Arnold Palmer Invitational 2013: Guide to Opening Round Action

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Arnold Palmer Invitational 2013: Guide to Opening Round Action
David Cannon/Getty Images

Tiger Woods will be back at Bay Hill to defend his title in the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational, as the tournament sports its typically strong field that should make for a captivating week of golf.

The triumph in last year's event marked Woods' first official PGA Tour victory since his personal life fiasco.

Ironically, Woods pulled away from final group partner Graeme McDowell that Sunday to win by five shots. In his most recent tournament at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, which marked his 76th career win on Tour, Woods was paired with McDowell for the final two days, but wasn't challenged.

Here is a guide to the first round of action on Thursday, as Orlando plays host to this stop on the Tour's Southern Swing.

 

Round 1 Information, Schedule and Tee Times

Check out some of the best moments from this event's history, including several involving Woods. Video Credit: pgatour YouTube channel

When: Thursday, March 21; first group begins at 7:30 a.m. ET 

Where: Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Fla.

TV: Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m. ET

Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times, head over to PGATOUR.com

Click here for a layout of the course, courtesy of BayHill.com.

 

Key Storylines

Tiger's Turf

David Cannon/Getty Images

This is undoubtedly one of Woods' best events, as he has won here a ridiculous seven times.

Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational for four consecutive years from 2000 to 2003, and successfully defended another win in 2009. There isn't much reason to believe he can't do it again, especially if his most recent form is any indication.

Thanks to a putting lesson from his pal Steve Stricker, Woods got around Doral averaging just 25 putts per round, which is the fewest Woods has ever had in any event. Stricker wound up finishing runner-up, and Woods took to Twitter to express his appreciation for the assistance.

As documented by Yahoo! Sports reporter Shane Bacon, the odds are rightly stacked heavily in Woods' favor to repeat once again as champion.

The closest competitors to Woods' 11-4 odds are Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker and Justin Rose, all of whom are listed at 15-1.

Quite often, when big things have been expected of Woods in recent years, he hasn't quite delivered. This week should be a different story, though, given his past dominance at this specific venue and current state of his game.

The journey begins for Woods on Thursday at 8:05 a.m. alongside Rose and Ernie Els, a two-time winner at Bay Hill.

 

Snedeker Returns

Harry How/Getty Images

Speaking of Brandt Snedeker, he's had a stupendously hot start to 2013. It included a joint runner-up finish at the Farmers Insurance Open, a solo second-place showing at the Phoenix Open and was capped by a victory at Pebble Beach.

The reigning FedEx Cup champion finds himself once again atop the point standings despite Woods being the only player who boasts multiple Tour wins to this point in the young season.

Unfortunately, Snedeker suffered a rib injury on the way to his aforementioned win, which kept him out for five weeks of competition. Now he's back, and claims that he is healthy.

Video Credit: PGATOUR.com

Brian Wacker of PGATour.com captured a quote by Snedeker during Wednesday's press conference that indicated a positive mindset. Despite the setback, Snedeker found the silver lining in the situation.

Sometimes an injury can be a good thing. I got time to rest and sit at home and kind of reevaluate where my year is. As great as the start of the year [was]...that was a long time ago. We've got to get refocused and get back into it.

As spectacular as Woods putted last week, no one in the world has been as consistent with the flatstick as Snedeker. His compact, popping stroke finds the bottom of the cup more often than not, and if his game is anywhere near what it was to begin the year, he should seriously contend for the trophy.

The trio that Snedeker is part of in the opening round consists of Mickelson and Sergio Garcia, so the galleries should be rather large to say the least.

 

Top Group to Watch on Day 1: Ian Poulter, Keegan Bradley and Graeme McDowell

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Here are three of the best, most colorful and candid personalities in the sport all paired together for the first two days. It's no guarantee that all of them will play well, so the first round should be cherished by golf enthusiasts. They will tee off just after Woods and Co. at 8:16 a.m.

Who will win at Bay Hill this week?

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Poulter is a Ryder Cup stalwart that plays with unbridled fire and is one of the most clutch putters in the world. The Englishman placed third in the 2012 event, and is due to be a factor after a relatively inactive start to the season.

Just watch Bradley for one shot, and you'll understand the intensity with which he plays. The young American star looks possessed at times reading putts, and grinds over every single shot.

That type of focus is critical on a course where shot-making is so critical. Bradley's high ball flight and power should give him a leg up on the competition.

Then there's McDowell, one of the coolest customers on Tour. Few drive the ball as accurately, and his iron play is enviable. When he hits a spectacular shot, his stone-faced expression and early walk after it wouldn't seem to indicate a strong result. That's what makes him so fun to watch.

So there are plenty of reasons to tune in even on Thursday, because Bay Hill has once again drawn an elite crop of competitors to Orlando, setting up what should be a thriller on the weekend.

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