This week, it’s all about the King -- Arnold Palmer -- as the PGA Tour descends on Arnie’s place, Bay Hill, for the tournament that bares his name, the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
Unfortunately, defending champion Tiger Woods -- an eight-time winner of the event -- was a late scratch. He was forced to withdraw, citing the bad back that’s plagued him in his last two starts.
Even without Woods, there’s a strong field present for the King. A field that includes the likes of Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell and Rickie Fowler, just to name a few.
Before the tournament teed off on Thursday, we had the chance to catch up with Bay Hill's PGA Director of Golf Brian Dorn for a little Q&A. Dorn talked about Tiger’s incredible track record at Bay Hill, shared some personal highlights from working for Palmer and gave us some insight into Bay Hill’s final three holes.
PGA.com: We say this a lot, but Tiger Woods is your defending champion. How remarkable is it to you that he has won at Bay Hill eight times?
Dorn: What’s most amazing is that he has those eight wins in just 14 years -- what an incredible win percentage. He has won in all manner of styles -- birdies on the last hole to win by a stroke in 2008 and 2009 and a blowout win by 11 strokes to cap his run of four straight in 2003. His dominance is very evident in the composite money list for the API -- Tiger leads the way at $7.3 million followed by Vijay Singh at $2.5. Nobody else has won more than $2 million at Bay Hill.
PGA.com: Can you share with us a personal highlight you've had in your years at Bay Hill?
Dorn: My highlights at Bay Hill have been too numerous to list. My highlights would have to include the opportunities I have had to meet some amazing people: military leaders, political leaders, CEOs, top athletes and celebrities. I get a kick out of seeing their excitement at meeting Mr. Palmer -- they are like children meeting their hero.
PGA.com: What does it mean to work at a place so closely associated with Arnold Palmer?
Dorn: I'm glad I made the decision 16 years ago to take an assistant’s position at Bay Hill over an offer from a club in New York. Everyone knows the impact Mr. Palmer has had on the game of golf, but his impact can be felt in all sports and even in business today. He has served as a role model in his style of play and the way he conducts himself. All you need to do is watch him around the club and see how he interacts with everyone. He makes people feel welcome at his club. I consider myself very lucky to be able to represent Mr. Palmer at his club.
PGA.com: Can you talk a little about holes 16, 17 and 18? A player can make a big move in either direction on that stretch.
Dorn: As it is with most courses, these three finishing holes often decide the tournament. Just last year, the 16th hole was Rickie Fowler’s undoing -- he was neck and neck with Tiger until he put two balls in the water. Sean O’Hair made a similar mistake in 2009 -- his approach was a yard left of the flag and ended up in the water, costing him his lead and eventually the tournament. Vijay Singh’s 7-iron in the water at 18 cost him the tournament in 2005 and Stuart Appleby’s bogey double-bogey finish on 17 and 18 spoiled his chances for victory in 2004. On the flip side, these same holes have provided a stage for fantastic finishes, most notably in 1990 when Robert Gamez holed his 7-iron approach for a deuce to overtake Greg Norman and claim his second career win.
PGA.com: What's the most enjoyable aspect of tournament week for you?
Dorn: The fact that it is a completely different experience for our team than the other 51 weeks of the year.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.