bay hill preview


Arnold Palmer hosts the PGA Tour's Bay Hill Invitation this week as the big guns in the game prepare their Masters preparation in ernest.

Apart from the million dollar first prize, the winner will also receive an invite to Augusta National if he's not already going.

Here's 10 players who could be in the mix come Sunday evening:

TIGER WOODS: If there’s one place where Woods ought to feel at home ... wait, haven’t we tried that line before? Firestone, Torrey Pines, Dubai. It’s a different Bay Hill, too, than when he last played in 2009. Then again, a closing 66 at Doral can’t be bad.

PHIL MICKELSON: Tie for 55th at Doral was a step back from a decent West Coast stretch that left him runner-up at Torrey Pines and ninth at Pebble Beach. Honestly, though, all he’s doing right now is getting his game ready for Augusta.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Tied for second in his Bay Hill debut six years ago, but nothing better than 40th in two appearances since. Has broken 70 just once on the Florida Swing this year — is the Lake Nona pro finally cooling off after his hot 2010?

GARY WOODLAND: Newest PGA Tour winner went against type to win at Innisbrook — scaling back his power game and one-putting his way to victory. Arnie’s Place should be more to his style, though he’ll have to master Bay Hill’s greens.

BUBBA WATSON: Leads PGA Tour in both driving distance and greens in regulation — a very rare double. Yet his year has been up-and-down with results — won at Torrey Pines, fourth at WGC Match Play, but no other top-10s.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Runner-up at the WGC-Doral wouldn’t need a lot to post his best finish at Bay Hill — he’s tied for 40th and 54th in two appearances. New Jupiter resident leads PGA Tour in birdies with average of 5.05 per round.

ERNIE ELS: Defending champion showed signs of an upswing with a pair of 69s at Doral, but still is working his game back into shape after taking nearly all of February off. Ranks third in GIR but has struggled with the putter, averaging 1.8 putts.

JUSTIN ROSE: Tie for fifth at Innisbrook after taking the lead into the final day was Rose’s fourth top-15 finish in seven starts on these shores. Tied for eighth at Bay Hill in 2006, but no other top-20 finishes in five other tries at Arnie’s Place.

IAN POULTER: Colorful Englishman hasn’t recorded a top-30 finish since coming back from the European Tour’s swing through the Middle East. Nor has Bay Hill been very kind to him — four missed cuts in five attempts.

SAM SAUNDERS: Arnold Palmer’s grandson, 23, is off to the best start in his young career with a tie for 15th at Pebble Beach and top-10 finish at the Nationwide Tour opener. He tied for 50th here last year, his first time playing the event for money.

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