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Honoring The King: The Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Preview

Arnold Palmer Teeing Off

Arnold Palmer. In my opinion, when all things considered, Mr. Palmer is THE modern golf GOAT. Sure, Jack won a billion (18) majors; Mr. Palmer won 7. And Mr. Palmer won 62 PGA Tour events, which isn’t 1st but 5th all-time. But when you combine the fact that Mr. Palmer was the first sports television SUPERSTAR, leveraged his fame and likability into an arsenal of enormous business successes, ranks 7th all-time in major wins and 5th- all-time in Tour wins, and did it all with perhaps the most infectious personality the game’s ever seen, he’s my GOAT all day every day.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009. He founded Golf Channel, designed more than 300 courses, and accomplished incredible philanthropic work. After Mr. Palmer’s death, Tiger said, “My kids were born at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, and his philanthropic work will be remembered along with his accomplishments in golf.” He also was a Freemason, nbd but kbd.

Oh and he created the greatest non-alcoholic drink of all time.

Mr. Palmer won his 7 majors in a 6-year span — a stretch of some of the greatest golf the game’s ever seen.

If you had told me this time last year that I could take and have a picture forever with one golfer, anyone I wanted, I would’ve chosen Mr. Palmer. In a landslide.

RIP King. This will be an emotional week.

The Event

The Arnold Palmer Invitational began in 1966 as the Florida Citrus Open Invitational; it landed at Bay Hill in the late 70s, and was named some variation of “Bay Hill” until it became The Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2007. MasterCard’s been the “presented by” sponsor for a while.

It’s one of just 5 events given “invitational” status by the Tour, thus carrying a smaller 120-man field as opposed to the typical 156.

History

Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented By MasterCard - Final Round

Bay Hill’s produced some of the most dramatic finishes of any regular Tour stop on the schedule. Its 18th green is like a yuge, weirdly-shaped magnet pulling in all sorts of dramatic flare. Most notably, of course, Tiger Woods.

2004, to beat Phil.

2008, to keep a winning streak alive.

2009, first win after 9 months off from knee surgery.

Tiger’s won this event 8 times, last in 2013 (also won it in 2012, 2009, 2008, 2003, 2002, 2001, and 2000. wow. in 2003 he won by 11 strokes. wow.)

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He knew what to do here.

1990, Robert Gamez with a 5-iron needed birdie to tie, eagle to win.

That beat, of course, Greg Norman by 1 stroke.

Last year, Jason Day won here by 1. He birdied the tough par-3 17th, then got up-and-down on 18 from a green-side bunker by nailing about a 4 footer.

The Track

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7,381 yards. Par 72. It’s a pretty classic Florida layout: flat with lots of water and some considerable rough. There’s a circulating narrative that the players don’t universally love the course, but I’m not sold on that. I think some love it, some aren’t crazy about it. Bottom line, any track that’s traditionally been on Tiger’s yearly schedule gets the stamp of approval. That’s just the way it is.

With Mr. Palmer gone and Tiger unable to walk, that may change… but for now it remains a key stop.

Notable Holes

6th, par 5, 555 yards

Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard - Final Round

This hole is awesome. Shaped as a giant half moon with a lake guarding the entire left side, you bite off as much as you want to chew on the tee shot. John Daly famously made an 18 here in 1998; he tried to drive the green from the tee. Ballsy move, that’s a solid +13 on the 6th, for you mathematician out there.

Here’s the yardage book’s take on it.

Layout 1

16th, par 5, 511 yards

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This one’s played as a tough par 4 or an easier par 5 over the years. At 511 it’s not very long, but will play as a 5-par this week and will definitely cause some guys some problems. The rough lining the 16th’s fairway is some of the thickest on property, and there’s a healthy creek guarding the front of the green so anything that misses the fairway here will require a layup.

In Tiger’s 2009 comeback win over Sean O’Hair, Tiger missed the fairway, laid up, and wedged it close for par (was playing as par 4). O’Hair hit the fairway, went for it with a mid-iron, put it into the drink. He’d eventually lose by 1.

16 is pivotal.

17th, par 3, 221 yards

Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard - Final Round

This hole’s great. It’s position on the course is even greater. 221? Over water? A huge bunker and firm green? What a 71st hole this always is.

18th, par 4, 458 yards

PGA TOUR - 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard - Final Round

Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard - Round One

The 18th has emerged as an iconic finishing hole in the game. You’ve already seen the videos showing why, so no need to include them here too, but what a hole. A blind tee shot, a huge green guarded by water. A lot to like about this hole… even better that it produces endless drama.

Clubhouse

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The sprawling practice green and the allure that Mr. Palmer routinely hung out around here give this place that “it” factor. It’s a classic. It’s awesome. It’s Mr. Palmer’s clubhouse.

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Bay Hill Clubhouse = 9.1.

The Field

Much of the chatter this week is more about who’s not in the field than who is. I think that’s bullshit — guys have a million reasons to sculpt their schedule the way they do, who are you to judge when they should and shouldn’t play? Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott are not here this week; good for them, I hope they enjoy the week off. They don’t respect or miss Mr. Palmer any less than the rest of the guys.

You know who is in the field? SEVERAL huge names: Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Adam Hadwin. I have no qualms with the showing this week.

Here are some odds.

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Predictions

Winning Score — (-16)

In the last decade, everything from 19-under to 5-under has won this thing. Mid to high-teens has taken it down in recent years, so I say dash-16 seals the deal.

Winner — Henrik Stenson

Look, people may be losing faith in Anonymous DM Source Guy. I am not. For a quick refresher, he picked the winner at Pebble Beach, Riviera, The Honda, and then floated 2 top guys he was choosing between (Spieth and DJ; DJ ultimately won) in Mexico. Last week he sucked.

The golf winner picking game is a tough one. Everyone knows this. I’m not going anywhere — he says Stenson, I go Stenson. 8-1 right now? Sure.

DFL — Steven Bowditch

Dark Horse — Wesley Bryan

Anonymous DM Source Guy likes Tommy Fleetwood here (40-1). Don’t hate that, but not sure how you can veer from our guy Wesley Bryan. He’s playing GREAT golf and you’re getting him at 50-1. Never seen anything more obvious in my life (then again not known for my vision).

Coverage

Thursday & Friday: Golf Channel 2 – 6PM.
Saturday & Sunday: Golf Channel 12:30 – 2:30PM; NBC 2:30 – 6PM.

The legend will be on-site.

2016 Ryder Cup - Singles Matches

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t already, check out this week’s “Fore Play” with Jim Herman. He’s got a fascinating history with Trump, is super superstitious, and uniquely chatted with us about 3 hours before his Friday tee time as the Valspar leader. He had the day prior shot a 9-under 62.

And we talk about a listener who once got paired with a Jesus freak who made him kneel and pray on the last green.

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Enjoy Bay Hill. RIP King.

Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented By MasterCard - Preview Day 2