72nd hole, the main story of the week was Tiger Woods and the enormous gallery that followed him. Down 2 shots with 2 holes left, Tiger drained an insane 44-foot putt to put himself within a stroke going into 18. Arguably the best reaction in that moment was not the gallery or Tiger himself, but his playing partner Brandt Snedeker and their caddies, who all smirked and got the sense that Tiger was back.
The television ratings for the Valspar Championship also broke numerous records for non-major PGA events, especially for NBC/GC’s Sunday programming. “NBC’s three-hour coverage (3-6PM ET) earned a 5.11 overnight rating, the highest figure since the final round of the 2013 Players (5.7), which was won by Woods. Golf Channel’s final-round lead-in coverage (1-3PM ET) earned a 1.65 overnight rating, becoming the highest-rated Golf Channel PGA Tour lead-in telecast on record (2009-18).” This week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, just the second since his death in September of 2016, should see similar ratings. Along with headliner Tiger Woods, who’s won at Bay Hill 8 times in 12 tries and is officially the favorite at 13-2 odds, other contenders this week include Justin Rose (#5 in the Official World Golf Rankings), Hideki Matsuyama (#6), Rickie Fowler (#7), Jason Day (#10), Tommy Fleetwood (#11) and Rory McIlroy (#13). This week at Bay Hill Club and Lodge, a par 72 / 7,419 yd track, they’ll be playing for the “Red Cardigan” in honor of hall of famer and long-time host Arnold Palmer. Last year Marc Leishman won the tournament at -11, defeating President’s Cup Teammates Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman who both finished T2 at -10. Rory McIlroy and Tyrrell Hatton finished T4 at -9. Bay Hill will test iron play and putting. Leishman was 10th in strokes gained approaching the green, 2nd in strokes gained putting, and first in greens in regulation in 2017 when he won with a final score of 277.
Top 5 Power Rankings:
#5 Francesco Molinari
Last week my dark horse was Branden Grace of South Africa who tied for 8th place at Innisbrook (-5) just 5 shots off the lead. This week I’m going with the Italian who is also a cuts machine (8/9) and has 2 top-10 finishes this season. He finished T25 in Mexico two weeks ago and missed the cut at the Genesis Open in February, but his prior success at Bay Hill is the main reason he is a safe pick for the week (and a steal on DK at $7,300). At the 2017 API, Molinari tied for 17th place and also owns 2 top-10 finishes in the prior two Invitationals (T9 in 2016 and T7 in 2015). At 25th in the world according to the OWGR, and with a proven record at the course, expect a solid week out of Molinari in a crowded field.
#4 Tommy Fleetwood
The only reason the Brit isn’t ranked highers is because of his inexperience at the course- on paper he should be the favorite any given week on tour or in Europe. Fleetwood is 13/13 on made cuts this year and has astonishingly 7 top-10s to his name in ’17-’18 (only one other player in the field this week has as many and *hint* he’s also on this list). Fleetwood has been on an absolute tear since winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January at 22 under par, and since has posted a T6 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, a T37 at the Genesis Open, a solo 4th at the Honda Classic, and a T14 at the WGC Mexico with a weekend score of 67-66 (-9 in that stretch). He tied for 10th at Bay Hill last year, so he should be able to handle himself with some of the United States’ best in Florida this week.
#3 Justin Rose
The only player to match Fleetwood’s 7 top-10s in the field this week is Rose, who contended last week at the Valspar Championship tying for 5th at -7 (3 strokes off the lead). He’s now 9/9 on cuts made this year and has risen to 5th on the OGWR. His 72 on Sunday, following a sizzling 66 on Saturday, might be a little concerning, but it still appears that Rose should get a win soon. He finished T13 last year at Bay Hill and tied for 9th the year before that. If he can continue to drive the ball well, his putter will be the difference between a top-15 finish and a victory.
#2 Jason Day
Australians like Bay Hill and Day is no different. A winner at the 2016 Arnold Palmer Invitational, he finished T23 in 2017 and T17 in 2015. He’s played in just 4 events since the President’s Cup but boy has he made the most of them. He finished T11 at both the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges and the WGC-HSBC Champions. He won the Farmers Insurance Open in January and tied for second at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in early February. Despite great rounds thus far, he might be a little rusty after not playing competitive golf in a month. If not for Tiger’s great week at the Valspar Championship and past success at Bay Hill, Day would easily be the Vegas favorite to win this week.
#1 Tiger Woods
He’s baaaaaaack! After a T2 this past week at Innisbrook, not to mention a T12 at the Honda Classic just 2 weeks earlier, its safe to say that Woods is nearly back to his pre-injury self. He’s won at Bay Hill 8 times (no one has won more than twice) and owns the record for largest margin of victory (11 strokes in 2003). His short game looks excellent, especially his lag-putting, and he has found success with his 3 wood off the tee. If he can continue to keep the ball in the fairway and gain strokes from around the green, he should be able to contend once again. Remember, despite his one missed cut at the Genesis Open in February his worst finish this year was a T23 at the Farmers Insurance Open. The biggest test though will be Tiger’s durability and if he can stay injury-free playing back-to-back weeks. As for why he committed to the API on short rest, he told PGA Tour Radio that his strong connection to both Palmer and the Orlando area, a place where he lived and both his children were born, were factors as to why he wanted to be teeing it up Thursday morning. He’ll go off at 8:23am with Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama, who’s returning from a 6-week layoff after thumb surgery.
First off I owe everyone a slight apology for last week because I lied to you- it’s definitely possible to win in DFS with a player missing the cut. How I won anything with not 1 but TWO players missing the cut is nothing short of a miracle. To recap, this past week I came in 644th of about 4,000 participants in the DK $10k Hybrid. Both Jason Dufner and Byeong-Hun An missed the cut by 1 stroke. For most of that Friday, the cut line was at +2 but officials moved it to +3 right at the end. How An and Duf missed was also frustrating- An was on the cut line and parred his first 12 holes before going +2 on holes 13-15 to miss the cut by 1, and Dufner was even worse because he was -4 thru 12 (the best round of the day at the time) and then took a double bogey on 13 after hitting his tee shot in the water. Duf proceeded to bogey 3 of his next 4 holes and also missed the cut by 1. If it wasn’t for Paul Casey taking the W and my dark horse Branden Grace picking up a T8 last week, the Valspar would have been a disappointment. I’m much more confident going into this week because of how cheap some quality players are. Along with these picks, I’d recommend avoiding Fowler, Stenson and McIlroy. They’re all struggling and it’s not worth spending 10k and up on a guy when quality players like Leishman (an honorable mention for the power rankings), Scott, and Molinari are $8,700 and below.
PGA $25k Hybrid ($3 entry fee)
Tommy Fleetwood ($9,500)
Adam Scott ($8,700)
Marc Leishman ($8,400)
Louis Oosthuizen ($8,200)
Cameron Smith ($7,800)
Francesco Molinari ($7,300)
Remaining Salary -> $100