Even though the World’s number one, Tiger Woods has won at Bay Hill Club & Lodge eight times, he isn’t garnering much love this week for The Arnold Palmer Invitational. Back issues, and inconsistency early in the 2014 season have sent the folks doing the rankings around the internet in different directions. Simply because Tiger has a flair for the dramatics, and his success at this tournament, I would never count him out.
Rob Bolton at PGATour.com has rightly ranked Tiger Woods at number nine for the week at Bay Hill, and you have to think Rob has the same feeling as I do, that you have to give him some respect. If I were asked for a “Dark Horse” pick this week, it would have to be Tiger hands down. If it were anyone other than Tiger Woods with back problems, and the season he is having early this year, he probably wouldn’t on the list.
Five years ago, Bay Hill was the gem of the Florida Swing, and the toughest in the loop. The numbers show us a different story this year. In fact, in 2009, Bay Hill was the toughest golf course on the tour that wasn’t hosting a major tournament. With the changes to PGA National, and the rebuild at Doral, this is no longer the case.
After what we saw at Coppehead last week, one could almost make the case that it is now the easiest on the Swing. As usual, with the wind being a factor that no one can control, and the weather in Florida being very unpredictable this time of year, it could put some teeth into an already tough venue.
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.
With the length, and the monster par 5’s at Bay Hill, Zach Johnson is a tough pick, but look at what he did at Kapalua, a big-hitters golf course. With his precision driving, spot-on short game being a given, the only thing that derails Zach Johnson is his putter. If he can get to Sunday close to the lead with his putter working, you have to give him the nod.
Justin Rose came close last week, and looked to be somewhat back to normal with his shoulder problems. Justin didn’t get a W last week, but he kept the pressure on the leaders, and his number 7 world ranking was enough to keep the leaders, and eventual winner, John Senden honest. Rose ended T3 here in 2012, and finished solo second last year to Tiger Woods.
Hunter Mahan has been on the verge all year, and especially in big tournaments. His only non-top 10 finishes came at Torrey Pines, and Riviera where he made cuts but couldn’t finish. Everywhere else the 32nd ranked player has been around the leaderboard. All he needs now is a win.
After what we saw at Doral two weeks ago, Patrick Reed needs to be included in my power rankings. He proved he could play with the big boys, and overcome problems with the weather, and layout. His win at The Cadillac Championship was on a redesigned, immature golf course against a world-class field.
The FedEx Cup and Race To Dubai Champion hasn’t shown us much since the new season began, but after what I saw at Dubai last fall, it’s just a matter of time until he breaks out. He didn’t get much attention in 2013 until his performance in Houson, but now that we know what he can do, he needs some recognition. He’s made five cuts in five appearances at Bay Hill, and finished T8 last year.
With the top 120 players in the world in this field, trying to pick a winner is a real crap-shoot. This is a place where almost anyone can come out of the pack for a win. With some of the players in the field still needing an invitation to Augusta at this point, I wouldn’t rule out someone coming out of the pack and wind up at The Masters next month.
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