After a thrilling finish at last week’s Honda Classic, the PGA Tour makes its way to Bay Hill, Florida to celebrate the life of golf legend Arnold Palmer.
It will be nearly impossible to improve on last year’s frantic finish which saw Rory McIlroy catch a special kind of Sunday fire on the back-nine at Bay Hill, but the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational boasts a strong field that includes six of the world’s top-10 ranked golfers.
The field at Arnie’s Place is deep with talent, and there are dozens of players we’d feel justified including in a ranking article, but these are the 15 we like just a little bit more than the rest.
15. Matt Every
Well, well, look who has not fallen off the face of the earth after all! The 2014 and 2015 winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational absolutely imploded from 2016-2018, missing a shocking 48 cuts in 77 starts.
Every finished last season by missing the weekend in nine of his final 10 starts, but suddenly, the 35-year-old Daytona Beach native has found some game again, posting top-20s in each of his four 2019 events.
Is he ready to contend again? It is hard to tell, but if it is going to happen anywhere, this is the place. He clearly has enormous confidence at Bay Hill.
World Rank: 435th
Last Six: 16, 32, 14, 11, 15, 20
14. Charles Howell III
As usual, it has not been flashy, but the 39-year-old is having one of his best seasons on PGA Tour. Ranking fourth in the current FedExCup standings, Howell has been extremely consistent, and is coming into Bay Hill hot, with four top-20s in his last five starts.
Howell’s current game appears to have no discernible weaknesses, and he ranks 2nd on Tour in greens in regulation. We like the chances that his stellar play continues at Bay Hill, where he finished T14 a year ago.
World Rank: 47th
Last Six: 14, 6, 20, 34, 8, 14
13. Lucas Glover
Quietly, the soft-spoken former U.S. Open Champion Glover has been having a career-resurgence in 2019. After just two top-20 finishes in 18 2018 starts, with both of those coming in Asia, Glover suddenly has seven in eight starts this season, and has posted back-to-back top-10s after his T4 at last week’s Honda Classic.
Tremendous iron play probably deserves the biggest credit, as he currently ranks third on Tour in greens in regulation, but he has also been shockingly not-horrifically-awful with his putter, as he GAINED nearly five strokes on the field on the greens at PGA National.
Can the man who suddenly has the fifth best scoring average on Tour keep it going for at least another week? It is hard to bet against him at the moment, and he did post a T7 at Bay Hill just two years ago.
World Rank: 92nd
Last Six: 4, 7, MC, 12, 11, 7
12. Tommy Fleetwood
The talented Englishman has been in a bit of a funk to start 2019, not finishing better than T16 in five starts, but he did show some signs of life in his last outing, when he posted a second-round 65 at the WGC-Mexico Championship (he finished T19).
This will be Fleetwood’s third attempt at Arnie’s Place, where he has had some success, finishing T10 two years ago despite opening with a 78. He is very likely to break out of his slump soon; with back-to-back top-5s at the U.S. Open, we know he isn’t one of those European stars whose game does not translate to the U.S.
World Rank: 14th
Last Six: 19, 28, 45, 16, 42, 14
11. Francesco Molinari
The World No. 10, and reigning Open Champion, Molinari has cooled off considerably from when he was absurdly hot for several months last year, as a T8 is his only result inside the top 15 in his last eight starts.
Bay Hill could be the place he gets back on track though; he was T7 in 2017, T9 in 2016, and T5 in 2014. We have seen that a confident Molinari is very dangerous, and this is certainly a track where he should be feeling confident.
World Rank: 10th
Last Six: 17, 27, 26, 43, 56, 21
10. Hideki Matsuyama
Things have been trending upwards for Matsuyama as of late, as he is currently in the midst of a T3, T15, T9, T19 stretch. Ranking third on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green is also impressive, and signals that some better results are in his near future, although it would help if he could get his putter under better control.
His last two outings at Bay Hill have not been great (T49, T45), but he is just three years removed from a T6 showing.
World Rank: 27th
Last Six: 19, 9, 15, 3, 51, 18
9. Ian Poulter
The ostentatious 43-year-old Brit has seen his career reborn over the past 48 months, and has been especially dialed-in as of late, with two T3s and two T6s in his last four starts.
Before getting too excited about his chances at Bay Hill however, it should be noted that none of those four starts were in the U.S., where he has not posted a top-10 since a T10 in early August at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
That is not to say he cannot win on American soil; he did so 11 months ago when he took first place at the Houston Open. Poulter has played this event many times, with a best showing of solo-third in the 2012 edition.
World Rank: 30th
Last Six: 3, 6, 3, 6, 33, 18
8. Jason Day
The former World No. 1 (currently No. 11) Day has been surprisingly mediocre in this event, by his standards, but his best outing was a victory at the 2016 edition, where he jumped out to a huge lead with rounds of 66 and 65 on the first two days, respectively.
The 31-year-old has still been too inconsistent with his irons to quite reach the prodigious level of play he reached at his peak, but he has looked good as of late, with top-5s in his past two starts, ranked 2nd in the field in birdies in his most recent at Pebble Beach.
