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Preview: Arnold Palmer Invitational

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By Pete Pappas

GolfWRX Staff Writer

Men’s Journal magazine recently published an ultimate “bucket list” of things to do before you die.  And one item on the list was “shake hands with Arnold Palmer.”

Well you just might get a chance to shake the King’s hand this weekend at Bay Hill in Orlando, where he’s hosting the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard.

But you’ll first need to get in.

Practice Pro-Am Badge … $35.

Any One-Day Ticket … $45.

Week-Long Bay Hill Badge … $300.

Walking off the green at No. 18, finding Mr. Palmer, shaking his hand, and also winning the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard (the 14th tournament of the PGA Tour season) in the process? … Priceless (winner’s share of the $6M purse notwithstanding).

The King’s tournament boasts a strong field this year, including 15 major champions, 10 previous Arnold Palmer Invitational winners, and 14 of the top 20 players in the FedExCup standings.

Notables in the field include Tiger Woods (returning from a strained left Achilles after withdrawing two weeks ago at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship), Phil Mickelson (a winner here in 1997, but more recently T-36 in 2007, T-21 in 2008, and T-30 in 2010), Justin Rose (winner at WGC-Cadillac and T-5 at the Honda Classic), Bubba Watson (ranked No. 1 in driving distance and greens-in-regulation), Ernie Els (the World No. 62 needing a win this week or next week at the Shell Houston Open to get into the Masters through ranking), and defending champion Martin Laird.

Prominently absent this weekend are the top six players on the Official World Golf Rankings list, including World No. 1 Luke Donald (who reclaimed the top spot with his fifth career PGA Tour win last week at Transitions), No. 2 Rory McIlroy (World No. 1 for two weeks), and No. 3 Lee Westwood (No. 1 for 22 weeks).

“I’m disappointed that they are not here, no question about it,” Palmer told reporters on Wednesday.  “I’m certainly not happy that those fellas chose not to come this year.”

But always the gentleman, and even showing a glimpse of that legendary Palmer grace and bravado, “The King” added wryly with a smile, “I had a letter from Rory seeking my consultation and (he) told me he wasn’t coming. And of course that made me feel great.”

“And if you believe that, I’ll talk to you outside afterwards.”

Bay Hill Makeover

Bay Hill is the last stop on the “Florida Swing” and stretches nearly 7,400 yards.  With 150 acres of thick rough that can grow nearly four inches tall, 80 bunkers and seven water hazards, it’s the eighth toughest course on the PGA Tour (of 51 courses played in 2011).  And closing holes No. 16, No. 17, and No. 18 are particularly troublesome.

When Palmer redesigned the course in 2009, he had this tournament in mind, wanting to make the course as visually intimidating as it is aesthetically beautiful.

First, he pushed the fairway bunkers out so big hitters can’t just bomb it off the tee with impunity.

Then, he pulled the greenside bunkers in and added new run off areas, putting a nostalgic premium on short game strategy and finesse shots.

And finally, he flattened and reseeded the greens with Emerald Bermuda grass to increase the number of pinnable locations to places they’ve never been before.

Memorable Moments In Tournament History

In 1966 Lionel Hebert wins the inaugural tournament defeating Jack Nicklaus by two shots.

In 1971 Arnold Palmer wins the event and eight years later becomes the tournament host.

In 1985 Fuzzy Zoeller beats Tom Watson by two shots just six months after back surgery.

In 1992 Fred Couples becomes the World No. 1 ranked player with a nine-shot win over Gene Sauers.

In 2000 Tiger Woods wins at Bay Hill for the first time beating Davis Love III by four shots.

In 2009 Woods wins for the second consecutive year and sixth time overall at Bay Hill defeating Sean O’Hair by one shot with a birdie on the 72d hole.

A Tribute To The King

Palmer biographer Jim Dodson once wrote, “Golf was a country club game.  [Then] along comes this muscular tilting Pennsylvanian with a corkscrew swing and a handsome grimace, and suddenly he was an irresistible figure who would [change the game].

Yes before there was a Tiger Woods, a man simply known as “The King” made golf cool.

