BY DOUG FERGUSON
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Arnold Palmer Invitational is more than just a tournament this year. It’s an event.
Palmer died on Sept. 25 of heart complications. The public funeral service was held on Oct. 4, two days after the Ryder Cup. Palmer would not have wanted to distract from the Ryder Cup, and golf would not have wanted anything to distract from its most beloved figure.
But it was his tournament at Bay Hill that was always going to hold so much significance.
Palmer was always more than just a name associated with Bay Hill, even before the tournament was named after him in 2007. He owned the place. He ran the place. He played the tournament until 2004, when the 74-year-old legend hit driver off the deck onto the 18th green.
Wednesday began the celebration of the King this year when the tournament held its first opening ceremony. The PGA Tour was expecting 25 players to be on the practice range to hit a ceremonial tee shot. Instead, 60 players showed up. They hit tee shots, one after the other, right down the line, resembling a domino effect . There were so many players that they went down the line twice.
Jason Day is the defending champion. He is the last person to share a handshake with Palmer on the 18th green after his one-shot victory last year. He was the last person to share a celebratory drink with the King, which almost was a mistake.
“I felt like I was drinking a whole bottle of Ketel One, because that’s obviously his favorite thing,” Day said. “And I was on Golf Channel and I felt absolutely hammered. I had a drink with him and I’m going up there and I don’t know what I’m saying on Golf Channel. But it was a special moment at his place, and just winning this tournament, it is such a big event for us.”
This really is a week of honoring the past. The LPGA Tour returns to domestic soil to play Bank of Hope Founders Cup, a tournament that celebrates the 13 women who founded the tour in 1950. It will be held in Phoenix. The PGA Tour Champions also is in Arizona for the Tucson Conquistadores Classic. The PGA Tour used to play there, and Palmer won it in 1967.
The King left his prints everywhere.
“Those are memories you don’t forget,” Day said of his victory at Bay Hill last year.
Kevin Chappell appeared to have the tournament won until he missed the 18th fairway and made bogey, and Day made birdie on the par-3 17th to suddenly take the lead. Day closed it out with a bunker shot to 4 feet to save par and get that handshake with the King.
There has been no shortage of memories.
Most of them involve Tiger Woods, who won four times in a row and a total of eight times, most recently in 2013. The most memorable might have been his duel with Phil Mickelson in 2001.
Greg Norman never won at Bay Hill, thanks to Robert Gamez . It was in 1990 when Gamez was one shot behind the Shark and holed out a 7-iron for eagle and the victory.
John Daly is playing this year on a sponsor exemption. Daly had one of the most amazing scorecards in PGA Tour history when he took an 18 on the par-5 sixth hole, only to follow that up with a birdie 2 on the next hole.
Davis Love III never won at Bay Hill, but he did leave a lasting memory. It was in 1999 when Love’s tee shot was plugged in the bunker on the 17th hole. He blasted out and smacked a sprinkler head out of frustration, then endured the embarrassment of seeing a valve break and water gush into the sand.
Palmer jokingly left Love a bill for the damage the next day: $3.50 for the parts, $175,000 for the labor.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 2-6 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday-Sunday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. (Golf Channel), 2:30-6 p.m. (NBC).
For such a young tournament, the Founders Cup is one of the most important on the LPGA Tour because of what it represents — a tribute to the founders.
Karrie Webb won the inaugural tournament in 2011 , and the Hall of Famer won again in 2014.
The Founders Cup is the first U.S. tournament of the year and starts a stretch of three consecutive weeks through the first major, the ANA Inspiration.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 6-9 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday-Sunday, 7-9 p.m. (Golf Channel).
PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS
Remember these guys? The last time they played, Fred Couples won the Chubb Classic on Feb. 19. They play the Tucson Conquistadores Classic this week at Omni Tucson National, and then take another week off before playing in Mississippi.
Bernhard Langer is no longer atop the money list, but he does have a record in mind this week. He has 29 straight rounds below par, just two short of the record that Gil Morgan set in 2000.
Television: Friday, 9:30-11:30 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday-Sunday, 4:30-7 p.m. (Golf Channel).
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