Updated throughout each tournament week, 'The Starter' will provide key news, notes, and other nuggets prior to the first tee time on Thursday morning. Think of it as an all-in-one resource to help guide you in the days leading up to the start of the tournament, as you prepare your fantasy golf lineups and entries. As soon as we receive valuable news updates on things such as tee times, featured groups, withdrawals and other course reports we’ll be sure to post them all here.
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Chris Kirk won The Honda Classic for his 5th career PGA Tour victory (first since 2015).
Kirk defeated Eric Cole in a one-hole playoff.
Kirk rose from 47th to 32nd in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Eric Cole, a 32-year-old rookie on the PGA Tour, finished runner-up for his best career finish across 15 starts on TOUR.
Cole rose from 330th to 179th in the OWGR.
Tyler Duncan (solo-3rd) notched his first top-10 finish since winning The RSM Classic in 2019.
Ryan Gerard (solo-4th) got into The Honda Classic field via Monday Qualifier. A top-10 finish earned him a spot in next week's Puerto Rico Open (the PGA Tour's alternate event).
A 23-year-old Korn Ferry Tour member, Gerard was making just his second-ever start in a PGA event.
Shane Lowry (T5) led the field in SG: Tee-to-Green (+10.92). He finished in the top-5 of The Honda Classic for the second consecutive year.
2022 Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year Justin Suh (T5) produced his best career finish on the PGA Tour. Suh struggled with the putter over the weekend at PGA National but produced great ball-striking numbers all week:
+4.24 SG: OTT (4th)
+6.21 SG: APP (10th)
76.79% Driving Accuracy (1st)
79.17% Greens-in-Regulation (2nd)
Ben Taylor (T5) is getting close to cracking the OWGR top 100 for the first time in his career. He now has three top-5 finishes on the PGA Tour this season.
Pre-Season World Rank: 248th
Current World Rank: 108th
Defending champion Sepp Straka (T5) led the Honda Classic in Greens-in-Regulation and ranked 2nd in SG: Approach (+7.59).
Min Woo Lee (T26) earned a spot in next week's Players Championship by ranking 50th in the world following The Honda Classic.
Bay Hill Club & Lodge - Bay Hill, Florida
Event #18 of the 2022-23 FedExCup Regular Season
Designated Event #4
120-player invitational field with a cut
The second stop of the Florida Swing is Bay Hill Club & Lodge, the long-time host venue for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The invitational status of this event merely points to the fact that the field will have 20 or so fewer golfers competing than in a normal week.
Much like Honda last week, the Arnold Palmer Invitational is a challenging event with water hazards to navigate, firm and fast course conditions, and gusting winds often adding to the difficulty. The 3" Bermuda rough--some of the longest/thickest on the PGA Tour--is also a defining feature of this tournament. Altogether, these conditions give API the feel of a major championship-like test of golf.
The closing par-4 18th hole at Bay Hill is consistently one of the most difficult golf holes on the PGA Tour. It was the 5th toughest hole on TOUR in 2020, 2nd toughest hole in 2021, and the 21st toughest in 2022. So the stage will likely be set for a dramatic and anxious finish.
API has also been given elevated (or "designated") status for this year's tournament. So the field at Bay Hill is perhaps stronger than it's ever been with 43 of the top 50 ranked golfers in the world teeing it up. Golfers like Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, and Xander Schauffele (just to name a few) who don't usually play API will be in action this week.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational has been played at Bay Hill Club & Lodge since 1979. As mentioned above, the difficult conditions make it play as one of the toughest non-major venues on the PGA Tour.
The difficulty has really ramped up in recent years. In 2022 specifically, Scottie Scheffler won at -5 and the final round scoring average was 75.48 (3.48 strokes over par).
This is partially anecdotal, but as a viewer, I distinctly remember the greens at Bay Hill becoming rock-hard by Sunday. Some players were frustrated with just how firm the greens got over the weekend.
