Paddy, Tiger Chasing Gore


Jason Gore woouldn't be playing at this weeks's Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard if it weren't for the tournament's legendary host.

Jason Gore woouldn't be playing at this weeks's Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard if it weren't for the tournament's legendary host.

Gore not only wouldn't be at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, but possibly not in the game.

As it is, the soft-spoken Californian upstaged the glamour pairing of reigning major champions Tiger Woods and Padriag Harrington, not to mention the rest of the 120-player field, with a five-under-par 65 Thursday in the 31st edition of Palmer's golf bash.

With a three-foot birdie putt at the ninth hole, his final hole of the afternoon, Gore edged one stroke ahead of Jeff Overton and 1999 Arnold Palmer Invitational champion Tim Herron.

"It was the first time in a long time that I didn't suck," Gore said with a laugh after posting his best round of the season – by three shots. “I’ve been making a lot of changes, doing a lot of work, and I got a new coach [Michael Abbott] … and it’s finally starting to get comfortable. I think it’s going to be a really good thing in the long run.”

Just 21 players managed to break par on the Champions Course as firm greens and swirling winds beguiled the field.

A group of six players at three under par includes Mark Wilson, winner two weeks ago at the Puerto Rico Open. He carded one of two bogey-free rounds on the day playing with Woods, the reigning U.S. Open champion and defending champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and Padraig Harrington, winner of the 2008 British Open and PGA Championship. Woods scrambled to 68 while Harrington shot 70.

“Scored best of the three, I guess,” Wilson said, grinning. “I had a good time out there. I love playing with Tiger. I actually got paired with him for the first time out on the PGA Tour last year here for Thursday and Friday. But the electricity and the energy on that first tee is something else with him, all the people cheering.”

Also at three under par were Hunter Mahan, Sean O’Hair, Buick Invitational winner Mark Watney, Stuart Appleby and Lee Janzen, who got into the field via a sponsor’s exemption.

“It’s a mean golf course today out there with a really funny wind,” said 2005 champion Kenny Perry, who got it as low as three under par before settling for 70. “It’s tricky out there and the greens are drying out, and you can get yourself in some spots where you’re just trying to survive. Anything around par today is really a pretty good score.”

Gore was one of the last players out on the course Thursday. He also was one of the last players in the field, thanks to an invite from Palmer.

The two met long ago when Gore was just 11 years old and just taking an interest in golf. On a visit to his uncle’s in Pittsburgh, Gore and his mother decided to take a day trip to Palmer’s Latrobe Country Club. It paid off big time.

“I just remember he was nice enough, he took a picture with us, signed a scorecard, and he said, “Son, I’m going to go hit balls. ‘Would you like to come watch?’” Gore said. “Well, yeah. So he went down, took a whole leather bag of shag balls, dropped them on like the ladies’ part of the first tee, the lower tee, and he sat the caddie down there and hit balls and I sat right on the little slope right behind the first tee and watched Mr. Palmer hit balls for about 45 minutes, and from that point on I knew I wanted to be a professional golfer.

“That hour of my life changed my life completely.”

Years later, he got a chance to recount that story to the King himself, who was touched by it. And it did make an impression. When Gore saw Palmer a few weeks ago at a golf outing in Palm Beach, he thanked Palmer for the invitation to Bay Hill.
Said Gore, “He looked at me and winked, and he said, ‘I never forgot that story.’ ”

--Dave Shedloski