Advocates of the value of course form will be in their element this week because there are tournaments on the PGA and European tours on courses that have been the hosts for many years. The Arnold Palmer Invitational has been played at Bay Hill in Orlando since 1979 and the Qatar Masters has been played at Doha Golf Club since 1998. The respective defending champions are Rory McIlroy and Eddie Pepperell but only McIlroy is competing this week and he is the favourite to win again.
One notable absentee in the States is Tiger Woods who has won the Palmer event eight times, between 2000 and 2013. The final day of Genesis Open three weeks ago left him physically and mentally drained so he continues to rest. Woods has nothing to prove at Bay Hill but he would love to win the US Masters again in April. If the world number one arrives at Augusta fit and healthy he would be a leading contender but winning another major may be beyond him.
If you win on a course eight times it must be suited to your game and McIlroy’s attributes are also a good fit for the course that Palmer designed and on a complex he owned. Bay Hill is generally a tough track and water is a feature on seven holes. The bermuda greens are above average in size and have many slopes. Any rain increases the degree of difficulty because the greens are slower and the rough becomes more lush and damaging when a player misses the fairway.
McIlroy led the field in proximity to the hole last year but was only 45th for greens in regulation. He had the fewest putts and was number one for scrambling and one of his strengths is straight and long driving which is a rare combination. The tournament is one of just five of the season with invitational status and the field will be about 120 players. The winner receives a three year exemption but the leading contenders should enjoy that luxury anyway based on their world ranking.
The winner in 2018 surely can’t putt as well again but if he does he could lap the field. McIlroy has not finished outside the top 5 in four starts in 2019 and he has the best figures for strokes gained tee to green. The key to his week will be on the greens and if he maintains his focus McIlroy must contend. He won last year with a total of 18 under and by three strokes. The average winning score over the last 10 years is 13 under and eight champions won by one or two shots.
You can’t ignore Justin Rose wherever he plays and he is the player to deny McIlroy back-to-back wins. He has posted two wins in his last five outings worldwide and leads the tour in adjusted scoring. He is also the top ranked player for putting and scrambling and has finished in the top 15 seven times on the course. Rose finished third last year and has the game and form to go two better this week. Rickie Fowler combines course and current form but Rose is preferred.
The Qatar Masters is being played at Doha Golf Club for the 22nd consecutive year so there is a mountain of course form to assess. Doha is a long course with tough and consistent rough. The fairways are of average width leading to large bermuda greens with difficult slopes. The Shamal wind provides a severe test when it gets up in the afternoon and that gives players with an early round 1 tee time an advantage. Ross Fisher has a good skill’s profile so can get the job done in Qatar.