Scoring historically tough during this Florida Swing
March 19, 2014
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- Adam Scott describes scoring conditions as "grueling" during the current stretch in the Sunshine State. (Greenwood/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Florida Swing. Palm trees. Sunshine.
It all sounds very relaxing. What it won’t be is easy, at least if the last few weeks have been any indication.
“I think it's been a grueling few weeks in Florida,” Adam Scott said.
For the first time since 1990, three consecutive PGA TOUR events have been won with single-digits under par.
With the condition of Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard that streak might last another week.
“It's no longer sunshine resort golf courses,” added Graeme McDowell. “It's given a unique spin to this Florida Swing. It's a tough test of golf. And that's great.”
Rain early in the week should soften the course and lead to more birdies, but Bay Hill is hardly a pushover. Three times in the last seven years the winning score has been in the single digits.
Each of the last two years, it climbed to 13 under with Tiger Woods winning both times. But he’s not here after withdrawing on Tuesday because of lingering back pain.
Given the difficulty of the courses the last few weeks, rest might not be such a bad thing for the eight-time winner here with the year’s first major just a few weeks away.
Woods withdrew with five holes to play in The Honda Classic and his back continued to bother him in his next start a week later.
Earlier this week, Woods called the tournament host to tell him he would be unable to play.
Woods, by the way, was also on the end of the highest winning score relative to par here in more than 25 years when his 5-under-275 total won in 2009.
Plenty of other past champions have struggled here, too.
The highest winning score at Bay Hill was 1-under 283 by Mike Nicolette in 1983, eclipsing the 280 total of Martin Laird in 2011 and Ben Crenshaw in 1993.
“Hopefully I'm going to make a few birdies,” said Scott, who is playing here for the first time since 2009 and can essentially move to No. 1 in the world by Masters week with a win here. “I think I'm coming here to make a few birdies and kind of get the confidence up a little bit, see a few go in the hole.”
Over the last month there haven’t been many.
Three weeks ago at PGA National, the lead went backwards four strokes on the final day as just 17 players broke par. Russell Henley wasn’t one of them, shooting a 2-over 72 before winning in a four-way playoff over Rory McIlroy, Russell Knox and Ryan Palmer.
The next week at a completely redesigned Trump National Doral, the field was flustered by windy conditions, a tough setup and unfamiliarity. In the second round more players shot in the 80s (five) than in the 60s (three) and by week’s end a record 318 balls had found the water.
At Innisbrook, always one of the most difficult stops on TOUR, just 19 players finished under par and the winning score was a mere 7 under.
What can players expect this week at Bay Hill?
“The greens will be fast,” Arnold Palmer said. “They'll be running about 12, 13 on the Stimp.”
There’s also a healthy amount of rough and it, like the first three venues in the Florida Swing, has in some ways the feel of a major.
“I heard a comment to where Arnie kind of wants it to play as a U.S. Open off the tee and Augusta-esque around the greens,” McDowell said. “I can see what he's trying to achieve.
“The firmness and the speed of the greens was very Augusta-esque (last Sunday during a practice round) with these new runoff areas that he's created the last few years. The golf course is pretty tight off the tee. Nice amount of rough.”
Not that McDowell, a U.S. Open champion who was runner-up here in 2012 and has a string of other good finishes at Bay Hill, minds.
“I'm a tough golf course player,” he said. “It appeals to my type of game.
“I enjoy the Florida Swing, and even more so now because of how tough it is. You throw THE PLAYERS Championship (in May) into that mix and you've got five of the toughest tests maybe on the PGA TOUR right now.”