Arnold Palmer Invitational preview: Has Arnie made Bay Hill Tiger-proof?
So nice of Tiger Woods to turn up. After all he must be soooooo busy, what with courses to design and tournaments to inaugurate, not to mention his burgeoning family responsibilities. We should consider ourselves blessed. I’m not sure he will consider himself blessed by the end though. Seems Arnold Palmer has been busy trying to make his course as Tiger-proof as he can.
Ultra-fast greens, tight fairways and, above all, deep, dense rough that Tiger says won’t let you reach the green if the grain is against you. Add to that Palmer’s decision to take two strokes off par and you have a recipe for frustration. “The party’s over after the 13th,” says Joey Sindelar. “That last hour will be torture.”
This isn’t Palmer’s first go at trying to toughen up his course either, which helps explain why Tiger’s run of four straight victories came to a juddering halt three years ago, since when he has broken below 70 just once in 12 rounds.
So I see an intriguing contest between man and course and I am going for the course, though admittedly it’s a bet to put some zing into life rather than a contribution from the widows and orphans’ fund. What stats we have for Tiger this season suggest he is one of the least accurate players in the field. He makes up for that in spades elsewhere - first for driving and greens in regulation and 19th for putting. But he will need to be firmly on top of all of them to beat Palmer and his plaything.
Phil Mickelson: He may use this to experiment more ahead of his Masters defence, and his ambition to become a more accurate driver faces a stern test. But his putting and iron work have been first class this season.
Charles Howell III: Having a brilliant season, sixth last week and 6th for GIR and 16th for putting. His weakness is also accuracy though, so the rough could be his undoing.
Robert Allenby: Five top tens out of five this season - how has this guy not won anything yet? Fourth here last year, I’m just a bit worried by his putting.
Bart Bryant: Five top 20s marred by a single missed cut. His stats paint an excellent profile and he has course form over the last two years (8th and 20th). Last year he was leading after round one. He then faded, but was still getting over the effects of knee surgery.
Straws in the wind
Heath Slocum: He and Boo Weekley have at least two things in common besides playing golf. They went to the same school and both missed crucial putts on the last hole of regulation play. Weekley reacted by having a big sulk last week. Slocum might do the same, but his stats suggest potential.
Kenny Perry: A winner here two years ago. He’s been having an iffy season, but was 19th in last week’s gruelling encounter.
Ernie Els: Another who faded after a bright start last year, but he too was recovering from surgery. Was third in his other US strokeplay appearance this year, the tough Nissan, and made 6th two weeks ago in Thailand.
Zach Johnson: Has two top tens here and appears to be finding his feet after a poor start to the season.
Retief Goosen: A win and three other top 5s on the European tour, but 51st is the best he can do in America so far. These might just be his kind of conditions and he came fourth here two years ago.
Darren Clarke: There’s been some excited chatter about him since he generally does well here (third last year). But his current European form screams a big ‘no’ and he’s flown straight to this from a missed cut in Singapore.
Henrik Stenson: Because he says he’s not up to scratch just yet. How trusting am I?
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