Things just got a whole lot more interesting for the field at this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, where Tiger Woods announced his withdrawal from the tournament on Tuesday, citing back problems.
Interesting? How so? Consider this: Woods, the defending champ, has won at Bay Hill an incredible eight times over his career. He has more wins there than on any other course on Tour and had successfully defended his title five of the seven times he's been in that position.
While Tiger will surely be missed, it could be said that the tournament is now wide open with his unfortunate absence.
Since the perennial favorite at Bay Hill (and every other tournament he's ever played in) is sidelined, here are five players to look out for this week at the home of the King.
5. Patrick Reed
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Won the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation and the WGC-Cadillac Championship
Reason to watch: This is Reed's first start since winning at Doral, where he declared he was a top-5 player in the world. Since then, there's been a lot of talk as to whether he may have jumped the gun with that assessment. U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson said he understood why Reed made those comments and it was hard to argue otherwise, seeing as Reed won three of the last 14 events. With a top finish, or better yet a win at Bay Hill, Reed could make an even stronger case for his bold statement.
4. Adam Scott
Best finish in 2013-14 season: T6 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Reason to watch: Before the start of the new season, and we're paraphrasing here, Scott said something to the effect of he would be playing less to contend more. A wise choice for a player whose career now, after winning the 2013 Masters, will be defined by the number of majors he wins. This week marks just his fifth start of the season on the Tour and the first time since 2009 that he's actually played in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He should be fresh and I think it's understood that Scott is doing everything he can to prepare for his Masters defense.
3. Graeme McDowell
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Third at the WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: McDowell has been a top-10 machine lately. He's had five starts in the 2013-14 season and four of those have yielded a top-10 finish. He was the runner up at Bay Hill in 2012. I've got a good feeling about McDowell this week.
2. Keegan Bradley
Best finish in 2013-14 season: T10 in the CIMB Classic
Reason to watch: Because he's been so good, I think we often forget that Bradley has only been a full-time Tour player since 2011. In fact, last year marked his first start in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and it resulted in a tie for third. We all know Bradley is an intense player. If he's in the mix on Sunday, it's going to be a lot of fun to watch.
1. Justin Rose
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Fifth at the WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: It appears the 2013 U.S. Open champion's nagging shoulder injury is feeling better, evidenced by his tie for eighth in last week's Valspar Championship on an extremely difficult Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort. Maybe that will give Rose some confidence this week at Bay Hill, where he was the runner up to Tiger a year ago. It could be that his game is getting in proper shape just in time for the Masters, which is right around the corner.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.
Just last week in a segment on Golf Channel's Morning Drive, PGA of America President Ted Bishop announced the formation of a PGA Task Force to grow the game through non-traditional means.
One of those means, Bishop explained, was through a new phenomenon known as "FootGolf."
So what exactly is FootGolf? It's two sports in one -- soccer and golf.
Here's a video of what FootGolf is:
Bishop and the PGA's Task Force feel FootGolf could be a great new avenue to help grow the game.
"This is something I had heard about at the PGA Show through our player development committee," Bishop said on Morning Drive. "I'll tell you what -- I'm doing FootGolf at The Legends and we're going to premiere it on May 3. The interest that I'm already getting from the soccer community on the sport is unbelievable... I think the thing that excites me, is that you've got the chance here to bring people in who are soccer-crazy and to give them the opportunity to go to the golf course, experience some things at the course and I think it would be ludicrous to think there won't be a percentage of those people that might say, 'Hey, you know what? I think I'd like to try and play golf.'"
There are 10 basic rules to FootGolf:
1. Wear golf apparel all the time.
2. Your ball must be easy to identify.
3. Review the scorecard and wait for your turn. Make sure your kick will not interfere with other players.
4. The ball must be played in a single movement. Your foot should be set separate from the ball, clearly behind, before the kick.
5. Wait to play until the ball has completely come to rest. (It is not legal to stop the ball from rolling with the wind).
6. Kick off your ball from a position up to two meters behind the round markers (tee markers).
- The order is established based on the score of the previous hole. The player with the best score will be the first to kick off on the next hole followed by the second, etc.
7. Play the ball from where it lies: It's not allowed to move the ball or remove jammed objects.
- Exception: You may mark the spot and lift the ball when it may obstruct the other players kick or ball in any way.
8. The player farthest from the hole is the first to kick the ball.
9. If the ball lands in a water hazard, retrieve or replace it within two steps from the closest land point from where the ball entered the water, receiving one penalty point, or you can place the ball at the position of the previous kick and receive one penalty point.
10. Only on the greens may the balls be picked up to be cleaned or replaced.
- Regardless of the distance from the hole, the hole must be completed. "Giving" to the opponent is not allowed.
You can click here to find a list of courses participating in FootGolf.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.
PGA of America Championships
Pete Dye Course
French Lick, Ind.
Westchester Country Club
Philadelphia Cricket Club
Hazeltine National Golf Club