The new, condensed schedule has shifted the order of the Florida Swing, but for the second week running it will be TifEagle greens and sunny skies. The invitational field of 123 players will be surrounded by the legacies of Arnie’s Army at his Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando. The champion will receive a THREE-YEAR exemption, 500 FedEx Cup points and $1.638 million of the $9.1 million prize pool, not to mention a gorgeous, red alpaca sweater!
Bay Hill hosts for the 41st time and the Par-72 has been extended to its longest edition, 7,454 yards, for Rory McIlroy to defend. Adam Scott isn’t in the field this week, but he’s the last man to post 62, the course record, while Matt Every holds the Par-72, post-2009 renovation tournament record at 19-under-par 269.
Rory McIlroy (2018). When the putter cooperates, this is what happens. McIlroy led the field in Strokes-Gained: Putting picking up over 10 shots on the field. He also led the field in proximity and won easily by three shots. His 22 birdies trailed only Justin Rose (24) for the most circles. Tee-to-green leader Bryson DeChambeau cashed solo second.
Notables: McIlroy’s stroke average here is 69.25 including 67.00 on Sunday. Henrik Stenson tried to go wire-to-wire but settled for fourth after 71-71 on the weekend. Stenson (Round 1) and McIlroy (Round 4) posted the low round of the week with 64.
Marc Leishman (2017): The noted wind player made up a three-shot deficit on Sunday to pip 54-hole co-leaders Charley Hoffman and Bermuda expert Kevin Kisner by a shot. McIlroy was a nuisance again has he briefly shared the lead before his only three-putt of the week on the final hole knocked him to T4. McIlroy and Hoffman’s 21 birdies each were the most for the week.
Notables: His 11-under winning total is the highest since Martin Laird posted 280 in 2011. McIlroy again had the co-low round of the week, 65, shared with Rickie Fowler (12th).
Jason Day (2016): The Aussie kicked off the streak of international winners as he went wire-to-wire. The wider fairways and new TifEagle putting surfaces installed after the 2015 edition seemed to fit his eye nicely. The premium short game was the anchor as he led the field in Strokes-Gained: Around-the-Green and was third in converting birdie chances on the greens. Nobody has suggested that hitting it crooked here is the end of the world; make sure it’s deep though!
Notables: He became just the fifth international winner in 38 years. This is his only top-10 finish (eight tries thru 2018).
LEVELS OF CONFIDENCE
Ground Troops — Non-Winner Department
Justin Rose used to live up-the-road at Lake Nona, but returns almost annually to take his shot. Yet to close the deal he’s wound up on the podium in three of his last seven starts including solo third last year.
Local Henrik Stenson has done everything but close the deal. He’s cashed T8 or better in five of the last six but his current form will shake the staunchest of course historians.
Another week and another big-time player with new sticks in the bag as Francesco Molinari will debut his Callaway set this week. The reigning Open champion has never MC or finished worse than T34 in six tries. Half of those checks were in the top 10.
Teeing it up 15 times and cashing in 14 of them, Zach Johnson has been a fixture around Bay Hill. His last top 10 was solo fifth in 2016.
Regulars and New Regulars
Last year Marc Leishman tried to join the back-to-back club but cashed for T7. He’s 19-under in his last two visits.
I’ll have whatever Ian Poulter is having! His last four starts worldwide are T6 or better and he hasn’t missed in his previous eight tries at Bay Hill.
Rickie Fowler is also coming in hot as he’ll look to add to his string of six of seven made cuts here. Strangely he’s struggled on Sunday here and has only one top-10 paycheck (T3, 2013).
There’s a small list of repeat champions and the only one in the field this week is native Floridian Matt Every (2015, 2016).
Big-hitting Luke List cashed T17 on debut in 2017 and T7 last year.
Englishman Tommy Fleetwood opened with 78 in his first visit in 2017. He posted 12-under in his next three rounds to salvage T10. He returned with T26 in 2018.
Lake Nona resident Graeme McDowell has a pair of seconds here and a T10 but has also MC four times in 11 tries.
2011 champion Martin Laird has never missed in nine tries but his win is the only top 25 of the bunch.
Kevin Na has battled a broken pinky early this year. If he’s healthy he’s 7 of 10 with five top-25 checks that include a trio of top-10 versions.
Billy Horschel hasn’t missed in the last six years but his only finishes inside the top 40 are T13 and T20.