World Rank: 11th
Last Six: 4, 5, 13, 16, 11, 5
7. Phil Mickelson
Can this year’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am champion conquer both coasts by taking Arnie’s event as well? He should be plenty motivated, and honestly, it sounds like he cares about this event much more than THE PLAYERS, so it is unlikely that he will be looking ahead.
Lefty’s two outings since that remarkable victory at Pebble have not gone particularly well – he posted a T37 at the Genesis Open, and a T39 at the WGC-Mexico Championship – although, he should get credit for getting back to even at the latter after opening up his championship defense at Chapultepec with a 79.
Mickelson used to be phenomenal at Bay Hill, but has not cracked the top 20 since a T3 in 2002, possibly a big part of the reason he has not played this event in six years.
World Rank: 20th
Last Six: 39, 37, 1, MC, 2, 17
6. Rickie Fowler
Goofy antics aside, Rickie has been playing exceptional golf as of late, posting a win at last month’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, and finishing co-runner-up with Brooks Koepka at last week’s Honda Classic.
A hot putter has him fourth on Tour in scoring average and fifth in birdie average, and we suspect he will find a way to go low again this week.
Fowler does not have the greatest history in this event, but he did manage at T3 in the 2013 edition, and he opened with a 67 last year in a T14 effort.
World Rank: 7th
Last Six: 2, 36, 1, 66, 5, 16
5. Marc Leishman
Quoting everybody who was watching the WGC-Mexico Championship two weeks ago, “what the **** was that?” Leishman was coming into the event hot, with four top-four finishes in his last six starts (five of seven if you count his November T2 in an unofficial Australian event), but he was unspeakably awful in Mexico, opening with rounds of 77-75 and finishing T62 in the 72 man field.
The Aussie is likely to bounce back however, fewer players, if any, have been more hit-or-miss over the last two seasons and in that span, he has followed up an inexplicably poor performance with a quality outing several times, including just this year when he finished T4 at the Genesis Open in February, one start after a T43 at Torrey Pines.
Also in Leishman’s favor: he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational just two years ago, and followed that up with a T7 last year.
World Rank: 18th
Last Six: 62, 4, 43, 3, 4, 2
4. Bryson DeChambeau
Last year’s API runner-up could not quite keep up with Rory McIlroy’s back-nine explosion, but with five victories worldwide since (four on the PGA Tour, one in Europe), he has had more than his fair share of time in the winner’s circle.
Now No. 5 in the world, DeChambeau is coming in with much higher expectations, something he has mostly thrived with so far in his young career. The eccentric 25-year-old (deservedly) faced criticism in his last start, a surprisingly poor T56 effort in Mexico, when he took out anger on one of the greens, but he did show maturity with his genuinely remorseful response.
World Rank: 5th
Last Six: 56, 15, 6, 1, 10, 7
3. Brooks Koepka
Consider the slump over! After a surprisingly poor start to his 2019, the world No. 3 looked in major form again, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot in a runner-up effort at last week’s Honda Classic. And there is a good chance he would have won had one of the Tour’s worst putters (Keith Mitchell) had not suddenly sunk the biggest of his career on the 72nd hole.
Be warned, Koepka has had absolutely nothing resembling success at Bay Hill, but the same thing could have been said about PGA National last week. He is just too good to focus TOO much on course history.
World Rank: 3rd
Last Six: 2, 27, 57, 9, 24, 12
2. Rory McIlroy
The defending champion obliterated his competition down the stretch at last year’s edition, carding birdies at five of his last six holes to finish three strokes ahead of Bryson DeChambeau for his first PGA Tour victory in a year and a half.
McIlroy has not won since, but he appears very, very close as he is coming off four consecutive top-5 finishes, including a solo-2nd at his most recent start, the WGC-Mexico Championship. In that four-week tear, Rory has posted scores of -15, -14, -11, and -16 respectively.
Currently leading the Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee AND strokes gained: tee-to-green, it just feels like we cannot say enough good things about his current form.
Maybe we could rip on his problems closing events over the past few years, but he sure did not show that issue at Bay Hill 12 months ago, but granted, he was chasing rather than protecting, he just chased really, really well.
World Rank: 6th
Last Six: 2, 4, 5, 4, 20, 21
1. Justin Rose
The World No. 2 is the highest-ranked player in this week’s field, and also has the honor of co-hosting duties (Mastercard sponsored). He has been surprisingly hit-or-miss since the calendar has flipped over to 2019, but his most recent PGA Tour start was a victory at the Farmers Insurance Open, and he finished 3rd at Bay Hill last year after back-to-back 67s on the weekend.
The reigning FedExCup champion, who had two victories among 11 top 10s in the 2018 season also took runner-up to Tiger Woods in the 2013 edition. He also currently leads the Tour in both scoring and birdie average. A Bay Hill letdown seems very unlikely.
World Rank: 2nd
Last Six: MC, 1, 34, 17, 3, 1
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Next Five: Haotong Li, Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed, Bud Cauley, Tyrrell Hatton