The 36th edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard will yield a new winner this year, but there will be plenty of familiar things happening this week on the Championship Course here at Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
The layout designed by "The King" is in immaculate condition, and a world-class field is ready to take it on. He is pleased with all the preparations leading to this annual golf celebration.
"The golf course as the players are testifying is in great condition, maybe the best that it has been since we've had this tournament," said Palmer, 84, who started this event in 1979. "Everything is pretty much right on schedule. The greens will be fast. They'll be running about 12, 13 on the Stimp, and they are in excellent condition throughout. The fairways are probably the biggest improvement, and they are excellent also."
Here's one testament, from last week's winner of the Valspar Championship, John Senden: "Bay Hill is in fantastic shape. The greens are the best I've ever seen them and as quick as I've seen them. The rough is not as heavy, but still enough to affect a shot. The golf course setup is lovely."
Four of the top 10 players in the world headline a field of 120 players. Of course, one absence of note is two-time defending champion Tiger Woods, who had to withdraw because of a bad back. The No. 1 player in the world, Woods has won here a record-tying eight times.
"I have great sympathy for the fact that he tried to come here and play, and I appreciate the fact that he called," Palmer said. "I think he wanted to play golf this week."
"We are very disappointed that Tiger has had to withdraw this week due to injury, but we've seen how he has struggled in recent weeks and know that he would be here if he could," said tournament director Scott Wellington. "It's unfortunate that he won't be able to defend his title; we were looking forward to him having a chance to make history, but we expect he'll be back next year. We still have a wonderful field and will still have a great tournament. We anticipate an exciting competition."
Palmer was asked a range of questions over the course of a 35-minute press conference, and he talked about everything from the golf ball to slow play to the prestigious Palmer Cup, the amateur competition styled after the Ryder Cup that features collegiate golfers from the U.S. and Europe and is growing in popularity.
This year's Palmer Cup will be held Jun 26-28 at Walton Heath Golf Club in England.
"Of course, we're very pleased with the Palmer Cup and the acceptance that we have gotten," Palmer said. "The competition is wonderful. The syle and the young people that are participating are all potential pros. And a great many of the [previous players] started out on a Palmer Cup team and are now on the Tour."
Indeed, the PGA TOUR is getting a new wave of young and hungry players, and Palmer sees that the professional game appears to be healthy and in good hands.
"I can tell you how high I am on watching these young people and seeing how they are hitting the ball," Palmer said with a smile. "The strength and the ability of the players is very pleasing to me.
"These guys are strong and becoming stronger," Palmer added, noting how fit and athletic today's golfers have become. "The young people who are coming into the game are learning that being strong is an asset to continuing to play good golf."