PGA Tour: Els, McDowell, Woods: Showdown in 'Arnie's Kingdom'

Fred Altvater@@tolohgolfrContributor IIMarch 25, 2012

Ernie Els trails Tiger Woods by three shots heading into the final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational
Ernie Els trails Tiger Woods by three shots heading into the final round at the Arnold Palmer InvitationalSam Greenwood/Getty Images

The final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard will hold answers to questions confronting three top players: Ernie Els, Graeme McDowell and Tiger Woods.

Ernie Els has not won a sanctioned tournament within the last year.  He currently sits at No. 62 in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) and has never won the Masters.  As of today, he is ineligible to play at Augusta National in the first major tournament of the year.

Ernie has been playing every event possible over the past several weeks to earn enough world ranking points to make it to Augusta.

Els had the first-place check for the Transitions Championship and enough world ranking points to move him safely inside the top 30 in the OWGR firmly in his grasp last week until a balky putter and two missed short putts over the last three holes cost him the win.

He needs a top-three finish at Bay Hill to qualify for the Masters and keep his dream alive of one day capturing a Green Jacket.

Graeme McDowell won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.  He was the anchor man for the 2010 European Ryder Cup Team and took down Hunter Mahan in their singles match to secure the win for the Euros. 

In December 2010, McDowell even stared down Tiger Woods and beat him in a playoff at Tiger’s own tournament, the Chevron World Challenge.  Graeme probably did not want 2010 to end.

2011 was an entirely different year altogether, however, for the Irishman.  He missed six cuts out of 16 starts, only had three top-tens, and finished 73rd in the FedEx Cup standings on the PGA Tour. 

Graeme McDowell will be paired with Tiger Woods on Sunday
Graeme McDowell will be paired with Tiger Woods on SundaySam Greenwood/Getty Images

He fared only slightly better on the 2011 European Tour with five top-tens, 17 made cuts in 18 tournaments and the 16th spot on the European Tour’s money list. 

McDowell has dropped to No. 17 on the OWGR and is looking to regain some of the magic that earned him the 2010 U.S. Open title and thrust him onto golf’s biggest stage.

Fourteen-time major champion Tiger Woods may have the biggest monkey on his back heading into the final round today.  Woods has not won since 2009. 

The 2009 Thanksgiving weekend car accident with that pesky fire hydrant, his ensuing divorce, nagging leg injuries, and swing changes have prevented Tiger from winning on the tour for the past three years.

Woods has shown definite signs of improvement of late and it appears that future wins are only a matter of when, not if.

Tiger will take a one-shot lead over McDowell and three shots over Els into the final round when they tee it up at 2:05 EDT.

The sentimental favorite going into Sunday’s final round at Bay Hill has to be Ernie Els and his attempt to rebound from that disastrous finish last week. 

Tiger Woods can make a very loud statement to the golf world that he is back and a formidable force to be reckoned with in the upcoming Masters.

Scrappy Graeme McDowell could just spoil the party for both Els and Woods and collect the big check from “The King” on Sunday afternoon.