ORLANDO, Fla. – The call of The King draws the game’s top names to Bay Hill, while madness seems to have gripped golf’s version of the big tournament, but not necessarily for all of the right reasons.
The King calls. At 85 years young Arnold Palmer can still command a room, as evidenced by this week’s gathering at Bay Hill.
Despite a less-than-perfect date on the PGA Tour calendar, Bay Hill consistently draws one of the year’s best fields – this year’s event featured all of the top 5 in the World Golf Ranking (Bubba Watson withdrew) – and the circuit kicked in the additional bonus of a three-year exemption for the API champion starting this season.
It’s a solid sign for an event that links to the game’s past so clearly, and a nod to Palmer’s continued influence.
“The young kids don’t know who or what Arnold was, but I was lucky enough to play with him in a major once and see what he meant to the game,” Ernie Els said on Friday.
Strength in numbers. However the class-action lawsuit between the Tour and an expanding group of caddies plays out it has created an impressive amount of unity for a group that doesn’t always appear to be reading from the same script.
On Monday lawyers for the caddies, who claim the Tour has engaged in restraint of trade and anticompetitive conduct involving caddie bibs, amended the lawsuit to include 167 caddies, more than double the original number involved in the case.
Some may not like the concept, but a new caddie credo is emerging, “show up, keep up and speak up.”
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Match making. The root canal continues for the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, which abandoned the West Coast swing and created a new format this season.
The Tour unveiled a new drawing process this week for the event, which has gone to three days of round-robin group play followed by the Round of 16 starting on Saturday.
The top 16 players in the World Golf Ranking on April 27 will be seeded into the 16 groups followed by a “blind draw” from three pools to determine the remaining three players for each group.
“A number of [media] have been writing for a long time that Wednesday of the Match Play is maybe one of the best days of the year in golf,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said two weeks ago at Doral. “You follow that line of thought to what we are going to have in this format, I think it could be really, really good.”
Lost in that concept, however, is the one-and-done element that made Match Play Wednesday so dramatic (see Georgia State’s victory over Baylor in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday).
Tweet of the Week:
The #Madness has started already!— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) March 19, 2015
Young Jordan was referring to Thursday’s slate of one-point games in Round 1 at the NCAA Tournament and not the new WGC-Match Play format. Let’s hope the Tour’s tinkering didn’t dull golf’s version of the #Madness.
Augusta National or bust. On the first day of spring it’s only fitting to check on Charles Howell III and his annual rite of spring.
Howell grew up a 9-iron from Augusta National and counts the year’s first major as something more than just another stop on the schedule. Despite that affinity, and 16 consecutive years of Tour status, he’s played the Masters just once since 2009.
“The Masters is a funny one because so many years I put myself in a position of trying to qualify for it, but now I’m just trying to play golf and let whatever happens happen,” Howell said. “I know that’s easy to say. I’ve found a way to miss it by the smallest margins every year. Just playing in that event is important to me, playing well would be a bonus.”
Howell shot a 68 on Friday at Bay Hill, but he’ll need to do better than that if he’s going to qualify for the Masters. A victory at Bay Hill or next week in San Antonio would earn him a trip down Magnolia Lane, otherwise he’ll need to crack the top 50 in the World Golf Ranking by March 30.
For Howell, consider it a tradition unlike any other.
Speed dating. In the crowded landscape of the PGA Tour some dates on the schedule are better than others.
This week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, for example, has created a home as the anchor event of the Florida swing, but according to various sources officials at Bay Hill wanted to be shifted to two weeks before the Masters.
That slot, however, went to the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, which will be played in Austin, Texas, next year, leaving The King’s tournament to forge its way between two World Golf Championships events.
The World Golf Championships have become a part of the Tour fabric, but would it be asking too much to space them out a little bit more? We hear Southern California in June is sublime.