Pardon the Pedigree-less Leaderboard


Arnold Palmer InvitationalORLANDO, Fla. – Since Arnold Palmer slapped his own moniker on the PGA Tour’s Central Florida staple five years ago, the King has enjoyed an embarrassment of Hall of Fame riches. In order, the trophy has been hoisted by Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.

So pardon the masses, who largely bolted for the exits after Woods finished his third round nearly an hour before the front runners.

With a monsoon of respect for Martin Laird – the leader by two heading into Sunday, Sunday, Sunday – the top 10 through 54 holes have a combined 19 Tour victories and two majors. If you remove David Toms, who is tied for fifth and five back from the equation, that total drops to seven Tour tilts and one major. That’s compared to a collective 20 Grand Slams for the last four Bay Hill winners.

Maybe more intriguing is the total for the top 4 – three victories, no majors. That list includes Spencer Levin, alone in second, and Steve Marino (T-3), arguably the two best frat brothers without a Tour bottle cap.

If winning on Tour is an art form, consider Sunday’s primary antagonist eager novices.

Complicating, or perhaps encouraging, the situation is a golf course that falls into the mid-major category. “It’s a good, long, hard golf course sort of like you get at a major championship,” Laird said.

Spencer Levin
Spencer Levin lost in a playoff at the Mayakoba Golf Classic last month. (Getty Images)
In the common wisdom of Tour Sundays experience kills, but that kind of cliché holds little meaning with 18 to play in the Florida Swing. Not with Woods, who struggled to a third-round 74 and headed down Apopka Vineland Road hoping for a windstorm on Saturday, and Phil Mickelson (2 under and the closest Hall of Famer to the lead) well outside the conversation, while defending champion Els will be on his way home by the time the leaders tee off on Sunday.

For those who left early on Saturday wondering if Bubba Watson (T-3) was Tom’s son the question is not “who are these guys?” so much as it is “who can win this thing?”

Laird may relish Bay Hill’s semi-tough status, but asked after his Day 3 70 to go over his scorecard, he gazed blankly at the ceiling, “I don’t know this golf course well enough to just rattle them off,” conceded Laird, who is playing the event for just the second time.

Not exactly the kind of institutional know-how that screams champion.

Levin knows even less of Arnie’s Place, not a surprise considering this is his first visit to the former citrus grove. Similarly, given the “A List” of Bay Hill winners, it’s little surprise the crowds know even less of them.

In short, Laird is a Continental contradiction, the rare Scot who can’t play in the wind, at least not like he used to growing up in Glasgow, while Levin is the rarest of Tour creatures – honest to the extreme with his heart permanently fixed to his oversized shirt sleeve.

One player recently deflected a question about Woods saying, “Have you ever considered the possibility Tiger’s not entirely truthful with you?” There is no need to consider such dishonesty from Levin.

When asked what experiences the former wild child turned flat-liner will pull from on Sunday when the PSI is turned up he stumbled for a few moments, “Mexico,” he said, referring to his playoff loss earlier this year South of the Border.

How about Disney last year, where he tied for third? “Oh yeah, man. Thanks,” smiled Levin, who drew even with Laird through 14 holes but played the next two bogey-bogey.

Asked his best memory of Bay Hill? “Only thing I remember is Tiger making a 100 footer every year to win.” In his defense, that’s most people’s only recollection of Arnie’s big dance.

What the two lack in pedigree and practical knowledge they more than make up for in potential. Levin has missed one cut and posted four top 10s since last October, while Laird has missed one weekend since last August with seven top 10s.

But then many believe the modern fixation on top 10s is over-rated and meaningless. Wins, particularly major victories, are what counts. Tour practice tees are filled with potential but Hall of Fame careers are not perched atop potential.

In many ways, whoever cashes on Sunday will enjoy a breakthrough of sorts, even Toms, whose last victory was the 2006 Sony Open. In fact, for Levin, Marc Leishman (T-7), John Senden (T-7) and Charles Howell III (T-7) Sunday could also earn them a spot in next month’s Masters.

And if six shots back seems a bit of a stretch even Levin, for all his inexperience, knows better.

“If the wind blows anybody at 5 or 6 under has a chance . . . four or five back definitely has a chance,” he reasoned.

Just not anybody with a Hall of Fame pedigree, and maybe that’s not a bad thing whether the Bay Hill masses realize it or not.


Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard