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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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GolfWRX is live this week from the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California.

Tiger Woods, who has won eight times at Torrey Pines, will make his first start in a full-field PGA Tour event since his spinal fusion surgery. The last we saw of Woods was in the 18-player Hero World Challenge where he finished T9, and showed that he could be healthy for 72 holes.

Jon Rahm, who’s now ranked No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings, is the defending champion at the Farmers, and he also won last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. He’s joined in the field by notables Hideki Matsuyama (No. 5), Justin Rose (No. 6), Rickie Fowler (No. 7), Jason Day (No. 14) and Phil Mickelson.

Enjoy our photos from the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open below!

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Week two of the 2018 calendar season added events on the PGA Champions and European tours. The PGA caravan left Hawaii for California and found its first playoff of 2018, just as the Champions Tour reached the islands. The Euros teed it up in Dubai, and the Web.Com Tour stayed in the Bahamas for a second week. With an Asian Tour event in Singapore, the globe’s eyes were once again on professional golf. Time for Tour Rundown at warp speed!

Rahm continues to build career with win at CareerBuilder Challenge

For all of the final round, it looked like Jon Rahm would pull away for a 4-stroke victory. His driving was impeccable and his irons were dialed in. His putting stroke looked sound, but some of the birdies simply did not nest. Throughout the four-hole playoff with Andrew Landry, it seemed as if Rahm was destined to lose. Somehow, he persevered and won.

Rahm’s patience pays off with second PGA Tour win 

How many edges of holes were singed with putts and chips by Jon Rahm down the stretch? At least four, not counting the playoff. Fortunately for the Basque, only Andrew Landry made enough of a move to track him down temporarily. Rahm played like the 3rd-ranked player should, and now he’s the world No. 2 player. Perhaps the fact that he couldn’t or didn’t separate himself from his pursuers, yet had enough weaponry to pull out a victory, mattered more than a runaway triumph. Yet golf is a funny game. The only fairway Rahm missed in extra time came on the 4th hole. Despite that errant tee ball and his misses on the first three playoff holes, Rahm was able to drain the only birdie of the playoff and walk away a champion.

See the clubs Jon Rahm used to win

Landry and others made the most of their opportunities

Andrew Landry showed more gumption than anyone anticipated. The 2016 first-round leader of the U.S. Open stayed around even longer this week. A 72nd-hole birdie brought him to 22-under par and a tie with Rahm. The Arkansas alumnus drove the ball straight and far on each of the playoff holes, and never once sniffed a bogey. His irons brought him within birdie range but, like Rahm, he could not find the proper combination of line and speed. In the end, Landry missed last and settled (if such a term might be used) for a runner-up finish.

Fleetwood greets 2018 with title defense at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Tommy Fleetwood looks for all the world to be a millenial hipster with his free-flowing hair and his strands of beard. In absolute contrast, he is equal parts passion and cold blood. When opportunity beckons, he doesn’t look away. Given the slightest opportunity to defend his 2017 Abu Dhabi title, Fleetwood assented and took charge.

How Fleetwood dispatched Fisher and the rest

Through 9 holes of Sunday’s final round, the tag for Tommy Fleetwood’s title defense percolated as He gave an admirable effort. Nine holes and six birdies later, that tag line had changed to How in the name of all that is known did he defend his title? And yet, there was Fleetwood with the fourth European Tour title of his career and third in the past dozen months. When Fleetwood needed a great drive, he got it. When he didn’t hit a great drive, he came through with a stellar approach. When his approach was off, he drained a long putt. And for good measure, he hit a wonderful pitch at the 18th, nestling the ball 5 feet for birdie, and made that. The end result was a 2-stroke margin of victory over the runner-up, Ross Fisher.

What is it about Ross Fisher?

Ross Fisher is eternally composed. Not like his countryman Colin Montgomerie (more on him later), who wore every disappointment like a Halloween mask. Yet, the two share a certain sad penchant for missing opportunities. Last October, Fisher wasn’t going to catch Tyrell Hatton in St. Andrews, but he was chasing immortality. He had a 25-foot putt for the first 59 at The Old Course…and missed. He had a 4-foot putt for the first 60 at the Old Course…and missed. He broke the course record with his 61, but, you know. Fisher has an 0-5 record in European Tour playoffs. On Sunday, he was victimized by Fleetwood’s marvelous back 9 of 30 strokes, but by his own inability to gather the fruits of opportunity. Case in point: Fisher made a long and testy putt for bogey on the par-5 10th, a hole that many birdied. Rather than use it as a springboard to return to his coach on the birdie train, he floundered with four pars and one bogey over his next five holes.

