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Arnold Palmer Invitational Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 28 Feb 2022 | Comments

BRYSON DeCHAMBEAU received a text message from Tiger Woods before starting his final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill last year. Woods told him to keep fighting. 

He played the final 17 holes without a bogey, entertaining the galleries with a massive drive over the water and delivering one last par with a five-foot putt on the final hole for a one-shot victory over Lee Westwood.

DeChambeau dedicated his victory to Woods, recovering from serious leg injuries from his single-car crash in Los Angeles two weeks earlier as he battled to victory in blustery conditions, fast fairways and greens so quick they looked almost white.

DeChambeau closed with a 71, matching the low score of the final round in which nobody broke 70 on Sunday at Bay Hill for the first time since 1980.

Westwood, who turned 48 a few weeks later, was undaunted by the American’s power hitting. Never mind that DeChambeau's rocket over the water on the 565-yard sixth hole was 168 yards beyond Westwood. Their second shots were only six feet apart and both made birdie.

Westwood fought to the end. He fell out of a share of the lead with a three-putt bogey from 40 feet on the 14th. Just as critical was failing to make birdie on the par-five 16th with a wedge for his second shot from the fairway, and DeChambeau having to scramble for par.

"You can't want for more than that. I thought we had a really good battle," Westwood said. "It was never really more than one shot all day, and there were tough conditions out there. It was a day for playing sensible and hanging on."

They were never separated by more than one shot over the final 15 holes. DeChambeau finished at 11-under 277.

The long ball came in handy for DeChambeau, as much with the putter as the driver. He holed a 40-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole to regain a share of the lead. More critical was the 50-foot par putt he made on No. 11 to stay one ahead.

"Knowing what I know now, it's obviously the shot of the day for me," he said.

Westwood tied him with a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-5 12th, only to give it back with a three-putt on the 14th. The tournament turned on the par-5 16th, where it was Westwood who had the advantage.

DeChambeau's drive went up against the lip of a bunker and he had to lay up short of the water. Westwood had 158 yards and hit a poor wedge that came up short of the green. He chipped nicely, except that it rolled out six feet by the hole on the lightning-quick greens and he missed the birdie for a chance to tie.

DeChambeau took the one-shot lead to the 18th and hit his most important drive of the day - in the fairway. Westwood's tee shot settled in a divot, and he did well to get it on the green and two-putt from 65 feet. DeChambeau's birdie putt slid by some five feet and he shook his arms in celebration when the par putt dropped.

Westwood closed with a 73, not a bad score considering the average of 75.49 was the highest for a final round since 1980.

Corey Conners stayed in the mix until the very end. The Canadian holed a 15-foot eagle putt on the 16th to get within one shot, only to find a bunker on the par-3 17th and miss a six-foot par putt. With a bogey on the final hole, he shot 74 to finish alone in third.

Jordan Spieth was part of a four-man race on the front nine and briefly tied for the lead with a birdie on the par-5 sixth. That turned out to be his last birdie of the day. He took bogey on three of his last four holes for a 75, dropping him into a three-way tie for fourth with Andrew Putnam (71) and Ricky Werenski (73).

DeChambeau rose to No. 1 in the FedExCup standings with his eighth PGA Tour victory, and he became the first player that season with multiple victories, to go along with his U.S. Open title in September 2020. It matched the longest it took for a multiple winner on the PGA Tour since 1969. Nick Price won his second title in the 21st week of the season in 1994.

Rory McIlroy, who started four shots out of the lead, was never in the mix. He came undone on the par-5 sixth, where he hit two tee shots into the water and then hit the fairway, green and made the putt to salvage double bogey. He shot 76. 

2022 Preview

Matt Fitzpatrick

Sadly, the defending champion has withdrawn due to injury.

Unsurprisingly, the tournament has attracted another world-class field featuring most of Europe’s finest, including Rory McIlroy, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton and Paul Casey.

If ever there was a golf course that is made for Fitzpatrick, this is it. By PGA Tour standards, the fairways are pretty narrow and there is “proper” rough, which puts a premium on accuracy from the tee. The greens are also extremely fast - and Fitzpatrick is one of the best putters in the business.

If he is to break his duck on the PGA Tour he is going to have to see off the challenge of some of the brightest and best young talents on the PGA Tour. The sensation that is Sam Burns will be looking for another victory and will surely relish the challenge provided by Bay Hill.

Hatton will hope to draw on some pretty special memories. He won this tournament two years ago, a victory that saw him enter the top 10 in the world rankings. Since then, his form has been pretty patchy, brilliant one week, awful the next. 

He is one of the most volatile golfers on the planet and the American fans and commentators simply adore his antics. I remain convinced that his temperament costs him dearly and that he needs to find a way to count to 10. He says that when he hits a poor shot he needs to let off steam and insists that when he plays his next shot he has forgotten what has gone before. 

I am not convinced. His talent is beyond question and he clearly enjoys playing on the PGA Tour.

Francesco Molinari won this tournament just three years ago. At the time, he was the Open champion and was riding high in the world rankings. But weeks later he would capitulate in the final round of The Masters as Tiger Woods finally landed his 15th major. The Italian then suffered a series of injuries and tumbled down the rankings. But he is finally fit again and is showing some of the form that took him to victory at Carnoustie in 2018. He is one of the straightest hitters in the game and will be looking forward to returning to Bay Hill.

Rory McIlroy is still looking to kick-start his season. There have been flashes of his best and he finally seems to have eliminated the unfortunate habit of throwing in a round that takes him out of contention. He has also been putting really well but knows that both his driving and his wedge game need to improve if he is to start winning again on a regular basis. Bay Hill will find him out if he is not at his very best, but he is a previous winner here and I have a sneaky feeling that he would be ready to triumph again. 

The Course

Bay Hill is a par 72 measuring 7,381 yards and is one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour. DeChambeau was an unlikely winner in 2021 because Bay Hill is a course that demands accuracy from the tee. The rough is thick and punishing and the greens are lightning fast.

Tournament Winners

It was won in 2015 by Matt Every, in 2016 by Jason Day, in 2017 by Marc Leishman, in 2018 by Rory McIlroy, in 2019 by Francesco Molinari, in 2020 by Tyrrell Hatton and last year by Bryson DeChambeau.

Form Guide

Rory McIlroy won the CJ Cup back in October and finished in a tie for 10th at the Genesis, when his worst round was a 70. He was sixth at the DP World Tour Championship, 12th in Abu Dhabi and third in Dubai and could have won all three. He is very close to his brilliant best. Jon Rahm is a machine. Since missing the cut at the Fortinet Championship back in September, he has finished no worse than a tie for 21st on the PGA Tour and was runner-up at the Tournament of Champions and tied for third at the Farmers Insurance Open. It is only a matter of time before he wins again.

To Win:

Rory McIlroy. So close to his brilliant best

Each Way:

Jon Rahm. The Spaniard is a machine

Players to Follow:

Rory McIlroy. Needs to keep it in play

Jon Rahm. Another week, another big finish

Matthew Fitzpatrick. Bay Hill is tailor-made for his game

Sam Burns. A superstar

Five Outsiders to Watch:

Ian Poulter. In the autumn of his career but this is a course he enjoys

Talor Gooch. Hugely underrated golfer

Maverick McNealy. Makes a lot of money

Branden Grace. All depends on his putting

Lucas Herbert. Now feels like he belongs out here

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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