Gdula's Golf Simulations: Arnold Palmer Invitational

Volatility is the name of the game in golf, and picking winners isn't easy. With fields of 150-plus golfers sometimes being separated by how a putt or two falls each week, predicting golf can be absurdly tough.

We'll never be able to capture everything that goes into a golfer's expectations for a week, but we can try to account for that by simulating out the weekend and seeing what happens.

The Process

Over the years, I have made plenty of tweaks to my original golf model, which uses a combination of the OWGR's field strength numbers and datagolf's field strength numbers to adjust each golfer's score relative to the field (on the PGA Tour, the European Tour, and the Korn Ferry Tour).

The ultimate goal is to place a score from the Waste Management Open, the BMW International Open, and the Knoxville Open on level playing fields. This adjusted strokes metric lets me see how golfers are performing across all tours. From there, a golfer's adjusted stroke data is combined with their round-to-round variance to see how the field is likely to perform when playing out the event thousands of times.

In addition to that long-term adjusted form, I factor in course-level adjustments for course fit.

I run a second model that uses more granular strokes gained data, which allows me to adjust for course fit very easily. The results are averaged out.

I let the data do the talking and don't make many tweaks -- if any. Golfers with a small sample get regressed to a low-end PGA Tour player to round out their samples. Data points are weighted more heavily toward recent performance.

Here are the most likely winners for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, according to the models.

Golfer Simulated
Made Cut%
Win Odds
Bryson DeChambeau7.7%41.5%88.3%+1300
Rory McIlroy6.1%30.7%82.7%+950
Viktor Hovland5.1%31.5%83.5%+1200
Tyrrell Hatton5.0%31.7%83.3%+1700
Patrick Reed4.5%30.4%82.4%+2100
Matthew Fitzpatrick3.7%26.1%80.5%+2300
Harris English2.7%22.8%78.2%+6500
Will Zalatoris2.3%20.4%76.2%+3800
Hideki Matsuyama2.1%17.7%74.2%+2700
Jason Kokrak2.1%18.1%74.2%+4900
Paul Casey2.1%17.6%73.9%+2400
Sungjae Im1.9%16.1%72.4%+2100
Billy Horschel1.9%17.1%72.8%+3500
Sam Burns1.9%17.0%73.5%+4900
Louis Oosthuizen1.8%16.9%72.6%+3900
Jason Day1.7%15.5%71.7%+3200
Kevin Kisner1.5%16.4%72.0%+6500
Cameron Tringale1.4%14.7%71.2%+7000
Lanto Griffin1.4%14.0%69.9%+10000
Cameron Davis1.4%14.1%70.8%+6500
Francesco Molinari1.3%11.9%67.4%+3500
Corey Conners1.3%15.3%71.3%+14000
Kevin Na1.3%13.6%69.5%+5500
Brendon Todd1.2%13.1%68.3%+14000
Jordan Spieth1.2%10.5%64.9%+3000
Christiaan Bezuidenhout1.1%12.2%67.2%+7500
Talor Gooch1.1%11.5%66.9%+10000
Max Homa1.0%10.8%66.0%+6500
Si Woo Kim1.0%12.4%68.5%+9000
Tommy Fleetwood0.9%10.2%64.7%+4400
Ian Poulter0.9%10.6%65.6%+15000
Harold Varner III0.9%9.6%63.2%+15000
Zach Johnson0.8%10.9%65.5%+17000
Charley Hoffman0.7%10.2%65.7%+10000
John Huh0.7%9.4%63.8%+18000
Henrik Norlander0.7%8.4%61.9%+14000
Shane Lowry0.7%9.2%63.4%+10000
Brendan Steele0.7%9.0%63.1%+15000
Erik van Rooyen0.6%8.8%62.4%+13000
Rickie Fowler0.6%8.5%63.0%+8000
Justin Rose0.6%7.8%60.9%+6000
Sebastian Munoz0.6%8.0%60.6%+14000
Marc Leishman0.6%4.0%52.3%+4100
Sepp Straka0.6%8.3%61.5%+29000
Dylan Frittelli0.6%7.8%61.6%+18000

To be honest, these numbers at the top are a tad lower than I expected for Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy, but they make sense for how the models work. DeChambeau's not the most elite with his irons, and there's an emphasis on those this week, and McIlroy's long-term form is still bogging down the solid -- not elite -- recent performance (even with the more recent data weighted more heavily. It's hard to argue McIlroy's results at Bay Hill, but at +950, there's not any actual value on him. DeChambeau is showing some value at +1300.

Viktor Hovland's red hot but is overvalued, per the models, though things set up well for him at a ball-striker's course.

Tyrrell Hatton, the defending champ, is more justifiable at +1700, and so is Patrick Reed at +2100. Matthew Fitzpatrick (+2300) is appealing as well if the course brings some wind this week. Of note, the past five winners here (Hatton, Francesco Molinari, McIlroy, Marc Leishman, and Jason Day) are non-Americans.

I'm seeing more value down the card this week with Jason Kokrak (+4900), Sam Burns (+4900), Kevin Kisner (+6500), Cameron Tringale (+7000), Lanto Griffin (+10000), and Cameron Davis (+6500) as solid options.

The name value for DeChambeau and McIlroy is reflected in the betting odds, but the models are a little more skeptical, so it could be a week to pepper the second and third tiers.

My actual outright ended up being on Hatton, Fitzpatrick, Burns, and Cameron Davis. I put top-10s on Corey Conners, Talor Gooch, Trinagle, and Griffin.