When Arnold Daniel Palmer was born the son of a country club groundskeeper in Latrobe, PA., no one could have imagined his name would become synonymous with superstardom or that he’d become so beloved.

Yet like the Hogans, the Sneads, and the Joneses, Palmer would transcend the game.  And along the way, win the hearts and minds of millions of people (Arnie’s Army).

Palmer today has the same charisma, grace, and gentlemanly demeanor that he had when he first burst onto the scene in 1962.  Today he’s as big an icon as anyone in the history of the sport, and also just as humble.

With his own swashbuckling, daring style of cool, Palmer won 62 PGA Tour events and seven majors between 1955 and 1976, and he taught us to “go big” without getting “a big head”.

He was golf’s first player to earn $100,000 in a single season, but he never acted pretentous.  He remained grounded, down to earth in his blue collar Latrobe upbringing, always in touch with the common man.

Ask any player in the field this week about Arnold Palmer, and their admiration and genuine appreciation of what he means to the game of golf is as clear as day.

“He’s got to be my favorite golfer,” beamed six time PGA Tour winner Matt Kuchar when asked about “The King.”

And 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell readily acknowledged, “Arnold Palmer is probably one of the guys most responsible for the modern game as we known it.”

Palmer popularized and commercialized golf not just in the U.S, but around the world.  Between 1960 and 1970, the number of people who played the game doubled from five million to 10 million players.

Course development grew from 6,000 new courses to over 10,000 (with a new golf course being built on average every day for 10 consecutive years).

And today, this sport once thought reserved only for the country club elite, is now one of the fastest growing sports in the world, open to anyone, and enjoyed by everyone.

Palmer’s swagger was daring and fearless on the course; he was the James Dean of golf.  But off the course he was the boy next door, and everyone’s hero.  Even President Eisenhower, a noted golf nut, was enamored with Palmer and took to him as a son.

Palmer is a throwback to the days when a man’s word was his bond.  When honor, integrity, and personal responsibility weren’t just empty catch phrases used indifferently in all walks of life, but rather, viscerally embodied in a person’s character and aspirations.

So thank you Mr. Palmer for your tournament at Bay Hill.  Thank you for all you’ve done for this great game of golf that so many of us love.

And most importantly, thank you for being a person that every generation can look up to as we all strive to become better people, better neighbors, and better family members.

The Usual Suspects

Tiger Woods (8/1).  Tiger’s won this event six times (there are only four multiple winners of the Arnold Palmer Invitational), and no one in the field knows Bay Hill better than Woods.

So far this season Tiger leads the PGA Tour in total driving and all-around ranking, and he’s second in scoring average behind McIlroy.

Two days at the Tavistock Cup have put to rest questions about his strained left Achilles (David Feherty’s tongue in cheek teasing aside).

Tiger is the favorite to win in his final tune-up before the Masters.

Phil Mickelson (12/1).  Phil also has his eye on Augusta, but Bay Hill suits his eye, and his game, to a tee.  It’s long out of the box, and requires skilled finesse shots to hold the greens.  Sounds right up “Lefty’s” alley.

Mickelson has played well all season, winning the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and nearly becoming the first player to win multiple times this season (finishing second in a playoff at the Northern Trust Open).  And oh yeah, Tiger’s in the field, which always makes everything right for “Lefty.”

If Mickelson is on page one of the leaderboard on Sunday, don’t bet against him winning for the 41st time in his career (and second time at Bay Hill).

Not Quite Flying Under The Radar

Webb Simpson (20/1).  Simpson finished in 10th place last week at the Transitions Championship, and early on this season had three top-10 finishes.

He’s fourth on Tour in scoring average, 10th in GIR, and 12th in bogey avoidance.

However he’s missed the cut at Bay Hill the past two years.

Hunter Mahan (25/1).  Mahan has been steady if not spectacular in finishing inside the top-25 in every event played this year.

He’s second in total driving, and 17th in all-around ranking.

His victory at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year showed he’s learning how to win and deal with the pressure of final day contention.

And three top-25’s in his last four starts at Bay Hill suggests he likes the course.

Howl At The Moon

Bubba Watson (30/1).  Bubba leads the tour in driving distance and GIR.

