The First Look: Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard
March 01, 2019
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
- March 01, 2019
Rory McIlroy emerges victorious at Arnold Palmer
Editor's note: Tiger Woods withdrew on Monday due to a neck strain.
Rory McIlroy defends his title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, where last year’s back-nine blitz snapped an 18-month victory drought. Tiger Woods, meantime, hopes to get his season heated up at place where he’s won eight previous times.
Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, 2016 winner Jason Day, and honorary co-host Justin Rose also top the marquee, as Bay Hill once again becomes the final tuneup for THE PLAYERS Championship.
FIELD NOTES: Reigning Open Championship titleholder Francesco Molinari makes his first start on U.S. soil since the Sentry Tournament of Champions, topping an international sector that includes Ryder Cup partner Tommy Fleetwood, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter and Haotong Li. … Phil Mickelson, the 1997 Bay Hill champion and a recent winner at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, returns to Arnie’s Place for the first time since 2013. … Bay Hill expects to welcome 17 of the FedExCup’s current top 30. … U.S. Amateur champion Viktor Hovland makes his third TOUR start since capturing that crown. The Oklahoma State junior is No. 1 in the collegiate rankings, one spot ahead of teammate Matthew Wolff, who recently made the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. … Hovland isn’t the only collegian in the field. Fourth-ranked Justin Suh also is playing. He recently won the Southwestern Invitational, his seventh win in his past 16 collegiate starts. … Other exemptions went to former NCAA champion Braden Thornberry and Sam Horsfield, born in England but raised in nearby Davenport, Florida.
FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 points.
STORYLINES: McIlroy, whose win last year was his first since the 2016 TOUR Championship, hopes Bay Hill can get him over the hump again. He arrives off four consecutive top-5 finishes, including a runner-up at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship… Woods makes his 18th Bay Hill start with momentum from a share of 10th in Mexico, his first top-10 of the season. He tied for fifth last year in his first visit since winning in 2013. In addition to his eight TOUR titles at Bay Hill, he also won the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur there. It was the first of his six USGA amateur titles. … McIlroy’s victory was the seventh by an international player in the past 13 editions, after going the first 27 years with just one non-American winner. … Rose, already a winner at the Farmers Insurance Open, adds the role of co-host this year, one of three sharing the function Palmer once enjoyed. Former Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings round out the trio.
COURSE: Bay Hill Club & Lodge, 7,419 yards, par 72. Acclaimed by Palmer as the “best course in Florida” after playing a 1965 exhibition on Orlando’s western edge, it turned into a 50-year love affair as Palmer made Bay Hill his winter base and eventually bought the property. Bay Hill first welcomed the TOUR in 1979, when the old Florida Citrus Open moved across town. 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 hole-out at No. 18 by Robert Gamez to stun Greg Norman in 1990.
For those visiting Central Florida, must-play courses include ChampionsGate GC (ChampionsGate, Florida), Hawks’ Landing GC (Orlando) and Mission Inn Resort & Club (Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida). Book your reservations via TeeOff.com.
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: McIlroy notched his 14th TOUR victory in a manner Palmer would have been proud of, blitzing Bay Hill’s back nine with five birdies in his final six holes on the way to a three-shot romp. McIlroy began the day two shots behind Henrik Stenson and didn’t make his first birdie until No. 6, then suddenly seemed as though he couldn’t miss. The highlight came with a chip-in at No.1 5, part of a four-birdie run that began at the 13th. McIlroy’s closing 64 was the lowest final round by a Bay Hill winner since Gary Koch in 1984. It was a special win in another way, as McIlroy’s last triumph – the 2016 TOUR Championship – came on the same day Palmer passed away. DeChambeau finished second after a 68, while Woods stayed in the hunt until driving out of bounds at the par-5 16th on the way to a share of fifth.
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.-6 p.m. ET (featured groups). Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (featured groups), 2:30-6 p.m. (featured holes). International subscribers (via GOLFTV): Thursday-Friday, 12:30 to 23:00 GMT. Saturday, 14:00 to 23:00. Sunday, 13:00 to 22:00.