If you’re the kind of person who uses televised sporting events to determine what season it is, consider this the announcement for spring: The Arnold Palmer Invitational takes place this week. The API runs Thursday to Sunday at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in suburban Orlando, FL. It’s neither the first event of the 2022 PGA Tour nor the first in warm weather (or even in Florida). It is, however, one of the biggest tournaments of the early season, and it serves as an on-ramp to the The Players Championship next weekend at TPC Sawgrass. The API draws a strong field, and it’s usually when the PGA Tour starts to really get competitive.
The tournament draws most of the world’s best players because of its revered namesake and because serves as a good opening act for a key stretch of the golf season. For those watching at home, the broadcast is split between Golf Channel and NBC, with streaming for much of the tournament on ESPN+. Golf Channel takes Thursday and Friday and the early weekend shifts, while the main telecast on Saturday and Sunday afternoons moves to NBC.
Last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational was one of the best events of the season, as two players with diametrically different styles, Bryson DeChambeau and Lee Westwood, duked it out in the final round. DeChambeau, a big masher in the prime of his career, had to work hard to hold off a 47-year-old Westwood and win by a shot. The Arnold Palmer Invitational 2022 field will likely offer similar levels of drama. Below are three storylines to watch as the players hit the course this week.
Arnold Palmer Invitational 2022 Preview: What to Watch This Week
370 yards. 💪😲
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 6, 2021
1. The most notable thing about the field might be the player who just bowed out.
At nearly 7,400 yards across its 18 holes, Bay Hill is one of the longer setups on the PGA Tour. Its par-3 holes are the longest on tour, period, at an average of 212 yards.
Bryson DeChambeau is the biggest driver on the tour, and he made a mockery of the course on the way to winning there in 2021. His massive drives allowed him to play the course differently than anyone else. DeChambeau gained 1.76 strokes per round on the field on his tee shots, as his 305-yard average drive made the course a lot shorter for him than it is for most. Westwood navigated the course brilliantly but didn’t have the juice to catch him.
This year, hand and hip injuries kept DeChambeau out for most of February. His agent made it sound like DeChambeau would play this week, but he backed out on Monday:
An update on API. pic.twitter.com/fX0OgY7xF4
— Bryson DeChambeau (@b_dechambeau) February 28, 2022
So, that’s that.
So close. 🤏
Only a few inches away from an ace for Cameron Young. pic.twitter.com/XeyHc5fQab
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 17, 2022
2. DeChambeau’s absence opens the door for other players with a similar profile.
Even with DeChambeau gone, the winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational will likely still be the player who can drive the hell out of the ball and shorten the course to his advantage. There are a few candidates who fit the bill:
Corey Conners, who finished third last year and has had one of the best drivers on the PGA Tour over the last four or five years. In addition to his recent strong performance at Bay Hill, Conners is seventh in the world in strokes gained off the tee over the last six months, according to Data Golf.
Cameron Young is a tour rookie, but he finished second at the highly competitive Genesis Invitational in February and has put up big numbers with his driver.
Keith Mitchell is another heavy hitter who finished tied for sixth and tied for fifth at Bay Hill in 2019 and 2020, respectively, before tying for 43rd last year.
Marc Leishman, the veteran Aussie who won at Bay Hill in 2017, finished second in 2020 and has sprinkled in a few other strong efforts on the course as well. Leishman, now 38, doesn’t fit the big-hitting mold at this point in his career, and he didn’t make the cut for the API in 2021. But maybe he can figure out the course again.
Generally speaking, Bay Hill doesn’t lend itself to big upsets. Tiger Woods has won this tournament an absurd eight times, and more recent winners have also tended to be some of the best players in the world: Rory McIlroy in 2018, Francesco Molinari in 2019 (the year after he won the Open Championship), Tyrrell Hatton in 2020, and DeChambeau in 2021.
Rory at Riv 🚁 pic.twitter.com/IolcsAhZcI
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 17, 2022
3. Rory McIlroy looks ready to go on a tear.
McIlroy does that from time to time, and he’s started the 2022 PGA Tour on a hot streak. He won the CJ Cup in October (the start of what’s recognized as the 2022 season despite being in 2021). He played well in a couple of higher-end European Tour events in January, and he tied for 10th at the Genesis Open in February amid one of the year’s most packed fields. He’s so far averaging two strokes gained per round on the field, about a half-stroke better than 2021 and in line with his best seasons in the early 2010s. He has also won at Bay Hill before. McIlroy sometimes makes golf look easy, and he could be getting into one of those phases.
McIlroy, now 32, has remained a top-15 player in the world but hasn’t won a major championship since the 2014 PGA Championship. He’d no doubt like to win The Masters in April (the green jacket has torturously eluded him so far). To hit his peak around then, McIlroy needs to play well in March, and he’s played well at Bay Hill plenty of times. It’s not hard to imagine him having a big showing at the API this year.
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