Most of the redesigned fairway bunkers won’t come into play for Watson because he’s so long off the tee.

With two top-10 finishes and a second place finish (WGC-Cadillac) this year, Bubba has played well enough to win, but he’s beginning to develop a reputation for self-destructing when he’s in contention with a title on the line.

Ernie Els (40/1).  It was agonizing to watch Els throw away the lead at Copperhead last week.  He was a bogey-bogey finish on Sunday away from moving inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings and earning an invitation to the Masters.

Els has said many times (and very candidly) that reaching the pinnacle of golf: the career grand slam, is very important to him.  And to that aim he already has two U.S. Opens and one British Open under his belt.

A win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational would put Els on the first tee at Tea Olive once more, and give him his 19th shot at a green jacket.

Els is a two time champion here at Bay Hill, winning in 1998, and 2010.  And he played as well as anyone for 70 holes last week, finishing T-1 in greens-in-regulation.  But the collapse at Transitions was a gut-wrenching one, and took the wind out of Els sails.

The Roof Is On Fire

Sang-Moon Bae (60/1).  Only eight starts into his rookie season on the PGA Tour, don’t be surprised to see Bae use the Arnold Palmer Invitational as his coming out party.

He’s made every cut, has two top-5 finishes, and his T-2 finish at Transitions last week was extremely impressive.  I’m going with the hot hand, and betting on Bae to pick up his first PGA Tour win this week.

Perfect Pairings

Hunter Mahan, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods

Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson

Bill Haas, Brandt Snedeker, Jim Furyk

Pat Perez, Tommy Gainey, Ryo Ishikawa

George McNeil, Mark Wilson, K.J. Choi

D.J. Trahan, Jeff Maggert, Jeff Overton

Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Sang-Moon Bae

Andrew Magee, Josh Teeter, Michael Thompson

Fredrik Jacobson, Henrik Stenson, J.B. Holmes

From One King To Another

Story has it, Palmer was once invited to play an exhibition match in Saudi Arabia by the Saudi King.  After the match, the king was so impressed, he proposed to give Palmer a special gift to commemorate his visit.

It really isn’t necessary, Your Highness,” Palmer said.  “I’m honored just to have been invited.

To which the king replied, “I would be deeply upset if you would not allow me to give you a gift.

Palmer thought carefully for a moment, and not wanting to dishonor the king, answered, “All right, why don’t you give me a golf club?

The king was pleased with Palmer’s request, and promised Palmer would have it on his return to the U.S.

On his flight back Palmer began to wonder what kind of club the king would give him.  Maybe a solid gold putter?  Or a diamond-adorned iron set?  Maybe even a rare jewel-encrusted driver with his name engraved on it?

Whatever it would be, Palmer knew he’d display it at home along with his other cherished trophies.  After all, if would be a gift from a king.

Well a few weeks later, Palmer received a letter in the mail; it was from the king.  Not knowing what to think, he opened it.  And what he found inside was shocking.

The king gave Palmer a “deed” to a “golf club”, complete with multiple facilities, clubhouse, and thousands of acres of land!

Palmer won’t be giving the winner of the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational title to the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, but the champion will get a handshake from Palmer.  And that alone is worth a King’s ransom.

Notes

Television Coverage

Thursday and Friday: Golf Channel 3-6 pm EST

Saturday and Sunday: NBC 2:30-6 pm EST

Radio Coverage

Thursday through Sunday: SiriusXM Satellite Radio 12-6 pm EST

Odds

Odds provided by Las Vegas PGA Tour Golf Betting Odds.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

Follow Pete on twitter @TheGreekGrind

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Pete is a journalist, commentator, and interviewer covering the PGA Tour, new equipment releases, and the latest golf fashions. Pete's also a radio and television personality who's appeared multiple times on ESPN radio, and Fox Sports All Bets Are Off. And when he's not running down a story, he's at the range working on his game. Above all else, Pete's the proud son of a courageous mom who battled pancreatic cancer much longer than anyone expected. You can follow Pete on twitter @PGAPappas

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Tour News

Tour Rundown: Moriya Jutanugarn and Andrew Landry win their first titles

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It was a week of firsts on two of the world’s major professional tours. Moriya Jutanugarn claimed her first LPGA title in an impressive manner, while 2016 U.S. Open surprise Andrew Landry seized control in Houston to inscribe his name on the winner’s trophy for an initial time. Elsewhere, a pair of underdogs upset the favorites at the Champions Tour’s Missouri affair, while two veterans added additional titles to their resumes in Europe and on the Web.Com tour. It’s an interesting brew in this week’s cauldron, so let’s give it a stir and see what we taste in this week’s Tour Rundown.

