With the first WGC event in the bank and Major season fast-approaching, the PGA Tour is flying up through the gears this month. The big names are getting right in the thick of the action with the Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Players Championship and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play all building up to The Masters in April.
Last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational was won by Rory McIlroy, ahead of now-World No. 5 Bryson DeChambeau, World No. 2 Justin Rose, former World No. 2 Henrik Stenson and a little-known golfer called Tiger Something. Not a bad title race, and we expect no less from this year’s star-stacked field. 12 of the world’s Top-20 and all 2018 Major Champs are lined up for Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
Unfortunately Tiger has been forced to withdraw due to a neck injury, but that won’t leave us short-changed for entertainment.
From the first to the last, Palmer’s architecture challenges the best of today’s golfers. A lot of the holes that throw up a birdie opportunity tend to simultaneously punish mistakes with little mercy. Subsequently, the final three holes are prone to drama. Take last year, when McIlroy carded five birdies on the final six as runner-up DeChambeau managed an eagle at 16 before a bogey at the last. Payne Stewart’s 264 (1987) still stands as the 72-hole record, whilst Adam Scott’s 62 (2014) tied the 18-hole record on this par-72 with Andy Bean (1981) and Greg Norman (1984).
For the Win
This one really favours the favourites. Defending Champion McIlroy is on a streak of four consecutive Top-5 finishes without a win, and has managed a T11 and T4 here in the past four years along with his 2018 win. Justin Rose will be looking to regain the World No. 1 spot that he lost to Dustin Johnson just last week. Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler shared second last week at PGA National and will both be looking to go one better. Jason Day (2016) and Marc Leishman (2017) made it back-to-back Australian winners here; Day arrives with seven consecutive Top-20 finishes (including three Top-5 spots), whilst Leishman has a win (CIMB Classic) and four other Top-5s in his last eight outings. Ian Poulter is on a run of T6-T3-T6-T3, whilst for Francesco Molinari it’s his history at Bay Hill (six-for-six; three Top-10s) that offers the most promising signs.
An array of big names is always great, but big names in great form is a true gift. McIlroy, Rose, Koepka, Fowler, Day & DeChambeau are the six respective favourites; everybody bar Koepka combining current form with form at this event (the American has a T26 in 2014, WD in 2015 & MC in 2017). Whilst it was great to see the so-called “No-name” Keith Mitchell- who was even called Kevin by one commentator- overcome the world’s best last week, that looks very unlikely this week.
Written by Joe Carabini