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Stat attack!: Arnold Palmer Invitational preview

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When Tiger Woods finds a tournament that suits him, he dominates it like no player in PGA Tour history. His eight wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, all coming at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in the last 15 years, tie him for the most wins in one event in Tour history with Sam Snead, who won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times, albeit over a span of 27 years. Woods’ usual formula for victory - don’t sweat missing fairways off the tee, and putt the lights out when you reach the green – has suited him well throughout his career. No where more noticably than at Bay Hill. In his four wins since the course was resdesigned before the 2007 tournament, Woods has never been in the top 25 in the field in fairways hit, but he was been in the top five in scrambling three times and strokes gained-putting three times. In 2013 he turned his putting up another notch, making 14 putts from beyond 10 feet, more than anyone has made at the API since 2007. (Editor's note: Woods withdrew from the 2014 Arnold Palmer Invitational on Tuesday with a back injury.) 

How Tiger Woods’ ranked in key stats during his wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational: 2008-2013

 Year Distance Accuracy GIR Scrambling Strokes
Gained
Putting
Putts
beyond
10 feet
 2013 49 T-71 T-34 T-32 1 1
 2012 11 T-29 T-1 T-1 4 29
 2009 T-23 T-51 T-50 T-1 1 20
 2008 38 T-47 T-14 2 13 20

Most putts made from more than 10 feet: Arnold Palmer Invitational 2007-2013

 Putts Player Year Finish
 14 Tiger Woods 2013 Won
 13 G. F'dez-Castano 2013 T-3
 13 Tom Lehman 2008 T-8
 13 Nick Watney 2008 T-21
 13 J.B. Holmes 2008 T-59
 12 Chris Kirk 2013 T-16
 12 Spencer Levin 2011 T-6
 12 Ryan Moore 2011 T-12
 12 Rocco Mediate 2007 2

But Woods, hampered by a bad back, has been struggling in 2014, especially in the stats that matter most to him. If he had played enough rounds to qualify for a statistical ranking, he’d be 178th in greens hit in regulation, T-83 in birdie average, 17th in strokes gained-putting and 57th in scrambling. Of course, it’s a small sample size. Woods has only played 10 rounds this year, and we’re making matters more noticable by cherry picking specific stats. He would be first on Tour in one-putt percentage, which is more a factor of his missing greens than anything else. But when Tiger came to Bay Hill in 2012 and 2013 he was healthier and playing notably better. 

PGA Tour stats for Tiger Woods entering Bay Hill from 2012-2014 (rank in parenthesis)

 Year Distance Accuracy GIR Strokes
Gained
Putting
Birdies
per Rd.
Scoring
average
Scrambling Proximity
to hole
3-putt
avoidance
 2014 287.3 yds. (90) 52.86% (167) 56.67% (178) +.643 (17) 3.60 (T-83) 71.017 (81) 60.26% (57) 42 ft. 1 in. (180) 6.11% (178)
 2013 300.3 (11) 56.55 (127) 68.06 (T-59) +.995 (6) 4.92 (2) 68.480 (1) 59.42 (103) 33 ft. 2 in. (T-18) 1.39 (T-7)
 2012 299.4 (18) 69.28 (8) 69.19 (19) +.408 (39) 4.27 (14) 68.526 (2) 67.21 (13) 32 ft. 10 in. (2) 3.54 (146)

Woods’ accuracy is down, his percentage of greens hit is way down, and although his putting has remained solvent, he is averaging three more strokes per round. He is about 10 feet farther from the hole on approach shots, which means fewer birdie opportunities and more three putts.

So now that Woods has decided not to try for his ninth PGA Tour victory at Bay Hill, who will walk away with the trophy? Here’s a list of players who have had pretty good success at the Arnold Palmer Invitational over the years.

 Player Starts Cuts made Top-10s Best Top 2014 finish
 Zach Johnson 10 9 3 Third, 2009 Won Hyundai T of C
 Pat Perez 11 10 3 T-4, 2009 T-2 Farmers
 Justin Rose 9 8 3 2, 2013 T-8 at Tampa
 Henrik Stenson 5 5 1 T-8, 2013 T-16 WGC-Cadillac
 Lee Westwood 11 10 1 T-5, 2006 T-20 Northern Trust

For Stenson and Westwood it’s a chance to make up for lost time in 2014. Stenson has been recovering from a right wrist injury and Westwood has been fighting his swing, having recently split with coach Sean Foley.

Stenson, Rose and Zach Johnson are all ranked in the top-10 in the World Ranking (Second-ranked Adam Scott, who hasn’t played Bay Hill since 2009 is the other top-10 player in the field). While the top-ranked players have had success at Palmer’s place, those ranked immediately behind them in the field have struggled at Bay Hill since the redesign, with the notable exception of 2012.

How players ranked 10-20 have fared at Bay Hill since 2008

 Rank Player 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
 12 Bubba Watson T-14 T-4 T-24 MC MC T-8
 15 Graeme McDowell T-45 2 MC MC T-40  
 18 Ian Poulter T-21 3 T-12   MC T-48
 19 Brandt Snedeker MC T-63 MC T-30 T-17 T-14
 20 Patrick Reed MC          

One final thought: Notice all the European players in the previous two charts. Martin Laird, the 2011 champion, is the only European-born winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. However, there have been five European runner-ups since 2005 (Justin Rose in 2013, Graeme McDowell in 2012, Edoardo Molinari in 2010, Greg Owen in 2006 and McDowell again in 2005).

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