Landry holds off resurgent trio to claim Houston Open

Andrew Landry led that U.S. Open at Oakmont after day one, and hung around the top of the leader board until the fourth day. When his name resurfaced at this week’s Tour stop, few were certain he could hold off a resurgent Zach Johnson, the two-time major winner. Well, few other than Zach Johnson thought Landry might pull it off.

How Landry locked in

From the 10th hole on Friday, through the same hole on Sunday, Landry made zero bogeys. He had 13 birdies in that stretch, on a course that gives a few up, but not in buckets. That 36 hole run of brilliance, including birdies on Sunday’s first three holes, staked Landry to an advantage that he would not relinquish. For the entire week, only four bogeys dotted his scorecards, and two of those came on Thursday. Landry’s putter was hot all week, and his driving game was laser-accurate. The sum total: welcome to the winner’s circle, Mr. Landry.

Click here to see the clubs Landry used to win the 2018 Valero Texas Open

Who made a run?

It wasn’t Johnson. Iowa’s favorite son hasn’t won since the 2015 British Open, although his game has shown its old fire of late. Johnson couldn’t find a groove on day 4, making as many bogeys in that round as Landry did all week. In the end, Johnson had a top-5 finish, amid signs that another victory may not be far in the offing. Sean O’Hair had the low round (66) of the day, and that magic was enough to boost him to a second-place tie with young Trey Mullinax, who followed a Saturday 62 with a notable 69 to rock steady. Jimmy Walker, finally recovered from a bout of illness, had the day’s 2nd-lowest score of 67, and he moved all the way to 4th spot.

Mighty Moriya holds off Korean trio for first tour title

Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand has been close before. She has seen little sister Ariya hoist victory awards before. On Sunday, it was her turn. Jutanugarn and Marina Alex were two of the leader with no title to their credit, heading into the closing 18 holes. While the key to victory still eludes the young American, it was Jutanugarn’s turn to triumph.

What Moriya discovered on Sunday

Actually, she dug deepest on Saturday. The older sibling opened round three with a double bogey, stood 3-over on the day after six holes, and appeared to be sinking. The ship’s wheel steadied with two birdies and hole-out eagle coming home, and then it began the final day with four birdies and no bogeys in the first 15 holes. A late bogey served only to add faux drama, as Jutanugarn calmly closed the deal for victory the first.

Park, Young and Yeon can’t win this case

Reading a bit like a law firm, Inbee Park, Jin Young Ko and So Yeon Ryu made their runs at Moriya. Inbee had a bogey at the turn, and needed perfection on Sunday. She didn’t get it, so a tie for second was in the offing. Ko might have had the best opportunity at day’s start, but a 2-over outward nine took her too far off pace for a 3-under inward half, to provide recovery. She also came second, at 10-under. Ryu put an opening bogey behind with four birdies through 12 holes, but could not go deeper over the closing stretch. Her fourth-place finish was her best of 2018.

Levy wins for third consecutive year on European Tour

France’s Alexander Levy nearly has a five-year win streak. His first two tour titles came in 2014. He skipped 2015, but hasn’t missed in the subsequent years. His work in Morocco this week added up to a one-shot win over a literal blast from the past, Spain’s Alvaro Quiros. Eight golfers finished within three strokes of the top spot, adding drama to the finish at Royal Dar-Es-Salaam.

Nothing spectacular leads Levy to win

There were no great streaks of brilliance, no runs of multiple birdies, for the 28-year old. All that he did, efficiently, was make enough birdies to stay ahead of his pursuers. After bogey at the antepenultimate hole on Sunday, Levy responded with a dart at the par-three 17th, to re-establish his lead. The win was the fifth of his career.

