[This story originally appeared on FanSided.]
This Thursday marks the start of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but this one will be different. It’s the first playing of the tournament without The King.
Expect the week to be full of reflection and celebration for Palmer’s life and career, both of which changed the sport of golf forever. Let’s get to this week’s power rankings.
1. Henrik Stenson
Stenson has found the top 10 on seven occasions in his last eight starts. The only poor result from that group was a mid-tournament withdrawal from the WGC-Mexico Championship due to illness; ignoring that, he’s on a run of seven in a row. What’s more, he’s become a perennial contender at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, finding the top 10 in each of the last four years and notching a podium finish in each of the last two. Stenson is often lauded for his ball striking, but it’s his performance on the greens that’s really come out of the woodwork recently — at last week’s Valspar, he was ninth in the field in strokes gained putting.
2. Rickie Fowler
Fowler has strung together three top 20 finishes in a row, his longest such streak since around this time last year. He’s also taken a statistical step forward: at PGA National, he ranked second in the field in strokes gained putting and 10th in strokes gained tee-to-green. He also leads the PGA Tour in scoring average. That kind of form should help make up for his uneven record at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he’s notched some solid finishes (including a tie for third in 2013) in addition to some middling ones.
3. Jason Day
Although Day, the defending champion at Bay Hill, has found the top 15 in two of his four starts this year, one of those came at the SBS Tournament of Champions, an event that featured just 31 of his peers. However, the other one was a tie for fifth at the highly competitive Genesis Open, where he capitalized on his length and took care of business out of the bunkers despite not having his A-game. He withdraw from the WGC-Mexico Championship two weeks ago with flu-like symptoms along with a double ear infection.
4. Hideki Matsuyama
Although Matsuyama has picked up just one top 10 in his last five starts, it was an impressive one: a second consecutive title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. All told, he’s won six official events around the world since last October, more than anyone else in the sport. While his results have tailed off a bit over the past couple of weeks, he’s remained a statistical force, ranking 10th in strokes gained tee-to-green en route to a tie for 25th at the WGC-Mexico Championship. Furthermore, his track record at Bay Hill is a good one — he’s found the top 25 in each of his two appearances, with a tie for sixth last year.
5. Rory McIlroy
At the WGC-Mexico Championship, McIlroy played rock-solid golf and ended up in a tie for seventh; while he wasn’t great on the weekend, he flashed some serious form in shooting a 65 in the second round. The result was his fifth consecutive worldwide top 10, and while that stretch was interrupted by injury, I’m still inclined to have faith in the often streaky superstar. His track record at the Bay Hill isn’t extensive, but he did tie for 11th two years ago. He’s also never finished outside of the top 30 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
6. Francesco Molinari
Molinari has been in solid form all year long, and then some. He’s found the top 20 in eight of his last nine worldwide starts, beginning with a victory at the Italian Open in September. While he’s cooled off a bit in recent weeks — he’s been shut out of the top 10 since the calendar turned to 2017 — his standout record at the Arnold Palmer Invitational makes him a clear choice to contend. He’s found the top 20 in each of the last three years, tying for fifth in 2014 and for ninth last year.
7. Justin Rose
In five starts in the new year, Rose has already picked up a trio of top-five finishes, including a solo second at the Sony Open in Hawaii and a tie for fourth at the Genesis Open. While he didn’t fare so well in his most recent event, the WGC-Mexico Championship, there’s not too much cause for concern there — playing at altitude, an uncommon experience for many pros, can bring out the worst in certain players. He should be rejuvenated by a return to Bay Hill, where he’s been productive in the past. With three career top 10s, including a solo second in 2013, he’s done just about everything but win.
8. Brandt Snedeker
With three top 10s in his last four starts, including a solo fourth at Pebble Beach and a tie for seventh at the WGC-Mexico Championship, Snedeker has been getting consistent results. His weekend performance in Mexico, where he signed for rounds of 66 and 65 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, should provide additional momentum. What’s more, his track record at Bay Hill — five top 25s — is solid, if not spectacular. His statistical strength — he ranked ninth in both greens in regulation and putts per green in regulation in Mexico — makes him all the more appealing.
9. Wesley Bryan
Bryan is now on a run of three consecutive PGA Tour top 10s: back-to-back fourth-place finishes at the Genesis Open and Honda Classic, followed by his tie for seventh at Innisbrook last week. He’s performed remarkably in a number of different facets of the game — in fact, he ranked seventh in strokes gained tee-to-green and third in putts per green in regulation. While he’s never logged a competitive round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the bet here is that it won’t be too daunting. If he can hold his own in the Bear Trap and the Snake Pit, then a good performance at Bay Hill is well within his reach. While he’s yet to pick up a win, Bryan has established himself as the hottest rookie on the PGA Tour.
10. Paul Casey
Casey has notched back-to-back top-20 finishes, a noticeable uptick compared to his play earlier in the year. That stretch includes a tie for 11th at the Honda Classic and a tie for 16th at the WGC-Mexico Championship. Thanks to some lean years and a split schedule, his track record at the Arnold Palmer Invitational is highly uneven, but he tied for ninth in last year’s edition, shooting three rounds in the 60s. He’s also been typically good with his irons this season, so he should be ready to attack the course.