Gary Woodland, winner of the 2019 U.S. Open, has some advice for players in the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard: Watch your step on the par 3s at Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
In last year’s event Woodland arrived at the downhill, over-the-water par-3 17th on Sunday with a one-shot lead at 6 under par for the week, having just made eagle on the par-5 16th. One more good swing, one more good result, and Woodland would have a chance play the famed par-4 18th with a lead in pursuit of his first title at Bay Hill.
Things didn’t work out. Woodland’s 8-iron approach to the back-right hole location – a small target tucked between sand, water and rough – fell short of the green, clearing the pond but plugging into the front bunker. It took him two swipes to get out of the sand, and the ensuing double bogey left him a shot behind eventual winner Scottie Scheffler. A following bogey on 18 added salt to the wound, dropping him to a tie for fifth place.
It was a painful example of how tough the par 3s play at Bay Hill. The four holes – Nos. 2, 7, 14 and 17 – averaged the highest score over par among any set of pars 3s on the PGA Tour in the 2021-22 season in an official stroke-play individual event, not counting major championships. The Bay Hill quartet played to an average over-par score of 3.193 for the week, proving it’s not always the longest holes that trip up the best players in the world, but sometimes the shortest.
“Most of the time, the par 3s out here (on the PGA Tour), you’re trying to attack, trying to make some birdies,” Woodland said.
But not at Bay Hill.
“You really should play to the middle of the green on all four of them,” said the four-time PGA Tour winner. “… No. 2, when you’re trying to run away with par. No. 17, when you’re trying to run away with par.”
The worst part for Woodland last year? He struck his tee shot on No. 17 exactly as he planned toward a more generous area of the green left of the flag. He said he isn’t sure if his ball was hit by a gust of wind or what, but there was plenty of frustration in coming up short.
Woodland wasn’t the only player in contention to lose traction Sunday on the 17th. Viktor Hovland was 5 under par for the week – which would have earned him a spot in a playoff – when he walked up the hill from the 16th green to the 17th tee. Four shots later, he was one behind. The Norwegian spoke later about how much “this one stings” after that bogey on 17 knocked him into a tie for second place.
“It’s just a brutal hole,” Woodland said. “You know where that pin’s gonna be: back right. They move the tee up and they kind of tempt you a little bit.”
As so often is the case, temptation leads to folly. Especially on the par 3s at Bay Hill. The layout is famous for its closing par-4 18th, with its green wrapped around a pond. The par-5 sixth has gained notoriety in recent years as well, with ever-longer players attempting eye-popping tee shots across the lake around which the hole is wrapped. But smart pros know to be wary of the one-shotters.
Looking again at last year’s event, it’s clear how important the par 3s are for players packed atop a tight leaderboard. Winner Scheffler played the par 3s for the week in 48 shots, which was even par in 16 attempts. Woodland required 50 total shots, playing them in 2 over, and he finished two shots back in the end. Tyrrell Hatton, who also finished tied for second and one shot behind Scheffler, required 51 total strokes on the par 3s, playing them 3 over par for the week. And Hovland took 52 shots in all on the par 3s, playing them 4 over for the week. Each of those strokes mattered dearly on the final leaderboard.
That theme extended into the final round. Scheffler was 1 under on the par 3s Sunday, making birdie on No. 2 and parring the others. Hovland and Hatton were one shot worse, with both players even on the par 3s in the final round. Woodland played the pars 3s that day in 2 over par, with three pars and that double bogey on 17.