Editor's note: This article was published prior to Tiger Woods' withdrawal from the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
It was only five years ago that Bay Hill ranked as the most difficult in relation to par of all courses hosting a non-major. In its last of only three editions as a par 70, it scored +2.190 strokes to par in 2009. Now a par 72 for the fifth consecutive year, the site of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard may land no higher than third-most difficult on just the Florida Swing if it plays as projected this week.
With Trump National Doral (WGC-Cadillac Championship) and Copperhead (Valspar Championship) already in the books at +1.852 and +1.433, respectively, Bay Hill serves as an unlikely opportunity for scoring as compared to recent history. (Par-70 PGA National checked in at a relatively tame +0.408.) The beauty is that the aggregate scoring has risen with overall par. Last year's field averaged +0.928 strokes to par, third-highest among 18 par 72s in non-majors. Since Ernie Els won the 2010 event at 11-under 277 and Martin Laird hoisted the hardware in 2011 at just 8-under 280, two-time defending champion Tiger Woods has posted consecutive 13-under 275s.
Because the Arnold Palmer Invitational is, well, an invitational and host to just 120 golfers, experience rises if for no other reason than a considerable amount of the qualifying criteria opens doors for touring pros that have competed in it at least once before. Since 1980, the only golfer to win in his debut was Robert Gamez in 1990, and he needed a hole-out for eagle on the 72nd hole to clip Greg Norman by one. It was Gamez' second eagle of the round, the first coming at the par-5 sixth. He played the par 5s in 12-under for the week. It's a priority that remains relevant today.
Woods navigated his way to victory here the last two years using different routes. He co-led the field in both greens in regulation and scrambling in 2012, but ranked a respective T34 and T32 last year. He was fourth in strokes gained-putting two years ago before leading the field in 2013. So, while strong putting is a common thread, he also led the field in par-5 scoring in both triumphs. (He also finished first in par-4 scoring in 2012.) Proficiency on par 5s throughout his career is hardly a secret, but it demands the review given he's an eight-time champion at Bay Hill.
Early-week moisture will have cleared out in time for Thursday's opening round. Downright perfect conditions cannot be ruled out. High temperatures will clear 80 degrees. They will be accompanied by passing clouds and light winds throughout the tournament.