This is what Rory McIlroy said after the final round of the 2022 Arnold Palmer Invitational: "I feel punch drunk, to be honest. The weekend, it's like crazy golf. You just don't get rewarded for good shots."
Some have attributed the growing difficulty in part to Chris Flynn becoming the director of grounds at Bay Hill in recent years.
Prior to the 2022 Arnold Palmer Invitational, Flynn and his team notably replaced several runoff areas around greens with thick rough. As you might expect, this made scrambling more challenging.
In an article from a couple of weeks ago, Flynn spoke on Arnold Palmer wanting Bay Hill to be a stern test:
"Mr. Palmer was a special guy, you know, in a good way, real blue collar," Flynn says. "He wasn't hung up on aesthetics. He really didn't give a crap what the golf course looked like. He really, really didn't. He used to say 'Everybody's gotta play the same course. I don't care if it looks a little rough.'"
The article mentions Flynn having to deflect some criticism from players and sponsors over the difficulty of last year's tournament. Does this mean Bay Hill will try to dial back the difficulty at all this week? There's nothing to suggest that's the case but it's worth monitoring in the days leading up to Thursday.
In both 2020 and 2022, Bay Hill ranked as the toughest greens to hit on the PGA Tour. The Greens-in-Regulation percentage was 53.6% in 2020 and 60.1% in 2022.
In 2022, the par-3's played as the second most difficult on the PGA Tour. Most years the par-3's at Bay Hill measure as the longest on TOUR:
Hole No. 2 - 231 yards
Hole No. 7 - 199 yards
Hole No. 14 - 215 yards
Hole No. 17 - 221 yards
In 2022, the par-4's played as the most difficult on the PGA Tour. Five of the par-4 holes at Bay Hill played more than a quarter of a stroke over par:
Hole No. 11, 4.38 (+0.38) scoring avg.
Hole No. 18, 4.34 (+0.34) scoring avg.
Hole No. 8, 4.34 (+0.34) scoring avg.
Hole No. 9, 4.31 (+0.31) scoring avg.
Hole No. 15, 4.31 (+0.31) scoring avg.
Yards: 7,466 (Par 72)
Fairway: Perennial rye overseed
Rough: 3" Overseeded ryegrass
Greens: TifEagle Bermuda
Avg. green size: 7,500 sq. ft.
Sand Bunkers: 84
Number of Holes Water is in Play: 9
Course Scoring Stats
In 2022, Bay Hill ranked as the 3rd most difficult course on the PGA Tour (out of 38) in terms of scoring average.
Winning Scores last ten years:
2022: Scottie Scheffler -5
2021: Bryson DeChambeau -11
2020: Tyrrell Hatton -4
2019: Francesco Molinari -12
2018: Rory McIlroy -18
2017: Marc Leishman -11
2016: Jason Day -17
2015: Matt Every -19
2014: Matt Every -13
2013: Tiger Woods -13
Additional scoring stats last three years:
2022 Scoring Average: 73.89 (+1.89)
2021 Scoring Average: 73.02 (+1.02)
2020 Scoring Average: 74.11 (+2.11)
How Scottie Scheffler gained strokes on the field in 2022:
SG Total: +13.16
SG T2G: +8.92 (8th)
SG OTT: -0.36 (47th)
SG APP: +8.08 (1st)
SG ARG: +1.24 (28th)
SG PUTT: +4.24 (17th)
How Bryson DeChambeau gained strokes on the field in 2021:
SG Total: +15.20
SG T2G: +12.44 (2nd)
SG OTT: +7.04 (1st)
SG APP: +4.24 (9th)
SG ARG: +1.16 (30th)
SG PUTT: +2.76 (21st)
How Tyrrell Hatton gained strokes on the field in 2020:
SG Total: +13.60
SG T2G: +10.24 (5th)
SG OTT: +1.52 (24th)
SG APP: +7.28 (2nd)
SG ARG: +1.48 (27th)
SG PUTT: +3.36 (15th)
Field Changes (-): No WD's as of 10AM on 2/28.
Field Changes (+): No field additions as of 10AM on 2/28.
