The 1998 winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard hopes to find magic again
Ernie Els hasn’t competed in the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard since 2007, but he has penciled in a return this year and should be teeing it up next month at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida, looking to build on a solid start to his 2010 season.
Els, the No. 19 player in the World Ranking, has always undertaken an ambitious schedule with international destinations in his plans, but the big South African has now made Jupiter, Florida, his permanent home, and he intends to play more in the United States in 2010. At the Sony Open in Hawaii, Els checked off on a pre-Masters schedule that includes the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, which he won in 1998 to vault to the top of the World Ranking that year. Couple that with four top-20s to start the 2010 campaign, and the “Big Easy” will have to be considered among the favorites when the 32nd edition at Bay Hill is held March 22-28.
“I kind of didn’t play very well there at Bay Hill for a while. I don’t know if it was the golf course or maybe my own play, but just thought I’d take a break from there,” said Els, a three-time major championship winner who reached age 40 in October. “I heard from my sources in Orlando that they have changed the golf course again, so I wanted to go check it out, basically. I’m curious to see what they have changed. And I heard a lot of good things about it. Bay Hill is a good spot, and traditionally it has some of the best greens we’ve putted on. Making a good course even better should be great for the tournament, and I am looking forward to seeing what was done and taking it on.”
Els last competed in the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard in 2007 to run his string of appearances to 15 in a row. He finished tied for 18th, one of three top 20 finishes he’s had at Bay Hill. Of course, among those was his 1998 victory by four strokes over Bob Estes and Jeff Maggert and that victory catapulted him to No. 1 in the world after that year’s Masters Tournament. He held the top spot for nine weeks.
Like his compatriot before him, Gary Player, Els has always been a global ambassador for the game, traveling to all corners to compete. But the former U.S. Open and British Open champion is concentrating more on the PGA TOUR this year. He shrugged when it was suggested that he might be the foremost global player of his era.
“I never thought about it that way. I just did it,” said Els, who has 44 international titles to go with his 15 PGA Tour victories. “That's where I was going. I come from South Africa. I don't think I would have done it any differently. That's just the way we were, we are. Gary Player was that way because he started in South Africa. And he started spreading his wings, I just kind of followed suit, just wherever it came from.”
Els said he also is looking forward to spending a bit of time with the tournament host. “And Arnold, you know, is Arnold. He’s the best, just a beautiful man,” Els said. “You want to honor Arnold as the great champion that he is, and so it’s hard to miss it any year. We also like to play good golf courses, and that all comes together at Bay Hill. It’s always a pretty special week for the guys.”
For tickets or for more information, log on to the tournament web site, www.arnoldpalmerinvitational.comor call the Bay Hill ticket office at 407-876- 7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843.Tournament proceeds benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.