GORDON SEAY PHOTO
By TOM LaMARRE
Somewhere up there, Arnold Palmer is smiling.
That’s because 27 of the top 30 players in the World Golf Rankings have committed to play in the 58th edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which starts Thursday at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla.
Second-ranked Scottie Scheffler, who lost the world No. 1 spot to red-hot Jon Rahm of Spain this week, is the defending champion, but Rahm and No. 3 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who have been trading the top spot with Scheffler lately, also are in the field for the second event of the PGA Tour’s Florida Swing.
“I’ve won five out of my last nine starts, so I don’t need a ranking to tell me, to validate anything, right?” said Rahm, who is coming off a victory in the Genesis Invitational two weeks ago after winning The Sentry Tournament of Champions and The American Express earlier this year. “I’m having the best season of my life and hopefully I can keep it going.”
“Obviously I’ve been extremely disciplined my whole career, but right now I’m seeing the dividends of a lot of the hard work over the years. So just keep doing the small things and keep enjoying it, having fun. When you’re playing good, it’s really fun and when you’re winning tournaments, it’s extremely fun, but you’ve got to enjoy the tough moments as well.
“Try to take it all in and, like I said, keep doing the little things properly every day and hopefully I can keep putting myself in position to win.”
Also in the field are No. 8 Max Homa, who has won the Fortinet Championship and the Farmers Insurance Open this season; No. 4 Patrick Cantlay; No. 6 Xander Schauffele; No. 7 Will Zalatoris; No. 9 Justin Thomas, and No. 10 Collin Morikawa.
Former winners of the Arnold Palmer Invitational playing this week include McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton of England, Jason Day of Australia, Francesco Molinari of Italy and Martin Laird of Scotland.
Also teeing it up at Bay Hill are Viktor Hovland of Norway, Matt Fitzpatrick of England, Keegan Bradley, Tom Kim of South Korea, Shane Lowry of Ireland, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Keith Mitchell, Tommy Fleetwood of England, Sam Burns, Cameron Young and Chris Kirk, who won the Honda Classic last week to kick off the Florida Swing.
Tiger Woods, who has won this tournament a record eight times, is not playing after tying for 45th in the Genesis Invitational two weeks ago at Riviera Country Club in his first appearance of the 2023 season, as he continues his comeback from a rollover SUV accident two years ago that nearly cost him part of his right leg.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational is the final event before the Players Championship, the so-called “Fifth Major,” next week at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
1. Jon Rahm, Spain–Rahmbo has been the best player on the planet for a while now and with three victories this season on the PGA Tour, and five in his last nine starts, he certainly is the player to beat. Coming off a victory in the Genesis Invitational two weeks ago, he is making only his second start at Bay Hill and posted a solid tie for 17th in his tournament debut last season.
2. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – Rory has been nearly as productive as Rahm over the last several months, although he hasn’t played as much, winning the Tour Championship to wrap up his third FedEx Cup title and adding victories in the CJ Cup and Dubai Desert Classic. McIlroy won the API in 2018, one of his five top-10 results in eight career appearances at Bay Hill.
3. Scottie Scheffler, United States – The defending champion claimed one of his four victories including the Masters last season at Bay Hill, when he won by one stroke after tying for 15th in his API debut in two years earlier. Scheffler has gotten off to another strong start in the 2022-23 season, with five finishes in the top 10, including yet another victory in the WM Phoenix Open.
4. Max Homa, United States – Has climbed to No. 8 in the world by winning the Fortinet Championship and the Farmers Insurance Open this season among seven finishes in the top 25, and now has six PGA Tour victories in his career. Homa is playing at Bay Hill for the fourth time and his best was a tie for 10th in 2021. He also tied for 17th last year and tied for 24th in 2020.
5. Tyrrell Hatton, England – Claimed his only PGA Tour victory, among 10 in his career around the world, in the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational, in addition to tying for second last season when a 78 in round two proved costly, and tying for fourth in 2017. Hatton has tied for sixth in the WM Phoenix Open, tied for seventh in Abu Dhabi and tied for 13th in CJ Cup in 2022-23.
6. Collin Morikawa, United States – The 10th-ranked Morikawa hasn’t won yet this season, but he’s due after four top-10 finishes, including second in the Sentry TOC, third in the Farmers and sixth in the Genesis Invitational. He is making his third career appearance in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tied for ninth in 2020 after tying for 64th two years earlier in his Bay Hill debut.
7. Justin Thomas, United States – The reigning PGA champion, who also captured the 2021 Players Championship, has finished fourth in the WM Phoenix Open and fifth in the Hero World Challenge recently among five top-25 results since the start of the new season. Surprisingly Thomas has played in the Arnold Palmer Invitational only once and tied for 49th back in 2015.
8. Will Zalatoris, United States – After returning from a back injury, Zalatoris appeared to be back in form when he finished solo fourth in the Genesis Invitational two weeks ago, closing with a 64, and he also tied for 11th in the Sentry Tournament of Champions to start the year. He is making his third start at Bay Hill and tied for 10th in 2021 before tying for 38th last season.
9. Viktor Hovland, Norway – The 11th-ranked Hovland captured the Hero World Challenge for the second straight year in December to give him seven victories in his pro career around the world, and also has tied for fifth in the Zozo Championship and tied for 10th at Mayakoba. He recorded his best finish in four API starts last season when he tied for second, one stroke back.
10. Xander Schauffele, United States – After claiming victories in the Travelers, the Genesis Scottish Open and the Zurich Classic in 2022 to give him seven career victories, Schauffele has yet to win this year, but was third in the Amex, fourth in the Hero and ninth in the Zozo this season. He tied for 24th in his only appearance in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2020.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jason Day, Australia; Patrick Cantlay, United States; Matt Fitzpatrick, England; Keith Mitchell, United States; Keegan Bradley, United States; Sungjae Im, South Korea; Chris Kirk, United States; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Tony Finau, United States; Tom Kim, South Korea; Jordan Spieth, United States; Sahith Theegala, United States.
1. Ben Griffin, United States – Winner of the 2021 Stahl Foundation Open on the PGA Tour Canada is coming off a T-21 in the Honda last week after a T-3 in Bermuda earlier this season.
2. Garrick Higgo, South Africa – A seven-time winner as a pro, including the 2021 Palmetto, Higgo has finished third at Sanderson Farms, T-11 in the AmEx and T-20 at Pebble this season.
3. Taylor Pendrith, Canada – Two-time winner on PGA Tour Canada has finished T-2 in Rocket Mortgage, T-7 at Pebble Beach, T-15 in RSM Classic. In first start in API, he was T-42 last year.
4. Joseph Bramlett, United States – Winner of 2021 Korn Ferry Tour Championship has finished T-7 at Pebble Beach, T-9 in Houston Open, T-12 in Fortinet, T-13 in Farmers this season.
5. Kurt Kitayama, United States – Three-time winner as a pro around the world, Kitayama has recorded a solo second in the CJ Cup, a T-2 in Mexico Open and a solo second in Scottish Open.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard