For the majority of his young career on the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy didn’t play the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It had just never fit into his schedule. But prior to last year’s event, Palmer basically called McIlroy out and told him to figure out how to make it work. And respectfully, that’s exactly what the former world no. 1 golfer did. He did quite well, as a matter of fact, finishing T11th in his first start at Bay Hill.
In fact, now, McIlroy wishes he would have added this event to his schedule years ago.
“It is for sure,” he said. “I left here last year sort of kicking myself that I hadn’t been more often and I hadn’t been here enough.
“I got a chance to spend sometime with Mr. Palmer last year, had a really nice dinner with him and, you know, I think everyone — you know it’s great to come here and pay homage to one of the greats of the game and someone who built this game into what it is today.
He’s the first one — really, you look at us with all our logos on and endorsement contracts and all that sort of stuff and making so much money from this game and Arnold really was the first one to do that.
“He’s a real icon of the sport and it’s great to be here and great to play at his home and, you know, obviously be great to win here one day and no better week to do it than this week.”
McIlroy’s opening comments implies he may not continue to come. It seems as if he’s tacitly implying that with the 86-year-old Palmer’s declining health, there might not be many more years left with the King present.
(Already this year it was made known well before going into the week that Mr. Palmer wouldn’t be as visible as the tournament host usually is, as he generally makes the rounds daily in his golf cart greeting the players and old friends. He unfortunately hasn’t been able to do any media, with reporters submitting questions last week that were answered privately, typed up, and then, distributed.)
But I digress. McIlroy is very much looking forward to teeing it up Thursday as Bay Hill has received a face lift since last year’s edition, which will likely present a tougher test.
“It’s incredible,” said McIlroy. “I only got one year to compare it to and last year wasn’t a great year to compare it to because the condition of the golf course wasn’t so good.
“But the place is perfect. It really is. The greens, the fairways, the tee boxes, the rough, you couldn’t ask for a golf course to be in better condition or, you know, more well presented.
“he greens are firm. Fairways are good. Not really running too much. Greens are a good speed. The rough is pretty penal in places. I think it will be a better test.
“I don’t think you’ll see the scores as low as they have been last year or I mean I know last year I finished 11-under and finished T-11. Something close to that will have a chance this year.”
McIlroy will also be trying to find some redemption after blowing a three-shot lead a few weeks ago in the final round at Doral. Unlike his usual aggressive style of play, he played trying to protect the lead, which more often than most doesn’t produce the desired result.
“It was a tough one because I mean if I go out there and I shoot 71, I win the golf tournament,” said McIlroy, wistfully. “It’s tough.
“Doral is a tough place with the wind not to protect the lead but just to play with the lead because there’s danger lurking around every corner and, you know, you’re conscious of if you’re going to make mistakes you’re conscious of limiting it to a shot rather than if you hit it in the water or whatever. The only time I did hit it in the water I made par.
“I played the way I thought I needed to play. I just didn’t hit close enough. I didn’t have a realistic birdie chance inside 25 feet until the 12th hole.
“So, I was playing smart and hitting it to 30 feet but you’re not going to make birdies, you’re not going to gain ground on the field by doing that.
“I probably could have been a little more aggressive but it was hard. The wind, it was a tough day, tricky, but if I had to have the round over again I probably just would have trusted myself a little bit more and took on a couple more flags and try to give myself some more birdie opportunities because when — three bogies on a day like that wasn’t too bad but to only make one birdie I felt was my downfall and if I had to take it back, I would have played a little bit more aggressively.
“I didn’t birdie any of the par-5s either and at Doral with a tough course like that you have to take advantage of the par-5s to keep your score going.”
McIlroy had some other classic lines in Wednesday’s presser.
First, here’s his take on Adam Scott and anchoring:
Q. The run that Adam is on right now, his last three tournaments, you’ve had a couple of those at the end of ’12 into 14.
If you were to be honest with yourself, what’s going through your mind during that stretch, you’re going to play like this forever or how much longer do I have?
RORY MCILROY: I think there’s a bit of both in there. Definitely your confidence is so high but at the same time you’re thinking I’m playing this well, I have to take advantage of it, I have to play and I have to keep on this run and sort of ride this wave of momentum.
I feel when you are in that position it’s almost automatic that you get into contention, you know, you’re almost on autopilot that you turn up the tournaments and it’s not like you’re nonchalant or complacent in anyway but, you know, if you play your game you’re going to have a chance come Sunday.
Then it’s about being mentally the toughest on the back-9 on Sunday to get the job done. Adam, I played the last round in L.A. with Adam. I played the third round at Doral. He’s playing, very very well. He seems very confident with his overall game.
I think this — I think we should bring the anchor putting back (laughter). I was all for getting rid of it. Now I’m all for keeping it.
He’s obviously put a lot of work in with the putter and it’s paid off big time so it’s great to see. Adam has been one of the best players in the world for a long time and great players are going to get on runs like this and it’s just up to us to try and keep Adam — try to chase him down. He’s playing fantastic golf.
*Then, he shared his honest take on Rickie Fowler’s career:
Q. Rory, if Rickie Fowler could start putting together Majors, winning those, does he have a potential to be a Arnold Palmer in terms of charisma, in terms of the fan adulation?
Is winning a Major going to be a requirement in that regard?
RORY MCILROY: I think one of the, I don’t want to say criticisms, I’ve known Rickie since he was 16 years old. He’s always been a fantastic player.
One of the things that was said about him was that, you know, the substance didn’t match the style in some regard in terms of wins and whatever, but I think he’s really changed that now over the past couple of years with — when I’ve been on the receiving end a couple times.
