The first was Loren Roberts, who surprisingly won his first-ever PGA TOUR event at Bay Hill in 1994 ' at the age of 38 ' and then won No. 2 the following year. The other was Tiger Woods, who won this event in 2000 and then again in 2001, and again in 2002, and again in 2003.
Defending champion Kenny Perry withdrew from the field due to scheduled knee surgery on Monday. The 45-year-old has been hobbled by a knee injury and was advised by a member of the NFLs Tennessee Titans medical staff to undergo the surgical procedure.
Perry is expected to be sidelined for 4 to 6 weeks, which means he will also miss The Players Championship and the Masters.
While Perrys loss is disappointing from a tournament standpoint (every event wants their defending champion to return); it will hardly hurt the strength of field.
This years field is loaded with notable names, including eight of the top 11 players in the world and 30 of the top 50. Woods is back, as is Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk, Colin Montgomerie and Michael Campbell.
This will mark the final time that the tournament is contested under the name of the host course. Next years event will be called the Arnold Palmer Invitational, after the tournament host.
With such talent in the field this year, here are the top 5 contenders for Palmers Scottish-style sword, of which a replica is on offer to the champion. And were going with the chalk this week.
Heres a shocker: Tiger Woods is the tournament favorite. It would almost seem impossible for anyone else to win this week. For one, Woods captured this title four straight years beginning in 2000. And for another, hes already won three tournaments world-wide in just five starts. Game over before it even starts, right? In the words of Lee Corso: Not so fast, my friend. Woods hasnt played particularly well in this hometown event the last two years, finishing tied for 46th and tied for 23rd, respectively. That alone should provide at least a little ray of hope for the rest of the field. And should he struggle with his putter, the door is ajar for someone else.
That someone could very well be Singh. Singh has played Bay Hill ever since receiving a sponsors exemption from Palmer in 1993. He tied for second that year, and has had one close encounter after another in the 12 years since.
After tying for 15th at Doral, Singh decided to take a week off. Refreshed, he returns to Bay Hill.
Speaking of refreshed, theres no reason why Els shouldnt be more energized than usual this week. Normally, Els heads to Orlando having all but worn himself out trotting around the globe. But this year, he has competed in only two European events ' the same two as Singh ' compared to three U.S. tournaments. And like Singh, he took off last week, meaning he should have plenty of fuel in his tank for a run at the title. Els won this event in 1998. Surprisingly, that is one of only two top-10s in 13 career Bay Hill starts. He tied for 23rd last year after shooting 77 in the second round.
Garcia has had a decent start to the season, with a pair of top-10s in four starts. Nine of his 14 rounds, however, have been in the 70s ' and his final-round scoring average borders on 75. But like the aforementioned, Garcia enters this event well rested. The 26-year-old Spaniard has played only once in the last three weeks, having skipped the WGC-Match Play and the Honda Classic. In between, he tied for 57th at Doral. In six career Bay Hill starts, he has three top-10 finishes. Hell have to improve on Sunday, though, to notch that first win ' his final-round scoring average here is 74.
The reigning U.S. Open champion ' through his own doings and the PGA TOURs ' is limited to only three regular TOUR events this season. Hes already competed in the Mercedes Championships and the next two weeks will wrap-up his Stateside appearances, outside of the majors and WGC events. Campbell tied for fourth at Kapalua, where he had a great chance to win before closing in 75. He has played this event only four times, and has two missed cuts and a withdrawal. He did, however, finish runner-up to Woods in 2002.