The sports world lost one of its most honorable and historic ambassadors last year in golf legend Arnold Palmer. For the first time since his passing, the PGA Tour returns to play in his event.
Three days after the passing of Arnold Palmer in September 2016, I wrote this:
Many people do realize, many younger people do not, that Arnold Palmer truly put the game of golf on the map and he did so with his personality, his charm, his attitude, his good looks, his toughness, and his smile. He rose to stardom in the game right at the same time that golf started being televised. I believe he won his first Masters in just the 3rd year of it being broadcast ... so it was here, this convergence of a rising star happening at the same time that the world could actually view it, that America and the world began to fall in love with Arnie. Men wanted to be like him and woman wanted to be with him. He took the blue blood, country club aura surrounding golf and showed that a common man, son of a steel worker in Pittsburgh, who carries a cigarette while he plays, can succeed at this game too. And the common fan ate that up.
Then not only that, coupled with his success at the game, but he was the greatest guy. He signed all kinds of autographs and always had something nice to say. People felt like they knew Arnold Palmer, they felt like they were friends with Arnold Palmer because of how personable he was and how he took time with each of the people he met.
Then there was he and Jack Nicklaus, a glorious rivalry that really began when Palmer won the 1960 U.S. Open and Nicklaus, an amateur at the time, was just getting started. When Jack came on the scene, the fans were brutal to him, but as Nicklaus will tell you, even when Jack beat Arnie, Palmer always supported him despite Arnie's fans heckling Jack so much. Palmer and Nicklaus competed at everything, and later on even did so in business, but they always loved each other and supported each other and that really started with the olive branch that Palmer extended to Nicklaus in the very earliest days of their rivalry.
Every player today can thank Arnold Palmer for creating what they all have. Tiger Woods took the money to new levels, but Arnie introduced everything, endorsements, corporate sponsors. It's like he created the PGA Tour in a sense.
Arnold Palmer wasn't the greatest. Nicklaus or Tiger own that tag, but Arnie is The King. He was the most important person in the sport.
This week, the PGA Tour plays the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando. It will be the first playing of his event since The King passed away. It will be a very special and probably an emotional week, but I believe, in true Arnie style, it will for the most part be a fun-filled, joyous, respectful, celebration of not only a great golfer but a great person. Arnie was there behind the 18th green every year to congratulate the tournament winner as he came off of the green on Sunday. Whomever it will be this year surely be embracing Arnold in spirit.
Rory McIlroy (+828 Pinnacle): Rust was a concern when McIlroy returned to the game from injury two weeks ago in Mexico, and he proved to be in tip-top shape with a near win and ultimately finishing 7th. He's been just fine here at Bay Hill with a 27th- and an 11th-place finish in two tries.
Henrik Stenson (+966 Pinnacle): Like the robotic machine that Stenson is as a player, so too are his results at Bay Hill, going 3-2-5-8 the last four years. No reason this man shouldn't log at least another Top-10 finish this week.
Jason Day (+1400 5Dimes): The most that we know about Day is that he has been ailing for three weeks. He did finish 5th at Pebble Beach a month ago and is your defending champion this week. Prior to last year, he finished 17th and 45th at this event.
Rickie Fowler (+1736 Bookmaker): Fowler's last three trips to Bay Hill have gone 29th, MC and 3rd. The last time we saw him in the state of Florida was three weeks ago in victory at the Honda Classic.
Justin Rose (+1979 Bookmaker): Rose is a guy who will be one of the players to really embrace this week's Arnold Palmer celebration. He is no stranger to a big stage or a flair for the dramatic. His last three trips here have gone 9-MC-2.
Paul Casey (+4500 5Dimes): Par 5 scoring and putting are two weaker spots in Casey's otherwise tremendous game. He was 9th here last year and finished 11th at The Honda. If he can putt this week and score on the long holes, he will threaten again.
The Long Shots
Francesco Molinari (+4228 Pinnacle): Much like Casey, Molinari is a premier ball-striker and will need a hot putter to win. He's got the rest nailed here at Bay Hill, finishing 9th, 17th, and 5th in the last three years.
Graeme McDowell (+8741 Bookmaker): Feast or famine here for McDowell as he has been cut four times but also has a 10th and a 2nd to his credit. What I like about his current game are two straight 14th-place finishes in at the Honda and last week at the Valspar. He should do well again this week.
Billy Horschel (+9000 5Dimes): The Florida native is another player in the field whom I see really engaging in the honoring of Palmer this week. His been steady here with a 20-43-43 run. He was cut last week in Palm Harbor but finished 4th two weeks ago at The Honda.
Hideki Matsuyama (+1548 Pinnacle): The hottest player in the world from October to February has finally cooled off, but I see a steady performance returning this week. He has finished 6th and 21st here in two tries. Matsuyama is No. 1 on Tour in Par 5 scoring and 6th in strokes gained tee to green. If you look at how he has done on Bermuda Grass greens -- Phoenix (two straight wins), Kapalua (two straight Top 5s), the Players (7th & 17th) -- you can see why the 4th-ranked player in the world ought to have another big week at Bay Hill. He won Jack Nicklaus' event, the Memorial, in 2014. Why not round out the legendary pairing with a win at Arnie's place this year?