2014 Arnold Palmer Invitational | Five players to watch

Keegan Bradley
USA Today Sports Images
In Keegan Bradley's lone Arnold Palmer Invitational appearance a year ago, he finished in a tie for third.
By T.J. Auclair, Senior Interactive Producer
PGA.com
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Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 | 9:41 a.m.

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.

RELATED: Tiger Woods withdraws from Bay Hill | Bay Hill photos | Leaderboard

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.

 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.