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Fantasy Golf Picks — 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational Picks, Predictions, Rankings and Sleepers

Pat Mayo makes his 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational picks while previewing the course and key stats for the event.

Pat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational Picks. The guys give their fantasy golf picks, provide their one and done strategy for the event from Bay Hill CC.

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2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational: Field

Field: 123 Players
Cut: Top 65 and Ties after 36 Holes
First Tee: Thursday, March. 4
Defending Champion: Tyrrell Hatton

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The 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational really got squeezed by the schedule. Sandwiched between a WGC and THE PLAYERS, the API is now the logical event for the world’s top talent to take a pass on. This year’s iteration isn’t some scrub field, but it’s nowhere near what this event annually draws.

World No. 4 and defending champion Tyrrell Hatton headlines the field along follow world Top 25 players Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Sungjae Im, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Harris English, Tommy Fleetwood, Viktor Hovland, Hideki Matsuyama, Kevin Na and Paul Casey.

They’re joined by a solid second tier of PGA talent in Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Will Zalatoris, Si WOOOOOO Kim, Corey Conners, Cameron Davis, Max Homa, Sebastian Munoz, Sam Burns, Louis Oosthuizen, Jason Kokrak, Lanto Griffin, Luke List, Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel and Cameron Tringale.

We’ll be getting a glimpse at Henrik Stenson for the first time on U.S. soil in 2021. Down to No. 83 in the world rankings, the Swede, who owns five top 10 finishes at Bay Hill over the past eight years, played all three events during the European Tour’s Middle East swing, missing two cuts with an uninspiring T46 in Abu Dhabi. Stenson has cracked 70 just once in eight rounds thus far. Additionally, 2019 winner Francesco Molinari will be buried in the bottom part of the long-term stats after his disastrous 2020, but the Italian is quickly getting back in form with three Top 10 in four 2021 starts.

Plus, there is a slew of European Tour regulars who are in America to stay through The Masters: Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Ian Poulter, Shane Lowry, Matt Wallace, Robert MacIntyre, Bernd Wiesberger and Victor Perez. International-born players have won this event in each of the past five seasons. In 2019, the entire top 5 finisher list was comprised of internationals and last year the top 3 were all players from outside the USA.

German amateur Matthias Schmid, currently a senior at the University of Louisville, has also been invited to play after showing up to the Arnold Palmer Cup in December and being named the golfer “Best Representing the Arnold Palmer Legacy.” Schmid missed the cut in all three pro fields starts in 2019 (British Open, Porsche European Open, Mauritius Open). Kamaiu Johnson, Steve Stricker and Paddy Harrington are all in on sponsor’s exemptions, while Robert Gamez, Paul Goydos and Tim Herron all get the former winner invite.

2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational: Key Stats

Strokes Gained: Approach
Proximity 200+ Yards
Opportunities Gained
Par 3s Gained 200-225 Yards

Mayo’s Key Stats powered by

2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational: Course

Course: Bay Hill
Yardage: 7,419
Par: 72
Greens: Bermuda

2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational: Past Winners

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

2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational: Notes

The field size is smaller at the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational than in a normal week. Since it’s an invitational, similar to the Genesis Invitational a couple of weeks back, a higher percentage of the field — at least 53% percent — will make the cut. This allows for more flexibility when building DraftKings lineups at the bottom end of pricing, especially when the very bottom of the pricing has almost no chance of seeing the weekend. That shrinks the field even more.

Last year, weekend wind made the course a scoring death trap for the field. Matthew Fitzpatrick (69 in Round 4) was the only player to crack 70 on the weekend. Tyrrell Hatton was the first player to fire two rounds over par on a weekend and still win since Geoff Ogilvy at the 2006 U.S. Open. It was tough treading out there. Check in with the weather pre-event before making bets and submitting DraftKings lineups as a clear wave stack due to weather may emerge and you’ll want to take advantage of that. If the gusts are up, that will dramatically change the type of player you may want to target this week. Now, before 2020, the two prior champions — Francesco Molinari and Rory McIlroy — fired 64s on Sunday to stage a comeback victory.

Hate water? Then pass on Bay Hill and move to the desert. Water ripples in the eye line of almost every shot and sand (84 bunkers) is ubiquitous, not to mention that the rough is longer than the wedding scene in “Deer Hunter.” Similar to Riviera a few weeks back, Bay Hill actually plays longer than its 7,419 yards. With the prevalent water and series of doglegs, the holes have more distance to carry than they actually measure on the scorecard. More so when you consider the average drive is over five yards shorter than the average PGA TOUR event (277 yards to 283 yards). While there are only nine officially listed water hazards, the wetness directly affects those nine holes in an impactful way.

