The Florida Swing takes a quick jaunt on I-4 over to Orlando’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This event is one of only five tournaments on the circuit that are true invitationals (others being Colonial, Heritage, AT&T National, and Memorial). This means about 20-30 less players, more leeway deciding who gets in, and no Monday qualifier. As such, Bay Hill typically features a slightly smaller field full of top-notch talent, many of whom are playing a home game (although Florida’s golf epicenter has moved 2.5 hours southeast in the past few years).
This year’s tournament lost some luster when Tiger Woods announced his back was too sore to play at one of his favorite tournaments. Considering Tiger’s track record here (8 titles vs. 7 titles for the rest of the field), it’s safe to say that Arnie and the Golf Channel/NBC will be missing Big Cat this week in their home game (hat tip to Jason Sobel on that tidbit). I actually gave a half-laugh to the Bay Hill promos featuring Arnie cutting blades of grass one-by-one, while checking in with Tiger, Phil, and Bubba via phone with the closing line of “Arnie’s ready”. The field now lacks both of the first two names, as well as DJ, Dufner, Els, Furyk, JDay (still nursing that wrist injury), Kuchar, Rory (more on him further down the page), Sergio, and Spieth. The King takes great pride in this event, and for good reason. I share his certain disappointment with this year’s field. Arnie deserves better.
How much you got? After Honda, Cadillac, and Valspar, these guys are ready for a birdie-fest. Chances are that’s not in the cards. If you take Big Cat out of the equation, winning score hovers around 8 deep on a year-to-year basis. It’s not a brutal track, but there’s trouble lurking at every turn and slippery greens can compound mistakes in a hurry. Bay Hill features a strong set of par-5’s, with the 6th hole is one of the most unique holes in golf. It truly tests how big your stones are, as you can bite off as much as you can chew, but there is nothing to give you any idea of depth perception or sight lines.
The finish is similar to TPC Sawgrass up the road with a short, risk-reward par 5 16th with water, a challenging par 3 17th over water, and a stern par 4 finish to a green framed by water.
Overall, it’s a solid track that seems to be well respected by the players, so we are a bit curious as to why the field seems to be on the weak side this year. There’s no doubt in my mind that Arnie compares his event to Jack’s in the same way that he compares their playing careers, and we can’t help but note that his track and his event seems to play second fiddle to Muirfield Village and the Memorial when it comes to the invitationals. However, when it comes to the vibe…
The suburban Orlando cluster castles vibe is predominate. But Arnold Palmer holding court adds an air of regality to the proceedings. Casting aside his legendary record breaking majors, it is Mr. Palmer’s on-course persona and off-course legend that is inspirational. He’s the embodiment of cool. Jack may have won more, but who cares? If given the choice to switch lives with either of them I’d choose Arnie ten out of ten times. This week is essentially a celebration of Arnie. Can you find anyone that has a bad thing to say about him? The dude just has swag. Loved this story from Wednesday:
When Arnie was on his way to lunch, he asked a random tournament security guard if he wanted to join. (That's why he's The King.)
— Chad Coleman (@HashtagChad) March 19, 2014
Can’t get much cooler than this.
(all lines courtesy Ladbrokes.com, the Official Bookmaker of NoLayingUp.com)
Horses for Courses
- Justin Rose (12/1) – 2 top 3’s in the last 3 years. Primed off a T8 last week at the Valspar. Not great odds, but a no brainer fantasy play.
- Gerry Lester Watson, Jr. (12/1) – Pains us to say it, but it’s hard not to love Mr. Tour Sauce himself this week. Lives nearby, has had an excellent winter. He finished 4th here in 2012 and 14th a year ago.
- Zach Johnson (20/1) – ZJ’s game travels pretty much anywhere. The speed of the greens will play in his favor. Uneven results here the last few years, but aside from an MC in 2010 he’s seen the weekend every year. He comes in well-rested and on the heels of some of the best golf of his career earlier this year. Hasn’t missed a cut since last year’s US Open.
- Kevin Na (33/1) – Can’t accuse us of not being objective with our picks this week. Great track record here (2 top 4’s in his last three runs here), and played great at the Valspar last week on his way to a solo 2nd finish. I would have imagined better odds for him, but the bookies are onto this one. He’s teed up to make another run this week (although we may be headed for another Monday finish with his pace of play).
- Rickie Fowler (40/1) – Finished 3rd a year ago, and we’re hoping the solid play from the Match Play will carry over.
Value Fliers (We’ve been forced to shop at Whole Foods this week – discounts are hard to come by!)
- Ian Poulter (66/1) – In the top 21 each of the last 3 years here
- Lee Westwood (66/1) – Even our value fliers are horses this week. It just goes with the territory, as this just isn’t a tournament for first-time winners. Westwood cashed nice checks here on a perennial basis in the mid 2000’s, then bailed for a few years. He played mediocre last year. He’s gotta be itching to get back out there after going -4 on the weekend at Doral.
- Ken Duke (200/1) – Finished top ten here last year. 200/1 is sweet. Duke showed signs of life last week, making the cut comfortably after two solid 71’s. Faded on Saturday for an MDF, but he’s making cuts every week. We’re in.
This one’s pretty simple. Pour yourself a Mark Steffenhagen, kick back, and relax. You’re on golf-watching auto-pilot this time of the year. No need to go too hard.
- Bay Hill’s normally a pretty good litmus test for how Tiger’s game is shaping up as we approach Augusta. Well it’s officially time to panic. As Soly battles back problems of his own, I understand what Tiger is going through by hearing his pain firsthand. Do I think he milks it for the cameras? No doubt. But it’s impossible to predict which swings are going to make your back act up, and which ones won’t. I just want Tiger to be back healthy so that the coverage and the storyline is about the golf, and not the injured #1.
- Rory has elected to snub the King yet again, what’s his deal? Maybe his Grandfather wasn’t part of Arnie’s Army growing up across the pond (as all of our grandfathers were, along with the rest of the Greatest Generation), but as a student and potential legend of the game, he should have more respect for The King if he intends to sit atop the ‘Iron Throne’ one day. At least offer a standard BS excuse (or the real one: a meeting with the wedding planner he just can’t miss).
- I posit that the video below is a top 3 SportsCenter commercial of all time (and if you disagree, Neil will meet you in the comments below):
- On the subject of The King and his resume of commercial endorsements, I really admire the way this guy has stuck to his blue collar roots en route to making stupid amounts of money off the course. I highly recommend reading Tom Callahan’s phenomenal Golf Digest piece from 2009 – Palmer in his Prime. This piece was exactly what I needed to truly understand Arnie’s impact on the game, and on sports in general. Honestly, in my younger years I only knew him as that old guy with white hair in a sweater who would be +18 on Friday at Augusta. Then at a certain point I’d seen enough of him in those tire commercials that were a staple of my middle school years, that I started to dig a little deeper. I’ve had a man crush on him ever since.
- Tires, The Golf Channel, air travel, cigarettes, the state of Pennsylvania, iced tea and lemonade, IMG. These are all things that Arnold Palmer espoused. All masculine, American stuff.
- Keep an eye on Alex Cejka down in Panama for the Web.com event. He’s in a GROOVE so far this season. We’ve been remiss in not doing a couple hosel rockets on the Web circuit yet this year. That will change soon.
- And if you were wondering what the #1 SportsCenter spot of all time is then step up your game. It’s really not even close.