With the temperatures rising in this space, we recommend a nice, cold glass of iced tea mixed with lemonade. That, by the way, is called an Arnold Palmer, a fitting beverage this week with players taking places on golf’s Hot Seat.
Here’s our special heat index with the PGA Tour moving to the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the LPGA to the Kia Classic.
Flaming boxers – Arnold Palmer Invitational management
Who is scripting these PGA Tour finishes? Steven Spielberg?
With all the unexpected twists and turns this year, with all the dizzyingly good plot shifts, PGA Tour events should come with a warning that viewing on a late Sunday afternoon can cause motion sickness.
What a wild ride this season is so far. Picking the most thrilling finish in a flurry of them is no easy task.
Brandt Snedeker fashioned a riveting ending to the Farmers Insurance Open when he came from seven shots back at the start of the final round to overtake a stumbling Kyle Stanley in a playoff. That ending got trumped the very next week, when Stanley redeemed himself at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, coming from eight shots back in the final round to top a collapsing Spencer Levin. The week after that, Phil Mickelson stole the show, shooting 64 in a final-round pairing with Tiger Woods to win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The very next week, Bill Haas worked the late magic, beating Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in a playoff at Riviera’s bedeviling 10th hole to win the Northern Trust Open. Then there was Rory McIlroy, holding off a Tiger’s Sunday charge at the Honda Classic and Luke Donald regaining the No. 1 ranking by winning the Transitions in a four-man playoff, with Ernie Els and Ken Duke enduring heartache finishes.
So how is the Arnold Palmer Invitational going to top all of that this week? With Woods’ first PGA Tour victory in two-and-a-half years? With Els bouncing back to win and earn a late Masters’ invite? Those would work.
Smoldering britches – Tiger Woods
With Woods limping away at Doral in a final-round withdrawal due to a strained left Achilles’ tendon, questions arose anew about his longevity and ability to hold up to the rigors of the climb back to the game’s mountaintop.
His answers will be definitively delivered if he marches without a setback through seven consecutive days of play this week at the Tavistock Cup and Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Two days of Tavistock, a Wednesday API pro-am appearance and four days of the API will provide a strong test of Woods’ readiness with the Masters two weeks away.
Woods has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill six times, the last coming in 2009. The only venues where he has won more PGA Tour titles are Torrey Pines (7) and Firestone (7).
Of course, the healthier Woods looks this week, the more skeptics will suspect he wasn’t that injured at Doral. In the end, what matters is what gives him the best chance to win the Masters and the other majors. He’s the best judge of that. Yeah, Doral’s a prestigious event, but Woods is in a unique position in the history of the game with so much at stake for him. If he was overly cautious, can you really blame him? His lifelong ambition rides on that left leg.
Blazing briefs – Ian Poulter
It’s a grand time for English golf.
Englishmen are coming off back-to-back PGA Tour titles, with Donald winning the Transitions Championship on the heels of Justin Rose’s victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
Three of the top eight players in the world are English, six of the top 35.
With Donald back at No. 1, an Englishman has held the top spot in the world rankings 46 of the last 48 weeks. Lee Westwood, who took the top spot from Woods, is No. 3 now, Rose No. 8, Poulter No. 29, Paul Casey No. 31 and Simon Dyson No. 35.
And the English might just be getting warmed up.
Poulter, 36, and Casey, 34, are talents capable of delivering more English fireworks. With just one PGA Tour title each, more is anticipated before they’re done. They’ve each won 11 European Tour titles, and it wouldn’t shock anyone to see these two guys surge to give England half the top 10 players in the world. They have, after all, been there before. Going to the Masters two years ago, Casey was No. 6 in the world, Poulter No. 7.
Casey, coming back from dislocating his shoulder in an offseason snowboarding accident, isn’t in the field at Bay Hill this week. Poulter is scheduled to play, though he’s coming off a recent bout of pneumonia. He’ll be looking to give England its third consecutive PGA Tour victory.
Blistering behinds – Every pro still desperate to get into the Masters
This is the last week for pros to earn an invite to Augusta National off the top-50 in the world rankings.
There are two more chances to win invites with PGA Tour victories. Win the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week, and you’re in. Or win the Shell Houston Open next week, and you’re also in.
Though Els is getting a lot of attention in his bid to keep his run at the Masters alive, he isn’t alone. Els, who came so agonizingly close to winning the Transitions, is No. 62. He’s playing Bay Hill this week. Retief Goosen, struggling with back problems, is just three spots shy of a berth at No. 53, but he isn’t playing this week. Italy’s young dynamo, Matteo Manassero, 18, is No. 61. He’s playing the European Tour’s Trophee Hassan in Morocco.
Roasting skirts – Michelle Wie
Wie didn’t get off to the best start this LPGA season. She tied for 38th in her season debut at the LPGA Honda Thailand and followed that up with a 79 and 81 on her way to finishing 59th out of 60 players at the HSBC Women’s Champions. That start factors into her slip to No. 20 in this week's Rolex Women’s World Rankings. None of that, however, dampens Wie's excitement this week. She is focused on a different kind of strong finish. She’s finishing up at Stanford, where she attended her last class last week and is completing her final exams. It’s quite the accomplishment, earning a Stanford degree in communications in four-and-a-half years while playing the LPGA full time. She won’t officially graduate until the June ceremonies, but she is freed up to finally pursue her golf ambitions full time.
There’s curiosity over how Wie will react with time to devote herself more fully to the game. The next chapter of her golf career starts this week at the Kia Classic at La Costa Resort and Spa’s Champions Course. Wie tied for seventh with the Kia played at Industry Hills outside Los Angeles last year. She tied for sixth when it was played at La Costa two years ago.
At 22, Wie has a lot of time left to chase what has so far eluded her in the game. She will do so with the satisfaction of being a Stanford grad.
Watch highlights and behind-the-scene action from the Arnold Palmer Invitational pro-am Wednesday at 5 and 9PM ET.