ORLANDO, Fla. – Not that long ago, Mike Weir wouldn’t even consider playing at Bay Hill.
A personal talk from Arnold Palmer changed that.
Weir was playing the Bob Hope Classic in 2005 and stopped at nearby Tradition Golf Club with a friend, bumping into Palmer in the locker room.
“I said, Hey, Mr. Palmer, how you doing?” Weir recalled. “And the first thing he said was, ‘You haven’t played my tournament in a few years.’ Didn’t say hello.
“I said, ‘No, I haven’t,”’ Weir continued. “He said, ‘Hey, Mike, I would love to have you come play.”’
He did more than that Thursday.
Weir shot a 5-under 67 in the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, finishing one shot behind leaders J.B. Holmes and Davis Love III. Henrik Stenson also was tied with Weir.
After skipping the tournament four straight years, the Canadian has played four of the last five since his chat with Palmer. Weir’s struggles were a big reason he stopped playing the tournament – a tie for 17th in 2006 is his best finish during his latest span.
He credits Bay Hill’s big makeover in part for his improvement.
Among the major changes since last year: All the greens were revamped and replaced with a sand base 18 inches deep. The strain of grass was altered, tee boxes were upgraded and the course returned to a par 72 after experimenting with a par 70 the past three years.
“For a few years there, it was really hard on a medium-length hitter,” Weir said. “The greens were so firm; wedge shots were bouncing as high as this tent.
“It just wasn’t a great setup for me, even as much as I loved this tournament,” Weir added. “I didn’t see the point if I couldn’t contend. But I think he’s done a nice job blending that back.”
FAMILY TIES: Henrik Stenson has had a tougher time keeping up with his family this week than playing golf.
Not so easy with the Stensons.
The Swedish player’s wife, Emma, gave birth to a boy at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando three weeks ago. Karl is the couple’s second child. Their 2-year-old daughter, Lisa, was born in Sweden. They live part of the year near Orlando, visit Sweden in the summer and make their permanent home in Dubai.
“So I guess if we have a third one, it better be in Dubai then to really make sure we spread them out,” Stenson joked.
And what countries will Karl’s passports say?
“Two passports. I’m thinking he behaves, he gets the Swedish one when he’s 18. Otherwise, he gets the American one,” Stenson said, chuckling. “That a good plan, do you think?”
For Stenson, playing golf is less complicated.
Stenson shot a 5-under 67 in the opening round at Bay Hill on Thursday. That put him in a tie with Mike Weir, one shot off leaders J.B. Holmes and Davis Love III.
Even with all the work that comes with a newborn, Stenson said he has stayed focused.
“A little bit less sleep, maybe,” he said. “But didn’t seem to effect me too bad today at least. I’ll blame that some other day.”
ELS CONTENDING: Ernie Els isn’t ready to say “he’s back.”
His play of late might suggest otherwise.
Els shot a 4-under 68 in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday, putting him in a four-way tie for fifth. The South African is only two weeks removed from ending the longest drought of his career at Doral, so he doesn’t want to get too excited with his recent resurgence.
“I feel good,” Els said. “I don’t want to feel like I’m totally back, you know, because I know I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Els’ victory at the CA Championship earlier this month was more relief than celebration. It was his first win since the 2008 Honda Classic.
The man who had once challenged Tiger Woods in majors had slipped off the top of leaderboard. That is, until recently.
His six-birdie day in the opening round again has him contention. For now, that’s enough to feel good about.
“You have to get the ball around the golf course, and I think I did that on the front nine, and then something clicked,” Els said. “So hopefully I can get on and push on from this.”
DIVOTS: With six-time winner Tiger Woods missing the tournament for the first time in his career, the gallery ballooned around Phil Mickelson. When Lefty teed off on No. 1, fans were pushing against the ropes from the tee box to the green in what was easily the day’s largest swarm. Mickelson shot a 1-under 71. … Byeong-Hun An, the 18-year-old amateur who earned an invitation to the Arnold Palmer Invitational by winning last year’s U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills, shot a 5-over 77. … Rain is expected overnight but not when play resumes Friday morning, with the forecast calling for partly cloudy skies and a high around 79 degrees.