Beat me in a playoff at Quail Hollow. First professional win in Korea I finished 2nd to him there. From there he just went on. I think he obviously won The Players last year and Scottish Open and Deutsche Bank and even going into this year and playing so well in Abu Dubai, having a chance in Phoenix. He’s become a lot more consistent.
Obviously he’s a very well-liked guy. I mean you meet anyone on Tour, whether it’s a player or someone that works within the Tour or someone in the media, no one has got a bad word to say about him. He’s a really great genuine guy.
He does have the capability to maybe get to that level but, as you said, all these tournaments are great but I think what we judge ourselves on is Major Championships and he’s not too far away from that.
I played with him a lot over the last few years to know that his game is right there to win one of those things. When he does, I’m sure he obviously is so well-known already but I think anyone that wins a Major really takes your career to the next level.
I liked how he tactfully put the “substance didn’t match the style” — he didn’t mean it maliciously or negatively at all. It was just well said or I thought it was a great phrase to sum up what Rory was trying to say.
Toward the end of Adam Scott’s press conference, a voice in the back hollered, “Hurry up!” It was no other than Rory McIlroy, who was waiting for Scott to finish so he could have his turn at the podium. When Scott’s presser finished, the two crossed paths and they exchanged friendly hellos and Scott actually apologized to Rory and said, “Sorry about that.” Rory was like, no, no, I was joking! It was a cute moment between two great guys.
Coming off two straight wins in as many weeks at the Honda and Doral, Scott is arguably the hottest player (in more than one way, badumching!) in the world right now. He hopes to keep it going at Bay Hill.
“I don’t really know how long I can keep it up,” said Scott, with a smile. “You got to take advantage of it while it’s there, that’s the big thing and obviously I feel confident I can play well this week. Nothing feels any different than when I left Doral and I’d like to get myself in that position to win again this week and keep it running.
“To use examples, is not the best but, you know, Tiger Woods kept it running for about ten years. Maybe I’ve got a couple more weeks in me. Hopefully I haven’t peaked too early but that’s — the point is to try to get yourself ready for every tournament you play and managing your schedule and managing, you know, how much energy you spend practicing and playing and then understanding what it takes out of you when you’re playing in contention and then resting, getting ready to go again.
“I think guys like Tiger and some of the best players of history have showed that they can sustain a high level of golf for fairly long periods of time. It’s just a matter of finding that formula for you. I’m always trying to ask myself the question and be honest do I need rest, do I need practice, what suits me right now.”
Well, Scott, who recently adopted a putting grip that European Tour pro Brett Rumford showed him, feels as confident as ever with the flatstick. And he said it emphatically. I mean, I actually believed that he believes he’s on a roll at the moment and doesn’t plan on it stopping anytime soon.
“I think it’s fair to say as confident as ever,” he said. “I feel really, really good over it. I’ve made a lot of putts and I’ve made a couple crucial putts which is nice, obviously to kind of have it tested with a 6 or so footer on the last one at Doral the other week for the win. That brings a lot of confidence. I’d put it up there as confident as any period in my career.”
In fact, he probably wouldn’t even switch back to the broomstick style putter (which he used when he won the 2013 Masters) if he could.
“If I was allowed to change back tomorrow, no, I probably wouldn’t,” said Scott. “I’m quite happy where things are at. I wouldn’t change anything that’s not really broken.”
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announced Wednesday significant enhancements for the Arnold Palmer Invitational that are supposed to elevate the tournament in the elite ranks of the pro circuit.
Beginning next year in 2017, the tournament will increase its purse by $2.4 million to $8.7 million, making it one of the highest purses on Tour. The winner’s exemption also continues to be three years, increased last year from two.
“Arnold Palmer is unquestionably one of the most important figures in the history of professional golf and someone who brought its appeal to the masses through his thrilling, go-for-broke style of play that transcended the game,” Finchem said. “This tournament is an important part of Arnold’s legacy, and collectively we were inspired to work together to further advance its stature. We are delighted to announce these changes beginning with the 2017 event and further celebrate the tremendous contributions Arnold has made on and off the golf course.”
Some of you ask me for the pro-am results ahead of setting your fantasy golf lineups or placing your bets. Here’s a glance at the final leaderboard at the players’ individual scores on Wednesday. Remember, a pro-am is still just a glorified practice round, so it doesn’t necessarily tell us anything, but sometimes it gives you an idea of which players are striking it well. So, FWIW:
Hmm, the top four are all long hitters. Shocking!
If I’m being completely honest — and I’m tearing up just writing this — the general sentiment is that with Palmer’s health, this year might be the tournament host’s last. I can’t even get into this topic right now or I’ll start really crying and it’ll get ugly, but Mr. Palmer is such an icon, who changed the face of the sport, and played a large part in making professional golf into the business and industry it is today. He’s a true legend.
OK, it’s late and I can barely keep my eyes open. I was only on-site for the tournament today — so it was super hectic running around and trying to get everything I needed to in one day — and I’m headed home on a flight way too early in the morning, so I better get to bed, but more to come, as I plan on writing on the plane! (IF the WiFi is working…fingers crossed!) What you have to look forward to…
*Ernie Els recalls the happenings leading up to and after Rickie Fowler’s million-dollar ace at his charity event last week. It was great to hear his version of the story. He was still so pumped about it.
*Tour pros recount their first time meeting Mr. Palmer. I did something similar to this a few years ago (holy crap, it’s been four effing years!), but decided it’d be fitting to
plagiarize myself revisit the topic as it’s always a good one.
*It’s about time. The PGA of America gets rid of that excessive exhibition that was the PGA Grand Slam. Does this the end of silly season golf as we know it?? Well, actually, it’s just evolved into another beast. More on that later.