The First Look: Arnold Palmer Invitational
March 09, 2018
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
Marc Leishman shoots 69 to win at Arnold Palmer
Tiger Woods returns to Bay Hill for the first time since claiming an eighth victory there five years ago, as the PGA TOUR comes back to visit the locale Arnold Palmer made his winter home for decades until his passing 19 months ago.
Justin Rose, 2016 winner Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and honorary co-host Rickie Fowler also return to challenge reigning titleholder Marc Leishman as another robust Florida Swing embarks on its final act for 2018.
[Check out the full field here]
FIELD NOTES: Hideki Matsuyama, idled since early February with wrist problems, steps back into competition at Arnie’s Place. He tied for sixth two years ago. … Overall, Bay Hill welcomes five of the top 10 in the current world rankings and 12 of the top 25. … Paul Goydos, now a PGA TOUR Champions regular, crosses back into the younger realm for his first start since the 2015 Sony Open. The 1996 Invitational was his first PGA TOUR win. … A.J. McInerney, who escaped the harrowing Las Vegas concert massacre last October, tees it up for just the third time since that night. The Web.com Tour pro tied for 10th at the Shriners Hospitals Open in November. … U.S. Amateur champion Doc Redman is set for his first taste of a TOUR event, as he prepares for next month’s Masters debut. … Other exemptions went to Sam Horsfield, born in England but raised in nearby Davenport, Fla., and college standout Collin Morikawa (Cal).
FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 points.
STORYLINES: Woods, good health finally in tow, makes his long awaited return to a place where he was crown prince to Palmer’s title as “The King.” Now 42, it’s been five years since his last stroke at Bay Hill, when he held off Justin Rose in a 2013 Monday finish. … Fowler adds the role of co-host this year, one of three sharing the function Palmer enjoyed each year. Peter Jacobsen is back for a second year of host duties, with Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez rounding out the trio. … Rose, one of nearly a dozen entrants with Orlando ties, seeks a return to form after three wins worldwide at the end of 2017. … Leishman’s victory was the sixth by an international player in the past 12 years, after going the first 27 editions with just one non-American winner.
COURSE: Bay Hill Club & Lodge, 7,419 yards, par 72. Once an outpost on Orlando’s western outskirts – hence the “& Lodge” part of the title – Bay Hill became an item of Palmer’s affection upon playing an exhibition there in 1965. Palmer proclaimed it the “best course in Florida” and set about to purchase the club to make his winter base. The PGA TOUR arrived in 1979, when the old Florida Citrus Open moved across town to “Arnie’s Place.” Built in 1961 by Dick Wilson, Palmer’s constant tinkering over the years left no doubt about whose stamp it bears. Bay Hill’s closing trio of holes often generates a dramatic finish, most notably the 7-iron holeout at No.18 by Robert Gamez to stun Greg Norman in 1990.
72-HOLE RECORD: 264, Payne Stewart (1987).
18-HOLE RECORD: 62, Andy Bean (2nd round, 1981), Greg Norman (2nd round, 1984), Adam Scott (1st round, 2014).
LAST YEAR: Leishman was the only man among the lead quartet who didn’t blink in the final hour, parlaying a 50-foot eagle putt at No.16 into a one-shot triumph over Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman. The Aussie made just one bogey over his final 15 holes on the way to a 3-under-par 69, sealing victory with a deft up-and-down for par at the devilish 18th. Kisner held a three-shot lead at the turn but didn’t make a birdie thereafter, while Hoffman came up short in rallying from a front-nine 39. Rory McIlroy also had a chance, but three-putted No.18 after seeing Leishman had made eagle. It was Leishman’s second PGA TOUR win, nearly five years after the 2012 Travelers Championship. He also became the first Invitational winner after Palmer’s passing.
HOW TO FOLLOW
TELEVISION: Thursday-Friday, 2-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. (GC), 2:30-6 p.m. (NBC).
PGA TOUR LIVE: Thursday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. ET (featured groups), 3-6 p.m. (featured holes). Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (featured holes).
RADIO: Thursday-Friday, noon-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 1-6 p.m. (PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.com).