Tiger's bae

Tiger fever is in full force as the PGA Tour heads to Bay Hill for this year's Arnold Palmer Invitational. Tiger's the betting favorite after his runner-up performance at the Valspar and headlines a stout field that includes Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler. Full field and tee times

The Big Leish

What a difference a year makes. Marc Leishman entered last year's event as the 61st player in the world and used an eagle on the 16th to win the 2017 API by one shot over Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman. The win was Leishman's first in almost five years on the PGA Tour and jump-started a breakout season in which he won twice and finished sixth in the FedEx Cup Standings. Leishman enters this year's API as the 16th-ranked player in the world.

The course

The longtime host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational is the 7,419-yard par 72, Bay Hill Club & Lodge. The course was originally designed by Dick Wilson in 1961 on flat central Florida land. Palmer fell in love with the course after playing an exhibition in the mid-60's, and the Tour started hosting an event in 1979. Here’s an aerial comparison of the course today and in 1969.

Over the years, Palmer used Bay Hill as a testing ground, and in its current state, it’s far from its original design. As with most Florida courses, Bay Hill has a great deal of water. Usually, the leaderboard is littered with good iron players. Every par 3 is over 199 yards (#variety), and two of the par 5's are reachable with irons. It makes sense that the greatest iron player of all time, Tiger, has dominated here. Also, the course favors a right-to-left ball flight, like the course they play on Magnolia Lane. Aesthetically, Bay Hill leaves a great deal to be desired and is quite difficult for the recreational golfer, but it's a solid and well-rounded test of golf for the world's best.

Storylines

Captain Woods
In his fifth PGA Tour start since returning from his back fusion surgery, Tiger Woods is the favorite at Bay Hill. Woods will look to win the Arnold Palmer for a ninth time in his career. He hasn't played the event since 2013 but has won four of the last five times he has competed at the event. Bay Hill will in all likelihood be Tiger's last start before the Masters. Tiger will tee off on Thursday morning at 8:23 a.m. EST with Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama.

His playing partners..
Japan's big ticket, Hideki Matsuyama, will make his return from a wrist injury that forced him out of the Waste Management. Matsuyama will play the next two weeks in preparation for the Masters, where he has finished in the top 11 the past three years.

2016 Arnold Palmer Champion Jason Day returns to Orlando in top form after a win at the Farmers and a t2nd at Pebble Beach, his past two starts. Day's consistency over the past eight months has been impressive; the last time the Aussie finished outside the top 25 was his t27th at the Open.

In case you were wondering about Tiger's effect on golf, ratings for the Valspar’s final round on Sunday were massive. The tournament earned a 5.11 overnight rating, which ranked it as the highest non-Masters telecast since the 2015 PGA Championship. Yes, you read that correctly. The Valspar Championship ranked higher than the '16 & '17 U.S. Opens, Open Championships and PGA Championships.

The PGA Tour also announced that Tiger Woods will serve as the captain of the United States 2019 Presidents Cup team. The event is slated to take place at the Royal Melbourne, and the international team will be led by Ernie Els… giddy up.

Trending...
Besides Tiger, Hideki and Day, the field's other big names will look to snag a win or a high finish before the Masters. Here's a rundown:

Rory McIlroy has missed two of his last four cuts and has fallen to 13th in the world rankings, his lowest position since 2009. A win at Augusta would give the 4-time major champion the career grand slam.

Justin Rose is on fire, finishing in the top 10 in twelve of his last fourteen starts. 2017's Masters runner-up is on the short list of favorites for this year's event. Rose has never missed a cut at Augusta and hasn't finished outside the top 25 of a Masters since his t38th in 2008.

The API's honorary host, Rickie Fowler, has missed the cut in two of his past four starts. Fowler finished 12th in last year's API and will look for some positive mo as he looks to get his first major.

The young guns
The API always does a good job inviting a slew of young talent to compete at Bay Hill. This year's crop is no different with last year's U.S. Amateur champ and Clemson star Doc Redman, University of California star Collin Morikawa, Sam Horsfield and red-hot Sam Burns.

Paulie's Picks

As noted above, Paulie loves the premier iron players this week. Check out all of his picks here.

The latest podcast

PGA Tour player Zac Blair joins the podcast to talk about our trip to Northern California, Jack Nicklaus stories, PGA Tour setups and the best golf cities. Listen to the podcast on iTunesStitcher or the website, and be sure to rate and review it!

The path most traveled

Six years ago, the PGA Tour added the Mackenzie Tour (Canada) and the Latin American Tour to their offerings. These Tours provide a starting point for many of the game's young players. Will Knights dove into the history of each and how players from both Tours have performed at the PGA Tour level. Read more here.

The USGA's new rules!

The USGA unveiled their new "modernized" rules, which will go into effect in 2019. The highlights of the new rules include:

  • Dropping from a knee height when taking relief from a water hazard, cart path, etc.
  • Removing the penalty for a double hit (somewhere, T.C. Chen is smiling)
  • The local rule option that allows courses and clubs to play out of bounds as a drop, like a water hazard instead of the traditional stroke and distance

It's important to note that the USGA is providing amateurs with a bifurcated out of bounds rule. Professionals and high-level amateurs will continue to play out of bounds as a stroke and distance penalty.

Campus Update with Will Knights

I’m running out of things to say about Oklahoma State. They won the Lamkin Grips San Diego Classic by 32 shots over a field that included 9 other top-50 teams. This is the Cowboys’ 5th win of the year, and they are 4/4 this spring. Oh, and they host the NCAA Championship. The match play portion of the NCAAs may be the only thing that can slow them down. Anyway, Frederik Nilehn of Texas Tech won the tournament individually.

The Bandon Dunes Championship also finished up this week with Arizona State topping Clemson by 13 shots. Chun An Yu also won the tournament individually for ASU. Clemson put up a good fight, but without Doc Redman, they were a man short of their full squad.

Speaking of which, Doc Redman and Collin Morikawa (Cal) are teeing it up this week at Bay Hill. Redman was extended an exemption for his U.S. Amateur win, and Morikawa received the Palmer Cup exemption. I expect at least one, if not both, of them to make the cut this week. Morikawa is playing some of the best golf in the country, and it would not surprise me if he got himself near the top of the leaderboard.