Former World No. 2 eager to take on toughened Bay Hill
Jim Furyk admits he didn’t always pencil in a stop at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge on his busy playing schedule. The calendar seemed to work against him, and the Champions Course didn’t seem to suit his game, as much as he enjoyed it.
Now, Furyk is again making a point of heading to central Florida, to the PGA Tour event hosted by one of the game’s legends.
When the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard begins March 26, Furyk will be among the many former major championship winners in the elite, invitation-only field, and the Florida resident hopes he can add to his 13 PGA Tour victories at a tournament that has come to have special meaning for veteran.
Furyk, 39, is a native of Pennsylvania, as is the tournament host, the source of a special bond. That bond was strengthened a few years ago when Palmer wrote to Furyk personally to return to Bay Hill after the 2003 U.S. Open winner had missed the Orlando spot for six years starting in 2000.
“He wrote to me, and that meant a lot,” said Furyk, who last won on the PGA Tour at the 2007 Canadian Open. “I'll be dead honest, if Arnold or someone will talk to you personally or writes you a letter personally and signs it, it would be tough to say no.”
Ranked as high as No. 2 in the world and currently No. 17 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Furyk also sees the tournament dates as being advantageous as he prepares for the first major of the year, the Masters. The Arnold Palmer Invitational has been moved back two weeks to anchor the Florida swing on the PGA Tour.
“This year, it would kind of be a no-brainer for me because of the way the schedule worked for me,” Furyk says. “I’ve played the last few years, and I planned on going this year as well all along. It’s really a tournament I don’t want to miss now. Obviously, a big part of that is simply what Arnold means to the game. Being from Pennsylvania, I’ve always been aware of what he’s done, and of course, the game we are playing today, we all owe a lot to Arnold. The game would be much different without him.”
Furyk would point out that his game is different these days, too, and the changes mean he is better equipped to compete at Bay Hill, not that he has struggled too much before. True, he missed the cut in his first two appearances in 1994 and 1995, but he has scored at par or better in every start since then. His best showing was a tie for eighth in 1998. Last year, he was just three off the lead through two rounds before No. 1 Tiger Woods pulled away for his fifth victory.
“It's actually endearing itself to me,” Furyk says of the 7,157-yard, par- 70 layout. “The more I play it, the more I tend to enjoy it. But I think my game has changed a lot, too, in the last few years, and that probably helps. I think I hit the ball higher, hit the ball a lot farther, and I'm not having some of the issues I had at the course. Plus, I think they're setting it up a little bit differently, which should be interesting. It will be challenging, for sure. I am looking forward to it.”
Palmer said his fellow Keystone State native has to be considered among the favorites because of his ability to drive the ball, a staple of Palmer’s game in his prime.
“Jim drives it well enough, and we aren’t so long that he couldn’t take advantage of some scoring opportunities from the fairways,” Palmer said. “He’s certainly capable of winning here. His game is such that he’s capable of winning anywhere.”
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.