TOUR Insider: The real attraction at Bay Hill is ArnieMarch 21, 2012
Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
Let's look at the field for this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
There are 15 players entered who have won major championships. Seven of the top 10 players in the FedExCup standings are here.
FEATURED GROUP: Ernie Els wants revenge this week, Tiger Woods seeks a return to the winner's circle, and Hunter Mahan tries to keep up the momentum. Featured Group | Tee times TURF TALK: Get some inside info about Bay Hill conditions from Matt Beaver, the course superintendent. Read FEDEXCUP RACE: There are nine players who have a shot at unseating FedExCup No. 1 Rory McIlroy this week at Bay Hill. Read
Bay Hill is a solid course. There's a good purse, and there's 500 FedEx Cup points are at stake, but that's not the main reason this week is one of the highlights of the PGA TOUR season.
This is Arnold Palmer's tournament, and players enter out of respect.
To have Palmer greet you, coming off the 18th green, have him shake hands and congratulate you on winning is always at the top of a player's wish list. At Wednesday's press conference, Palmer oozed charisma and charm. He still commands respect and admiration.
I personally learned that lesson 20 years ago.
I was caddying for my wife Kristi Albers at the JCPenney Classic, a mixed team event during the 1990s. Kristi had disappeared into the locker room, and I was trying to race through a Golf Digest article before she joined me for lunch.
I was the only one at a table for four when a voice asked, "Mind if I join you?" I did not even look up as I said, "Not at all." I heard the man pull out a chair and say, "Hi, I'm Arnold."
I looked up and immediately turned into Ralph Kramden. "Hamana-hamana-hamana-hamana," was all that bubbled out of my mouth.
I finally stammered an apology for my rudeness, and what followed were 20 minutes of uninterrupted conversation with the King. We talked golf and sports. When I asked about President Eisenhower, Palmer opened up and told story after story. Kristi came out of the locker room and I casually told her Arnold was joining us for lunch.
After another few minutes, Palmer explained he had to leave, excused himself, called me by name and wished Kristi good luck that week.
Maybe Palmer's most admirable trait is the ability to make strangers feel like they are his friends and are special to him.
He still has that ability. Just check out the field at this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Camera click: Remember when Tiger Woods could stop in the middle of his downswing and reset with no problem? John Daly tried doing that, and missed months with a muscle pull. Woods has always been in tremendous physical shape, but age changes things. During Wednesday's pro-am, a photographer's camera click caused Woods to stop, but this time he backed off and rubbed his back, as if the sudden stop was painful.
Woods says the back, the knee and the Achilles tendon are fine, but you wonder how much the aging process will take its toll on Woods. We'll get a clue this week. Woods is playing eight straight days of golf, dating back to last Sunday when he played a practice round at Augusta National.
Winner, winner: Webb Simpson intentionally cut back on his West Coast schedule so he would be fresh this spring. I think Webb is fresh and ready to blossom. He finished tied for 10th at last week's Transitions Championship shooting in the 60s for all four rounds. Simpson is second on the PGA TOUR in birdie average. He's a former recipient of the Arnold Palmer Scholarship at Wake Forest, and the time seems right for him to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational present by MasterCard.
.red Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio and is inside the ropes this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, [click here].