Last week was supposed to be a down week. The Honda Classic was dealing with a schedule-induced dearth of stars, with just three of the world's top 20 players teeing it up at PGA National. There was no Tiger and no Phil and no Rory and no DJ. Tournament organizers weren't pleased. Think pieces were penned.
And then, a phenomenal tournament unfolded.
Keith Mitchell birdied the 18th hole to beat Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler by a single shot, capping what was one of the more compelling Sunday afternoons we've seen all season. It was an always-needed reminder that great tournaments can come from anywhere, and that a tournament doesn't need any one specific player to thrive.
That should comfort some fans who are understandably disappointed that Tiger Woods won't be teeing it up at this week's...deep breath...Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard. Woods, an eight-time winner of this event, pulled out on Monday, citing a neck strain that he's been dealing with "for weeks." We have no reason to believe anything other than Woods' word, which is that his back is fine and that he hopes to be good for the Players. So we'll hold off further comment on that matter.
Tiger aside, there is still a phenomenal field assembled in Orlando for one of the Tour's two invitationals (the other being the Memorial, though the Genesis Open will become the third next year). Six of the top 10 and 12 of the top 20 players in the world are scheduled to tee it up at Arnie's event.
This begins a wild six-week stretch that includes this elite event, the Players Championship, the WGC-Match Play and culminates with some tournament that gives its winner a funny jacket.
Here's everything you need to know about the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The layout you'll see this week consists of Bay Hill's Champion/Charger nines; there are nine more holes on the property, but those do not factor this week. It was originally laid out in the early 1960s by Dick Wilson. Palmer, who is synonymous with Bay Hill, didn't become involved until after winning a tournament there in 1965. He took ownership of the club and lodge in 1970 and successfully lobbied for a PGA Tour event to be held there starting in 1979. The course underwent Palmer-led renovations in 2009, which added length to the track and changed it from a par 71 to par 72.
Layout wise, it's not dissimilar from TPC Sawgrass, next week's Players venue. It's a straightforward track with no real tricks, a bunch of water hazards in play, and Bermuda fairways and greens. The signature hole is probably the 18th, an uphill par-4 with water guarding the front of the green. That putting surface has seen a number of famous finishes, a few courtesty of Woods:
Bay Hill typically favors elite ball strikers, so make of that as you will...
Along with the Genesis and the Memorial, Arnie's tournament brings in the best non-major, non-WGC fields year after year. 2019 is no different, even with no Tiger: Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, defending champion Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Francesco Molinari represent your top-10 contingent. Jason Day, Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson will be there, too. Keith Mitchell, fresh off the biggest win of his life, is playing. A couple of younger guys to keep an eye on this week: Viktor Hovland, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and Oklahoma State junior, is playing, as is USC's Justin Suh, the world's top-ranked amateur.
Here are some featured groupings for the first couple days. Here is a full list of tee times. All times EST.
Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson— 7:43 a.m. Thursday/12:33 p.m.* Friday
Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Ian Poulter— 7:54 a.m.*/12:44 p.m.
Marc Leishman, Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy— 12:33 p.m./7:43 a.m.*
Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka—12:44 p.m./7:54 a.m.*
* denotes 10th-tee start.
All times EST.
Thursday, Friday — 2-6 p.m. on Golf Channel
Saturday, Sunday — 12-2:30 p.m. on Golf Channel, 2:30-6 p.m. on NBC
Streaming available all week onNBC Sports' online platform.
2018 — Rory McIlroy (-18)
2017 — Marc Leishman (-11)
2016 — Jason Day (-17)
2015 — Matt Every (-19)
2014 — Matt Every (-13)
2013 — Tiger Woods (-13)
2012 — Tiger Woods (-13)
2011 — Martin Laird (-8)
2010 — Tiger Woods (-5)
2009 — Tiger Woods (-10)
Rory McIlroy +650
Brooks Koepka +1100
Justin Rose +1100
Jason Day +1200
Rickie Fowler +1200
Bryson DeChambeau +1400
Hideki Matsuyama +2500
Marc Leishman +2500
Francesco Molinari +3300
Tommy Fleetwood +3300
Patrick Reed +4000
Phil Mickelson +4500
Billy Horschel +5000
Bubba Watson +5000
Henrik Stenson +5000
Ian Poulter +5000
Lucas Glover +5000
Charles Howell III +5500
Jason Kokrak +5500
Louis Oosthuizen +5500
Rafael Cabrera Bello +5500
Si Woo Kim +5500
Tyrrell Hatton +5500
We had our first MC of the year last week with Cameron Smith, so it's time to bounce back. I love Justin Rose (+1100) this week. The world No. 2 has been under the radar recently, simply because he hasn't played a PGA Tour event since winning the Farmers Insurance Open in January. Rose—who has three straight top-15 finishes in this event, including a solo third last year—has some added incentive this week: Dustin Johnson took over the world No. 1 spot on Monday, the latest pass in this perpetual game of World No. 1 Hot Potato between Johnson, Rose, Thomas and Koepka. Rose can regain that spot with a win this week, and his victory would fall in line with the ballstriking-first logic that applies at Bay Hill. Other guys worth a wager: Lucas Glover (+5000), who is playing some fantastically steady golf, and 2017 Bay Hill champion Marc Leishman (+2500), who has finished fourth or better in three of his last five PGA Tour starts.