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Golf fans may argue for decades about who the best player in history was between Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Both have an argument. However, there is no argument who the most popular golfer ever was and that’s the late Arnold Palmer. The PGA Tour is what it is today because of “The King.”
Palmer died in September 2016, but one of the more popular Tour stops annually among players is the Arnold Palmer Invitational so they can honor Palmer. Because this is an invitational, the field is a bit smaller (no Monday qualifying, either), and the winner gets some perks a bit better than he would at a regular Tour event.
The champion also gets a red cardigan sweater in memory of Palmer, who is from the Pittsburgh area (where he died) but wintered for decades in Orlando. He also owned the course where this tournament is held, Bay Hill Club & Lodge, a par 72 at about 7,500 yards. Palmer did win this tournament in 1971 but at a different course and when it was called the Florida Citrus Invitational. It moved to Bay Hill in 1979.
This event was going to be all about Tiger because he has won here eight times; no player has ever won a tournament nine times on the PGA Tour. Tiger’s next victory also would be a record 83rd overall. However, Woods decided to skip the tournament in a surprise. He apparently is dealing with a stiff back. Last year, a neck strain kept him out.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy won this event in 2018 at 18 under and is the clear-cut +550 betting favorite at sportsbooks. Like Tiger, Rory skipped last week’s Honda Classic. Rory has made five PGA Tour starts this season and been Top 5 in all. He won here in 2018 at 18-under 270 and was sixth last year.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood is +1600 with Bryson DeChambeau +1800 and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama +2000. None of the three have won here. Fleetwood was third last year and Sunday at the Honda. DeChambeau was a runner-up to Rory two years ago. Matsuyama has a best result of sixth at Bay Hill.
International players have won here the past four years. Italy’s Francesco Molinari did so in 2019 at 16 under but is a +10000 longer shot to repeat as he’s having a rough year.