Kelly wins at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

Jerry Kelly earned the 2017 PGA Tour Champions rookie of the year award, on the strength of consistent play and his first two tour titles. On Day 3 of the 2018 season, he added to his victory total with a 1-stroke win over Colin Montgomerie. A 2-stroke swing on 18 decided the fate of both…here’s how!

How Kelly klaimed the championship

For fans of Hideki Matsuyama and his deceptive reaction to fantastic shots, Mr. Kelly is guilty of the same on well-struck putts. He drops his putter from one hand and slumps his shoulders after mid-range putts. All the while, the ball is tracking toward the hole, and usually drops. Kelly played a fine round on Saturday, with 5 birdies and 1 eagle. It might have been the sole bogey of the round, on No. 16, that ignited his hockey-bred fire. The miscue allowed Colin Montgomerie to take a 1-shot lead into the final 2 holes, but Kelly’s birdie on No. 18 brought him the title. How’s that?

How Monty lost his opportunity

We forget how difficult it is to hold a lead in any event, at any juncture. Colin Montgomerie never figured the recipe out in major championships on the regular tour, but he had it down, for the most part, in regular tour events. On the Champions Tour, he has been quite solid, winning six times as a senior in the U.S. and five times in Europe. In the third round at Hualalai, Monty’s most reliable club betrayed him at the least opportune time. A drive into a fairway bunker at the last hole left him 100 yards to the green. He flew the putting surface with his approach and played an indifferent flop shot to 7 feet for par and a playoff. His effort was off the mark and the title slipped from his grasp.

Sergio’s Singapore Open

Despite this unexpected result, Sergio Garcia opened the 2018 season with a victory in Singapore. We’ll run down what he did right.

Sergio and Singapore on a Sunday

The #SingOpen2018 and @TheSergioGarcia made a perfect match on an extended final day. Wet weather forced a last-day completion of Round 3, and most golfers played more than 20 holes on the final day. Garcia stormed from behind with 66-68 over those final 36 holes to wrest the lead from Danthai Boonma of Thailand. Nine birdies and 1 bogey over that stretch of two rounds finished the task for the Spaniard, who looks to defend his 2017 Masters title in the spring.

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The battle for second ended in a tie

With Garcia separating himself from the peloton, attention turned to Boonma and cast for the runner-up resolution. After three stellar rounds (70-68-65), Boonma stumbled in Round 4 with 73, finishing in a tie for 4th with countryman Jazz Janewattananond. Satoshi Kodaira of Japan and South Africa’s Shaun Norris each birdied the final hole to finish tied for second at 9-under, 5 blows behind the champion.

Hello, World for Sungjae Im at Web.Com Opener

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How Im became I’m The Champ

Im entered the final round of the Great Exuma Classic in a tie with Ortiz, but eyes were on proven winners like Rhein Gibson, Steve Marino and Erik Compton. Sungjae Im went out in Round 4 and played perfect golf. He had 4 birds on his outward half, then seized the trophy by both handles with 3 more chirps on holes 14 to 16. Simply put, there was nothing that Ortiz or any other entrant could do, beyond bow and salute the victor.

How Ortiz and the others took the shock

Carlos Ortiz did what he had to do during Tuesday’s final round. He played a solid round, minus-3 with 5 birds and 2 bogies. He stayed ahead of Gibson and all the others, but would have needed to turn his bogies into birdies to tie Im atop the board. Rhein Gibson began round four like a boss, with birdies on 5 of the first 6 holes. He reached 8-under and looked like the eventual winner. The engine sputtered, and it was 1-birdie-1-bogey-10-pars the rest of the way. Gibson would have needed 10-under on the day to tie for the trophy, but with a few more birdies along the way, would he have frightened Im? Who knows!

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GolfWRX is live from the 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge at the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West (7,113 yards, par 72) in La Quinta, California.

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Defending-champion Hudson Swafford notched his first career victory at the 2017 CareerBuilders Challenge, where he won by one stroke over Adam Hadwin. He’ll be back in the field this year to defend his title.

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