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Arnold Palmer Invitational Preview

   by Matt Fargo - 03/23/2010

It is unlikely we will see the same drama that took place at Bay Hill last year. Tiger Woods came into Sunday five shots back of Sean O’Hair but he chipped away early and with a birdie on 18, he claimed his second consecutive Arnold Palmer Invitational and sixth overall. It was also his first win since the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods has been the headliner here for years and while rumors started that this would be the beginning of his return, we will have to wait two more weeks.

Even without Woods, this is still a big event with a lot of big names and this will be the final stocked field until the Masters in two weeks. The headliner is of course Phil Mickelson who is actually making a rare appearance at Bay Hill. The field will consist of four of the top ten in the Official World Golf Rankings, six of the top ten on the PGA money list and 15 past Major winners. According to tournament director Scott Wellington, ticket sales are the same without Tiger in the field,

The players will have to contend with a revamped layout. Bay Hill's last significant upgrade came 20 years ago, when four holes were changed and the greens rebuilt. Over the past decade, Palmer has made annual tweaks to keep his layout a challenge but this time around, it was an overhaul. The course was closed for four months and something was done to every hole. Everything from new turf to new tees to expanded greens to rotated greens to new bunkers was done.

Even with the changes, the course did not become any easier. Bay Hill played as a par 70 of over 7,100 yards for three straight years from 2007-2009. It was the most difficult track of any non-major course in 2009, playing at +2.19 strokes to par. Because of the work that was done, it is once again a par 72, but don’t expect low scores. In three of the last five years, Bay Hill has played to at least one shot over par and it has been ranked 11th or higher in difficulty six times since 2000.

Mickelson (+1200) is the odds on favorite as is the case every week with no sign of Tiger. It has been a huge disappointment for Mickelson so far this year. Three top 20 finishes in five starts would make most players happy but Mickelson came in with a lot of high expectations following a positive off season. He finished T21 at Bay Hill in 2008 and T36 in 2007, his first start here since 2002.

Despite moving ahead of Mickelson in the OWGR, Steve Sticker (+1500) is not the favorite and that is some good line value. First off, Stricker does not have a good résumé at Bay Hill but he has not started here since 2005. He has not broken 70 in his last 17 rounds here but that was the Stricker of old. After his T8 last week at the Transitions, he has made his last 11 cuts, which includes two wins and eight top tens.

Jim Furyk (+2000) is coming off his first win since the 2007 Canadian Open which is a huge surprise considering he is still top ten in the world. It was a much needed win as the confidence had to have started to wane. He said that his feel is back and that is a big positive for Furyk. He missed the cut at Bay Hill last year which added to a lengthy drought here since his T8 in 1998.

Retief Goosen (+2500) quietly chugs along year after year and this season is no different. He has four top six finishes in six starts this season, including a solo fifth last week at the Transitions. Going back to last year he has missed only one cut since he missed the cut at the Masters so that is come consistency. He only had a T36 at Bay Hill last year but in 10 career appearances at the Palmer layout, he's posted four top 20’s.

You have to feel for O’Hair (+3000) in this event last year. Playing with Tiger on a Sunday obviously had an effect as he shot a closing round 73 which was tied for the highest score of any player that finished better than 40th. He has played decent this season but he has only one top ten despite five made cuts in seven events. His track record here is great as he has finished second, T3 and T14 the three times he started and finished.

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