By Tom LaMarre
The late Arnold Palmer will always be “The King,” especially at Bay Hill Club and Lodge www.bayhill.com in Orlando, Fla., where Tiger Woods probably would qualify as “The Prince.”
Woods was expected to be back at Bay Hill this week for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he has won a record eight times, ready to ramp up his game for the Players Championship next week and the Masters next month.
Instead, he withdrew on Monday because of a neck injury and hopes to play next week in the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
“I’d like to send my regrets to the Palmer family and the Orlando fans. Its connection to Arnold makes it one of my favorite tournaments and I’m disappointed to miss it,” Woods said in a Twitter post.
The 43-year-old Woods, who proved he could win again after four back surgeries when he captured the Tour Championship in October, always is the headliner wherever he goes but there are always plenty of big names who come to Bay Hill to pay homage to “The King.”
Many will do so at the statue of Palmer on the grounds.
There’s ho question it’s a blow to tournament organizers, but as usual there still be will be a strong field in Arnie’s tournament at Bay Hill.
Justin Rose of England slipped behind Dustin Johnson at the top of the World Golf Rankings this week but will be trying to get the No. 1 spot right back against a field that includes defending champion and No. 6 Rory McIlroy (pictured) of Northern Ireland, No. 3 Brooks Koepka, No. 5 Bryson DeChambeau, No. 7 Rickie Fowler and No. 10 Francesco Molinari of Italy.
Also on hand are former API champions Phil Mickelson (1997), Jason Day (2016) of Australia, Marc Leishman (2017) of Australia, Matt Every (2014-15), Martin Laird (2011) of Scotland, Ernie Els (1998-2010) of South Africa, Vijay Singh (2007) of Fiji, Robert Gamez (1990) and Tim Herron (1999).
Other notables include Tommy Fleetwood of England, Martin Kaymer of Germany, Ian Poulter of England, Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Davis Love III, Zach Johnson, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Steve Stricker, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Si Woo Kim of South Korea, Keegan Bradley, Patrick Reed, Shane Lowry of Ireland, Martin Laird of Scotland, Billy Horschel, Adam Hadwin of Canada and Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.
They all want to win Arnie’s tournament, even though the winner no longer gets to shake his hand.
- Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – The last of Rory’s 23 professional victories came a year ago at Bay Hill, but it seems he is closing in on the next one. He finished second to top-ranked Dustin Johnson in the WGC-Mexico Championship and has three other top-five finishes in four PGA Tour starts this year. McIlroy tied for fourth in the 2017 API.
- Rickie Fowler, United States – Finished one stroke back last week in Honda Classic after claiming his fifth PGA Tour title in the Phoenix Open last month, and has three top-10 results this season. Fowler’s best result at Bay Hill was a tie for third in 2013, despite closing with a 73, and he has finished in the top 15 in each of the last two years.
- Brooks Koepka, United States – Entering this week after a tie for second in the Honda Classic and a victory in the CJ Cup early this season, Koepka’s game seems to be right where he wants it with the big events approaching after he won three majors in the last two years. However, his best result in three Bay Hill starts was a tie for 26th in 2014.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – Finished second to Rory McIlroy at Bay Hill last year, three shots back, after holding the 36-hole lead. Needed a break after tying for 56th in the WGC-Mexico Championship in his last start, but had three top-10 finishes including a victory in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open earlier this season.
- Justin Rose, England – Rose lost his spot atop the World Golf Rankings this week to Dustin Johnson and would like to get it right back. Got off to a fast start this season by tying for third in the WGC-HSBC Champions and winning the Farmers. Finished third in the API last year after finishing second in 2013, among his nine results in the top10.
- Jason Day, Australia – Still looking for this first victory this season after winning the Farmers and the John Deere in 2018, Day has been close with three results in the top 10, including a tie for fourth at Pebble Beach and a tie for fifth the Farmers in his last two starts. Captured the API by one stroke over Kevin Chappell for one of three wins in 2016.
- Phil Mickelson, United States – The 48-year-old Mickelson has discovered the Fountain of Youth this season with his 44th PGA Tour victory and a fifth at Pebble Beach, in addition to barely missing another victory when he tied for second in the Desert Classic. Lefty won at Bay Hill in 1995, finished second in 2001 and tied for third in 2002.
- Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – Seems to be regaining the game that took him to 14 pro victories, including three in 2017, after being hampered by injuries last year. Tied for third in the Farmers and tied for ninth in the Genesis Open among four straight finishes in the top 20 on the PGA Tour this year. Best result at Bay Hill was a tie for sixth in 2016.
- Francesco Molinari, Italy – After winning the Open Championship last July at Carnoustie and tying for sixth the next month in the PGA Championship at Bellerive, had been quiet until tying for 17th in his last start in the WGC-Mexico Championship. Tied for fifth at Bay Hill in 2014, tied for ninth in 2016 and tied for seventh two years ago.
- Marc Leishman, Australia – Plays a bit in the shadow of fellow Aussies Jason Day and Adam Scott, but Leishman has sculpted a nice career since being 2009 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. Claimed his 12th pro victory in the 2018 CIMB Classic and has four other top fives early this season. Won API two years ago and tied for seventh last year.
- Haotong Li, China – Li, with six pro wins, finished T11 in the WGC-HSBC and T19 in WGC-Mexico this season, and was second to Dustin Johnson in Saudi International.
- Adam Long, United States – Not a complete sleeper any more because he won the Desert Classic, but must back it up. Missed cut in last five starts, eight times this season.
- Aaron Wise, United States – The 2018 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is trying to back up victory in Byron Nelson last year. T10 at Mayakoba best of three top-20s this season.
- Matt Wallace, England – Has 10 pro titles, including three on the Euro Tour last year. Comes off T20 in Honda last week after finishing second in Dubai Desert Classic.
- Viktor Hovland, Norway – The reigning U.S. Amateur champion, who is the No. 1 college player in the nation at Oklahoma State, makes his third PGA Tour start.
For first round tee times visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html