It is Bay Hill week on the USPGA Tour, as the tournament renamed in honour of the great Arnold Palmer is played over the original Dick Wilson and Joe Lee designed / Arnold Palmer redesigned Bay Hill Club in Orlando. Originally the Florida Citrus Open, the tournament moved from the Rio Pinar Country Club to Bay Hill in 1979 and, as a result of Arnold Palmer’s involvement in the ownership of the facility, has become a significant port of call on the PGA Tour since.
The USD$5.8 million tournament always attracts a strong field – as it should give the debt of gratitude each and every current member of the PGA Tour owes to the seven time major winner. Palmer was responsible for creating mass public appeal in the game, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s especially, but the impact he has had on the game has lasted ever since he won his first major in 1958.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the other man to whom every member of the PGA Tour owes a percentage of their earnings is the man who has been the most dominant player in this event in the last ten years, Tiger Woods. Woods and Palmer are arguably the two most charismatic and influential players in the history of the game and this week their paths will cross again.
Woods surpassed Palmer’s major record when he won the Masters in 2002 but it was earlier this year that Woods passed Palmer’s total of 62 PGA Tour wins and set out after Ben Hogan (64), Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead’s 82. He is very likely to join Hogan this week. Tiger Woods is the only player since 1930 to have won an event on the PGA Tour in four consecutive years with his victories here between 2000 and 2003.
With two wins in two starts on the PGA Tour in 2008 and another in the European Tour’s Dubai Classic, Woods has hardly been overextended in terms of workload on the golf course, this being just his fourth start of the year and there would be few who would argue about him retaining his 100% record. While he has not finished better than 20th in each of his last three starts at Bay Hill he is the man to beat.
The intrigue in Woods’ record setting ways is ever present but so too will there be focus on the match-up between he and Phil Mickelson this week. Mickelson has played this event well on occasions having won in 1997 and finished runner up to Woods in 2001. His form has been inconsistent in 2008 but when it has been good, it has been very good, as his win at Riviera would suggest.
The inform and previous winner, Ernie Els, has decided to miss the event in order to get his timing right to peak for Augusta but the defending champion, Vijay Singh, is back and while clearly not at the peak of his game he is playing as well as he was twelve months ago leading into this event.
Zach Johnson appears to be approaching the form that saw him as such a dominant force around this time last year. He has had two top tens in four starts in this event and while he has done nothing of real note in recent weeks he has produced several good rounds.
Stuart Appleby has been runner up here twice, one of those when he blew a four shot lead in 2004. Dramatically improved putting in recent weeks has seen him record five top tens in five starts on the PGA Tour in 2008. Everything points to another good week for him in this event.
Sergio Garcia recent form has been not been anything special. He does boast a good record at Bay Hill with five top ten finishes in seven starts and perhaps this might be the week for the Spaniard to turn things around in 2008.
Kenny Perry has been solid of late and might do well on a golf course where he has tasted success previously. He won in 2005 and finished runner up to Woods in 2003 and there has been enough good rounds in recent weeks to suggest he has a chance of further enhancing his good record at Bay Hill.
The Australians other than Appleby include the improving Geoff Ogilvy, previous winner of this event Rod Pampling, Jason Day, John Senden, looking for a good week to sneak into next week’s WGC-CA Championship in Miami, Nathan Green, Nick O’Hern, Richard Green Mathew Goggin and Steve Elkington while Peter Lonard awaits a start from the reserve bench.