LONG ISLAND, New York – Last week, the Honda Classic leaderboard was populated by a glut of low-profile names drawn mainly from the middle tier of the PGA Tour. But this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational from March 2-5 at Bay Hill in Florida always draws a stellar field, and that is especially true this year because it is one of the Tour’s enhanced-purse events with a total pot of $20 million, including a $3.6 million first prize.
Given the utter dominance of Jon Rahm, who has five wins in his past nine events, the temptation is to pick him to continue his hot streak. But I am going to resist that temptation because Rahm just made his Bay Hill debut last season and doesn’t have nearly the extensive record over the course as many other Tour favorites.
My No. 1 pick to win the AP Invitational is Irishman Rory McIlroy. He only has played two PGA Tour events since the start of the year, finishing 32nd at Phoenix and 29th at Los Angeles. But he won the CJ Cup in South Carolina last October and also won the prestigious Dubai Desert Classic last fall. McIlroy is especially attractive at Bay Hill because he won the AP Invitational in 2018 and has seven top-15 finishes over one of his favorite courses.
Ordinarily, I also would pick 2021 Palmer champion Bryson DeChambeau, but he is banned from PGA Tour events since joining LIV Golf League last summer. However, the field includes two other prominent past champions in 2020 winner Tyrell Hatton and 2016 champ Jason Day. Hatton also was second a year ago to Scottie Scheffler, and he is six-for-six in terms of making the cut at Bay Hill. It has been awhile since Day made much of an impact at Bay Hill, but he has four top-10 finishes in his past nine starts and is in the midst of a career renaissance.
Two others who demand attention based on their recent results are defending champ Scheffler and last week’s Honda Classic winner Chris Kirk, who has six top-20 finishes at Bay Hill in his career. Scheffler has finished no worse than T-12 in his past seven events, including a win at the WM Phoenix Open.
For those seeking to fill out six-man Draft Kings teams with lower-priced players, several other players stand out at Bay Hill. Englishman Tommy Fleetwood has three top-10 finishes in the AP Invitational and is a formidable presence on the Florida swing. Fellow Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick has two top-10 finishes, including a runnerup in 2019. Keith Mitchell finished in the top-10 in 2020 and 2019, and he currently leads the PGA Tour in total driving. Mark Leishman has top-10 finishes in 2020 and 2018, and Sungjae Im, who is a little more expensive, tied for third in 2020 and 2019.
So, I have picked two six-man Draft Kings teams that both include McIlroy, Hatton and Kirk, who is on a hot streak. My first team also includes Fitzpatrick, Mitchell and lower-priced Englishman Ben Taylor, who has five top-25 finishes in the 2022-23 season, including T-5 at the Honda.
My second team also includes Scheffler with my top three, but because he was so expensive, I had to dip a little lower on the salary scale to choose David Lingmerth, who has three T-10 finishes this season, and Aaron Baddeley, who has two T-10 finishes, although he missed the Honda cut by a single stroke.