See the clubs Levy used to win

Oh so close for Oh so many

Let’s begin with Quiros. The Spaniard, compared with Dustin Johnson (for his length off the tee) in his early years, has been adrift. Sunday was his best chance in forever to secure a tour title. His first 16 holes were a tangle of bogeys and a pair of birdies. The Iberian closed admirably, with birdies at the final pair, to claim solo second, one back of Levy. Also close were Mikko Illonen (tied for third with three others at 7-under) and England’s Andy Sullivan, one more back at 6-under, in a tie for seventh.

Two more for the road: Axley wins on Web, while Broadhurst/Triplett claim Legends

Eric Axley would have preferred to win his 3rd professional event in glorious fashion. He’ll take a rain-shortened title at the North Mississippi Classic, his second career Web.Com title and his first title of any sort in 12 years. Waaaay back in 2006, Axley won the very same Houston Open (see above) contested this week on the PGA Tour, and a bit of success was predicted for the left-hander. Success, as we know, doesn’t come to all hands, and Axley was able to birdie his final two holes on Saturday to stake a one-shot advantage. Tied for second were the USA’s Willy Wilcox, Columbia’s Sebastian Munoz, and Korea’s K.H. Lee.

Triplett and Broadhurst birdie 1st playoff hole for victory

The rules for the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf are slightly simpler than those of field hockey, which means that they aren’t very simple. Both courses in use boast par-3 holes alone, but each has a different number of holes, so numbers on the scoreboard are meaningless. With the two Spaniards (Olazabal and Jimenez), the defending champs (Franco and Singh) and two major champions (Lehman and Langer) in the mix, the undervalued pairing of Kirk Triplett (he of the hat) and Paul Broadhurst (he of the …) were not anyone’s favorites to emerge. And here we are.

No one seemed bent on making any heroic moves on Sunday, so it came down to which teams would find their way. Lehman/Langer joined the eventual winners at the 9th hole. Triplett played the hole to perfection: tee shot into bunker, bunker shot into hole, thank you very much. No birdie putts were holed, and the title belonged to the unlikely pairing of Kirk and Paul.

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Photos from the Web.com 2018 North Mississippi Classic

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GolfWRX is live today from the Web.com Tour’s 2018 North Mississippi Classic at the Country Club of Oxford.

Notables in the field this week include Stuart Appleby, Charlie Beljan, Zac Blair, Sam Burns, Roberto Castro, Erik Compton, Ken Duke, Tommy Gainey, Jason Gore, Ben Kohles, Dru Love, Daniel Summerhays, Willy Wilcox and more.

Check out all of the photos below from today at the North Miss. Classic!

Thursday’s Galleries

Discussion Thread: See what GolfWRX Members are saying about the photos

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10 interesting photos from Wednesday at the Valero Texas Open

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Welcome to 10 Interesting Photos (10IP? No? OK). It’s the final day of tune up ahead of the Valero Texas Open, which is, fun fact, the third longest-running (non major) tournament on the PGA Tour.

We got an in-hand look at The Tank, K.J. Choi’s weaponry, as well a four general galleries and some of the coolest custom stamped wedges you’ll see, c/o JT Poston.

Let’s take a look at the photos!

First up, some more love-em-or-hate-em Jordans from Keegan Bradley

Amid a pretty standard bag, an impressive Pingman putter cover

JT Poston, AKA, The Postman’s, 60 degree, ladies and gentlemen

Vintage X Hot sighting!

Kevin Chappell with the coveted Miura and Fourteen combo

K.J. Choi’s putter shaft! (AMI Stability?)

Scott Piercy remains the king of lead tape on Tour

K>J. Choi is gaming Ping G400 irons

And look at the face on (one of) his Ping putter(s)

Keith Mitchell’s Mizuno “MIZ” pom-pom headcover, though

 

Check out all our photos from Wednesday the 2018 Valero Texas Open below!

Wednesday’s Photos

Special Galleries

Discussion: See what GolfWRX Members are saying about the photos in our forums

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