Monday Qualifiers (+): None.
Sponsor Exemptions (+): Stewart Cink, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Charley Hoffman, Zach Johnson, Martin Laird, Ryan Palmer, Justin Suh, Ludvig Aberg, Pierceson Coody, Cole Hammer, Kamaiu Johnson, Patton Kizzire, Thirston Lawrence, Adrian Meronk, Kevin Streelman, Eric Cole, Kyle Westmoreland.
19 of the OWGR Top-20 are in the field.
43 of the OWGR Top-50 are in the field.
Matt Fitzpatrick (neck) - OWGR 13th
Fitzpatrick has been battling a neck injury in recent weeks and was reported to be getting scans for this issue following The Genesis Invitational. While we don't know the results of those scans, it appears the injury is not a serious concern given that Fitzpatrick is in the field this week for API. Nonetheless, it will be important to monitor Fitzpatrick's status in the lead-up to the start of the tournament on Thursday.
Alex Noren - OWGR 38th
Noren pulled out of the field for The Honda Classic last week, though no official reason was ever given for that decision. So it's unclear if Noren was dealing with an injury or not prior to Honda. Noren appears to be ready to tee it up at Bay Hill, though his status leading up to the start of the tournament will be worth monitoring.
Thomas Detry (illness) - OWGR 80th
Detry withdrew from The Honda Classic after the first round last Thursday due to an apparent illness. There's been little news beyond Detry citing an illness for his WD at Honda. Detry is in the field for this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, but it will be important to monitor his health status leading up to the start of the tournament on Thursday.
Patrick Rodgers - OWGR 140th
Rodgers withdrew from The Honda Classic last Monday. There have been no updates on why Rodgers WD'd from Honda, so it's unclear if it was injury or illness related.
NOT IN FIELD
Maverick McNealy (left shoulder) - OWGR 67th
McNealy is not in the field for this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational as he remains sidelined by a left shoulder injury. The 27-year-old withdrew in the middle of his last two starts at the WM Phoenix Open and Pebble Beach Pro-Am because of this issue. McNealy also decided to not play in The Genesis Invitational. At this point, it appears that McNealy will take a more cautious approach to make sure he gets fully healthy before making his next start on the PGA Tour.
Daniel Berger (undisclosed) - OWGR 77th
Berger appeared on the SiriusXM PGA Tour radio show last Wednesday and gave a quick update on an undisclosed injury that has kept him sidelined since last year's U.S. Open. He said that he'd be back on the PGA Tour soon but gave no specific timeline for his return.
The four-time winner said he's taking rehab "day-by-day" for an injury that did NOT require surgery. Berger said he's not putting pressure on himself to get back as soon as possible but rather taking a patient approach to make sure he's 100% healthy. Berger added that he tried to play through this injury last season but "that was definitely not the answer."
Lanto Griffin (chest/back) - OWGR 197th
Griffin withdrew from the Honda Classic last Monday. He also withdrew during the second round of Genesis, originally citing a rib injury which later turned out to be a pulled muscle in his chest and back area. It's currently unclear when Griffin will return to action.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational golfers with the highest “True Strokes Gained” (avg. adjusted strokes gained) at Bay Hill (min. two starts):
Scottie Scheffler, +2.84 (8 rounds)
Rory McIlroy, +2.64 (32)
Sungjae Im, +2.33 (16)
Tyrrell Hatton, +2.13 (24)
Christiaan Bezuidenhout, +2.00 (12)
Emiliano Grillo, +1.93 (17)
Francesco Molinari, +1.88 (30)
Max Homa +1.83 (12)
Tommy Fleetwood +1.71 (22)
Notable finishes by Arnold Palmer Invitational golfers with just ONE career start at Bay Hill:
Lucas Herbert - T4 in 2022
Jordan Spieth - T4 in 2021
Cameron Young - T13 in 2022
Jon Rahm - T17 in 2022
Xander Schauffele - T24 in 2020
Notables playing Bay Hill for the first time this week: