The intrigue gets turned up another notch this week as a rejuvenated Tiger Woods returns to the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, an event he’s won eight times previously.
If he’s to add a ninth win, it will come against a field even stronger than the one he faced last week at the Valspar Championship.
Will returning to a course he knows so well make the difference after coming up one stroke short last week? If so, it will mean topping a field that includes 12 of the current top 25 players in the world.
Marc Leishman, currently the world’s No. 16 player, is the defending champ after making eagle on No. 16 on Sunday a year ago to set up a one-shot victory. Top-ranked players in the field include Justin Rose (No. 5), Hideki Matsuyama (No. 6), Rickie Fowler (No. 7) Jason Day (No. 10), Tommy Fleetwood (No. 11) and Rory McIlroy (No. 12).
Here’s a round up of information and historical data about what to look for at Bay Hill.
Tournament: Arnold Palmer Invitational
Dates: March 15-18, 2018
Where: Orlando, Fla.
Course: Bay Hill Club and Lodge
Distance: Par 72, 7,419 yards
Architect: Dick Wilson/Bob Simmons
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $1,602,000
Defending Champion: Marc Leishman
Bovado Favorite: Tiger Woods (6-1)
Marquee Players: Leishman, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, and Bubba Watson.
TV AND ONLINE
Round 1: Thu 2-6:00 pm (GOLF)
Round 2: Fri 2-6:00 pm (GOLF)
Round 3: Sat 12:30-2:30 pm (GOLF), 2:30-6:00 pm (NBC)
Round 4: Sun 12:30-2:00 pm (GOLF), 2-6:30 pm (NBC)
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In its second year of play since the loss of one of the game’s all-time legends, the Arnold Palmer Invitational will be celebrating its 40th year at Bay Hill Club and Lodge this year. It’s precursor, the Florida Citrus Open Invitational, gives this tour stop a history that dates all the way back to 1966.
Palmer himself won the event in its pre-Bay Hill days, claiming the 1971 title.
Tiger Woods’ history at Bay Hill is a prominent chapter in his legend. He’s won the title eight times, tied for the most victories ever at one PGA tour stop.
Woods also has eight victories at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, while Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight different times. It’s worth noting that when Tiger’s troubles began in 2009, it was at Bay Hill that he broke a three-year winless streak by grabbing the 2012 title.
The tournament has been won two straight years by Australians, with Leishman’s victory last year coming after Jason Day won the 2016 tournament. Besides Woods, the only two players who have ever won this event in consecutive years were Matt Every, in 2014 and 2015, and Loren Roberts, in 1994 and 1995.
Mastercard has been the presenting sponsor of this event every year since 2004.
2007-18: Arnold Palmer Invitational
1996-06: Bay Hill Invitational
1989-95: Nestle Invitational
1985-88: Hertz Bay Hill Classic
1980-84: Bay Hill Classic
1979-79: Bay Hill Citrus Classic
1972-78: Florida Citrus Open
1970-71: Florida Citrus Invitational
1966-69: Florida Citrus Open Invitational
2017: Marc Leishman (-11)
2016: Jason Day (-17)
2015: Matt Every (-19)
2014: Matt Every (-13)
2013: Tiger Woods (-13)
2012: Tiger Woods (-13)
2011: Martin Laird (-8)
264 (-20) Payne Stewart, 1987
8 – Tiger Woods (2000-03, 2008-09, 2012-13)
Marc Leishman broke out of a four-way battle for the lead over the final nine holes to claim the 2017 Arnold Palmer Invitational title.
Kevin Kisner actually held a three-shot lead heading into the closing nine, but two bogeys on the back nine cost him. Charley Hoffman, who was the 54-hole co-leader with Kisner, made four bogeys in five holes to end his outward nine, and couldn’t right the ship in time, despite posting a 2-under par 34 coming home.
Rory McIlroy charged from back in the pack, trailing the lead by 11 shots after two rounds before a 65 on Saturday got him into contention. Playing ahead of Leishman, McIlroy briefly tied for the lead with a birdie at No. 16. But when Leishman rolled in a 51-foot eagle putt at 16, the resulting roar seemed to contribute to McIlroy three-putting the 18th green for bogey.
McIlroy’s tie for fourth last year matched his best finish in any tour event last season.
Leishman parred in on the last two holes to record his second victory on the PGA Tour, a total he would add to later in the season with a victory at the BMW Championship.
FINAL TOP 10
1 Marc Leishman -11
2 Charley Hoffman -10
2 Kevin Kisner -10
4 Tyrell Hatton -9
4 Rory McIlroy -9
6 Adam Hadwin -8
7 Lucas Glover -7
7 Emiliano Grillo -7
7 Francesco Molinari -7
10 Tommy Fleetwood -6
10 Hudson Swafford -6
The Arnold Palmer Invitational has a solidly representative field of the world’s best players, with five of the Official World Golf Ranking’s current top 10 and 12 of the top 25 overall. (There’s also a certain player who climbed 239 spots in the world in the last week, from 388 to 149.)
The field is headlined by eight of the world’s top-15 ranked players including Justin Rose (No. 5), Hideki Matsuyama (No. 6), Rickie Fowler (No. 7) Jason Day (No. 10), Tommy Fleetwood (No. 11), Rory McIlroy (No. 13), Tyrrell Hatton (No. 14), and Henrik Stenson (No. 16).
For Matsuyama, it will be his first start since withdrawing with a wrist problem after the first day of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at the start of February.
Some of the other big names teeing it up this week at Bay Hill include Tiger Woods, defending champ Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Alex Noren, Charley Hoffman, Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker, Patton Kizzire (still No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings) and Brian Harman, who has strung together seven top 10 finishes in his last 10 starts.
Credits: PGA Tour Media, Getty Images