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Jason Day set to defend at Arnold Palmer Invitational

a memorable photo with the King for Day (Photo: Getty Images)
For the first time since first being played at this venue in 1979, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, or its predecessor under various sponsorship names, will be played without the charismatic presence of Arnold Palmer who first played at Bay Hill Lodge and Spa in an exhibition match in 1965 and was so taken he took ownership in 1970.

Palmer passed away last year leaving a great hole in the game but a legacy that impacts to this day, popularising the game and taking the game to a level that only Tiger Woods was able to pick up the baton and run with.

Sure, there are others who have played their role but in terms of impact on the game there appears little doubt that Palmer and Woods have been the most significant influencing forces of the modern era.

Interestingly, Woods won this event on eight occasions and Palmer won just once although Palmer’s win came at the previous venue for the event in 1970, the Rio Pinar Country Club also in Orlando.  

The influence on both on the success of this event however has left it as one of the must play events on the PGA Tour by players who perhaps rightfully feel they will forever owe a debt of gratitude to both players.

Jason Day defends his title this year having won by one shot over Kevin Chappell. Day is back to defend this week after withdrawing from the WGC Mexico Championship due to an inner ear infection. That he is in the field suggests he is back and rearing to go.

For Day last year’s effort was his only top ten in six starts in the event although in one of them he was forced to withdraw. This will be Day’s only fifth start of the year and so the jury is still out on his form but he is so good that if he is even partially ready for tournament golf he should still be a factor.

Henrik Stenson looms as a real chance this week having played well enough last week and having finished inside the top ten in seven of his last eight starts. He has a great record in this event also having been runner-up and 3rd in each of his last two starts here and two other top tens in his last four starts.

Rory McIlroy has played this event just twice for a best of 11th. After withdrawing from events in the Middle East through injury concerns, McIlroy appeared to be back to full fitness with his good week at the WGC event in Mexico. His last round of 65 at Bay Hill last year will have him returning with very good memories of the layout.

Hideki Matsuyama finished 6th last year and while his last two starts have been below his best he did win in Phoenix a few weeks ago suggesting he is near where he wants to be.

Justin Rose includes a runner-up finish and three other top tens in his eleven starts in the event. Rose has not missed a cut in his last fourteen starts of late and has recorded three top fives in his last five starts this year.   

Zach Johnson has not exactly been contending of late but neither has he been playing badly and he does enjoy some good results at this venue.

Rickie Fowler has not played all that well here, bar a 3rd place finish several years ago, but he is now playing some of his best golf and on that basis alone he must be considered. His recent win at the Honda and a reasonable follow up in Mexico indicates his readiness for this task.

The Australians in the field are many including tournament invites Curtis Luck and Ryan Ruffels. Clearly Day is the standout but others are Marc Leishman, Aaron Baddeley, former winner of the event Rod Pampling, Cameron Smith, Geoff Ogilvy, Greg Chalmers and Steven Bowditch.

Luck is en-route to the Masters where he has a start courtesy of his wins at the US and Asia Pacific Amateur Championships while Ruffels, who finished runner-up at the 2015 Asia Pacific Amateur, has been playing on the South American Tour with some solid results and gets his chance to play yet another PGA Tour event and his second Arnold Palmer Invitational.



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