There were 239 water balls in 2019. Ninety-four found the aqua in the first round, the most of any round since 2003.

Players are forced to lay up off the tee to keep dry or set themselves up for a clean look at the green, the reason driving accuracy at Bay Hill (66%) is over five percentage points above the TOUR average (61%). Do that or risk paying the price — like on the par 5 sixth hole. You can take on the water to save some distance and try to get on the green in two, or you can end up carding an 18 as John Daly did in 1998. Since 1983, No. 6 has produced 23 scores in the double-digits. That’s the most on TOUR by a large margin.

If you’re someone who leans on stats and modeling to make decisions, beware of the international players whose primary tour is not the PGA TOUR. Small samples, strung across myriad years for some, will yield insufficient results — both good or bad.

Strokes Gained: Approach has been two times as influential on the top 5 finishers as SG: Off The Tee, and 2.5 times more influential than SG: Around The Green. The gap between each of the SG stats shrinks if expanded to the top 20 finishers. Looking at winners only, SG: APP is 2.7 times more impactful than SG: OTT and 4.2 times against SG: ATG. While SG: APP is always one of the most important stats to look at, it’s more pronounced this week with so many approaches coming from beyond 200 yards. Historically, around 33% of approaches will come from that distance, one of the most pronounced splits for shots from 200-plus yards of any course on TOUR.

The par 3s average over 215 yards in length. Marc Leishman, Luke List, Wyndham Clark, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Ricky Werenski are the top players on holes from this length over the past 36 rounds.

The greens at Bay Hill have annually played extremely quick in comparison to most courses. The players with the most Strokes Gained: Putting per round on fast + LIGHTNING greens per round, over their past 36 rounds: Denny McCarthy, Kevin Na, Billy Horschel, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Patrick Rodgers, Patton Kizzire, Andrew Putnam, Wyndham Clark and Talor Gooch. The two worst? Keegan Bradley and Emiliano Grillo. No surprise there.

Isolating those fast and lightning greens to just Bermuda putting surfaces: Denny McCarthy, Patton Kizzire, Sam Burns, Brendon Todd, Rickie Fowler, Charl Schwartzel, JT Poston, Billy Horschel and Harris English come out on top.

Marc Leishman and Jason Day have won both at Bay Hill and Torrey Pines in past five years.

Three spots in this year’s British Open are available to the field based on performance as a part of the Open Qualifying Series. The three top finishers, who are otherwise not exempt, will earn a place in the British Open field. Keith Mitchell has earned a spot in the Open field the past two years at this event.

Rory McIlroy, Marc Leishman, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau and Matthew Fitzpatrick have the most Strokes Gained: Total in the past five years at Bay Hill. Robert Gamez, Anirban Lahiri, Matt Every, Si WOOO Kim and Tim Herron have lost the most. Unsurprisingly, Gamez has a ludicrous -72.67 SG: Total over the past five years.

Sungjae Im, Keith Mitchell, Rory McIlroy, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Jason Kokrak have posted top 20 finishes in each of the past two years.

2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational Picks

Matthew Fitzpatrick ($9,800)

Now up to No. 16 in the world rankings, Fitzpatrick is one of the few players who excels on longer courses despite middling distance. He does it with stellar long iron play and a hot putter. In six career starts at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, including one as a 19-year-old in 2014, he’s never dropped strokes to the field on the green. That 2014 start was also the only time he’s dropped strokes around the greens as well. The Brit has posted consecutive top 10s in this event, gained over five strokes Tee-to-green in the last two weeks in the U.S., and is an excellent hedge if the winds start to gust. Fitzpatrick’s game and wind experience come in handy when the conditions get out of control.

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Sam Burns ($8,400)

I’m going to feel pretty stupid when Burns goes up in flames, but I now have FOMO after Max Homa was in this exact situation two weeks back and emerged victorious at Riviera. Over the past 36 rounds, Burns is just one of three players to rank inside the top 15 in both Driving and Approaches — Viktor Hovland and Henrik Norlander are the others. Burns has been close to his PGA TOUR breakthrough for almost a year now and just can’t close it out, ever. But he’s been getting late Sunday reps pretty consistently, and a move back to Bermuda greens can only enhance matters. He’s made the cut at Bay Hill each of the past three years and has never entered in this kind of form.

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Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was a finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Daily Fantasy and Traditions Season Long). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at and the best will be addressed on the show.

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