Florida pearls of wisdom can help identify this year’s Masters champion

Success on the Florida Swing in the build-up to Augusta National has been a strong pointer towards who might win the Green Jacket

This week's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Florida has long been one of the PGA Tour's most prestigious stops.

There has always been a desire from the best players to tee it up in Arnie's event. And that continues to this day even though the great man is no longer with us.

Winning the trophy is a coveted feat in its own right. But it can also be a portent for something even bigger: glory at Augusta National.

The proximity of the two tournaments in the calendar is one explanation why Bay Hill winners in March do so well at Augusta National in April.

Also, both events take place in the South East of America. Indeed, Florida and Georgia share a border.

Another is that players with a reputation for being great putters have thrived in both. Take Ben Crenshaw, a Masters winner in 1984 and 1995 while winning at Bay Hill in 1993.

Fred Couples lifted the silverware at Bay Hill in 1992 and two starts later went on to claim the Green Jacket.

Perhaps no-one nails the link better than Tiger Woods. He's won five times at Augusta National but, incredibly, has eight victories in Arnie's event. Woods twice won both in the same season.

In addition, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson have landed both while double Bay Hill winner Ernie Els had a series of near misses at Augusta.

More recently, the four Arnold Palmer winners from 2016-2019 - Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari - have all contended heavily for The Masters.

So, as the PGA Tour pitches up in Orlando this week to honour Arnie once more, Planet Sport Golf looks at how the last 10 winners at Augusta National have fared at Bay Hill.

We'll also widen the search a little beyond Bay Hill. The Florida Swing is a significant staging post en route to Augusta. So let's check on how the last 10 Masters have performed in their build-up events in the Sunshine State.

2020 - Dustin Johnson

Obviously, the proximity part of the link broke down last year as The Masters was played in November. In addition, DJ hasn't played Bay Hill since 2011. However, he does have a WGC win in Florida and two of his last three starts in the state resulted in top-six finishes. They were both in March 2019 and he went on to finish runner-up at Augusta three starts later so strong recent Florida form was a good pointer.

2019 - Tiger Woods

As mentioned, Tiger is the poster boy for the Bay Hill-Augusta link after claiming 13 wins across the two events. He's only actually played Arnie's tournament once since winning it for the fifth time in 2013. That was in 2018 when he finished tied fifth, a result which set him on the comeback path to victory at that November's Tour Championship (his first win for five years) and Augusta the following year.

2018 - Patrick Reed

Reed paved the way for his Green Jacket triumph in 2018 with two strong displays in Florida in his final two strokeplay warm-ups for Augusta. He was runner-up in the Valspar Championship and then tied seventh at Bay Hill. Previously, he'd won the WGC-Cadillac Championship in the Sunshine State. A top 10 at last week's WGC-Workday Championship is a nice way for him to start this year's Florida Swing.

2017 - Sergio Garcia

Sergio stopped playing Bay Hill in 2013 for, presumably, scheduling reasons. But… in 12 past visits there he cracked the top 10 on no less than six occasions. The Spaniard's biggest win before his breakthrough Masters success in 2017 was in Florida's best-known event, The Players Championship. He also finished runner-up at Sawgrass in 2007 and 2015 and was second in the 2016 Honda Classic.

2016 - Danny Willett

To many, the Englishman's win at the 2016 Masters seemed to come from nowhere. However, those keeping a closer eye will have noted that just three starts later he'd produced a big Florida finish in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, finishing third. Willett was T29 on his Bay Hill debut in 2015 and cracked the top 20 there last year.

2015 - Jordan Spieth

Perhaps in past days, Spieth would have been the absolute perfect fit for Bay Hill given his brilliance with the putter. However, this week will mark his debut in the tournament. And yet, Florida did prove a key state in his 2015 Masters win. Just three starts before blitzing the field at Augusta, the American took victory in the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook.

2014 - Bubba Watson

Bubba crashed out of the 2014 Arnold Palmer Invitational after an 83. But just two weeks earlier, he'd been a runner-up in Florida at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. That near-miss showed that his second Masters win in 2014 wasn't just based on past Augusta course form.

2013 - Adam Scott

Scott has two third-place finishes at Bay Hill. The first was on his third visit in 2004 and his second came the season after his thrilling Masters win. Ahead of his Augusta 2013 triumph, the Aussie had posted a top three just two starts earlier in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Florida has always been a happy hunting ground for him. He boasts a trio of wins there: the 2004 Players Championship, and the Honda Classic and WGC-Cadillac Championship in back-to-back weeks in 2016.

2012 - Bubba Watson

While Bubba withdrew at the API after a nightmare first round in the year of his second Masters win, in 2012 he used a top-four finish at Bay Hill to fuel confidence ahead of his first Augusta triumph. It had followed a second place at Doral so hot Florida form was a great pointer for Bubba backers going into that year's Masters.

2011 - Charl Schwartzel

Schwartzel was another in the 'slight surprise' list of Masters winners when finishing with four birdies to triumph in 2011. That season, he'd built some momentum with a T14 (Honda Classic) and T24 (WGC-Cadillac) in Florida events. The South African hasn't cracked the code at Bay Hill but he's definitely a strong Florida performer: he won the 2016 Valspar Championship and is a runner-up at both Doral (2010) and Sawgrass (2018).

Some conclusions

  • Five of the last nine Masters winners had previously finished in the top four at Bay Hill

  • Six of the last nine Masters winners had posted a top three on the Florida Swing earlier that same season

  • Eight of the last 10 Masters winners had finished in the top three on the Florida Swing in either the season of their Augusta triumph or the season before

  • Six of the last nine Masters winners had previously won on the Florida Swing

  • All 10 of the last Masters winner had previously had a top three on the Florida Swing

There's certainly a link between success at Bay Hill and Augusta National. Perhaps prowess with the putter was once the dominant factor but both courses have been toughened up in recent years. A strong tee-to-green game is now required for both, which is perhaps why the link has stood the test of time.

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So, what of the current Bay Hill champion, Tyrrell Hatton?

The World No.6 has a terrible record at Augusta: MC-44-56-MC.

But those strong correlations between Bay Hill/Florida success and The Masters suggest the Englishman still has good reason to believe he will thrive at Augusta National soon.

How they bet on the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational

Paddy Power odds: 8/1 Rory McIlroy, 11/1 Viktor Hovland, 12/1 Bryson DeChambeau, 16/1 Tyrrell Hatton, 20/1 Sungjae Im, Patrick Reed, 22/1 Paul Casey, Matthew Fitzpatrick, 25/1 Hideki Matsuyama, 28/1 Jordan Spieth, Francesco Molinari, 30/1 Jason Day.

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