Tiger Woods isn’t in the field this week at an event he’s won a record eight times, but the top five players in the world will be on hand at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge -- a place that puts a premium on a player’s ability to exploit the longest holes on the course.
Par 5 primacy
When the course was redesigned in 2010 and returned to a par 72 -- with the purpose of creating more birdie chances -- it effectively divided the course into two parts.
On one hand, there are the par-4s and par-3s. In 2014, Bay Hill’s par-4s were tied for eighth on the PGA Tour for scoring difficulty (ahead of PGA Championship host Valhalla), and the par-3s ranked 13th.
As for the par-5s, the redesign accomplished its goal. Each year since 2010, all four of the course’s par-5s have played under par, and as a group, they ranked tied for 31st (out of 48) in terms of difficulty on the PGA Tour last season.
Take a chance
Since 2010, the blueprint has been pretty simple for the four men who have won this event (Tiger Woods twice in that span): Punish the par-5s and hold on for the other 14 holes.
The last five winners at the Arnold Palmer Invitational have combined to shoot 56-under on the par-5s compared with 2-under on all other holes.
Last year’s champion, Matt Every, was 8-under-par on the par-5s for the week, and that ranks as the worst par-5 performance by a champion in the last five years.
When Tiger Woods won in 2012 and 2013, he was a cumulative 26-under-par on the par-5s, with three eagles, 21 birdies and a bogey in 32 holes played. Woods played the rest of the course in even par those two years.
Except for Every, every year since 2010, the champion has been no worse than tied for second in par-5 scoring at the event. So for starters, a potential champion will need to go low on the par-5s. The last player to conquer a par-72 Bay Hill layout while being worse than 8-under-par on the par-5s was Kenny Perry in 2006.
The key to scoring on these par-5s? Be aggressive. Four of the past five champions at Bay Hill (with the exception of Every) have gone for the green in two on at least 11 of the 16 par-5s they played for the week.
Martin Laird (2011 champion) went for the green on all 16 chances en route to victory.
Rory McIlroy has never teed it up at this event, but he figures to feel right at home this week, at least on paper. McIlroy made birdie or better on 51 percent of his par-5s a season ago -- that ranked third on the PGA Tour -- and he went for the green on 74 percent of his par-5 opportunities, the highest rate on tour for the season.