PGA Tour Preview: Tiger Looks For No. 9 at Bay Hill

Last Week

Even though Paul Casey posted a 10-under score over an hour ahead of the final groups, he was able to hold on for his first PGA Tour win since the 2009 Shell Houston Open. Casey's win was impressive, but the story of the week was the second-place finish by Tiger Woods that moved him into the top 150 in the Official World Golf Rankings and up to 43rd in the FedEx Cup points race after only his fourth official event of the 2017-2018 season.

His 44-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole gave him a chance to tie Casey, but his birdie putt at the last hole came up a couple of feet short. The interesting aspect to Casey's win was that no one behind him was able to make a run, including Woods and Justin Rose. The scary part for the rest of the Tour is that Tiger was playing on a course he hadn't seen in 21 years, wasn't sharp on Sunday, and still found a way to contend all the way to the end of the tournament.

Canadian Corey Conners led for the first three days before succumbing to the pressure and fading to a final round 77. Woods' playing partners the first two days, Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson, never got it going and missed the cut. It was the first time in five years that the younger players had to contend with the massive galleries following Woods, and even Brandt Snedeker was affected, ballooning to a 78 alongside Woods on Sunday after matching him stroke for stroke during Saturday's round, where they were also paired together.

This Week

Arnold Palmer Invitational Orlando, Florida
Bay Hill Club and Lodge - Par 72

History

The event began in 1966 as the Florida Citrus Open and was played at Orlando's Rio Pinar Country Club until moving to its current home, Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club in 1979. I remember attending the 1977 Citrus Open while visiting Florida for spring break my sophomore year in college. What I recall most vividly was how warm the weather was compared with the winter we had endured at Virginia Tech. Floridian Gary Koch, now a Golf Channel and NBC golf analyst, was the champion that year. In 1984, the PGA Tour changed what was then the Bay Hill Invitational to elite invitational status, reducing the size, but increasing the quality of the field. Along with the Memorial, the winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational earns entry into other events throughout the season.

A long list of major champions are among former winners of the tournament, including Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Tom Kite, Fuzzy Zoeller, Payne Stewart, Paul Azinger, Fred Couples, Ben Crenshaw, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, and Jason Day. But since 2000, one name has dominated at Bay Hill, and that's Tiger Woods. His 8 wins at Arnie's place ties Sam Snead for the most in one tournament, with Snead's coming at Greensboro. In 2003, Woods bested the field by 11 shots in winning his fourth consecutive Arnold Palmer Invitational. He also added back to back wins in 2008-2009 and 2012-2013.

2018 Field

* Twenty-one of the top 27 finishers from last year's tournament are in the field

* Two of the top 10, 9 of the top 20, and 32 of the top 50 in FedEx Cup points

* Four of the top 10, 10 of the top 20, and 24 of the top 50 in the World Golf ranking

* Twenty countries represented

* Seven colleges have 3 or more former players represented: Oklahoma State (7), Georgia (6), Florida (5), Clemson (5), UNLV (4), Georgia Tech (3), Yonsei (3)

Oldest player

Vijay Singh (55)

Youngest Player

Doc Redman (20)

Major Champions (20)

Tiger Woods (14), Rory McIlroy (4), Ernie Els (4), Padraig Harrington (3), Vijay Singh (3), Bubba Watson (2), Zach Johnson (2), Jason Day, Danny Willett, Keegan Bradley, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Lucas Glover, Graeme McDowell, Jimmy Walker, Henrik Stenson, Stewart Cink, Davis Love III

Total Tour Victories

412 (Tiger Woods, 79)

Total Major Victories

45 (Tiger Woods, 14)

Who's Hot

Although he's still winless in his latest comeback, Tiger Woods is the hottest player not only because of his play on the course, but for what he brings to the game of golf. His entry into last week's Valspar Championship prompted tournament organizers to procure and additional 6,000 parking spaces to accommodate the record galleries at the event. NBC saw their ratings for the final round skyrocket to the highest non-major figure in almost five years, dating back to the Woods' victory at the 2013 Players Championship. Given his 8 wins at Bay Hill, it's hard not to imagine the former world No. 1 player being in the mix come Sunday afternoon. As for an honorable mention, I need to go with Justin Rose, who continued his strong season with his second top-five finish in four events, including a win.

Who's Not

Two missed cuts, a tie for 20th, and a tie for 59th resulting in a FedEx Cup points standing of 178 doesn't sound like the resume of the 13th-ranked player in the world. After battling injury in 2017, Rory McIlroy has had trouble getting his game back together, especially at PGA Tour events. There isn't any part of his game, other than driving distance, that appears to be working for the four-time major champion. He's hitting less than 60% of fairways and greens, clearly not a recipe for success. With the meat of the season approaching, McIlroy needs to figure something out if he wants to have a chance of completing the career grand slam at Augusta in three weeks.

What to Look For

Of course, the buzz will be all about Tiger Woods. Coming off an impressive second-place finish, he's returning to a course where he has dominated over the last couple of decades. There will also be a lot of nostalgia around the event, with Arnold Palmer's passing still fresh after a mere 18 months. The weather forecast appears nearly perfect so the course should play firm and fast, with the Bermuda greens causing problems for the players unfamiliar with the grainy nature of the grass.

Galleries will be huge, as Tiger has re-energized a Tour that is filled with great young players. The field is incredibly strong, especially for one that is limited to 120 players. If Tiger stumbles, which is totally feasible given his lack of competitive rounds the last couple of years, there are plenty of players to compete for the title. Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, and Ricky Fowler are all in the field and it should result in an entertaining tournament.

Kevin Krest is the author of the entertaining PK Frazier series of sports suspense novels and the co-host of the weekly "The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports" broadcast. His books can be found on Amazon.com.

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