One thing is for certain this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational – there will be no defending champion. In fact the absence of Tiger Woods is a gaping one at Orlando’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge – in the last ten times this event has been played Woods has once six of them, including the last two.
Prior to Tiger Woods the winner was Vijay Singh in 2007 and the mighty Fijian is also absent this week due to a back injury.
So besides the King, Arnold Palmer himself, who will be the focal point this week on the PGA Tour? It might be less of whom and more of a what. The big story might just be the arena itself – the newly renovated Bay Hill golf course and how the players adapt to the changes.
The 7381 yard behemoth (142 yards longer than 2009 now sports 103 bunkers but be assured, the latest changes at Bay Hill were far more than window dressings. The layout was tackled and revamped specifically with the PGA Tour players in mind. With holes number 6 and 12 now playing as par fives the par has returned to 72.
Arnold Palmer spearheaded the rebirth of the golf course with his design team, taking into account just how the best players in the world now take on golf courses. That included using all resources available to determine proper bunker placement. "PGA Tour Shotlink data was used extensively to properly site bunkers and now reflects the new distances of the modern game." said architect Brandon Johnson.
Emerald Bermuda grass now graces the putting surfaces for more consistent maintenance. And around each of those 18 green spaces the player will now have to test their short game even more due to firmer conditions that will require exquisite and precise touch.
Having hosted the PGA Tour since 1979 Bay Hill looks to be a better test of golf now, even with the generous fairways still intact. Always a second shot golf course, it will be even more now with greenside hazards pulled closer to the greens. The green changes also allow for a larger variety of hole placements – leaving players, spectators, and media lots to talk about besides the golfers themselves.
Surely this all will help identify a quality new champion, which is exactly what Mr. Palmer was looking for when he prompted the renovation.
"I love the Bay Hill course, it's my home, which is why it was so important to me to be involved with everything." said Palmer. "The renovations really add some new dimensions of play for Tour players and our members."
"I've introduced firm, fast playing conditions on slopes around greens mowed at fairway height that run away from the green surface and take the ball farther away from the intended target instead of stopping it, like the previous heavy rough did." said Palmer. "With these new conditions we hope to add creativity to recovery shots.”
With that in mind the new conditions might just narrow the list of players capable of becoming the new King of the Hill – at least until Mr. Woods returns to seek his 7th title that is.
Heavy favorites would have to the cadre who can keep the ball away from the 4 inch rough, a nasty mix of Bermudagrass over seeded with perennial ryegrass. Although Phil Mickelson has a tendency to visit the tangle more often than others, the liberal fairways width and the requirement of creativity might just suit the 1997 Bay Hill champ and help to usher him back into the winner’s circle.
With recent wins and fine spells of play you cannot also ignore a couple other guys who can really move the ball – Dustin Johnson and Ernie Els. They are among the 2010 PGA Tour winners (11 of 13) set to tee it up Thursday in pursuit of the $1.044 Million first place prize.
Seeing how the best players in the world adapt to the new layout should be quite interesting but one player will prove he is up to the challenge.
The true King of Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer, has laid out a quite a test for 120 players in the championship this week and how they work their way through that exam should be quite a show to behold.
The top four players in the FedEx Cup standings are playing this week: Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker, Camilo Villegas and Ben Crane
West Penn Connection
Rocco Mediate is making his 22nd appearance at the tournament. He grew up in Western Pennsylvania idolizing Arnold Palmer.
2009 United States Amateur Champion Byeong-Hun An makes his first PGA Tour appearance this week.
This report provide to GolfWRX.com by Flagstick Golf Magazine (www.flagstick.com)