A tournament that bears the name of golf great Arnold Palmer should be as tough as the man himself, and no doubt the late golfing legend is smiling as the 40th edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard gets underway.
The Championship Course here at Bay Hill Club & Lodge is perfectly manicured, but it also has plenty of bite with the fairways and greens playing firm and fast and the rough adding the proper amount of difficulty to the par-72, 7,381-yard layout that Palmer shaped himself.
“You’ve got to be careful,” said 2016 winner Jason Day of Australia, “because the greens are firm and quick and I think with the conditions that we're going to have … [the fairways] are starting to get a little brown tinge to them, so they're rolling a lot. With what we have with the rough, it's going to be hard to hit the greens. So, you got to have a good short game this week because if you don't, you're going to probably go home a little bit sooner than later.”
Day’s Australian compatriot Marc Leishman is the defending champion after rallying to beat third-round co-leaders Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman with a final-round 69 and 11-under 277 total.
“Yeah, it is hard to win any tournament when you're playing against the best players in the world, and on tough golf courses it magnifies mistakes,” said Leishman, 34, broke a five-year victory drought and became the first man to don the new red sweater that goes to the winner. “You’ve got to have your game in a good spot, you got to be mentally strong and then you need a couple things to go right.”
“The golf course this year is absolutely incredible,” said Sam Saunders, who is playing for the ninth time in his grandfather’s tournament. “It's one of the most perfectly conditioned golf courses I've ever seen, and it's going to provide these players with a truly fair, difficult test of golf.”
Thirteen of the top 25 players in the world are competing this week, led by No. 5 Justin Rose. Also here is eight-time winner Tiger Woods and a number of other past champions, including Ernie Els. Woods and Els on Tuesday were named captains of the respective U.S. and International teams for the 2019 Presidents Cup in Melbourne, Australia. Palmer captained the winning U.S. team in the 1996 Presidents Cup.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational is in its 52nd year and 40th at Bay Hill Club, having started in 1966 as the Florida Citrus Open Invitational at Rio Pinar Country Club. It is the 20th of 48 events in the PGA TOUR's wraparound season.
In addition to tracking the leaderboard, patrons should track the number of eagles converted this week. Dr. Phillips Charities once again will donate money to Orlando Health through its “Eagles for Arnie Program.” Each eagle the 120-player field registers is worth $5,000. The 2018 event generated $185,000 from 37 eagles.