Arnold Palmer Invitational Preview, Picks & Analysis
Rory McIlroy produced a thrilling final round of 64 to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2018 and will be desperately hoping for more of the same when he returns to defend his title at Bay Hill. It is a course that provides ideal preparation for The Masters, which is now just around the corner, with fast green and hard fairways. The Northern irishman produced a stunning display of driving 12 months ago and, for once, had his putter working from start to finish as he fired rounds of 69, 70, 67 and 64 to record a four-shot victory over Bryson DeChambeau, who would himself go on to enjoy a sensational 2018. England’s Justin Rose, on the way to becoming the world’s top-ranked golfer, was third.
The rest of McIlroy’s year was a relative disappointment. He had a chance to finally win The Masters and thus complete the career grand slam but a disappointing final round saw him fall away as Patrick Reed went on to win the Green Jacket after a thrilling duel with Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth. McIlroy then missed the cut at the US Open and although he finished second behind Francesco Molinari at The Open at Carnoustie he never really looked like win his second Claret Jug.
He announced some changes to his schedule for 2019, chief among those being the fact that he is going to be playing less golf on the European Tour, although he has since confirmed that he will be meeting the minimum requirement to retain his tour card. He recently raised a few eyebrows by announcing that he will not be playing in the Irish Open, but went on to explain that his reason for doing so is that he is desperate to make a decent fist of winning The Open, which is being staged at Royal Portrush. There will be huge pressure on McIlroy’s shoulders to win that event in front of an adoring home crowd and he believes that by missing out on the Irish Open he will arrive feeing fresh for the big one.
And it has to be said that there is a determination about McIlroy that we haven’t seen for a long time. Still looking for his first victory of the season, he nevertheless produced some sensational golf at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Mexico Championship. That he ran Dustin Johnson so close in Mexico is quite remarkable since he missed a lot of fairways and continued to struggle on the greens. But some of his iron play was of the very highest order. He has clearly been working hard on his game and will arrive at Bay Hill absolutely determined to make a decent defence of the only title he won in 2018.
He will have a world-class field for company, but Tiger Woods, who was set to make his 19th appearance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, seeking a PGA Tour record ninth win in the tournament, has to withdrew due to a neck injury. Woods, 43, already shares the record (with Sam Snead) for the most wins in a single event with his eight victories here and also at the newly-named World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational). He won at Bay Hill for the first time on the Championship Course in 2000 – to begin a run of four straight victories – and his last in 2013 when he shot 13-under 275 on the Championship Course for a two-stroke victory over 2018 FedExCup champion Justin Rose.
Last year, Woods returned to Bay Hill for the first time since that 2013 title after a series of injuries, including a bad back that required multiple surgeries, kept him on the sidelines. He finished tied for fifth place with a 10-under-par 278 aggregate total. It marked just the second time that Woods had finished in the top-10 at Bay Hill without winning. He was tied ninth in 1997, his debut in the event as a pro. He competed in 1994 as an amateur and missed the cut; he hasn’t missed the cut since then, but this will be sorely missed this week.
It was won in 2011 by Martin Laird, in 2012 and 2013 by Woods, in 2014 and 2015 by Matt Every, in 2016 by Jason Day, in 2017 by Marc Leishman and last year by McIlroy.
It is a course upon which Justin Rose has played well several times. That is hardly surprising since Bay Hill is a layout that demands a strategic approach. Anybody who attempts to bomb their way round here will come to grief, which may explain why Dustin Johnson has a poor record. Rose was third 12 months ago as he continued the remarkable run of form that saw him climb to the top of the world rankings. Every time he enters a tournament now you know that his name is going to appear on the leaderboard, and you can be sure that this is a title he wants to add to his CV. Bay Hill will also suit the approach of last year’s runner-up, DeChambeau, who will be looking to go one better this times.
Rory McIlroy. Encouraging signs
Rickie Fowler. Needs to put down a marker
Rory McIlroy. Could this be the year he gets back on track?
Rickie Fowler. Capable of some brilliant play
Justin Thomas. Impossible to ignore
Justin Rose. Mr Consistency
Ian Poulter. Has made a solid start to 2019
Tommy Fleetwood. Still looking for that breakthrough week
Marc Leishman. Hugely impressive
Brooks Koepka. Bay Hill should be made for him
Jon Rahm. Would love to win here
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